Following is my sermon of last week. I think this might be my best work.
Today I am going to speak of Love. Actually I have used Love as a sermon title before. When you talk about love, you could be talking about most anything… Once upon a time, we used to disguise sermons with odd names so that we would get a better audience. I think Gail still does that with some of her World’s Religions sermons. But in this case. I intend to talk about the subject advertised. So maybe I fooled you in a different way.
The idea for a sermon came to me when we went to Boca to the Building the world we dream about workshop. At the beginning of the discussion we talked about what we expected. We talked about trusting the people we were with to have good will. I have trouble with that sometimes. We talked about speaking only from our own experience, (not talking about what happened to someone we know) , and then we talked about “Sitting with Discomfort”. Sitting with Discomfort? That sounds terrible. Like a commercial for a product one cannot discuss in polite company. Why would anyone want to do that? We want to do that so we can get to the learning, changing and growing.
Can you remember during your teen years how much discomfort was there then? Your arms are first too short then too long. You are always saying things you don’t mean and reading more meaning into what you are saying than you really meant and you vacillate between being so cute that you cannot avoid attention and so wretched that you wish no one would ever talk to you again. This is our condition. When we most want to be a unique individual we are more like each other than ever. By definition the teenager is uncomfortable. Fighting against the authority and against your own bodies battle to grow up, chancing love for the first time, it’s wonderful and terrible and frankly we learn a lot. In fact we need extra sleep then so our brains can process all that is coming in at that time. Very uncomfortable and that is when we learn so very very much about life.
So at this meeting we are intending to get uncomfortable and talk about the stuff that is difficult, so we can know one another better so we can learn things we never ever knew. I think this is brilliant! I had an Ah ha moment. This is why we do by-laws and budget meetings and committees that we’d rather not be at. At least I hope that is why.
I struggled with using “Sitting with Discomfort” as a sermon title. This would never do. And this bit of the sermon, it’s not the entire sermon. I struggled with a title. Why do we sit with discomfort? Perhaps it’s because we love this place. Love is the spirit of this church. I imagine some Humanist or another having a problem with Spirit in this context, yet we say this every week. Now I believe in spirit, Spirits and spirituality, I know for some of you that makes me a certified nut. For me all of that is very real although I can’t see it, I feel it in my heart and mind. But I am sitting with discomfort that this word probably bugs people and bugs them each and every week.
I found out a couple of days ago that David Fisher’s Mother used “Love is the spirit of this family, and service is it’s law…” in her family every day. No wonder David was such a wonderful person. He must have found us very familiar.
So I was toying with the word spirit, and i thought in a very non-spiritual way, a spirit is a way of doing things like “spirited” is used. So it could be that love is the way we do things around here. That we sing with love and attend services with love and greet with love. A lot of times that is true for me. It symbolizes to me a certain commitment to our church.
Today I would like to toy with a metaphor about love. In preparation for this service, and for life also, I retrieved from our library, Marianne Williamson’s “Enchanted Love” The Mystical Power of Intimate Relationships. I wasn’t sure how that tied into church life, but then I started thinking that Love between 2 consenting adults and love between a church and it’s membership is not so very different. One thing I especially like about this book, in addition to the helpful wisdom found there, were the little prayers at the beginnings of the chapters. I really like them and I have taken the liberty of “fixing them up” a little bit to suit our situation better. I thought I would drop one here and there to drive my talk today. I hope you like them as much as I do.
She starts at the beginnings, at the part of the relationship where we get prepared for our new love, for me this speaks to new members and being ready to receive them in hospitality and love.
Oh Great Father/Mother God
Please send my love to me.
From across the sea, and over the mountain,
May he travel to my side.
And then, dear Lord when he arrives at my house,
may the food he finds here make him strong
I await his coming
I prepare many things
Please Ready my heart.
