Posts Tagged Renewal

Out of Isolation

This sermon was preached at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Huntington on 9/18/16 and looks at the role of community in light of the personal ego.

 

I have a small garden that wraps around my terrace – think herbs and some wild flowers and grasses. When the weather is nice, I write my sermons from there. It’s probably why I have so many nature references in my sermons. My dog will lay down in the shade of one of the flower boxes, and my cat gets the proverbial popcorn and watches the “Nature Channel” in my garden. Everything is extremely fascinating to our cat – Toby. He’ll stare at ants like they are alien creatures, but won’t go too close or engage. Bees on the other hand – bees turn him into a jerk. He’ll stalk them and swipe at them if they linger too long on a flower.

At first I was horrified – without a clue as to what to do about it. I have a mild allergy to bees, so I’m not going to get too close to intervene, but they also don’t deserve that fate before the claws of my cat. In another feat of dog-training magic, I’ve figured out how to train our dog to tackle the cat when he goes for a bee. It was based off an earlier essential lesson in tackling-the-cat when the cat scratches the furniture. Basically, we’ve trained our dog to tackle small cats on command. I think it’s fun for everyone really, but I’m sure the bee appreciates it as much as my couch does – I dare say moreso. Enough times being tackled by the dog, the cat is becoming increasingly hesitant to swipe at bees (it doesn’t seem to stop him though from destroying our furniture though. Can’t have everything I guess.)

Bees are interesting creatures. The common wisdom is that they defy all laws of aerodynamics in order to fly with their wings that should be too light for their bodies to get lift; but they still do. They live cloistered away with several thousand of their closest family members. They work tirelessly, so that the next generation which they may not live to see, can be born in another season. How many millions of worker bee hours does it take to produce one jar of honey for our toast and tea? …Then they return, again and again, to the field, to gather more and more food for the honeycombed table.

From the perspective of us humans in the northeast, they are gone for half the year, isolated from the cold and inclement weather. Even raindrops can be a challenge when you’re that small. When I water my garden, they head for the hills. Then as the weather turns to spring and summer, they fly back out of seeming isolation, and live fully in the wider world. Food, and garden hoses, and allergic bystanders, and yes, even psycho-killer felines are here to greet them as they return. It’s a microcosm of the world we live in, and just as true.

We all have our times of quiet, introversion, renewal, in between the periods of work, or study. For the bee, it’s the call of physical nourishment, that brings them out of their quasi-isolation from the world. No matter how much we hunker down, at some point, the reserves run dry and it’s time to go back out for connection.

This month we are imagining what it would mean to be a people of covenant. Maybe you know the word covenant mostly from Jewish and Christian and Muslim stories about God and God’s people. That understanding is about the promises we are given, and the promises we are held to, in light of the demands and support given to us by God in those stories. I plan to discuss that even more fully next month in one of my sermons – how goodness presses obligations upon us. But for today, I want to focus more on what promise is held in covenant. Community and covenant draws us out of loneliness into a shared humanity that defines our lives.

Our Fellowship crafted a congregational covenant – that can be found on our website, and in our membership directory. It has several points to it – and we hand it out to all new members who formally join our Fellowship. And if you’re considering joining our Fellowship, please do reach out to me after the service, or later in the week if that works better for you. But the essence of the covenant centers around our desire to be accountable to one another. In a secular world where consumerism and convenience trumps a sense of a common ethic of mutual support, it’s imperative for religious communities to stretch out to, and within, one another to build the common good. Covenant is about building the common good – or what Martin Luther King Jr commonly referred to as the Beloved Community.

Last Sunday, I spoke at length about the theology of James Luther Adams and his concept of the five stones. In short, he was looking at the story of David and Goliath and reflecting on what the 5 stones David used would be in modern language to combat oppression. Right now, after popular request, I’d like to focus on one of those stones. Next month I’ll try to get to the 4th and 5th stone. But today, I want to focus on the 3rd stone in Adams’ theology – and go a bit further with it than I was able to in last week’s sermon. That precept paraphrased is: “We have an obligation to work toward creating a Beloved Community — our faith inspires us to the work of transformational community that is centered in justice and love. The prophethood of all believers has a corrective effect on systems of oppression.”

