Friday, March 25, 2011

Sermon - "Satryagraha: Soulforce"

"Satyagraha: Soulforce"

The great thing about having a whole month to talk about one theme, is that we can dig into the topic more deeply. We often dig in so deep that I find myself presenting a different perspectives from one week to the next. Just two weeks about I said that suffering doesn’t lead to redemption. Suffering, especially through violence cannot possibly pay for the sins of the world in some cosmic balancing act. Redemption doesn’t work that way.

Well, today I want to talk about a kind of suffering and sacrifice that can earn redemption. In theological terms, we call it voluntary redemptive suffering. That’s the very formal way of describing the type of civil disobedience that we are all aware of. It was the tool of Gandhi, King, Nelson Mandela and others. It’s making oneself vulnerable to suffering in an effort to draw attention and compassion to a social evil. We voluntarily sacrifice our own well being so that the community might redeem itself and correct its ways.

Voluntary redemptive suffering does NOT mean that we accept senseless suffering that serves no purpose. Suffering inflicted on those who have not volunteered to receive it is certainly not what we are talking about. The redemption that we are talking about today is a call to suffer voluntarily, so that involuntary suffering might end.
As I said, we’re all familiar with this sort of activism. Nelson Mandela watched his people suffer involuntarily from the cruelties of apartheid. But he decided that his suffering would count. He didn't suffer apartheid in silence. He didn't join anti-apartheid bands who tortured and maimed their enemies (black and white alike). He took a public stand against the unjust laws, knowing the consequences. He was arrested, beaten, and imprisoned. That kind of voluntary, redemptive suffering moved minds and hearts across the world. The people who saw black Africans as immoral, promiscuous, less than human, learned the TRUTH in Mandela's acts of courage.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. watched his people suffer involuntarily from the cruelties of segregation. King refused to suffer in silence. He didn't agree with those who called for overthrowing segregation violently. King took a public stand against the unjust laws by breaking them. When he was arrested, he paid the consequences willingly and people noticed.

When the children of Birmingham marched against segregation, the nation saw them on the evening news being beaten by police, knocked down by fire hoses, and attacked by snarling dogs. For decades they had suffered segregation involuntarily and few seemed to notice let alone to care. But when those children finally took their stand, when they volunteered to suffer for the cause, the President, the Congress and the courts finally took notice.

And lets not forget Gandhi. Instead of paying a few pennies in salt tax to the British, Gandhi walked 240 miles to the sea to make salt. Before he could lead the march to the British salt works, he was arrested and the protestors who took his place were beaten, harassed and abused with the world looking on in shock and horror. The Indians who followed Gandhi on the journey to nonviolence suffered willingly. And people around the world saw their suffering and demanded that they be set free.

Gandhi showed the world that when we take a voluntary stand against injustice, we don't know how the adversaries will react. However they respond, the goal is to take on the suffering without complaint or retaliation so that the adversaries will see the courage and witness the commitment to create change.

You may have noticed I have used the word “adversary” a few times today. “Adversary” is a word used intentionally, in place of enemy. One of the key aspects of Satyagraha or Soulforce is the belief in the inherent dignity and goodness of every person, even those who act unjustly. Adversaries are not evil or hateful or insane. They are "Victims of Untruth" as we have all been at one time or another.

Now that is a big, big, big challenge, to see the person who inflicts injustice and harm, not as an enemy but as an adversary. I can’t stress enough how difficult that is. But it is an essential piece of the sort of redemption that we are talking about today. Non-violence is not just a social justice tactic, it is a way of being in one’s heart. This sort of personal non-violence and ability to see an adversary as a victim of misinformation is the cornerstone of what Gandhi understood as Satyagraha, or soulforce.

In his own words, Gandhi said, “In the application of satyagraha, I discovered … that pursuit of truth did not admit of violence being inflicted on one’s opponent, but that he must be weaned from error by patience and compassion. For what appears to be truth to the one may appear to be error to the other. And patience means self-suffering. So the doctrine came to mean vindication of truth, not by infliction of suffering on the opponent, but on oneself.” (Gandhi, M.K. Statement to Disorders Inquiry Committee January 5, 1920 satyagrahi valvuloplasty (The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi vol. 19, p. 206)

Satyagraga, truth-force, or soul-force, is a non-violence commitment to use non-violent means to demonstrate the truth so that both the oppressed and their adversaries might be freed.

