Monday, September 17, 2012
"Sacred Streams" - Sermon
Thank you for your wonderful stories from the water communion earlier. There is such a rich diversity in our experience, and at the same time a common thread. Because after all the adventures, the heartache and joy, the learning and relaxing, after all that we are as individuals, we come back together, to share with one another.
Today we recognize the flow of water, the give and take of life. So many people have walked through these doors, countless people who you and I will never knew. Countless people who have made this church possible today have been here and moved on to new adventures. And our little church will live on to shape the lives of still more people in the future, people who we have not yet met, people who haven’t yet found us in the flow. All this business about community and is slippery and difficult to trap.
But that is just our job, to catch the water of experience and the souls that flow through our community. Our job is to create a strong and hearty vessel, a space with room for all to join in. Let our church not be simply an empty institution, but a vessel that will safely hold and nurture this community.
After all, our community, our relationships make us who we are. Our Western individualism tells us we are our own people. We must go out into the world and make something of ourselves. We must be independent and strong. But, no matter what we do, no matter how much we achieve, we will never escape the fact that we live in this world in relationship with other people. From the very beginning, we are in relationship with others and those relationships define us.
That means I am a son, a brother, a boyfriend, a minister, a member of this community, I am a friend, and enemy to some. Those aren’t simply labels for who I am, they are relationships that carve out my space in this world. Each day those roles influence my life, those relationships rest in my mind and my heart as I choose how I will live in this world. For better or worse, I am defined by my connection with other people.
At the very least, we are each a child of someone, and we fill a good many other roles for other people. Relationships do a large part of making us who we are. So, who are you? What are the relationships that make you who you are? What or who are the other drops of water in the sacred stream of your own life?
I mentioned before that Western culture would have us define ourselves as individuals. But the Western modern idea of self, the rugged individual, is not the only way. In other societies the power of relationship is central. The sense of interconnectedness is a core value, a religious value. Most Eastern religious traditions share this sense of fundamental relatedness. That’s why today’s reading and story came from the sacred Hindu text, the Bhagavad Gita.
That’s the point of the story we heard earlier about the salt in the water. I have used the story tons of times in my preaching and personal meditations. This story is so powerful not because of a great adventure or wonderful characters. It is powerful because it provides a perfect metaphor for understanding the holy in our lives.
It is the same traditional imagery that has been used by Hindus and Buddhists alike for thousands of years. They talk about the holy, the spirit that infuses the universe with life as salt. It is a very real and obvious thing when separated out. But when it is dissolved water, it becomes an indistinguishable, part of the water, just as the spirit of life infuses the universe and our own lives. The only task then is to remember it. Though we may not see it all the time, the spirit that sustains us, also courses through the rest of the universe. It always has, and it always will.
Hindus aren’t the only religious group that uses water as a metaphor. In fact every religious tradition that I know of uses water as a metaphor in its stories and uses actual water to enact religious rites. It evokes something in us that is beyond any one tradition.
Water alone is a holy and sacred thing, the object of veneration, a source of life. It is literally what makes life possible on this planet, and somehow, we seem to know that. Little reminders here and there point to water as sacred. My biggest Summer adventure was going to the Beach in Mexico with my family and Christopher. There was no agenda, just to be together by the ocean, and occasionally go for a swim. That was it. And it was wonderful. Even though I live just a few blocks from the beach here in Laguna, still every morning there I was glad to be renewed and refreshed by the sight of the sea. And I know I’m not alone in that.
I know I’m not alone because I see other people finding the same sense of connection and groundedness simply being near the ocean. Some of you know I go for runs through town every couple of days. I always make it a point to run through Heisler Park. No matter what day of the week it is, there are always other people running and walking, I see homeless people camping on the beach, I see people doing Yoga and Thai Chi in the park. There are people reading, especially Bibles in lawn chairs they had pulled out. There are the essential surfers and sunbathers. On any given morning, here in this beautiful place I see person after person transfixed by the ocean. Just spending more time here has made me realize what a common human experience standing and looking at the water is. There is an indescribable, unreasonable draw. The Ocean, this vast powerful force seems to hypnotize us.
There is something about water, and the ocean in particular that has a universal appeal. It is as if somehow we know that there is something out there, something that connects us to deeper meaning, something that speaks to our commonality.
As I said earlier, water is a bit of a slippery thing. It’s not always easy to see the spirit that connects us, like the salt in the water. And yet our job as a faith community is to build a strong and sturdy vessel. Our task is to catch the disparate drops that come our way. It’s no easy task though.
As we enter the Fall together, I want to invite you in helping me to build the vessel that is our community. I’m not talking about committees or projects. I’m not talking about budgets or communications. I’m talking about a network of personal relationships that make a church a home. I’m asking you, each one of you, personally, to help strengthen our vessel by deepening personal relationships.
This is probably an unorthodox story to tell you as my congregation, but I think it is important to make a point. I am making more of an effort myself these days to make some space between my work life and my home life. It’s so that I can be more fully present to each of these needs at the right time. So, last weekend, when I went out sailing, it was my first time to skipper the boat on my own. I gave everyone a little introduction to the boat and described their jobs for the day, what ropes to pull when, and that sort of thing. Then I gave the most important instruction of all. I told my friends and family that while we were on the boat, anyone who said the word church, Fellowship, or Unitarian owed me a beer.
There is a time for work, and there is a time for play. To honor those two very different activities, sometimes we have to draw a line between the them. We as Unitarian Universalists tend to be very busy people. We like a task. But I want to encourage you to think about separating out what is church work, and what is social time. Make the work time productive, and leave the business out of the social time. If you need a place to start, come to the annual picnic after the service today, enjoy the sun and the food, and leave the business for another day.
The other thing you can do to help strengthen our community is simply reach out. Every Sunday, try to have a conversation with someone you don’t usually interact with. I’m not expecting you to become best friends. But I do expect you to find some point of connection between you. One person every Sunday. That’s something each of us can do.
As our time together draws to a close, let us continue to celebrate the sacred that we have found in our journeys around the world, the sacred that we see in each others faces, and the sacred that rests in our own heart. Remember, as the wise father told his son, though are that. You are the spirit of life, this day and every day, no mater where life takes you.