Monday, August 29, 2011

Sermon - "Descendants of Abraham"

All summer in our worship services, we have been talking about the sources and the principles of Unitarian Universalism. We talked about personal experience of the sacred, world religions, humanism. We talked about the web that connects us all, and about the sense of community in our ever shrinking globe. All these things are important to our faith tradition. Although we forget it at times, the biggest source of our tradition is Christianity.
To answer a question that comes up over and over again, no Unitarian Universalism is not a Christian denomination. It began as a reform movement within Christianity. But by 20th Century, it long exceeded the bounds of Christian thought to include other religious sources, as well as humanist teachings that challenge the very notion of religious authority. Yes, there are Christians who are Unitarian Universalists, and yes, we did develop out of Christian roots. But today we embrace far too broad of a religious spectrum to be considered a Christian denomination. No, Unitarian Universalism is not a Christian denomination. Still, Christianity is in our religious DNA.
The other source that we will explore today is Jewish heritage. Judaism comes to Unitarianism through less direct sources. Obviously, Jesus was a Jew and Christianity first came to the Jewish community. In that way, as Judaism informs Christianity, it also informs Unitarian Universalism. But more recently, Unitarian Universalism has been impacted by Judaism in the 20th century, as humanist leaning Jews found a new home here.

I called this worship service Descends of Abraham, in recognition of a common source. And I must also mention Islam. While Islam is the other widely known Abrahamic religion, it has not influenced Unitarian Universalism as significantly as Judaism and Christianity have. So for today, as we talk about sources of our faith we will focus on Christianity and Judaism, and hold Islam for another time.

First and foremost, Unitarian Universalism has been shaped by Chrstianty. Obviously, Christianity is an incredibly vast tradition. With around two billion adherents around the globe, it’s no surprise that it means a great many different things to different people. Even within our own country, it seems that different groups claiming the same tradition couldn’t possibly be talking about the same thing.

But, there is one theme in Christianity that is central to the tradition in the United States. It’s a theme that clearly has shapes Unitarian Universalism. It is, a profound and repeated emphasis on love. It is the lynch pin of Christian belief.

We all know that the whole tradition of Christianity centers on the person of Jesus. Whether or not you agree, Christians believe that Jesus brings salvation to humanity. We know that, living in the United States this is sort of basic cultural knowledge.

But I want to dig a little bit deeper. Jesus is a savior in two different ways. And BOTH of those ways hinge on love. The way that Jesus offers salvation that most of us hear about in contemporary Christianity is the idea of a sacrifice. We hear about Jesus being sacrificed on the cross to pay for the sins of humanity. Through his suffering, the sins of Christians, who accept him as their savior can be forgiven for their sins. The official word for this theology is substitutionary atonement. Jesus was the substitute who atoned, or paid for the sins of humanity.

Offering your only child as a physical sacrifice is a pretty gruesome picture. But, I want you to keep in mind that the whole concept of that sacrifice is about God’s love. God loved the world so much, that he made the most unthinkable sacrifice.
His death on the cross was a sacrifice made out of love for humanity. In the most common sense, we hear of God, sending Jesus as his son, as a sacrifice. But there’s also a sense of self-sacrifice, civil disobedience style. Jesus knew that his radical message of love was so counter-cultural, so dangerous to the mainstream, that it endangered his life. And rather than give up that struggle or pay tribute to the political tyrants of his day, he said no to evil and yes to love. He knowingly sacrificed himself to stay true to his message. He loved the world so much, that he was willing to give his life to stand up for his life-giving truth.

The way most Christians speak of Jesus as a savior today is through a sacrifice made in love. But as I said, Jesus was also a saving figure in second and very different way, a way that most Unitarians find more compelling, a way that is also centered on love. Most Unitarians who find inspiration in Jesus, find it in his teachings of love, acceptance, and justice. Over and over again in the gospels, we hear of Jesus spending his time and being compassionate with the most unlikely of characters. Tax collectors, peasants, foreigners, women, adulterers, children, and the list goes on. None of these people would have been understood as worthy of the attention of a great religious figure, and yet these are the exact people who Jesus taught and shared meals with. These are the people he touched and healed. These are the people that he offered hope to.

