Friday, November 25, 2011

Sermon - "Reaching out in Faith"

Reaching Out in Faith

This morning we are talking about the way our faith leads us to action, or our action leads us to faith. You see it happens in both directions. Sometimes we are filled with the spirit of compassion, hope, and love, and that spirit calls us to reach out and help improve the world around us. For other people, others of us, we find that by reaching out to help others, our faith is renewed. It is in our action that we find religious experience.

This morning’s hymns talk about both of those experiences. Earlier we sang, “One more step, we will take one more step, till there is peace for us and everyone.” Because through acting to help our world, our spirit is renewed.
And later, we will sing “Love will guide us, peace has tried us, hope inside us will lead the way on the road from greed to giving. Love will guide us through the hard night.” And indeed the love that rests in each of our hearts is the seed of hope, as it moves us to reach out and help those in need.
So I encourage you, as we sing these two amazing hymns, to really absorb them, and ask yourself, which one of these resonates with you. Which of these songs is the story of your heart? The music that we sing isn’t only about creating something beautiful. It’s also about coming to know ourselves in a deeper way.

For many of us, faith leads to action. We feel inspired from a multitude of sources, and that inspiration moves us into taking action. So we make our faith manifest in the world.
The best way I can think of to describe this understanding ourselves as a vessel, a bowl. We are an empty vessel that gets filled up with love from God, from the world around us, from natural beauty. We get filled up, like a bowl being filled up with water, until that water has to flow out somewhere. And we pour out our love in the form of action. We are moved to reach out and share some of what we have been given.
The moment I came to understand this in a very real way was doing hospital chaplaincy work. As a part of the ordination process I did a short stint of chaplaincy at a large hospital in Denver. If you ever run across hospital chaplains, they are amazing people and the work that they do is incredible.
For me, hospital chaplaincy was a mind boggling, and heart boggling thing to jump into. But I was doing it with a small group of other students. Together we shared the technical challenges of knowing what to say when, how to enter a room, how to interact with the variety of families. But more than that we shared the difficulty of being present to crisis, joy, death, hope, dysfunction, loss and love, as we visited one room to the next.
We shared these challenges with one another and we held short worship services to share our sense of faith in the process. In one of the worship services another student shared with us her sense of faith, flowing through her. And how that sense of love and purpose nourished her ability to help others. And she gave us each a small bowl that represented the filling up and pouring out of love. I brought that bowl to share with you today.
The object itself is nothing much. The bowl is from Crate & Barrel. It’s probably meant to use while eating your sushi. But the simple symbol has meant a lot to me. It sits with my other chalices, and reminds me of the flow of love in my life. It reminds me that I need to both fill up, and pour out to keep life in balance.

For a lot of people their faith leads them to reach out. For others I know, the relationship between action and faith is just the opposite. Many people find that through reaching out to improve the world, their hearts are filled and their faith renewed. For these people, for many of you I know, doing good is your religion. It’s through reaching out that faith comes into your life.
Something happens to us when we reach out to help others. Something in our heart gets cracked open a little. Part of it is that in helping others, we get to know them, and get to know ourselves a little bit better. It is reminiscent of the Sanskrit word, Namaste. Throughout India the world is simply a greeting and a sign of respect. It is basically the equivalent of “hello.” "Nama" means bow, "as" means I, and "te" means you. Therefore, Namaste literally means "bow me you" or "I bow to you."
But Western oriented yoga practices have extrapolated more from the original word. They describe it as meaning, "the spirit in me respects the spirit in you," or "the divinity in me bows to the divinity in you.” Maybe this isn’t totally what they mean in India when they casually use the word. It may not be the indigenous to India, but I like the concept. The divine in me respects the divine in you. That’s a big part of what happens when we help others. We get to know them in a new way, and get to know ourselves better as well. We get to see the sacred in those around us, and in so doing, we recognize the sacred in ourselves.

For us as Unitarian Universalists, salvation happens in this lifetime. In this life we learn and grow, that’s the reward for reaching out. In this life we reap the benefit of our actions. Reaching out in faith isn’t about earning a spot in heaven or burning off Karma. It’s about a sense of fulfillment and connection here and now, in this life. Part of it is feeling good about our self, but a much bigger part is feeling good about the world. When we reach out to help others we get to know them, and we come to understand that one day in our own time of need, someone will be there to help us. In reaching out to help, our hearts get filled with love.