That’s how we get voluntary redemptive suffering. Rather than inflicting force or suffering on our adversary, we approach them with patience and kindness, and inflict that suffering on ourselves instead.

You see the peace that we read about earlier in our responsive reading is a much deeper phenomenon than stopping military violence. Of course that is a tremendously important goal that each of these leaders sought. But, the peace that Gandhi spoke of was not simply a goal. It is a method, a strategy. The first step to creating lasting meaningful change in the world is cultivating non-violence within ourselves. Adversaries are not evil or hateful or insane. They are "victims of untruth" as we have all been at one time or another. Understanding that alone is a journey that can take a lifetime.

We all know the story of the amazing woman Rosa Parks. There are two versions of her story. They are both sort of inspiring, but one is the truth. The first story is that one day after years of giving up her seat to white people on the bus, Rosa Parks was tired. She had had enough. She said I’m not going to take it anymore and refused to move. That solitary act of courage and defiance sparked the Montgomery Buss Boycott, a major step in the civil rights movement. That’s one version of her story, the version that many of you are probably familiar with.

The other story is a little more complicated. Now several action’s like Ms. Parks’ had been taken in the past, but none of them had the sort of traction that civil-rights leaders had hoped for. They needed just the right person, someone with a perfectly clean record, a respected leader of the community who could withstand the public attention and legal entanglement. They found one. This is the story about Rosa Parks, the civil rights activist. At the time of her on that bus, Rosa Parks was secretary of the Montgomery chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and she had recently attended the Highlander Folk School. That’s a social justice center in Tennessee that trained people to strategize for workers rights and racial equaility.

I think it’s critically important to tell this second story, this true story about who Rosa Parks really was. She was a woman plugged into a movement. She had had extensive training in non-violence. She knew that her adversaries were not malicious or crazy or evil. They were people, who were victims of untruth. She made it her mission to expose the truth to them, and to the whole world. Rosa Parks was not simply a tired commuter. She knew the consequences of her actions. And she willingly offered herself to be arrested and suffer the consequences. She offered herself to suffer, so that her adversaries might better understand the sickness of segregation.

In all this talk about justice leaders, it is important to point out that no one needs to be a saint to make a difference. In fact it is probably better if you are not. Every time I sing Gandhi’s praises, I am reminded of some of the personal lifestyle experiments he undertook. He nearly starved himself to death on repeated occasions, not for political purposes, but simply to see what his body could endure. He tried very hard to fully squelch any sexual urges that he had. He had an almost obsession with control over his own body.
I don’t aim to detract from Gandhi’s insights and leadership. But it is important that we recognize that he too was human. He was in many ways a very quirky person and his ascetic pursuits are quite contradictory to the celebration of life that Unitarian Universalists tend to embrace.

I’m not asking anyone to be an ascetic or a saint. I simply ask that we explore how non-violence, Satyagraha, soulforce, might inform our own action in the world.

Action and personal sacrifice happens in a variety of ways. In fact each one of you probably does a variety of different things to make the world a better place. Some of you give your resources of time and money to causes that you care about. Others of you commit to cultivating inner peace that will radiate to the wider world. I know many people make personal sacrifices large and small to help save our fragile and struggling environment. What do you do? I want you to just think of one or two things that you do, large or small. What do you do?

And now remember with me, the parable that I told in intergenerational time. Remember the heroine who saved the drowning people. First she dive in her self to save those in need. Then she recruited others to help with the cause. Finally she went to the source of the problem and asked that community to stop throwing people in the river. Then, right in front of them, she dove right back in to continue the struggle. She did it boldly in front of her adversaries. A critical part of voluntary redemptive suffering is that it needs to be witnessed to have its full affect. That’s right, it’s not just about jumping into the freezing cold water to save a drowning child. It’s about doing it with witnesses, so that they can see your willingness to sacrifice. They can see how much you care about saving that life.

