Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sermon - Standing on the Side of Love 2010

Standing on the Side of Love 2010
Yes, this is yet another Sunday dealing with social justice. I regularly speak about justice from this pulpit. On average, probably one worship service each month is dedicated to social justice, either a cause of justice in general. And Unitarian Universalist ministers across the country do the same. Social Justice is probably the easiest and most direct way to connect with a UU congregation. It’s an easy sermon. But this week I want to aim a little higher; I want to make a commitment to action.
While we sing “Standing on the Side of Love” and talk about it, I also want us to actually stand, to physically do something to express our love for the world. I’m reminded of Abby Alderman. How many of you know Abby? She’s an older member of our congregation who can’t make it to worship any more. She is a woman of strong opinions, but she also acts on them. One of her biggest concerns is supporting our military troops and the work of the USO. One of my favorite images of a Unitarian Universalist in action was Abby Alderman collection signatures and donations for the USO here, with a clip-board attached to the front of her walker while she carried an oxygen tank. That is standing on the side of love. That is standing for what you believe in, not just talking about it, but doing something about it.
I’m proud of the impact that our little congregation has on the world. We do provide meals at the homeless shelter twice each month. That’s a hot dinner for sixty people. It’s no small effort. I am so proud of that. We also raised a ton of money for Haiti relief in one Sunday morning. We have done a lot here, and we’re going to keep on changing the world one week at a time. And we are going to do it in the name of love. Not anger or fear, or urgency or guilt, but love.
As I said, I’m going to aim a little higher with this sermon, and the ones in the future. I am going to try, every time I speak of justice here, to offer some real opportunity for action. This week it’s small, but it is something. I have printed some letters for you to sign about political issues that are of importance to us as Unitarian Universalists. You just need to add your personal message, and sign it. We will take care of the mailing the letters. This is very small action, but I promise, I will do my best to not only talk about justice here, but to bring you opportunities to create justice.
Today, on Valentine’s day, I challenge each of us to express the love that is in our hearts. Whether that is romantic love, or love for your friends and family, or love for this little world that we share. Get it out, let it fly.
Because we need it. Too much of our public discourse is driven not by love, but by fear. Day after day we read newspaper articles that pit one team against another, as if the goal of politics and government was competition, rather than serving the people. This is not football, this is our government we are talking about, the institution that educates our children and provides for our seniors. It is the institution that safeguards our food and transportation. And what we hear, is who beat who in the latest battle.
Too much of the public discourse is driven not by love, but by fear and competition, which usually scapegoats particular people and deems them somehow less than human. Now is easy to think that we stand on the side of love, because of course what we care about is right, I mean correct. But to actually stand on the side of love, to bring love and compassion to the forefront of our conversations is a much more demanding task. Partly because that football game we call politics is fun to watch. And because we get so angry at those other people. You know, the ones who just don’t understand. The ones who are mean and want to make money off of us. Those people who don’t care about children or the elderly. Those war mongers. Those bigots.
I think you get the point. It’s easy to go down that road when we care passionately about something. But scapegoating and assuming that our adversaries are mean-spirited, rather than misinformed is not standing on the side of love. And it’s not helpful.
For one, when we scapegoat someone, we don’t take them seriously and we don’t understand them. Absolutely no progress is possible when we don’t make an honest attempt to understand the hearts and minds of the people we engage with.
And second and more importantly, standing on the side of love is more than good strategy, it is who we are as a religious community. We believe in the inherent good and dignity of every person. We believe, even when it is hard, that people act out of good intentions and not malice. We believe that just becomes someone is ill informed or disagrees with us, that does not make them any less of a person, or any less worthy of dignity.
My goal, our goal as Unitarian Universalists is to change the public discourse, change the focus from hatred to love. It is a huge goal. Ambitios, maybe even naïve. But I refuse to accept the alternative. I refuse to accept that solving problems looks like a verbal boxing match, or that our fellow human beings are either with us or against us.

Standing on the Side of Love is not just a song, or the theme of my sermon, but it’s also a national campaign sponsored by the UUA. The Standing on the Side of Love campaign seeks to harness the power of love to stop oppression, exclusion, and violence. That’s it, it is a simple and beautiful mission, and something to grab onto. The campaign seeks to harness the power of love to stop oppression, exclusion, and violence.

It addresses marriage equality, immigration rights, healthcare reform, environmental justice and other issues that touch the hearts of Unitarian Universalists. It is a very diverse campaign.
But Standing on the Side of Love is not just about standing with picket signs. Yes the UUA has sponsored a public relations campaign to engage in political issues. But standing on the side of love is also a much more subtle, much more common experience. It’s about standing up for what we believe in, and standing face to face with our friends and family. It is simply about expressing our love, whether that is in a political format, or a personal one.

It is worth taking the moment to say, I care about you, I love you, because believe it or not, those opportunities don’t last forever. You may know I have been teaching an adult religious education class on death and dying, and it has been an amazing gift to spend time with this group.
Their bravery and candidness about their age and limited time before death is pretty striking. As we went around the class to check in, to see how everyone was doing someone mentioned getting up that morning, counting ten fingers and ten toes, and everything functioning, it was a good day. Other times I have asked people how they are. The response is often, “well I got up this morning.” Meaning any day you get up in the morning is a good day.
Of courser humor is a helpful way to deal with the reality, but these old sages in the class, are on to something Those gathered know that life is a gift, not a given. They know that the opportunities to express love are not limitless, in fact they are numbered, for all of us.