I am thrilled to share with you today the news that just this week at their meeting, the UUFLB Board approved offering space in our building to serve as an overflow shelter for the homeless during the winter season. As you may know, our local shelter only has room for 45 people to sleep, yet on any given night many more than that are without a place to sleep in our city. In warmer weather the problem isn’t quite as bad. But over the winter, months, sleeping outside, even in Laguna Beach is not really an option. So for two weeks, we will open our downstairs space for a handful of people to stay warm over night. A volunteer from outside the church will stay over night with them. If you would like to volunteer to open the building at night to let people in, then check them out again in the morning, please let me know. We’ll tell you more as details of the arrangement unfold.
Obviously, I’m glad that we are able to keep people warm and dry. For a relatively small sacrifice on our parts, we can make a real difference in keeping people safe. But our effort is also important because it is an opportunity for us to reach out, and in so doing, to build our faith. When we reach out, or in this case, when we welcome in, we go out of our way just a little, we move just a little, making room for growth in our lives.

That to me is the key component of this question of reaching out in faith. It’s about an openness to change. We are changed by the faith that flows through us and into the world, and we are changed when we see the face of God in another human being, if we are willing to open ourselves to the experience.
That’s why that simple little bowl is still a helpful reminder today. Yes, it reminds me of a particular moment in my life. But more importantly, it reminds me of the flow of life. That sometimes we need to be filled up, and sometimes we need to pour out the love we have been given. That little bowl is a reminder about letting the spirit flow through me, rather than trying to grasp it too tightly.

Reaching out in faith is about allowing the spirit to flow a little bit. The Unitarian songwriter Peter Mayer encapsulates it beautifully in his song “God is a River.” The song begins talking about looking for a solid ground, a stone to hold onto in the unpredictable stream of life. Finding a resting place he called his savior, a divine rock. Then the chorus comes: “God is a river, not just a stone. God is a wild raging rapids and a slow meandering flow. God is a deep and narrow passage, a peaceful sandy shore. God is a river swimmer, so let go.”

Having faith is about letting go. Letting go and being moved by the torrents of our heart and mind. Letting go until we find ourselves moved into action. Letting go until we have not choice but to make manifest the love that fills us. If we are open ourselves to change, our faith can lead us to make a tremendous difference in the world.

And if we are open to change, our actions can make a tremendous difference in our faith. That’s why we do Guest at your Table every year. It’s not a huge source of revenue for the UUSC. Yes, some of you have been very generous over the years. And I’m sure this year we will raise a nice amount of money. But we could do that on one Sunday by simply asking you to write a check.
Guest at Your Table is something different. It is the kind of reaching out that is intentionally open to changing your heart in the process. The title says it all, Guest at Your Table. I sincerely encourage you all to leave this box on your table or wherever you and your family eat most of your meals for the next month. When you enjoy a meal, simply notice the box, and consider having a guest there with you, a guest who needs a little help.
All too often we think of those in need of help as sad, depressing, beggars. People who are different from us. Those commercials with Sally Strothers come to mind. There are newer versions on today. You know the commercials I’m talking about, with a totally emaciated child and flies swarming, while a well-fed American tells the viewers about the desprate need of these desperate people.
As I see it, Guest at Your Table aims to be the total antithesis of that sort of project. Rather than seeing those in need as desperate and different, Guest at Your Table invites us to understand that everyone has a story. Often it’s a story not too terribly different to our own. So we take this opportunity to reach out and give a little support, while at the same time we learn about the lives of people around the world that we are supporting. So that the divinity in us can honor the divinity in them. So that we can reach out and grow in faith.

Unitarian Universalism is an expansive faith. It calls us to go beyond our walls and to help those in need. But more than that, it calls us to go beyond ourselves, and open our hearts to the possibility of new growth. Talking about which comes first, faith or action, is a little bit like talking about the chicken or the egg. It’s a matter of perspective. What is certain however, is that neither of these things exists without the other. These two pieces of our religious life, faith and action are inseparable. Faith without action is a self-congratulatory emotional exercise. And social action without a foundation in principles of love and dignity is certain to fizzle and die.

So let us follow the invitation of our Unitarian Universalist tradition. Let us open ourselves to the possibilities. So that in our acting we may be filled, and in our faith we may be moved to action.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Sermon - "The Serenity Prayer"

Serenity Prayer
For the first time in a VERY long time, I went to a high-school football game last a couple of weeks ago. I live just a couple of blocks away from Laguna Beach high school, so when I heard some of my friends were going to the game I decided to join the. Unfortunately the Laguna Beach Breakers got hammered by the Costa Mesa… what ever they are.