Jesus explained to them that all was required of them was to love their neighbors and to love God. Nothing else mattered. Not their wealth or role in society. Jesus taught, by the example of his life, that the ONLY THING THAT MATTERS IS LOVING YOUR NEIGHBOR AND LOVING GOD. Let me repeat that. Jesus taught, by the example of his life, that the ONLY THING THAT MATTERS IS LOVING YOUR NEIGHBOR AND LOVING GOD. Christianity has come to mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. But the central thing that Jesus taught, the thing you can read for yourself, is a message of love in the present moment.

When I say love is the center of the Christian message, I’m not talking about an easy love, a puppy love of simple answers. I’m talking about real, rich, nuanced life-saving love. It’s the kind of love that we have heard described a thousand times in weddings, in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth. You will recognize it when I read it, I promise. What you may not know is that this passage that is so familiar isn’t about romantic love at all. Paul wasn’t writing about marriage. He was writing to a community in turmoil. He was writing about the kid of love that sustains a community.

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

When I say that love is the central message of Christianity, this is the sort of love I am talking about.

If the message that we inherit from Christianity is all about love, then the message we inherit from Judaism is all about community. Judaism and Christianity are radically different in a very important way. Earlier I spoke about how Jesus is a savior within Christianity. His role is to save individual people, individual souls.

For Jews, salvation is a very different thing. Rather than concern for individual salvation in the next life, the Jewish community focuses on saving the entire community in this life. It’s not about what happens after you die, it’s about what happens to us collectively here and now. Judaism is concerned with the health and well-being of the community, because our mutual life depends on it.

The sense of communal investment goes all the way back to the Torah, the Old Testament. We see God rewarding or punishing entire communities in the Old Testament. Most classically this happens with Noah and the flood. But, there are countless other stories of God punishing or rewarding and entire civilizations. Think of the Israelites escape from Egypt, or the plagues that the Egyptians suffered.

Now it couldn’t be that every single one of those Egyptians was evil, or that every single one of the Israelites was a good person. Could it? We sometimes want to protest the fairness of such a God. How could it be that everyone’s fate is wrapped up all together for group judgment?
It doesn’t seem fair in these old stories. But more and more, this is the way we Unitarian Universalists have come to understand salvation. We are in this thing together. Whether we are talking about environmental devestation, racial injustice, gender oppression, nuclear proliferation, we have come to realize that our own liberation is tied up with everyone else’s. Salvation or destruction is wrapped up in an intricate web, that we are each connected to. It’s not so different from those stories of the great flood, not so different at all.
For the Jews of the Old Testament, and the Jews of today, working to maintain community is a central task of religious life. And for us as Unitarian Universalists, building community, especially in the midst of our theological diversity is the central task of our religious life.

More recently, Judaism has shaped our tradition in a different way. After the horrors of World War II, many Jews became increasingly uncomfortable with static ideologies, whether political or religious. They moved away from concrete belief in one God as the core of religious community. And they moved toward a belief that peaceful human community is more important that religious ideology. They essentially became humanists. And along with humanists of many other backgrounds, those Jews, found that Unitarian Universalism was a natural place for them to come. What they brought with them, was a culture that emphasized community. They also brought with them the hard earned lesson that any ideology that claims to have the authoritative answer over others, can become deadly in and frightening instant. They brought, and they remind Unitarian Universalism that celebrating diversity within our community is an essential guard against tyranny.

So, we get a message of love from Christianity, and a message about the central role of community from Judaism. These two core messages of our tradition have been inherited from our roots.

But what does that mean for you, what does that mean when you walk out these doors?

Well, first of all, it means that we need to remember that they are us. Those Christians that we often point fingers at because of political differences, they are the foundation of our own faith. Although it may lead them to different conclusions, the central message of faith for Christians as for us, is one of love.
I’m not saying that all of Christianity or all Judaism is perfect. I also wouldn’t say that about Unitarian Universalism. What I am saying is that we often short change them and dismiss the good that they offer. I feel sometimes like Unitarian Universalism is the teenager, rebelling against the parent, refusing to see that perhaps what the parent has to offer is sage advice.

Our roots in Christianity and Judaism mean one more thing for our lives. Beyond a history lesson or a theology lesson, I want you to hear that the message of these two great traditions holds true for us today.

For us as Unitarian Universalists, that the message in Micah that we read earlier holds as true today as it ever did.