As I paraphrase it, community has a corrective effect on systems of oppressions. Theologically, covenant is the antithesis of oppression. You only build a covenant when folks come to it with equal footing, and when we have equal footing, we can hold one another accountable from an equal place. So when we talk here about someone falling out of covenant, we’re talking about a situation in our Fellowship, where one person is leveraging their power, or their feelings, over and beyond the shared agreement of how we work together collaboratively. It’s referring to a situation where the individual ego is leading over another person’s worth, or another person’s pain. And to be fair, we all fall for the tricks of the ego. Falling short of our covenant doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, it means that you’ve let your ego run before the rest of us, before all of us, and that’s something we all do from time to time. We all do it. It’s human, and it’s our quintessential challenge to overcome as humans. As UU’s we choose to face that challenge together; publicly, and to do that together publicly fosters some awkward moments. So when we fall for it, and someone points it out, try to hear it with love, and begin again and again. It’s being human at our best.

Last week, I also spoke about demands that our faith places upon us in relation to those precepts – those “stones” Adams proverbially spoke about. The matched demand to this third precept would be the theological question, “Does this thing or value before us, seek to bring more harmony and more equity in our relationships (– even if the work is very difficult?)” What does that mean though in every day language? When we’re trying to decide on an action, or a belief, or a value, or an angered reply to something someone says or does in our community – the essential question follows: Does our response bring more harmony and equity to our relationship? If the answer is yes, great. If the answer is no, then we are straying from the religious path our faith challenges us to adhere to. When we ask ourselves if our response or actions bring more harmony or equity, and the answer is no, we’re falling prey once more to our lone ego. The domain of the ego is isolation, and community calls us out from that lonely place. I believe that progressive faith calls us out of isolation, to do much in the world, but it also calls us out of isolation to spiritually mature through our attachment to ego. And it’s in that maturing through our attachment to ego, that we also begin to do much good in the world.

See that? We sometimes joke that we can believe anything. I don’t agree with that, and if you think I’m wrong, then next week let’s plan for me to preach about whatever I personally feel like and see what happens. Because we can’t. We can’t believe anything. We’re not about belief, but we have central values that are very specific, even if we don’t always see it. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be exploring together what demands our theology places upon us. Our actions in the world, as UUs, as religious people of faithful purpose – demand that we act so that we nurture harmony and equity in human relations. When we act from anger, or ego, we’re being very human, but we’re falling short of our theological convictions. We’re not evil for doing it necessarily, but we have fallen short, and our faith calls us out, calls us in, and calls us for more.

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Prayer for Renewal in Autumn

Spirit of Life, God of Many Names, Source of Renewal,

As the fullness of Autumn returns to us,

and the trees turn bright with reds, and oranges, and yellows,

help us to find places where our hearts can lighten, or brighten,

in letting go of what once was.

We often grieve what has passed before us;

and grieving is often the only right emotion to feel before great loss or suffering;

But too often we grieve the small things,

never letting them fall away,

or turn into something new.

May we find the wisdom of the brighter path,

with a lighter load to carry;

knowing that for so many things,

our burdens are too often cherished worries never released.

Mother of Renewal, stir in our hearts the willingness to accept a new day,

and the courage to welcome it with open arms and loving eyes.

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Rebirth and Renewal

This sermon was preached on Sunday, March 22nd, 2015 at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Huntington. It explores the role of doubt during the winter times of our spirit. It was part of our monthly Multigenerational family friendly service.

 

Happy first weekend of Spring everyone. (snowscape photo) It’s been a rough long winter for many of us. We’ve had a lot of strong snowstorms in quick succession this year, and it can feel really overwhelming, even if they might have been fun to play in or watch over cocoa at first. Over time, you can get sick of the dirt and the rock salt, and the wiper blade that at some point just decided to stop cleaning the bottom left third of your driver-side window (or maybe that last bit is just me.) And we just want it to be Spring already – how long do we have to live through this?

I know I felt that way Friday night when I realized we weren’t getting a dusting, but something I was going to have to shovel through one more time. I know when Brian got home from the train at 11pm at night, and saw 6 inches of snow on top of the car in the Huntington Station parking lot, and thick ice on the windows, without any gloves, that he let out a primal scream – a primal scream. Were there any other primal screams this weekend? (just slowly nod if you don’t want to raise your hand…)

And for some of us, this Winter has felt like a symbol for what we’re going through in our personal lives. School might be tough; others have dealt with health issues for a long time; our Fellowship has lost many long time friends and family members to illness; and a neighboring congregation, that many of us have attended year after year to start out the week of the Fahs Summer camp, burned down last weekend. One more thing can feel like just too much.

But tough times don’t last forever. We have to grieve through them as best we can, but they do end and something new comes through eventually. It’s not always comforting when you’re in the midst of an endurance run through rough times, but it’s important to believe; because it’s true. Sometimes the Spring comes, however late, and we’re still thinking it’s Winter because the Wintertime has lasted so long.