We Unitarian Universalists talk a lot about taking action to make our world a better place. And we do a lot. The thing that we’re not so good about is sharing what we do with the wider world. You would be shocked to hear how reluctant people are to be chalice lighters on Sunday mornings. Some of them we practically have to beg for the permission to share with you the great work they have done for the world. That’s a big part of why we do have a chalice lighter every Sunday. It’s a moment to pry open the modesty in our culture, an opportunity to say wow, look what they did. Isn’t that awesome. Isn’t that inspiring.

It’s not such a bad thing to share with the world what you do. Part of the commitment toward good is a willingness to be an inspiration for others. As a wise man once said, no one lights a lamp and hides it’s light under a bushel.

I want you to think of that one or two things that you do to make the world a better place that I asked you about earlier. I want you to tell someone about that during the social hour after church. Now if I know you as I think I do, no one is going to jump out and say it. So I beg you to ask each other. Ask someone what sacrifice they made voluntarily to make our world a better place.

We’re not looking for saints here. Anyone can shine a light on the truth. It doesn’t have to be a giant flood light, just a spark will do. A spark can start a great fire.


Giving credit where it is due, much of my understanding of Soulforce and much of the actual material from this sermon comes from the organization by that name. Soulforce is an organization that puts to work the principles of non-violence to work for the full inclusion of GLBT people in religious institutions across the country. While their work is specific to one type of oppression, the principles they draw on are universal.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Sermon - Repairing the Web

Repairing the Web

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We’re all familiar with that statement. And we tend to agree. If injustice is occurring in some place, we are called to step in and confront it. A geographical distance from the place of injustice does not remove override our responsibility to stop it, or at least speak out against it. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Well, today I want to broaden that concept a little bit, to deal not just with geographical distance, but with temporal difference. I’d like to suggest that injustices of the past, is a threat to justice in the present, if it doesn’t get addressed. That’s right, the injustices of a community’s past can linger on for centuries, raising their head over and over in different forms.
Today we are talking about dealing with injustices of the past. We are talking about our society seeking redemption for it’s historical sins. One of the most prominent and most controversial ways that redemption is often sought is through reparations.

In general terms, reparation is material compensation provided to the victims of injustice, or to their descendents. Today, the largest conversation about reparations revolves around slavery and African American descendents of slaves. There are also significant movements for reparations for American Indians.
And in some cases, reparations are actually made on a large scale. After World War II, the U.S. government apologized for the internment of Japanese Americans and provided reparations of $20,000 to each survivor to compensate for loss of property and liberty during that period. And other countries have also opted to pay reparations for past grievances, such as the German government making reparations to Jews and survivors and descendants of the Holocaust.
You get the idea. Reparations are material compensation for a past injustice. But more than just a cash payment, reparations are even more powerful as a symbolic gesture. They make one step toward reconciliation, toward mending relationships that have been violated. And that’s what redemption is about after all.

There are two important stories that come out of the church where I grew up, in Tulsa Oklahoma. And as far as I can tell, there has been very little conversation about how these stories are pieces of larger, incredibly beautiful puzzle.
The better known story I have shard with you in a previous sermon. It has also been the topic of at least a few articles in the UU World magazine. It’s the story of how two churches became one. The story of how a White, upper-class Unitarian church found a new soul, and the story of how a struggling Black liberal evangelical congregation found a new home.
Rev. Carlton Pearson, an African American Pentecostal preacher, had founded one of Tulsa’s most prominent megachurches. By the late 1990s Higher Dimensions, had swelled to 6,000 members, who were contributing $60,000 a week into the collection plate. The church had added on an 800-seat balcony, installed major multimedia equipment, bought a 650-acre ranch, and had plans for to build a hotel. Carlton Pearson built that congregation from the ground up and it looked like the sky was the limit. It was like a Black Mariner’s.