The translation in our hymnal is, “What does the Eternal ask from you, but to be just and kind, and live in a quiet fellowship with your God?”

That’s it. That’s all that is required, to be just and kind, and to deepen your connection to your sense of hope. That is all that is required.
Your initial reaction may be to say “Required? Who does he think he is to tell me something is ‘required’?” I want you to hear this loud and clear, all that is required of you is to be just and kind, and to hold on to your source of hope. That’s it. You’re not required to be top of your class, or to win the race. You’re not required to have your finances in perfect order. You’re not required to have all the answers or even to know the right questions. You’re not required to do any of that.

Because all that is required of you, is to be just and kind, and hold on to the source of your hope. The rest simply doesn’t matter that much.


Monday, August 22, 2011

Sermon - "Roots and Branches"

Roots and Branches

I’d like to start this sermon with a little exercise. And, I literally mean exercise. If you are comfortable doing so, I’d like you to stand up where you are. Okay. Now I’d like you to pick up your personal belongings, your purse or hat, or whatever you have with you, and go and find a seat in the opposite area of the room. No this is not a joke. I know this is going to take a minute, but it has a purpose, trust me. So if you normally sit on this side of the room, I’d like you to move over there. And if you normally sit near the back, come on up here to the front, and vice versa. Trust me, there is a point to this little experiment. Jeff, Terry, Oakley, I want you guys up here on the front row.

Thank you for indulging me a little bit in that. This morning we are talking about making room for new growth and taking some chances. I wanted you to move for two different reasons. One, is to show you how accustomed you have probably become to sitting where you normally sit. It probably feels a little funny to be at a different place in the church. This is probably a little uncomfortable for you regulars. Visitor’s you’ll have to excuse me for just a moment.

But I also want you to notice what has changed about your experience sitting there. Maybe you are a little closer to me, and you can see and hear better. Maybe you are closer to the back where you can get the big picture view with the chalice and all. And you can see all the people in front of you participating. Maybe you have moved into the sunshine, or into a cooler spot. Maybe you’ll notice being closer to the piano when we sing later.

These little changes can make a world of difference. Especially when we have done the same thing for a VERY long time. Today we are talking about striking the delicate balance between honoring the past, the tradition, and risking growing into a new future. It’s a central challenge for churches, to honor the past and to remain relevant in a changing world, and it’s a challenge in each of our lives, as we find strength and comfort in the known, but also learn and grow into the future.

I chose our opening hymn today because it speaks to that delicate balance. It holds two different realities at the same time, leaning on to a comforting stable faith, and dreaming of a better future. Honoring a comfortable and secure faith in God in heaven, and dreaming of a better future in this life, dreaming of freedom from slavery.

The song that we sang is a really good example of the Spirituals that were created during slavery. “Come and go with me to that land where I’m bound. There’ll be freedom in that land. There’s by justice in that land. There’ll be singing in that land, where I’m bound.”

This song is obviously about the promise of heaven in another life. But the song is also about liberation in this life. It’s a song about slaves escaping to the North. This one very powerful song celebrates the solid rock of faith in God above, but it also celebrates taking a tremendous risk for a better life. It holds both realities at the same time. And it’s not unique to today’s hymn.

Other spirituals have the same dual message of hope. They are rooted in solid faith, and hoping for a very risky journey toward freedom in this life. Some people even say that these spirituals that came about during slavery taught specific ways that escaped slaves might evade capture. “Wade in the Water” It’s poetic faith language, and it is a reminder that wading through a stream or a pond was the best, perhaps the only way to lose the scent of dogs that might be sent on the chase. Another song, “The Gospel Train,” encourages escapees to stow away on the train headed North. And the spiritual “Follow the Drinking Gourd,” which is also in our hymnal, is a coded map to the underground railroad. It’s number 152 if you want to check it out.

For African American slaves, and later for African American’s, music was life saving stuff. Who hasn’t been moved by a spiritual or a freedom song at some point? They embraced a permanent faith in God, solid as a rock. And they also speak of an unfulfilled dream, a promise of freedom in this life. The power in these songs comes not just from the beauty of the music. The power also rests in the dual emphasis of of roots in a solid faith, and branching out into a more promising future.

