Monday, January 17, 2011

Sermon - "A Heart Felt Faith"

A Heart Felt Faith

Dr. Martin Luther King’s most famous speech has to be the amazing “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered August 28, 1963, from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. It may be because of the magnitude of the gathering that this speech has become the hallmark of Dr. King’s legacy. But there seems to be something more to it. It was this particular speech in which Dr. King had the audacity to dream of a world that was fundamentally better, a world where the tables had turned. It was a world some believed could come into being only after revolutionary change had occurred.

What was remarkable about Dr. King and what I want to focus on today is his audacity to have such a bold dream. Not only did he hold room for this dream in his heart, he shared that dream, idealistic and naïve as it sounded, he shared it publicly with the entire world.

His dream wasn’t a specific blue print. It was simply an insistence that things can and should be better. You see that’s the whole point of a dream. It’s not a plan, it’s simply naming the goal. It’s not a how to, but a vision.

We can learn from Dr. King’s insistence on a dream. Rather than feeling overwhelmed like many of us do, saying “Where do we start? I can’t do everything.” Rather than losing footing in the mess of problems that we see before us, we can hold fast to a vision, a dream. It doesn’t have to be a step-by-step plan. A simple dream will do just fine. Remember the dreams that he spoke of.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

All men are created equal, sitting together at the table of brotherhood, people being judged by the content of their character. This is the language of dreams. This is the language of a revolutionary change. This is a dream that King knew, and we still know is a long ways off. It’s a dream that’s nearly impossible, which is the only type of dream worth fighting for.

The struggles that Dr. King and the civil rights movement faced are difficult for me to wrap my head around. The story from earlier felt almost too violent to tell our own children. The challenges that they faced were tremendous, and still the challenges that we face in making our world a more peaceful place, and an ecologically healthy place can be completely overwhelming. But every leader that I admire has realized and insisted, that we can be better. Our dreams may be far, far away, and the path to them unclear. But one thing is for sure, we can be better.

We can be better and we have all the resources we need at our fingertips. Everything we need to enrich our souls and care for our world. We are giving tremendous gifts. We sit nestled in a creation overflowing with all that is necessary for life. And earth that heated by the sun is delicately balanced to spew forth life. We are given logic and passion and all the gifts of the human spirit. We have been given the power of love. We have been given the power of community. We bask in a deep pool of potential. There is no reason to argue with the fact that WE can do better, as long as we remember that it is possible.

Most religious traditions are joined together in a way that we are not. They have a common object of veneration. Whether it is God, or Vishnu or Allah, or a set of commonly held truths about the universe. Without such a unifying focus we face a pretty big challenge. And on occasion, we Unitarian Universalists supplant our faith in God for faith in this community or in our institutions.

Don’t get me wrong, I love this tradition. I grew up as a Unitarian Universalist and it informs every part of my being. And I am growing to love this little congregation in ways that I never understood as possible. Heck, I even have a flaming chalice tattoo. But, This institution is NOT the goal, it is not the dream. It is simply a means to get to that dream.

When we come together in worship, if we spend that time worshiping ourselves, and the institution that we build, well that’s pretty twisted. There must be something greater, some broader dream that drives this community, some reason for our being. Community is wonderful and our Fellowship is wonderful, but it is a means to an end. Naming that end can be a little difficult sometimes, but it is out there.

I have attended workshops on the subject and been a part of a few endeavors. From what I have seen, it’s very, very difficult for a church to write a mission statement. Most of us find it nearly impossible to summarize in a few words why we exist, not what we do, but why we exist. Why invest time and energy into building this thing. What need does it fill in the world?
We can very easily name some of the things that we do as a religious community. We have worship services, we do social justice work, we do pastoral care, we do all of these things. But why do we exist?

I think we exist to provide sanctuary and to create a more just, peaceful and loving world. And we do both of those things at the same time.

I want to talk briefly about what it means for us to be a sanctuary. We are in the business of being a safe place. A safe place for broken hearts, a safe place for outcasts, a safe place for people of all ages. Last year I spoke about our congregation being a butterfly sanctuary, a place where we could come and be safe, as we make the vulnerable and sometimes scary transform into magnificently beautiful selves. We exist to be a sanctuary for people in their times of need.

We aim to be a sanctuary for those who need a safe place. And we also aim to be a sanctuary for each other’s dreams. In a world that is quick to say “no”, and is more interested in a bottom line than what rests at the bottom of your heart, we create a place that we can nurture one another’s hopes and dreams. We build a sanctuary for hope.

I recently read from one a UU theologian that “Human beings often need sanctuary. But so does the Spirit.” (A House for Hope)P. 148 This caught my attention. We are quite aware of the needs of individual people. But we also offer sanctuary in a different way. We offer sanctuary to the spirit, the divine, our highest ideals, the ineffable source of life, whatever you want to call it, we make room for it here, we welcome it, we celebrate it.

Too often in religious life we speak so highly of those ideals and of the divine, as if they don’t need our help and encouragement in the world. But just like our downtrodden brothers and sisters who come here for a moment of support and peace, so to the spirit of life and love needs the support of a community, this community. “Human beings often need sanctuary. But so does the spirit. “

So we are here to be a sanctuary, and we are here to make a more just, peaceful and loving world. What’s remarkable is that we accomplish those two things at the same time.

As I shared with you in the opening words, King said that “One day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal that we week but a means by which we arrive at that goal.” He understood that there can be no division between the goals that we have for the wider world, and the methods that we use to move toward those goals. They are one in the same. As we create the beloved community here, we bring it about in the wider world. And as we struggle for justice for all people, we deepen our relationships with one another. The method and the goal are the same thing. Peace is both a dream and a practice. Building the beloved community is both our dream for the wider world, and our practice of offering sanctuary in this Fellowship.

One of my most striking moments of ministry happened not too long ago, many of you were here. It happened when Tom McGrew stood here and told us about his commitment to this Fellowship. I think it was probably a fundraising pitch, during the pledge campaign. What I heard was way more important than a passionate ask for money. And I tell this story not to toot a horn or ask for more money. I tell it because it cuts to the heart of who we are as a Fellowship.

Tom was describing why this church was important to him, why he chose this place to support with his time and his money. And he said that he feels like it makes him a better person. Not in a self-righteous way, like “I go to church, I’m better than you.” Not like that, but in a way that causes him to pause and think about his words and his actions. In a way that he feels encouraged and inspired to follow his conscience more fully. He said that UUFLB impacts his life, he said that WE impact his life in a positive way.

Hearing this is a very sobering moment for a minister, and I hope that it is a sobering moment for you as a congregation. What we do here, building this sanctuary impacts people in real ways and makes them better people out in the world. Building a sanctuary helps not just those that seek its shelter. Building a sanctuary helps a world in need.
Our Dreams

I spoke earlier about Dr. King’s willingness and bravery to hold a dream. And I spoke about the role of this congregation as a sanctuary for dreams. We can be better, we have everything we need at our fingertips. We can be better to each other and we can build a better world as long as we remember that we have a dream to strive for. But I’m curious. What is your dream? I’m curious, and I think other people need to hear this as well. In one or two words what do you want for our world? Not just for yourself or for this church, what do you want for the world? Yell it out. Don’t whisper it, don’t say it. Yell is aloud so we can feel it.

Let us be about the business of making our dreams a reality. Les us never forget the dreams of others in this room. More importantly let us never forget our own dreams for a better world.

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