We don’t have the fear of fire and brimstone, punishment of Hell to motivate us as Unitarian Universalists. We have the tremendous overwhelming glorious gift of life, and all the opportunities that it presents. It is a gift with a time ticking away, a gift that we are called to use deeply, in every moment possible, while we can. If anything is worthy of invoking the Unitarian Universalist version of existential guilt, it is this, the call to manifest our love in the world. The call to stand on the side of love. Because who knows how long that opportunity will last.

How many times have I passed up the opportunity to say “I love you?” How many times have you chosen not to tell someone how deeply you care about them? I’m betting it is a lot, because I know I do it all the time. Not because I’m fickle or mean. But because those words hold so much power, they can be scary.
The missed opportunities for expressing our love are overwhelming if you think about it. Years and years of missed “I love you”s, and sincere moments. But there’s only one response. We better start now to make up for them now.

For years there was a metaphor that a friend and I shared. It was about dealing with you emotions and how much to share with the wider world. You see emotions are sort of like having a nice set of china. How much you use them is an important decision. You don’t want to leave them in the china cabinet to collect dust and just sit there where no one can enjoy them. But you also don’t want to pull them out every day for your morning cereal or you reheated leftovers in front of the T.V. If you do that, they are likely to get broken and over time, you won’t be able to enjoy them any more because you will be missing pieces.
Our feelings work much the same way. They are valuable, and if you pull them out at every occasion for every person, they are likely to get damaged. But you also don’t want to keep them hidden away from the world. Because they are no good in hiding.

For a long time that metaphor made sense to me. However the more I think about it, the more I realize that our feelings, especially the feelings of love and compassion are not finite things. They are not like dishes that, once broken can never be restored. In fact quite the opposite is true. The more we pull our hearts down from the shelf, the more we share out love openly and freely with the world, the more we have to give the next day. There is plenty of love, and plenty more when you have spread what you have. There is no reason to hold back.

There is a song from Fiddler on the Roof called “Do you Love Me.” Of course it is in the midst of a musical, and it is a little over dramatic, but the song is actually heartbreaking. It’s a dialog between Tevye and his wife Golde.

(Tevye) Do you love me?
Do I what?

Do you love me?

Do I love you?
With our daughters getting married
And this trouble in the town
You're upset, you're worn out
Go inside, go lie down!
Maybe it's indigestion

"Golde I'm asking you a question..."

Do you love me?

You're a fool

"I know..."

But do you love me?

Do I love you? 
For twenty-five years I've washed your clothes
Cooked your meals, cleaned your house
Given you children, milked the cows
After twenty-five years, why talk about love right now?

Golde, The first time I met you 
Was on our wedding day
I was scared

I was shy

I was nervous

So was I

But my father and my mother
Said we'd learn to love each other
And now I'm asking, Golde
Do you love me?

I'm your wife

"I know..."
But do you love me?

Do I love him?
For twenty-five years I've lived with him
Fought him, starved with him
Twenty-five years my bed is his
If that's not love, what is?

Then you love me?

I suppose I do

And I suppose I love you too

I don’t know about you, but something about this song melts me. It’s both a beautiful expression of love, but also such a tragic statement about the inability of some people to express it. For twenty-five years they built a life together, and still the sincere question can be asked, “Do you love me?”
Why does this sound all too plausible? Why does this sound like it is a conversation that could happen here in Orange County in 2010, rather than in the arranged marriages of 1905 Russia, where this musical was set.
Standing on the Side of Love means expressing our love, in actions, and in words. The Three little words, I love you, are so powerful. They are words too often denied even within families, especially within families. Perhaps it is the power that they contain that makes them scary, but there is no replacement for both acting out our love, and speaking our love. “I love you” let it be a refrain in every household.

One of the centuries leading Unitarian Univeralist ministers, Forrest Church knew the power and importance of those words. Unfortunately he died just last year. He was the minister at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in New York City, a congregation that he grew into a great institution. At some point in his service of that church, he decided to end the worship services, every worship service with the words “I love you.”
He did it for a few different reasons. One was that every person needs to hear these simple and direct words. There is no replacement for hearing from another human being that you are loved. There is no replacement for those words, I love you. And the sad fact is some people aren’t offered that gift very often.
I intend to invoke these powerful words too. Not just to copy a successful ministry, but to embrace what I think is a deep and powerful truth. Every person needs to know that they are loved.
It is the simplest and strongest blessing I can offer as I send you out into the world after out time together.

Today, especially here in idyllic Laguna Beach, people will celebrate Valentines day. People will go out of our way, sometime agonizing over the perfect way to say it, the perfect gift or romantic moment. This year, I challenge you to refocus that energy in a broader perspective.

Let your love come out into the world. We are called to express our love in our homes, in our daily encounters, in our church, in our work to make the world a better place. Don’t let your love waste away inside. Stand on the side of love.
Make no mistake, you stand for something, every person stands for something whether they want to or not. You can either let the world put a label on you, or you can choose for yourself what you stand for. What will it be? I humble suggest that you choose to stand for love.


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