But in 1996, Pearson had a revelation. In watching the victims of genocide in Rwanda, Pearson became angry at the God he knew. The idea that God might condemn any of these people, these victims of senseless violence to Hell was unfathomable. Pearson had a revelation, and he began to preach the gospel of inclusion to his congregation, the gospel that God’s love was not limited to those who had been born again, not even limited to Christians. He knew that no one would be excluded from God’s love, regardless of their religious beliefs. Carlton Pearson basically became a Christian Universalist.
But this message of love didn’t sit well with the evangelical world, or even his own congregation. In the midst of speaking his truth, the truth of Universal love, Pearson lost just about everything he struggled for. The mega-church crumbled. They lost thousands of members; his close-knit staff; his building. He lost use of his church’s name; rights to his own sermons, books, audio, and video; and lots of money. Worse than all that, he says, the venom he has felt from conservative Christians was shocking. His cleaners and his wife’s hairdresser refused to serve them, and his children were taunted at school and forbidden by parents to see friends.
From the congregation of 6,000, about 200 remained loyal to Pearson, and followed on a religious journey. The 200 or so survivors renamed themselves New Dimensions, and eventually found a new place to worship, at the All Souls Unitarian Church. Their worship service was held Sunday afternoons. Keep in mind, All Souls looks like any other Unitarian Church, just bigger. The congregation is overwhelmingly white, and mostly from an upper-middle background. They are a theological mix much like ours, some theists, some atheists, many agnostics, mostly refugees from other traditions. But, as a deep friendship grew between these two ministers, one a White Unitarian Universalist and one and African American Evangelical, both committed to racial justice. And so did the relationship between their congregations.
Eventually, New Dimensions became a part of All Souls Unitarian Church. With around 2,000 members, as the largest congregation in the Unitarian Universalist Association, All Souls has become a radically inclusive, richly racially diverse community.
The contemporary worship service is like nothing I have ever seen in another Unitarian Universalist church. There is a praise band, a gospel choir, and most importantly, people on their feet singing, not out of a hymnal, but out of their heart. These two congregations have taken an amazing journey together, and their future looks stronger than ever. Who could have thought such a relationship was possible.

What has happened in Tulsa is a bit of a love story, one that we like to celebrate. But there is another story that happened at that same church in Tulsa. It’s a story that I think is deeply, deeply related.

This story is about reparations. As I said, reparations is typically talked about in reference to slavery or the oppression of American Indians, but it can also be targeted at more specific moments of injustice.
The injustice in this case was the Tulsa race riot. The sixteen-hour Tulsa riot in 1921, destroyed the Black business district in north Tulsa. When a white mob swept through the area of town, at least thirty-eight people were killed. Over 800 people were admitted to local hospitals with injuries, an estimated 10,000 were left homeless, when 35 city blocks composed of 1,256 residences were destroyed by fires.
Although racial tension was at a boiling point, the incident was sparked when a Black you man allegedly assaulted a white women in a downtown building. After the man’s arrest, the local paper ran two incendiary ariticles, one titled, “Nab the Negroe for Attacking Girl in Elevator,” and the other provided news or a lynching party that would gather that evening. The hatred that these articles fueled gave rise to a terrible moment of violence. The owner of that paper, the Tulsa Tribune was a leader member of All Souls Unitarian Church.
That moment, that terrible day is a scar on Tulsa’s history. For years the story was ignored, but in the 1990’s a few brave leaders reached out to begin a long-overdue healing process.
In the 1990s, a two-year effort lead by All Souls UU church encouraged the community to contribute to a voluntary reparations fund. Over $40,000 was collected and distributed. Two Tulsa Unitarian Universalist congregations, Church of the Restoration and All Souls Unitarian Church, were instrumental in these efforts to help survivors. $27,000 came from Unitarian Universalist sources including All Souls and Restoration Churches, the UUA's James Reeb Fund, and individuals. Obviously $40,000 cannot pay for the destruction and injustice of the past. It hardly makes a dent when spread among the survivors. But, it was a worth while effort. And effort by a few of those in power to reach out, to make a step towards mending a relationship.

As I said earlier, these two stories, one story of reparations for damages done and one story of communities coming together, these two stories are part of the same fabric. They inform each other. As we talk about reparations in the political world, and as we talk about redemption in the church world, let us remember that the material compensation is only a symbol of a much deeper need, a need for mending relationships. Reparations is not about buying away guilt. It’s not about being done with the past; it is about mending a relationship, to build a healthier community.