At half time we went and got something to eat. And we noticed the level of energy and anxiety in the middle schoolers and highschoolers around us. There was some low level fighting, there was making out, there was some obvious posturing. It was like social life on steroids. And it made us think back about those days. How exciting it was, and how important every moment of every day was. I don’t mean in a Buddhist sense of living in the moment. I mean in the terrible anxious sense of, “if I don’t do well on this paper it could drop my GPA and I’ll never get into college.” Or “If I don’t get on the team I don’t know what I’ll do with myself.” Or “If I don’t have a date to the dance, a place to eat my lunch, or an exciting plan of the weekend, my life is ruined.” Oh, and “If my totally misinformed and uncool parents don’t get with the program, I’m going to go insane.”

Everything mattered so much. For me, and for a lot of people I think, those years were hard, because so much pressure was placed on every little detail of life. That Friday night at the football game we chuckled a little bit at the youth that we saw around us, and the lack of perspective that we had back then. But the more I reflected on this sermon, the more I realized how easy it is to lose perspective at any stage of life. It’s easy for any of us, in the moment, to be flung back to being an anxious highschooler.

A sense of perspective is a huge gift. It’s something that we can cultivate, and it’s one of the cornerstones of religious life. To me, that’s what the well-known serenity prayer is all about, a sense of perspective. That’s why it is so powerful and speaks to just about anyone who hears it. Who couldn’t use a little help letting go of the little things, or courage to face up to the challenges of life. And most importantly, we all can use some help from time to time in remembering what is worth worrying about and what isn’t.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, 
courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

Some of us may stumble at the first line of this prayer. Some of us may stumble at the word prayer. I understand that. But exploring a little bit of how this prayer is most often used today may help us as Unitarian Universalists get a better grasp of it. This prayer is best known today for its role in the community of Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12 step groups.

The beauty of Alcoholics Anonymous is that it revolves around people telling their own story, and sharing with one another where they have found hope and meaning in their own lives. It’s only fair to say that a good portion of that comes in the form of religion, and faith in God. And, so some AA meetings take on a more religious / gody tone than others.

But within AA and the twelve steps, there is no test of creed. There is only a commitment to be a part of the group and try to make your life better. Does that sounds familiar to anyone? It should. Because that’s the way I explain Unitarian Universalism to anyone who asks. We have no set doctrine, no specific thing that we all believe in, but we agree to be on a journey together as we improve our lives.

You don’t have to believe any particular thing there, or here. But in AA they talk a lot about believe in a higher power. The second step of AA is “Come to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” Of course for many people that power is God. But for lots and lots of others, that power is something different. It is something like the power of human community, the power of the fecundity of nature, the power of love. Any number of different things are identified to help those in recovery lean on some source outside of themselves.

And just in the way a power greater than themselves can help a person in recovery feel supported and gain perspective beyond the immediate circumstances, any of us can replace the word God in this prayer with whatever we hold in high esteem. Weather that is love, community, nature, God or something completely different, calling upon our highest ideals is a great place to start in our search for serenity and perspective.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.

That alone is a tremendous prayer and the spiritual discipline to fill a lifetime. Accepting the things we cannot change is so difficult, and so important. Much of our lives are shaped by things that happen to us. We come into the world from the very beginning shaped by circumstance beyond our control. The family we are born into, the culture, the economic resources, the country, all of these things shape us before we take our first breath.
But it doesn’t end there. Life is filled with things that just happen to us, things beyond our control. Sometimes what we want to change most, are other people in our lives, whether they are friend or foe. One of the hardest things to accept in life has to be the inability to change other people, especially the people that we love. Certainly we can provide encouragement and resources, but it is virtually impossible to force another person to change unless he or she is willing to change themselves. Anyone who has loved someone through addiction knows that struggle.
And anyone who has moved through recovery knows the struggle of not being able to change the past. Every one of us has regrets, a bad decision made here and there. We can do our best to mend a relationship that has been damaged, but the past is the past, there’s no erase in life. There is nothing we can do to change it. God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change.
And then there is the nagging desire to change ourselves. There are a great many things that we can change about ourselves, but there are many more that we are stuck with. We are imperfect beings, by nature. We are not going to be perfect parents, perfect spouses, perfect homemakers, perfect professionals. And we also aren’t going to have perfect bodies or perfect health. Try as we might, some things are beyond our control.
We spent the month of October focused on death here at UUFLB. That is not primarily because death raises religious questions. We spent a month on the topic because it’s a question that we avoid dealing with in the rest of our lives. We are magnificent creatures, you and I, but we are given limit resources to work with. The sooner we accept the things we cannot change about ourselves, the sooner we can move on to focus on the things we can change.