The metaphor of roots and branches that I’m speaking of today came to me through discussions of children’s religious education in Unitarian Universalist churches. As you might guess, we aim to strike a very delicate balance in those classes. For our children as well as for adults, we aim for a balance between teaching the roots of Unitarian Universalism, it’s Christian history, the Seven Principles, it’s commitment to justice, all of the stuff that is the clear foundation of our tradition, and teaching a more expansive vision of faith through various world religions and contemporary ethical concepts. We want our children to be grounded in this faith tradition, and at the same time, feel empowered to explore and expand their mind and spirit.

In discussion of religious education, the language that is used often is “roots and branches.” It’s a critical balance in developing our minds. But the idea of roots and branches also resonates with me when we talk about our wider church life, not just religious education.

We are also called to the difficult task of honoring both our roots and our branches as a congregation. We are called to honor and amazing 65 year history that has brought us to this point, and to answer the call of growing into a vibrant expansive future that is relevant in 2011.

And frankly, a part of me fears that we are in danger. Like many other churches, we are in danger of becoming a bit like a root bound plant. I’m not much of a gardener. But I do know one very important thing. If you keep a plant in a pot, eventually if that plant grows long enough and big enough, its roots will outgrow the pot. It will become root-bound. The roots of the plant will grow so dense and so tight that they tangle we will literally strangle the plant.

At a certain point, to take care of your plants, you have to go through the time consuming process of finding a new, larger pot for that plant. And you have to repot it, giving it more room and space to grow, so that those roots can once again expand and absorb nutrients from the soil, at the same time, allowing the branches to grow broader and more verdant.

Today, I want to challenge you to think of ways that you might initiate some change either here at the Fellowship, in your own lives, or both. How might you make some new room for our roots to find fresh soil so that our breaches can reach toward the light? What do you want to see happen here that is different?

Since I have been the minister here at UUFLB, I have sparked several different changes, experiments. The drum circle is the latest addition. Before that I encouraged getting these televisions to use in our worship service. And I started monthly worship themes. And I started coffee talk a few years ago. I have also experimented with adult Religious Education Classes. It’s also important to point out that I have tried some things that didn’t go over so well. One of the adult RE classes that I created was essentially canceled because it wasn’t a topic that others were interested in. And early on I tried holding a mid-week meditation group. That also didn’t last long.

This is not to give you a laundry list of my work. Remember, some of these projects failed. The point is that I have offered as much of my vision as I could. I knew that some of it would fail, but I trusted this community to be okay with that, to know that it’s not the end of the world if an experiment doesn’t go the way we had hoped.

Now I’m asking you to do a bit of the same thing. How might you make room for fresh soil and more sunlight, so that our Fellowships roots and branches can remain healthy? What do you want to see happen here? If you are willing to help, then there’s a very strong possibility that we can bring that dream into fruition. I’m inviting you to change it up, knowing full and well that it may not be perfect, it may not work at all. But trying something new is what keeps us alive.

If you have been doing the same thing here at the Fellowship for more than five years, consider stopping. Consider finding some other way to feed the life of this community. Consider letting someone else have a chance to contribute in the way that you have. Consider learning some new way of giving. Consider cracking your pot open a little bit.

This doesn’t mean stopping your involvement in church. It means find an idea that makes you grow and stretch. And doing that thing that makes you reach toward the light. You know it’s funny, if we do the same thing in worship too many times, people will complain that it becomes rote and meaningless. “That’s too Catholic,” people start to say, “reading the same thing over and over every week.”

The bottom line is, I want you doing what you are passionate about. I want your involvement at UUFLB to be something that puts a smile on your face, not something that just falls in your lap because you’ve always done it. And the same thing goes for life outside of the Fellowship. Life is way too short not to try a new adventure every once in a while.

I think Judy Shepard embodies this principle better than anyone I know. If she’s intrigued by something, she tries it. She wrote a novel in a month. She got her certification as a professional chef. She took painting classes in Europe. Those are the adventures I know about since knowing here just 5 years. The important thing is she did these things because she wanted to. Not because it was a career move, or it was expected of her. Certainly not because it was easy or what she had always done. Judy has a tremendous commitment to trying new things. It’s a spiritual discipline that we call could learn from.

And the growing and learning doesn’t stop as we age. It may change, but it doesn’t stop. Barbara made a very helpful distinction to me last week about her retirement. She said I didn’t retire from, I wanted to retire to. That is to say that she didn’t want to retire to get away from work. She wanted to retire to free herself up to do different things, things that she cared about. I didn’t retire from work, I retired to pursue the things that make my heart sing.