I have come to understand a similar feeling among American Indian activists that I know. Providing reparations to indigenous people at this point is a daunting concept. Even calculating the loss of land, the loss of human dignity, the pain, suffering and murder that occurred is an overwhelming task.
But today there is a strong movement among American Indians to seek some tangible reparations, a material symbol, and acknowledgement of past wrongs. It’s not to fully compensate for historical losses. Such compensation would be absolutely beyond financial measure. To goal is to move in the direction of a mended, healthier, more respectful relationship.
I ran across an article that describes that goal in detail. Rather than seeking just material reparations, William Bradford explains that creating justice is more complex than that. Rather than a one-time cash payment, he suggests an entire new understanding of justice. It has seven distinct stages: acknowledgement, apology, peacemaking, commemoration, compensation, land restoration, legal reformation, and reconciliation. I love this description of justice for two reasons. First, because it points out that the goal is not a simple material exchange. But more importantly Bradford’s model ends with the ultimate goal or reconciliation. (Beyond Reparations: An American Indian Theory of Justice, WILLIAM BRADFORD)

Reparations is not primarily about paying for material injustices. It is about repairing the complex tapestry of community. Redemption is not about making amends and going in your separate directions. The goal is to mend relationships.

Today’s intergenerational story was “The Dog and the Heartless King.” Remember, the dog in the court kept barking and barking until the King has offered enough food to everyone in his kingdom. The king was so selfish, he had never realized just how many people were in such profound need around him. But, this gigantic barking dog helped him to see the errors of his ways.
The quick and easy interpretation of the story may be that we need a barking dog, so that we as a country, might be motivated to feed the hungry and care for the sick. Certainly there are multitudes in our society, just like the kingdom of the heartless king, who are hungry and cold. Perhaps we need a barking dog.
But my understanding of the story is that the dog is already barking. The challenge is to hear it for what it is. Based on centuries of colonialism, slavery, corporate exploitation, and domination of the Earth, our own dog is barking. It just sounds a little different. We don’t live in a children’s story after all. But, The earth is crying out. The bombs of conquest are deafening, the racial inequality and tension that persist. All of these realities are the giant dog barking. That dog will keep barking. Our history will continue to remain with us, until we can respond and heal from it, until we can seek redemption.

Ash Wednesday is also the beginning of the season of Lent. A time of sacrifice and repentance before Easter. A

In closing, I want to revisit our reading from earlier. Both the poetry and the message a worth repeating. In this passage from the book of Isaiah that we read together earlier, God is talking about what kind of worship is fitting and meaningful for his people.

From Isaiah 58:
Is not this the fast that I choose:
To loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see them naked, to cover them, and not hide yourself from your own kin?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly;
If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
You shall be like a watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.

We have only begun to see the very tip of the potential greatness that this diverse country could be. This talk of redemption and healing from past injustices is not just the stuff of heart-ache. It is also the stuff of hope. For the dog to stop barking in our land, it’s time to seek some redemption. It is time for the United States to make manifest a new destiny. A destiny built not on expansion and exploitation, but a destiny founded on healing and health, and right relationship.


Monday, March 7, 2011

Sermon - "Together We Share, From This We Live"

You may be relieved to hear that we are moving on from the topic of Evil. Throughout February we were talking about evil as a theological concept. Is it out there, or in us? What kind of power does it have, and how do we resist it? All that stuff. But this month we are talking about redemption. Basically redemption is the question of how we overcome our shortcomings. No one is perfect, but we seek the security of knowing we have been good enough. So how do we redeem ourselves, in the eyes of each other, in the eyes of God, and in according to our own values? How do we redeem ourselves and when do we know how much is enough?

Well the traditional Christian answer to redemption is a good place to start the conversations, probably because it’s the most clear cut answer that I know of. According to most of Christian teaching, believers are redeemed by the suffering of Jesus on the cross. His suffering roughly 2000 years ago paid for the sins of all humanity. So it is the role of faithful Christians to be grateful for that sacrifice he, and God his father made on their behalf. As an side note, that’s why the innocence and purity of Jesus is so important. Because his suffering was not for his own sins or wrong-doing, but for those of sinful humanity.