Grant us the courage to change the things we can.

Faith engenders courage. It inspires us to move beyond ourselves and our immediate concern, to bring about a greater good in the world. People often mention the litany of terrible things that have been done in the name of religion. And it is true. Countless wars have been fought over religion. And religion has been used to justify injustice and oppression in terrifying ways. I’m not going to deny that.
But the religious impulse has also motivated some of the most beautiful moments of humanity as well. Those who rallied to confront injustice did so empowered by their faith. And religious experience has been the inspiration for a vast amount of art, music, philosophy, and even scientific discovery. Faith has a tremendous potential to bring courage into our lives.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said “All great ages have been ages of belief. I mean, when there was any extraordinary power of performance, when great national movements began, when arts appeared, when heroes existed, when poems were made, the human soul was in earnest.”

Earnest. That’s a helpful way of describing the kind of courage that faith engenders, or at least the kind that I’m advocating for. It’s about earnestness. It’s about embracing your convictions and living them out in the world.

God give us courage to change the things we can. Give us courage to stand up and speak truth to power. Give us courage to be a beacon for justice. But even more, give us courage to engage small changes, small moments that come every day that we have the power to control. Courage isn’t just about doing the big stuff, it’s also about choosing to do the little stuff right. Whether that means offering a smile to someone who needs it, continuing an uncomfortable conversation to a real conclusion, or making one more little change to make our lifestyle more earth friendly.
People who know this prayer know that change is a hard thing to do. As creatures of habit, we rarely choose change, even when we know it will bring about an improvement in our lives. No one likes change. I recently read the only person who really likes change is a wet baby. So while we hope our faith leads to courage to change the world, we also hope it leads to courage make the little changes that improve our life, baby step by baby step.

Of course the crux of this prayer is in gaining the wisdom to know the difference. God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Notice the request is for wisdom, not intelligence, or information. What we long for isn’t so much a laundry list of what is worthy of our time and what isn’t. Because you and I both know that we would ignore that list.
I hesitated to tell the story of attending a high school football game and the anxiety of youth that we saw there, because I don’t want to be condescending to youth. I don’t want to say, “You know you may not even remember prom. There are lots of colleges you can attend. Everyone else has acne too. Maybe that wasn’t the one and only true love of your life.” We don’t say those things because they are insensitive to the real pain of the moment. And we also don’t say them because we know they won’t be heard.
It is impossible to absorb the information that this thing that you are so upset about is really no that big of a deal. You have no power to change this thing that you are so hung up on, and meanwhile the rest of your life is flying by. It’s not something that information can impart or something that intelligence alone can process. Try telling that to a fifteen year old who has just ended a relationship that in the grand scheme of things, its not that big of a deal. It’s a message that doesn’t sink when it comes from another person.
The wisdom to know the difference is something that we cultivate for ourselves, and it’s something that comes through a relationship with a higher purpose. It’s a little odd to dedicate an entire worship service to one short little prayer. But this prayer is one that has application for each and every person’s life. And more importantly, as we talk more about faith this month, this prayer is a beautiful description of what faith has to offer us. Having a relationship with something greater than ourselves, be it God, or our highest ideals gives some context to our lives. It helps clarify what really matters.
The wisdom to know the difference isn’t something ANYONE can tell you. But it is something that each one of us can cultivate for ourselves, when we check in with that higher purpose, that reality beyond ourselves. That’s what having faith is all about.


Monday, November 7, 2011

Sermon - "Wrestling with God"

For the month of November, we are focussing on the theme of faith in our worship services and children’s Religious Education here at UUFLB. And we are going to start that discussion of faith in a very Unitarian Universalist place, by talking about doubt.