I went for a walk to a brunch spot Saturday morning. I put on my winter coat, gloves, long scarf, hat, and snow boots. It was still freezing; snow was everywhere; and there was a fair bit of ice. I had to dodge at least one neighbor who didn’t see me as his snowblower was grinding up the layers in his driveway. The sky was gray and cloudy and I was wondering it I should have brought an umbrella too. In fact, the weather reports said rain in the morning. But the rain didn’t come. On my way home, the sky had turned sunny. I saw the color blue up there again – it’s a great color that I feel like we haven’t seen in awhile. All the snow melted fast, and my winter clothes started to be come too much. Gloves came off, scarf untied, the hat went and finally I was walking with my coat open. But for the first bit, I didn’t trust it. “Oh, a wind will come.” “It’s not that warm.” Not until, “ok, now I’m sweating” came along before I changed my actions to fit the world around me.

Whereas a friend of mine in NJ had the mantra, “I’m planning to hold off shoveling till Mother Nature does it for me.” And he was right, it melted before he had to do anything. Inside, he already moved into Spring, and I needed a lot of convincing to find my way there too.

A month or so ago I got new glasses. I had gone to the eye doctor for a check-up and realized that after years of my eye-sight being constant, it was time for a new prescription. I’ve worn contacts since I was in college because they’ve always given me better eyesight than glasses. But recently, science has improved on the technology around eye-glasses and they can now better adjust for what my eyes need than contacts can. But somewhere along the way, I got used to seeing things just a little blurry. It’s small at first, but over time, those small bits can add up to a lot. One day this Winter, it dawned on me that I haven’t been seeing the craters in the moon, or the fine edges of stars in the night sky for what has probably been more than 10 years. I know it might seem foolish to miss that change, but sometimes things happen so gradually, that you simply don’t notice.

These new glasses, thankfully, fix that. My vision was 20/20 all this time, but I was missing the fine lines of things. I remember for the first few weeks, I was walking around a bit stunned by the world. The harbor at the dog walk at Coindre Hall had neat, clean edges again. The leaves had fine details again. Nothing was really blurry before, they just lacked distinction. Now everything had a crispness to it again. I must have lived for 10 or 15 years missing all that and not knowing.

We all do that from time to time. Especially, when the Winters of our spirit go on and on. Maybe the kids at school have been mean for a long time; or we can’t seem to catch a break in our career; or health problems or day to day stressors fill our world. All of those very real things can change how we understand the world. They may be tough; they may be hard, sometimes even very hard – but they don’t define the world. They don’t define joy, or limit hope, or change the nature of our character. I often talk about reverence in our services. For some that means revering God, for others it means to find a sense of awe in life. Today, I think it means recognizing that moment when we see the first flowers poke up past the ice and once froze earth – and knowing that matters – at our core. … and taking a step back and knowing that life has always been there beneath that frozen earth, whether we see it or not…. In the Wintertimes of our heart, life still grows. …

For the past two years, Brian and I have hung large pots of Mums from our back patio to add some color in the Autumn when the other flowers are mostly gone. Sometime around December, they pretty much lose all hope to survive and I want to take them down. Brian insists on keeping them hanging. He thinks the now dead plants “still look nice” – in their own special way. Well, now two years in a row, sometime in February a family of doves moves into one of the dead hanging plants and builds a nest. (show slide of dove family) This next slide shows a photo of the family taken last Spring. It doesn’t look like our mom and dad will raise any birds this year, but they have used the plants as a safe haven on some nasty Winter days. So it looks like I’ve clearly lost that battle with the dead hanging mums for next Winter for sure. But I mention this because it’s important to remember in the times of the Winters of our spirit, that when we’re dried up and useless or exhausted, that maybe life can find new ways of being born; ways we might not have ever expected.

All of these stories have something in common. The biggest changes – the biggest surprises – all happen on their own. We may need to do the best we can sometimes when life gets cold or crazed, but the seasons of difficulty often go away as suddenly as they arrived. They often become moments of grace, where things ease up through no credit of our own. We sometimes need to remember that very much. What has been, will some day ease, and offer something new.

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Prayer for Ingathering

Spirit of Renewal, God of Many Names, and One Transforming and Abundant Love,

Remind this hour of all the places and people in our lives that give us reasons for gratitude;

for the spaces of quiet awe,

that teach us grace and beauty exist in this world without striving or doing,

that simply being is a gift to be valued,

and we are all valued.