This probably strikes some of you as a little violent, or a lot violent. God the creator of all things created sinful humans. Those humans are so bad that God they would be sent to Hell for eternity at after death. So to avoid such a fate for humans, God sacrificed his only son to be tortured to death. But Jesus’s suffering of course wouldn’t save everyone from Hell. Only those who believed in this cosmic payment for sins, this redemption would be saved from the fiery depths.
Well a couple of women theologians, Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker were deeply troubled by this whole idea. So they wrote a book to explore the idea of redemption through violence. It’s called “Proverbs of Ashes.” In that book they talked about the ways that that traditional Christian idea of redemption sanctioned violence, especially against women. They tell story after story about domestic abuse that is hidden by or even explicitly supported by religion. But they knew better. Violence is not life affirming, it is not holy, it is not redemptive. What is redemptive about Jesus’ death, and the important thing about any time a person suffers is the healing community that gathers in response.

They write “We have experienced life-giving communities that foster knowledge of spirit, awareness of presence. We know that, at their best, healthy communities practice the right use of the powers of life and lead people to experience wholeness, right relationship, and beauty. When this happens, such communities teach us to know ourselves and the world as sacred and sustain an ethic of appreciative care for life.” (p. 9)

That is a whole lot powerful theology in just a few sentences. But that is just the theology that we focus on today. The fact is, redemption doesn’t’ come through pain and sacrifice. It certainly doesn’t come through violence, especially needless violence within a family. Redemption comes when we join together in a community, when we create space for one another to grow into our best selves. Redemption isn’t there to be earned, it is there to be realized. And when we spend the time to reflect the value that we see in one another, we teach one another that invaluable lesson. You are good enough, just as you are.

I want to go back a little bit to talk about the way that these authors found redemption in the person of Jesus. They argued that, rather than the violent act of crucifixion, Jesus is a redeeming figure because of the community that he built around him and the relationships that he modeled. It is that community that came together to heal from the suffering of violence that is the good news, not the violent act itself.
The redemption that comes out of disaster is the community that gathers in response. We saw this reality in the wake of September 11th. Our whole country, especially the city of New York, was transformed into a community of healing and support. It was an amazing moment of clarity and solidarity. I’m not talking about the political nighrmare that took place in Washington. I’m talking about the way we as individual people cared for one another. We were suddenly tender, more gentle, and more giving of our resources. We saw our brothers and sisters were in need. It’s what we do, it’s what is right. When disaster strikes we come together. Perhaps the best point of contrast was the community of support and healing that failed to emerge after the Hurricane Katrina disaster. To this day, we aren’t all that concerned by the destruction of that horrible storm. But we remain traumatized by a national the lack of supportive response.
It happens on all kinds of scales. I often see it as families come together with a sick relative or after a loved on has died. It happened when Rep. Gabriel Giffords and other innocent people were shot. It happened in Haiti. You have your own stories of this type of healing community, maybe in a large scale disaster, or more likely within your own family.

The community that we build in response to tragedy is redeeming, powerful, healing, and holy. It’s what we do, and arguably it is what helps us survive. That instinct to come together and chip in literally saves lives. That begs the question, do we have to wait for that tragedy to come along, or can we create life affirming community here and now, every day? I am committed to the belief that yes, we can. And that’s what we aim to do as a religious community.

Every Sunday we get together here to talk about what is important to our lives. During joys and sorrows we lift up those major things that have occurred in our individual lives. During our time of meditation and prayer we commune with God and with our highest ideals. During the sermon, I do my best every Sunday to offer a core message, a message that speaks to the fundamental needs and desires, and perhaps most importantly the hopes that we share. And then there is the music of worship. The songs we sing and those that we listen to, take us to a deeper place, a place of hearing what really matters.

We build that a healing community together, not in aftermath of tragedy, but in the presence of each other’s lives. Rather than waiting for the big one to hit, or waiting for a near-death experience, we come here. Maybe some people don’t need the weekly reminder of what is most important in their lives. Maybe they are much more on target than me. But I find it helpful to have Sunday, every Sunday, to remind me of the healing power of community.