People often marvel and the longevity and vitality of many of our stalwart members here. More and more I don’t think it’s because they eat special diet, or exercise a certain way. It’s not about taking care of an aging body so much as it is staying engaged in the world, staying curious, staying active.

The bottom line is staying vital is about transcending the boundaries of you past. It requires pushing out into the world, into deeper and richer soil, so that you can reach new heights, stretching toward the sunlight. It’s true for trees; it’s true for us as individuals, and it’s true for us as a community.

Unitarian Universalism is a living tradition. It’s right there on the title of our hymnals, “Singing the Living Tradition.” I took this language for granted until a friend pointed out to me the powerful balance. We are a living tradition, rooted in history and reaching out to be relevant in an ever-changing world.

You often hear me talk about Unitarian and Universalist history. It’s long and rich. The history of Unitarian thought goes all the way back to early Christian community, when in 325, a dissident who questioned the doctrine of the trinity raised enough dispute within the church to bring on the Council of Nicea. The hallmark moment of Christian doctrine.
And even earlier Origen of Alexandria, one of the great church fathers began to publicly question the concept of Hell. As early as 200 AD he was suggestion Universalist theology. The historical roots of Unitarian and Universalist belief are incredibly old. We have very deep roots.

But we also are a tradition of branches. This faith that we so love is a grand experiment. That’s right, this is one big experiment. In 1961, the Unitarians and the Universlists joined together to join a brand new kind of religious community. One where you didn’t have to believe any one particular thing. You just had to come and participate, you just had to bring all of who you were and enjoy the journey with some fellow travelers.

Whenever ANYONE tells you, “this is the way we have always done it.” I want you to remember that this tradition, is in it’s very nature a grand experiment. The closing hymn that we are about to sing was commissioned in 1961 to celebrate the merger of the Unitarians and the Universalists. The language if building a new kind of church was inspiring then. Let it also resonate with us today, as we continue the experiment, to try new things in our lives, to bust free of the pots that contain our roots and reach both deeper and higher than we ever thought we could.


Monday, August 1, 2011

Supporting Skeptics

Dear Editor,

On July 29th you ran and article describing how “Backyard Skeptics”, a group of atheists and agnostics had recently purchased advertising space on bus shelters to voice their views on God. As an Orange County minister, I want to say thank you for running this story, and thank you to those brave skeptics who spent their hard-earned money to display a diversity of opinion about an important topic.
It is so encouraging to hear genuine diversity in the public discussion of religion in Orange County. It’s true that there are growing movements to embrace interfaith dialog. However, the view that there may be no God at all, is typically cast aside as somehow irrelevant or mean-spirited.
It fact, the messages sponsored by this group talk about their own beliefs only. It is sincere self-expression. They do not denigrate the beliefs of others. This is a marked improvement over the “new atheists,” the cadre or recent authors who insult the intelligence of people of faith, and speak only of the worst examples of religious life in contrast to the best examples of scientific achievement.
I’m proud to say “Backyard Skeptics” would be welcome at my church. We encourage questioning and doubt, and think it is the foundation for a growing mind AND SPIRIT. In fact many Unitarian Universalist ministers are themselves atheists. I am not an atheist my self, but I appreciate their contributions to our shared community. The reason for my writing today isn’t to recruit the Backyard Skeptics to join us, but to say keep up the good work. Your sincere messages will certainly inspire your neighbors to talk, and maybe even think about the questions you raise.

Rev. Kent Doss

sermon - "Global Village"

A Global Village

Today’s sermon is going to start a little differently. I’d like to show you all a short video from youtube. It’s a video that explains some of the expansion of technology in modern life, and how the technology impacts the globe.
I wanted to show you that video for a couple of reasons. First it makes the point clearer and faster than I can. Technology, particularly computer technology has permeated daily life for Americans. And the speed at which it develops and grows is exponential. Technology has changed the way we live our lives and the way that we relate to one another, in our families, in classrooms and around the globe.

The world we live in is intricately connected in a sometimes shocking way. But this shrinking world idea is nothing new. It’s defiantly more apparent these days, and a little disturbing because it is moving so rapidly. But people have anticipated this global connectedness via the internet for a very, very long time, even before the world wide web was ever created, some folks anticipated a new technology that would connect the masses in a whole new way.