“Wresting with God” is a peculiar name for a sermon in a Unitarian Universalist congregation. The name comes from the story of Jacob wresting with an angel. It’s a story of grappling with the holy, wrestling with the most important pieces of our lives. This story is pretty far removed from our lives, but it still points to a very important idea.
To give some background, Jacob was the son of Isaac and Rebekah, the grandson of Abraham and Sarah. So he’s way up there in the Biblical family tree, a pretty important figure. The whole story of Jacob begins in one of those really, really strange Bible moments. Jacob, God’s chosen leader essentially cheated his older brother out of his birthright of inheritance. Jacob dressed up as his older and much dumber brother to trick his own father on his death bed. He pretended to be the older brother Essau, so that their father would bless him and make him the official heir. And Jacob pulled off the stunt so he could be the leader God wanted him to be. It’s strange stuff.

Eventually the cheating caught up with Jacob. In adulthood his brother found him and came after him with an army of 400 men. So Jacob ran. He sent his family and his flocks of sheep across the river at a river crossing one night. Then he came back across, all alone to get his possessions. While he was there, a mysterious being appeared. Some say it was a man, some say and angel. The two of them wrestled until daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower Jacob, he touched the socket of his hip so that it hip was wrenched terribly. Then the man said, "Let me go, for it is daybreak. 
But Jacob replied, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
The man asked him, "What is your name?"
Jacob," he answered.”

Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome."

This story is often used as the moment of a personal struggle with faith. It’s quite literally, if one reads the story that way, a moment of wrestling with divinity. It’s a hard fight. Jacob walks with a limp for the rest of his life from where the angel injured his hip. But Jacob struggled with divinity and he refused to let go of that struggle until he got a blessing out of it.
Jacob wasn’t the only person to wrestle with God in the Bible. I might even say most of the significant figures in the Bible have their major moments of doubt. The first response of every single one of the prophets is “no.” It’s a formulaic story of the prophetic call in the old testament. Every single one of them says no at first at least once, and often twice. It took getting swallowed by a whale for Jonah to accept his mission in life. The first time God came knocking on his door he took off and sailed away to escape what his life was shaping up to be.

And Sarah, the wife of Abraham laughs at God when she is told she will have a child. Even after the whole run in with the burning bush, Moses said over and over again, “No. No not me. You must be mistaken, I can’t lead people.” Until God finally said, “Okay you can use your brother to help you. He’s a better public speaker anyway.” Then there is the quintessential doubter, Thomas the disciple. He wants to see and touch the wounds of Jesus after the resurrection, to prove that he is who he claims to be. Over and over again, in the Bible the example of a faithful life is the one that contains a serious level of doubt.

The Bible is full of incredible stories of burning bushes, whale attacks, wrestling angels. They are pretty fantastic stories that don’t make sense in our lives. But we have our own moments of wrestling. Seismic shifts in our lives shake us from the foundation up. It may be the death of a loved one. A spiritual awakening, gradual maturation, the birth of a child, or a near death experience. I’m sure you have had one or two of these in your time. They change the logistics of your life, but they also change what we believe in.

My own faith has been shaken several different times in these sorts of moments. Growing up in Oklahoma, a very Christian notion of God shaped my religious identity. It wasn’t totally simplistic, but I hadn’t seen enough of the world to mold my faith into something that was more sustainable.
So just a couple of months into my time in the peace Corps, that faith slid away. I was a Unitarian Universalist so the idea of not believing in God wasn’t terrifying. But it just change in my mind. In the Peace Corps I came to see that the God I had believed in before simply didn’t make sense in this world of inequality and poverty. The God that I knew didn’t fit the equation any longer.
But two years later, I landed in seminary. It was the exact opposite experience. There, God became completely expansive as we learned different possibilities through theologians’ ideas. God was many, many different things, each one of them exciting. I tried on lots of these different ideas of God. One after the other, across continents and centuries, these different ideas of the divine spoke to different pieces of me.
In the end, I don’t think any of them completely fit. Where I landed mostly was a fascination with Buddhist teachings. The Buddha explained that life is very difficult, but if we can let go of our clinging to the things that don’t matter, we can let go of that suffering as well. It’s a philosophy and lifestyle choice, designed to bring peace and wellbeing in this life. And Buddhism brought some peace, without God.
But even more recently, this year as a matter of fact, my relationship with God has been turned on its head once again. It’s a story that I’m still coming to terms with, still trying to understand. But I came to learn that much of my life I had been prayed for, without my even knowing it. Prayed for by someone who cared deeply about me and my journey. And the revelation of this prayer has rekindled a deep faith in a God that has watched over me, walked with me, for years. It has led me back to into calling that mysterious sacred peace of my life God.
My beliefs have shifted over the years in infinite mutations. Those are my major shifts. I’m sure you have plenty of your own shifts in belief that are interwoven with shifts in your lives. It’s tough to get very far in adulthood without some shifting in belief.