We are social animals after all. We depend on one another to survive. I’m often fascinated by how physically weak we are as human beings. Compared to just about any other animal, we are remarkably poorly suited for survival on our own in the wild. We have not fur for protection. We aren’t particularly fast or strong. We don’t dig or climb. I suppose we could gather berries, if we didn’t get eaten by larger predators first.
My point is, thank God for our big overactive human brains. Our mental capacity more than compensates for our lack of physical significance. We can use logic to solve problems and create tools, to feed ourselves.
But the real magic comes when we use those brains to work together. We organize in community to share resources, labor and skills. Humans have certainly thrived on the planet earth, some might say overwhelming way. And we have done it by helping one another.
But it’s not just food and shelter that we help one another with. We develop as individuals within community. I would even argue that we become ourselves within community. The people around us, from the time we are born to the time that we die, help form us. And their love and support keeps us going.
Obviously sharing food and shelter have sustained human community in amazing ways. But also our ability to share our emotional lives with one other shapes our lives. In some ways it is just as necessary for survival as food is. As we sing together every Sunday, From you I receive, to you I give. Together we share, and from this we live.

But I want to get back to this question of redemption. How do we overcome our shortcomings in the eyes of God, each other, or our own values. The version of redemption that we talk most about, and the version that I think most of us feel, is the redemption that comes from our Unitarian roots. It’s the notion of redemption that we can and must improve ourselves and the world around us.
There’s nothing more puritanical in us than this drive toward perfection, in ourselves and in the wider world. We will talk about this Unitarian redemption in the weeks to come as we discussion reparations and non-violent civil-disobedience. This is the type of thing that most of us jump into to feel better about ourselves. We write letters and raise money; we educate and we protest. We march and organize. But I do wonder, where does it stop. Where does this exhausting train of improvement and work finally come to the station? Where do we find solace? Because, this world has a whole bunch of problems. If I start now, I can make a small dent. And as for perfecting myself, well I’m sorry to say, but perfection just isn’t in the cards in this lifetime. I already feel tired and anxious just thinking of the work there is to get done.

Fortunately, there’s another message of redemption at the root of our religious tradition. And that is Universalism. Universalists believe that God would not condemn anyone to Hell. No one is excluded from the family. No one is left out in the rain. No one is so despised that healing is not in order.

The good news of Universalism that we need such a dose of is that Love wins out. That’s right. With all our failures and our foibles. With our inability to create a perfect earth, we are not excluded from the family of love. In Universalism, love wins. We build beloved community centered on love and forgiveness. It’s not about being good enough or working hard enough or earning our way to salvation. It’s about accepting that we are all broken and we are all whole. And we are all worthy of love, God’s and each others’.

You may have already seen this chalice. I have brought it with me to church a couple of times. Of all the ones that sit next to my desk, this is my favorite chalice, because it reminds me of this message of Universalism. You see, the chalice is both broken and whole at the same time. It actually came to me through a Christian community rather than a UU one. They use it to serve their communion. But I think it’s equally appropriate for our Unitarian Universalist chalice to be both broken and whole at the same time.

It reminds us, at the center of our religious life, as we affirm our values and what is sacred to us. It reminds us that each person, you and me and everyone we know is both broken and whole at the same time. We are flawed, and loveable.

Redemption comes in, overcoming our challenges comes in, when we remind one another of our sacred worth through building community together. Redemption isn’t so much something that we have to earn, as something we remember and remind one another about.

We have talked a good deal recently about growing our congregation in numbers. We need around twenty additional members for UUFLB to be financially healthy in the long run. Of course more would be even better. So we talk about all the things that we might do: better communications, different events, personal invitations, all sorts of strategies. But growing isn’t just about a list of things to do, it’s also abut offering our love and acceptance to the people we encounter. And I’m not even talking about being friendly and polite. I’m talking about wrapping your heart around someone and letting them know they are appreciated for who they are.
Think back about when you first came to UUFLB or to a UU church for the first time. Not just why a UU church rather than another, but why did you look for a church in the first place. Nine times out of ten, I find that it’s because people want a community. They want authentic loving community. People come here looking for a group of compassionate people to stand with them and tell them “it will be okay, you are okay just as you are.”

Let us be such a place. Let us gathered here know that it will be okay, that we are okay just as we are. Because in the end, love wins. We have inherited a tremendous gift in the message of Universalism. Let us share that redeeming message of love with one another and with a world in need.