This kind of love is how we prepare for our new members we have meetings to find out who will greet them and we decide what would be a good way to welcome them. We try to implement our plans we ask others to help, we try to follow up. We get their name tags ready we greet them and ask them to return. This is how we love our new folks.
However some of the new members I fall in love with right away. I try not to fall in love on the first day. But Gabrielle was so endearing and her kids so good (at least in my presence) and she liked to cook and had all the qualities I love to love. I just felt an instant connection and I remember the day she announced that she was leaving to go up north. I felt like I’d been hit in the gut. Lost due to a long term lousy economy and then she was gone, Love is a risk. You can get your heart broken.
The trick about that I think is not to become too guarded about new folks and to allow yourself to love again with abandon.
Another prayer from Marianne Williamson’s book…
I pray for the loves of my past
Those who chose me and those who did not
I pray for their happiness
their growth and their good.
May their hearts fill with light
and their desires finally filled.
May they find what they are seeking
Although it could not be me.
Sometimes people come and test us out and find us wanting. Some times they find that they need a firmer more directive theology, sometimes they find that their hot date is in another congregation, sometimes they hear the siren song of the New York times or the Golf course.
As a long time member sometimes I have trouble with the comings and goings. I have a terrible time with names and just as I manage to learn the names, it seems that they slip away.
Please remove from me my resistances to love.
Make straight my path to the heart of my beloved
Reveal to me the meaning of this ride that we live on.
You visit the church, you see if you are acceptable to us. We see if you we are acceptable to you. We exchange gifts, you leave money in the plate, we offer you classes and coffee. We see if we are suited or not and like a lady we wait. We wait for you to ask for our hand… At first when you are dating you think we are perfect. We are the perfectest church ever. There’s nothing wrong here. Everyone is super nice all the time and we love the coffee and we wouldn’t want to change anything. This phase passes soon enough.
Then you start to see flaws. And we do too, as far as we can see you sure are critical! This doesn’t happen with everyone but it does happen sometimes. It’s a critical moment. Do you try to push us to change? Do you try to find some other perfect place? Do you seek to assist? Do you seek to complain with no offer to help? That’s another way we show love. We take ownership.
One excellent example is coffee hour. We see that help is needed to set up and clean up. We can suggest that SOMEBODY should help and SOMEONE should clean up this mess. I’d like to introduce you to somebody. Dot are you here? Dot is somebody. If somebody needs to do something and nobody does. Dot shows up. She’s tired. She’s told me as much. A great way to show love is to be somebody. If the cup is not on the cart or in the dishwasher, put it there. Ask if you can help, Many times you can. It’s a great way to take ownership of this church. After a while some of our better new members become pillars of the congregation, we grow to love them, and we exchange gifts, just like in a love affair.
Please receive from me
my praise and thanksgiving
for the love who is at my side
May my thoughts of him
and my behavior toward him
be a blessing on us both
Please bring him joy.
David Fisher knew that I was working on this service full well and I am going to have to use him as an example of love. I hope I honor him. He did several loving things toward me and toward the church over his time here. David made special effort last year to give me encouragement. I hope he saw the minister in me and he was trying to ensure that I got all the positive reinforcement he could offer up in the time he had left. The Giese’s are here today doing music to honor David, they show their love for him by sharing what he loved, live music.
David loved us so much that he coordinated GA for us, bringing honor and energy to our congregation. He loved us up one heck of a Jubilee Party. And remarkably, he got us to act as a committee, working together we all did our parts and did what we said we would and reported back. He didn’t do it all himself. He modeled boundaries for us. He modeled management for us. What a lovely loving gift to us!
May the partner I am with emerge into their greatness and glory and joy.
May we leave behind our broken selves and emerge into the light, heal our wounds and bless our dreams.
When I think about love, I think about parents and children, Parents love because they must. There is a stealth attack by the attachment hormone and suddenly you are in love with this beautiful little thing. And you just can’t help it. All the trouble, all the noise all the expense and you don’t even notice because you love them. It’s a temporary insanity, with only a small chance of return.