So far I have been talking about wrestling with whether or not something called God exists. And wrestling with different ideas of God. But that’s not nearly a wide enough scope. As Unitarian Universalists we have a great many different beliefs. And the sort of wrestling we do involves all of those beliefs. Both the diversity of beliefs within our community, and the diversity of beliefs within our selves are too expansive for plain old wrestling with God. You see the wrestling comes when we try to put our beliefs together to make some sense of the world around us.
More than a question about God, what I’m talking about wrestling with our world view, how we understand the world around us, how we make sense of it, and where we find hope in the midst of that jumble. That’s why theology is a huge academic discipline. It’s like putting together a giant puzzle. It’s not just a question of whether or not God exists to you, but a much, much more complicated question of how do all of those pieces of your belief fit together.

Lets run a little test. I want to ask you some questions, and you don’t need to respond or raise your hand. Just think of the answer for yourself. Do you think there is something called God? Are people basically good, or bad? Do we have more free will or do other factors dictate our actions? Is there life after death? Do we have a soul that is separate from the matter and energy of our body? Can prayer change the world outside of ourselves? Finally, Do the answers to these questions fit together? It’s hard enough to come up with answers to these individual questions. But it’s all the harder to make the pieces fit together.

A lot of this sermon is inspired the book by Rev. Chris Schreiner is going to present a workshop on this Tuesday night. The workshop is about how atheists and theists can engage in meaningful dialog. In talking about the way our beliefs fit together, Chris uses the metaphor of the bricks of a house. Our beliefs are built one upon another, sort of like the bricks or stones of a house. Over they years they build up, layer upon layer. But sometimes in our lives, something happens that changes one of those beliefs. And if we take out one of those beliefs in the wall of our house, you can’t just stick another one in its place with a little glue. It takes some masonry skills, to build up and whittle away at the bricks that surround the hole. When one of our beliefs is changed, the beliefs surrounding it change, and making things fit back together again can be exhausting work.

This is a big piece of what we do as a church. On Sundays I try to explore a variety of different viewpoints. In fact I frequently contradict myself between different sermons on a similar topic. If you listen closely you’ll notice it. That’s because I do my best to offer different perspectives. The goal is to help our masonry, to help you whittle away or build up existing beliefs to make room for the changes as we learn and grow.
And it’s what happens when I talk with people in pastoral care. Yes part of the discussion is social, but the much bigger part, comes in questions that friends aren’t likely to ask. “What does this all mean for you?” “Where do you find hope in this situation?” These are the questions I ask and talk through with people when they are ready, when their lives change and a brick is disturbed. “What does this all mean to you.” When we are at our best as a religious community, we walk with one another, as we rebuild our houses. We stay with one another and offer support in the times of wrestling with God.
The reason why that story about Jacob is so amazing and used frequently isn’t because it is a good wrestling match, or because Jacob’s name gets changed to Israel. The real nugget of the story is when Jacob says, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” If nothing else that’s what I want you to take home from today’s worship service. When wrestling with God, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” I will not let go of this struggle until I get something out of it. Because the only way out is through. The only way out of those transformational moments is to actually go through them, and grab a hold of whatever blessing there is to be found.
As Unitarian Universalists we do doubt well. We can deconstruct and analyze others and ourselves with great speed and accuracy. And it’s a skill we have earned. Most of us have come from other religious traditions. Most of us have made the conscious decision to step away from a religious community of our family and upbringing, to saying no, that doesn’t sound right. No I won’t say those words that I don’t believe in. Most of us coming here having already consciously chosen to doubt the beliefs that were handed to us.

And you have come to the right place. As an institution we are not keen on authority. We pride ourselves on the democratic process, ensuring that no one person is given authority over others without their consent. Unitarian Universalism is a tradition of doubters. We can knock those bricks out one after another. But eventually we have to come through to the other side, to believe something.

Doubt is good thing. Asking hard questions is good and it’s something we do very well. As UUs however, we are not always great at following through with the struggle to it’s conclusion. We ask questions long enough for the status quo to be unsettled, for our beliefs to be challenged. But our mission is deeper than that. Our role as a religious community is to hold onto those questions, to continue to wrestle, until we come upon an answer, a meaning, a blessing on the other side.