You may be familiar with the name Marshal McLuhan. There has been some talk about him in recent weeks because July 21st marked the centennial of his birthday.

He was an English teacher and a public thinker. But most importantly, he was a media critic. He came up with Timothy Leary’s famous saying, “Turn on, tune in, drop out,” about engaging in your intellectual life and political action, using LSD, and dropping out of society to practice self reliance in the 1960s. Needless to say he was a controversial figure.

But I’m talking about him today, because he’s the person that coined the phrase global village, the title of the sermon. Amazingly, McLuhan came up with this idea 30 years before the world wide web was ever invented. And he described a global village that would one day be made possible by a flow and freedom of information that was shockingly similar to what you and I know as the internet.

McLuhan’s major concept was that the medium is the message. That is to say, the technology used to convey information is more impactful than the information itself. In Oral traditions, stories are told over and over again, passed down through families and clans. The effect is an enrichment of human relationships and kinship. McLuhan believed that the creation of the printing press created a society that was geared toward mechanization, and sameness. Books could be printed, but a limited number of them. There existed a great ability to spread information, but that information came through centralized places, printing presses.
But the Global Village would change all that. With what McLuhan predicted as a technologically based “expansion of consciousness”, what we know as the internet, information would flow freely from one individual to another. The global village would be a vast web of involved relationship where people were compelled to care about a wider sphere of concerns. Also, diversity of opinion would flourish as the ability to generate media became accessible to the masses. Welcome to the blogosphere. It’s a lovely picture of mutual respect and freedom that he painted. But it remains to be seen if the internet and the proliferation of digital technology will serve to unite this village, or be just another platform for competition and strife.

But this question of getting long is with technogy is much older than even McLuhan. In fact it’s a challenge as old as civilization. I want to talk a little bit about the reading that we did earlier in the worship service. No doubt these words are familiar to most, if not all of you. It’s beautiful language, probably made most popular to modern American by the way Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King used the words in many of his speeches.
They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
And their spears into prunninghooks;
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
Neither shall they learn war any more;

But they shall all sit under their own vines and fig trees,
And no one shall make them afraid.

Beyond using the words to inspire, I wanted to look a little deeper at the way they are used in the Bible. This passage that is so often quoted, was actually written as a poem. We often don’t realize it because of translation, but many passages, especially in the old testament are actually poems. They are recitations of pieces of oral tradition from even earlier times.

And we know that this particular poem was passed down to the author of Micah, because the same thing is written, almost word for word in the book of Isaiah. Two completely different writers of different times used this powerful poem to describe a time of peace. No wonder we call on it often today when we talk of peace. It was already a commonly used statement back then.
The swords into plowshares bit is wonderful. It is about conserving a highly valuable commodity of metal, to convert weapons into agricultural tools. It’s a nice concept. Food, not bombs. We don’t think about it often, but this poem isn’t far from what McLuhen was talking about. It is about how to wield the technology of the day for the best purposes, to kill or to feed people. Metal was a precious and limited resource. I could be used for a variety of things, for live giving things, or for death dealing things.

Did you know that the exact opposite concept is used in another passage of the Old Testament? Joel 4:10 says :
Proclaim this among the nations:

Prepare war,

stir up the warriors.

Let all the soldiers draw near,

let them come up.

Beat your plowshares into swords,

and your pruning hooks into spears;

let the weakling say, "I am a warrior."

Yikes! I guess in ancient times, there wasn’t a great consensus about how technology should be used either.

I mentioned earlier that this poem is found both in Micah, and in Isaiah. But, there is a big different between the two. Mica continues with the poem where Isaiah leaves off. Micah continues in a critical statement about what happens when these nations turn their spears into pruning hooks.

“but they shall all sit under their own vines
and under their own fig trees,

and no one shall make them afraid;”

This little passage, is the key to the global community that we seek as Unitarian Universalists. This is the challenge for us, as we aim to embrace wider and wider concepts of human community. We want to know and understand others, and feel a sense of similarity and common humanity. But they shall sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees.
In the midst of that good intention and common humanity, we must recognize that peoples of the world are radically different. Lifestyles vary beyond belief, as do religious traditions, political structures, cultural norms, art, and history.