We are grateful for the touchstones in our lives that help us to feel whole,

when we feel lost or empty.

Teach us to remember the joyous when we are lost in the painful,

and remind us of the times we have felt lost,

when it’s hard to be compassionate to another’s difficulty.

As a new school year begins,

we reflect on another year past,

another summer slipping away.

May the warmth and the rest,

wherever it was found,

stay with us,

along with the memories.

Help us to take a breath,

keep their fondness near to our hearts,

and begin the work and the study of another year,

with gratitude and purpose.

As a community coming together in strength,

after a summer of work, of travels, of hobbies and projects,

we recommit to our mission of nurturing our spirits in community,

in caring for one another and ourselves,

and helping to heal the corners of the world in which we dwell.

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Prayer: Halloween/All Souls/Samhain

Spirit of Life, God of Many Names, and One Transforming and Abundant Love,

As the wheel of the year turns through another season,

with the chill in the air growing stronger,

we pause to remember those we have lost in our lives.

We remember the small moments that stand out amidst our great stories,

the breakfasts that were unnoticed at the time, but take on so much more now;

the laughter, the hope, the dreams.

May our loss turn in our hearts into something different,

may we find a profound joy in the gift of knowing those we have loved;

and may it teach us to cherish those around us even more.

May our remembering of the lives we have known,

teach us to live fully into the lives we still live;

deepen our ties to the community we are surrounded by,

to the families of our birth or the families of our choosing.

For our stories continue on,

our world needs our loving all the more

in the seasons of cold winds, and long nights.

Remembering that the wheel continues to turn,

and the warmth we once knew will return anew – again and again.

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SGM #35: Resurrection for the Rest of Us

#35 Small Group Ministry Session Written by Rev. Jude Geiger, MRE, First Unitarian, Brooklyn – Based on the sermon, “Resurrection for the Rest of Us” preached by Rev. Ana Levy-Lyons at First UU on Easter 3/31/13. This session explores the meaning of resurrection in our own lives.

Welcome & Opening Chalice Lighting  (Please read aloud) An excerpt from Rev. Ana’s sermon.

“Death and taxes are supposed to be life’s two inevitabilities and in the Christian Scriptures, Jesus weighed in on both. Taxes, he agreed, are a given. “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s,” he said. Death, however, he contested.”

Statement of Purpose:  To nurture our spirits and deepen our friendships.

Brief Check-In: Share your name and something you have left behind to be here.

Covenant Reflection

Reading: An excerpt from Rev. Ana’s sermon.

“It’s a truism that death is part of life. Parts of ourselves die every day. The process of entering adulthood necessitates the death of part of our childhood. We lose the comfort of breastfeeding or lose our fascination with dinosaurs or our childhood best friend drifts away. Relationships die, identities die, beliefs die, dreams die.

Most of these deaths happen to us, we are passive; we have no control over them. But the wisdom of this season suggests that for resurrection to occur, to awaken into new life, we need to be active participants in letting a part of ourselves die. Painful as it may be, we have to be accomplices to the killing.

We all cling to our selves as they have been. We cling to our fears, cling to our feelings, cling to our rationalizations for why our lives have to be as they are. Letting parts of ourselves die is one of the hardest things in the world. And actually collaborating, actively participating in the death of parts of ourselves is even harder. This is what the Phoenix does when it builds its own funeral pyre and this is what Jesus did when he carried his own cross on his back and this is what the earth does when it blows cold wind and snow onto its own back every winter, killing the grass and leaves and sending all creatures into hiding.”

Discussion Questions: Reflect on the many endings and beginnings in your own life. Which stand out the most as major turning points in your life where rebirth happened? It’s often easier to focus on the endings that brought us difficulty and regret. Were there times that seemed impossible in the moment, but healthy and transformative in hindsight? What grew from them in your life?

After this session, consider writing up a short version of this to share with Rev. Ana. She is seeking to collect these stories all month to be an on-going discussion in our community.

Closing:   (please read aloud ) excerpt from Rev. Ana’s sermon

“The teaching of this season is that there is a force in the universe that makes resurrection possible for all of us – for those of us struggling, feeling stuck, feeling powerless, feeling alone – there is a force in the universe that makes it possible for us to be reborn into freedom, empowerment, and love. We are given little deaths if we are willing to die them and then we awaken.”

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Call to Worship: Center of the Week

Gather this hour,

With peace in our hearts,

Warmth in our eyes,

And care in our words.

May we end one week,

And begin another,

Centered in our spirit,

Open to a renewal in our lives,

And focused on the path before us.

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