Sometimes in leadership we can be asked to take a parental role. No you cannot do ANYthing you want to here. We cannot have every party or every social justice project everyone thinks of. See like parents we don’t want you to get burned out. We are not a church of 250 or 500 people we have to focus our energy. Like a budget we cannot possibly do everything, so we have to choose carefully what it is that we do end up doing.
I warn you this will not be easy
I warn you this will take some work
I warn you love will burn you up
are you ready to be burned or
would you rather just grow old.
She hits the spot there. That’s why we sit with Discomfort because otherwise we just grow older only. Not wiser, not more spiritual Not more loving, not deeper not more developed. Simply older. I believe that love is a spiritual practice and living in community with one another is a positive way to make more of ourselves. To enhance meaning in our lives. And it is hard to do.
I can tell you there was a time when I almost took my ball and went home. But community kept me here and I am grateful for that. I’m glad that I didn’t take the opportunity to ruin my experience here, to ruin all my hard work. Because for me to leave this community at that time I certainly would have missed much. I’m glad I stuck with it. I’m glad to be here today talking to you.
So it is hard but the alternative is not so good at least not for me. This work is hard precisely because we are broken. Because we come with our churches of origin, because we come with our families of origin, because we bring with us all our lovely baggage, It takes hard work to leave that stuff off…
Please lift my heart above the pain of former trials.
Remove from me the thoughts that hold me back
Make clean my heart, make clear my mind and make new my life.
Making love the spirit of this church requires some tidy work in our hearts. In order to be loving we need to work on responding to our church community from a place of wellness. This means we have to clean up the mess from the past.
Marianne Williamson is not talking about everyone here. She is talking about a spiritual relationship a relationship with the higher level of love. Where we develop ourselves to the best extent. And really, not everyone will be willing to do that. It’s just not possible. Maybe they cannot see why it’s important to grow wiser and not just older. Maybe they just don’t have the will to change what is broken in them, and in some cases perhaps they are just too broken.
That tells me that maybe some people aren’t here to learn but instead to teach and in some cases perhaps by bad example. I would like you to know, each and every one of you. That I have no specific person in mind who could possibly be in this room right now. I hope I’ve relieved that discomfort for you!
Please remove from me my temptation to try to control another person.
I surrender this relationship to the divine spirit.
May it be blessed, may it be sweet
may it be free of my own unforgiveness.
How to lead and not control. That’s why we have trustees and not directors, we do the work of the church. I think if we did what we wanted it would be very different. Don’t you? We ask before we do anything structural, we work in teams, we avoid fiefdoms when possible. It’s is hard as she said. To love without control. To allow us each to be who we need to be. To allow the student to teach the teacher. To love the result and accept the process. Then after a time we become older wiser and more comfortable
Your hair is grayer than it used to be,
your belly softer.
I actually like this better–
You were so intimidating when you looked like God
I couldn’t see your light
through all the gold that was surrounding it.
I tripped in fear
Before your gorgeousness
Your issues are more interesting now
and layered and richer in meaning and scope
I’ve settled into you
Like into a comfortable chair
Welcome to the world of the normal
Isn’t it wonderful here.
We say that we can feel it when someone loves us. But can we? Can we really feel what they are feeling? Do we ever really know? How do we know love? I can sit here and love you with all my heart and you might never know. You might not notice the subtle changes in my heart beat or in my eyes. You might miss how much I love you. If I don’t show it. So love has something to do with you and something to do with me. But from my perspective love is mostly about me.
So if love is about me. Why bother? We give love as a gift to ourselves! If we look around for things to love it tickles our own hearts. That is enough reason. In Corinthians 13 as the apostle Paul says without love we are nothing. Why do we want to make love into our spirit? Love makes light work. Love makes us want to do what we can do. Love is the best reason to do something all the time. We want to make love the spirit because we have things to do and love is the best way. And that my friends is how we do love…..