If we as Unitarian Universalists are going to embrace the idea of global community then we must remember not only to celebrate our sameness, but also to honor our differences. This is a bigger challenge for us than you might think.

Universalism has a somewhat precarious relationship with celebrating difference in a genuine way. In it’s very basic understanding, Universalism is about universal salvation. It’s a belief that a loving God would never condemn people to hell, especially in a arbitrary way like predestination. Today, that doesn’t sound like such a radical belief. But in the 1700s it was big news. In the peak of fire and brimstone preaching, Jonathan Edwards style, Universalists held a radically different view. And they wanted to share it.

We forget that Universalism was an evangelical tradition. That’s right. They wanted desperately to share their good news with the world. John Murray, father of Universalism in America was a powerful preacher. More importantly, he inspired a whole cadre or young preachers who would travel the countryside with the new message.
In addition to impassioned ministers preaching in person, they spread Universalism via publications. They published 182 periodicals in the early 1800s. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about these publications was their names. The Gospel Advocate, The Gospel Banner, The Gospel Foundation, The Universalist Trumpet, The Southern Pioneer, The Southern Evangelist, The Western Evangelist, Light of Zion, Genius of Truth, The Herald of Life, The Herald of Gospel Liberty, The Evangelical Magazine and Gospel Advocate, and the Evangelical Universalist. To name a few.
American Universalism was an evangelical tradition. Our forbearers were convinced that they knew the truth, and the way, and they were destined to share it with the world. …We certainly don’t know any Unitarian Universalists who think they know THE truth these days, do we.

The Universalism that was all about salvation was evangelical. That message took a twist in later years from universal salvation to a Universal religion. It’s a pretty natural progression if you think about it. If God wouldn’t condemn anyone to Hell, and if people believed a whole huge variety of different things, then it would only follow that each of those traditions had some meaningful insight into the divine.
After the second World War, A group of new young ministers made it their mission to transform Universalism into a religion for all.
A group of new ministers, known as the Humiliati. (Their name, taken from that of an ancient Italian order, means “the humble ones”” made the expansion of Universalism their mission. They committed to the renewal of their denomination with a new message of Universalism for the current time.
They adopted the symbol of the off-center cross, enclosed by a circle. The cross was off-center, and in the new Universalism, Christianity would be off center. It would remain present in Universalist thought, but it was time to make room, to make a Universal religion that called on all faiths and philosophies availability to humanity. The circle represented the all-embracing nature of Universalism; the off-center cross recognized Universalism’s Christian roots while at the same time implying that Christianity was no longer central to the faith.”
The dream was big, a Universal religion for everyone. One church that would embody all faith. One religious voice to speak to the world. They thought that their vision might save a fractured world. Today there are around 200,000 Unitarian Universalists in the United States. Which is about the same number of Unitarians and Universalists that there were in the 1950s when this crusade began. Needless to say, the dream of one church for all people did not pan out. Thank God!
Maybe we can’t be all things to all people. I am fine with that. While we do have a tremendous religious tradition, I am tremendously glad the the attempt at a Universal religion did no succeed. There are some perfectly good religions out there and we don’t need everyone to be a part of ours.
I wanted to talk about this history of Universalism to point out that overreaching our message, is sort of in our DNA as a religion, at least the Universalist side. Being aware of that tendency, and fighting the urge is a big part of being good neighbors in the Global Village.
“But they shall all sit under their own vines and fig trees,” As a country, as a religious tradition, we may have something great to offer the world. We can force that on others, or we can see the global village as an opportunity to learn from others.

Today’s sermon topic came up, not to commemorate Marshal McLuhan’s birthday. That was just a magical coincidence. It came up because one of our principles as UUs is that will “affirm and promote the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.” As far as I can tell, the first part of that goal is a forgone conclusion. We are rapidly moving toward a world community. Human beings experience a breadth of connection never before imagined. It’s true that people in the developing world without access to the internet don’t experience the same type of connections. Still their economies are interwoven with the fabric of the wider world. And more and more digital technologies are penetrating into even the most remote villages.

The global village is an emerging reality. The question is, will we turn our swords into plowshares, or our plowshares into swords. Will we as the most powerful nation in the world, encourage the use of technology for learning from others, or forcing them to believe the way we do, for agriculture or for weapons? Will we feed the body and the spirit of our neighbors in the village or will we kill them?