SERMON: How We Are Called

We gather this morning,
called by the power of Love.
Love that mourns and is comforted.
Love that grows
even when hearts are broken.
Love that risks loving again and again.
We gather, called by Love
to care for one another,
To hold one another’s hands
and hearts with tenderness.
We gather to answer Love’s call,
with all our hearts, our minds, our voices.
We gather to be Love in this room,
in this community, and in the world.
Let us gather together in Love.

Spirit of Life,

We are joined today in a moment of gratitude for a perfect fall day and in a time of grief for the loss of our dear friend Pete W. As we notice the last blaze of sunshine in a sapphire sky, the gold and crimson leaves, the smells of autumn all around, we take a moment to contemplate the beauty of our lives and Pete’s life.

These moments of beauty and pain sharpen our love for this imperfect world. We are reminded of the many people who are burdened by hunger and pain, by sorrow and anxiety, by violence and loss. We pause this morning to share our concern and care for all who suffer, whether their suffering is because of natural or human-made disaster. May they find comfort and peace, and may their burdens be lifted from them.

Closer to home, we think of Pete’s friends and family, and all those who are grieving losses among us. We send loving care to all who are ill, all who struggle with endings of relationships or jobs, all who face a time of anxiety or pain or sadness. May they, too, find comfort and peace, and may their burdens be lightened.

May we find it in ourselves today to work toward a better world. May the beauty of the day strengthen our resolve and lend us courage. May we take part in the lifting of burdens. May we take care of each other, near and far.

Let us go forward remembering that the only enduring legacy we leave is love. Let love shine forth through us, even in times of loss. Let love guide our words and actions as we work together to answer Life’s call. Let us live lives of love we can be proud of and plant seeds of justice, compassion, and Love in this world.

Amen. Ashé. And Blessed Be.

“It Matters Most What We Love”
from a sermon by Rev. Alice Blair Wesley

The worship or spiritual practice of a free congregation is best understood as the deliberate return of a faithful and loyal community of people who come together—again and again—to be receptive to all that is worthy of renewed love. We come to church to be reminded of, stirred up to recall, and brought to feel again the charm of all that we love and cherish most.

For when I am full of love and gratitude…how much pettiness, how much useless worry, just slides to the periphery where it belongs? When my attention is focused on what I love—for which I am grateful—I begin to feel I am more truly myself the person I am meant to be.

…Three vital elements are always present in a strong, healthy, effective free and liberal church:

First—always first—is love for what is worthy of love. The members love one another…and sings gratitude and praise for all that has made worthy realities possible—whether they name the source of blessings “God” or not.

Second—always a very close second—is hard thinking and careful reasoning and deep reflection on what love requires.

Third—after love and thought—is resolve: resolve to do—out of love—what members…discern to be right and good.

What follows from a free congregation’s faithful practice of love? The result is a life-enhancing influence on all who the members’ lives touch. And there resides the free and liberal church’s power of attraction. Such a church draws in…people wanting to live as human beings are designed to live: …with the integrity of genuine and right loves, with thoughtfulness and mind and intelligence, and with resolve.

This is my fourth October here in the Valley, and each year, as the mountains take on their amazing autumn hues, I am caught off guard by the beauty of the deepening orange and red punctuated by the bright golden aspens. Each year I’m reminded of one of the words of a meditation that begins, “It is the beauty of life that calls us.” Even this week, when the news of Pete W’s passing cast a shadow of grief over everything, a single glance at the changing mountains brought me unexpected comfort and an overwhelming gratitude for life’s beauty.

In the face of this community’s loss, I considered changing everything today. I considered turning today’s service into something like a memorial service for Pete, allowing each of us to share memories of Pete’s dedication to South Valley, his wry and self-effacing sense of humor, his contributions to our lives and the reality of our loss and grief. But then I remembered something Pete and I talked about when he first learned he had cancer.

You may remember that one of Pete’s first responses to his diagnosis was to begin planning a service where he could be present to hear the things we would usually say about him only after he’d died. He first thought we’d have the service on a Sunday morning, but when I reminded him that there would be visitors and newcomers who might be startled to find they’d come to church only to find themselves in a memorial service for someone they didn’t know, he looked at me seriously, but with the signature twinkle in his eye and told me I had a point—Sunday mornings were about life, not about Pete. I told him I imagined we’d have a big potluck and invite people to stay for the “Pete part” in the afternoon. He chuckled, and we agreed he’d call to begin planning the “Pete part” when he was ready.

Pete never did call to begin planning. At our most recent Committee on Ministry meeting, Pete told us that when we sang him “Happy Birthday” at church last month, his first thought was to jump up on stage and ask us where we all thought he was going. Just like before the cancer, Pete was determined to live every moment of his life. In the end, he was too busy living to plan that memorial service. It was life that inspired Pete and love that kept life interesting. Pete was passionate and generous, and his passion and generosity of spirit are what kept him going until his body just couldn’t go on.

So while we will all miss Pete, and while the shadow of grief does lie upon us, this sermon is about life. It is about what life calls us to do and be while we are here on earth and here together as a congregation. David read you a part of a sermon that Telos and I were privileged to hear at last weekend’s District Assembly in Grand Junction, Colorado. The sermon was given by Rev. Alice Blair Wesley, long considered to be one of the “sages” of Unitarian Universalism. Rev. Wesley’s passion is covenant—the holy agreement among us to live according to our principles—what she calls our “faithful practice of love.” Wesley preaches and writes about our movement’s history—a history grounded in radical congregational polity—and our agreement from the very beginning, to help one another live out the three things she says are vital to our congregations: first, (always first)—Love; second (and a close second)—hard thinking and deep reflection on what love requires; and third—resolve, a commitment to do what Love has shown us to be right and good.

Today I want to focus on what we, as a congregation, are called to do. We heard from our intern minister, Telos, a couple of weeks ago, a wonderful and thought-provoking sermon on living our personal callings. I want to focus instead on what we, as a congregation, might find is worthy of our love, our reflection, and our resolve.

I agree with Alice Blair Wesley that it matters most what we love. It seems to me Pete’s life is as good an example of this as any. He was passionate and loving, some would say to a fault, and his love and generosity made a real difference in many lives, including the life of this congregation. It matters most what we love. What we love will guide our thinking and our reflection on what we are called to do. This will take resolve—a word that I believe is synonymous with courage. It will take courage to look deeply at our own actions and behaviors along with the patterns and habits of our community, and begin living up to Love. We will have to be faithful to each other, to this community, and ultimately, to Love—even when we want to be petty and careless and even mean. We will need to remind one another to let ourselves be full of love and gratitude rather than seeking power or comfort for ourselves. It matters most what we Love.

I’ve been doing some reading recently on church development and growth. We have, as a congregation, embarked on a process of strategic planning. By doing this planning, we are deeply engaged in the process of determining what is worthy of our love, time and attention, and what those things require of us as a congregation. Using the mission statement we adopted in May of 2004 (and which is always printed on the back of your order of service) the strategic planning committee is beginning to articulate what our mission—that which we have articulated as our purpose—calls us to do.

Gil Rendle and Alice Mann, in their book Holy Conversations, remark that “a person or a people feel called to do something, not because they agree to do it, but because they would feel unfaithful if they did not.” Our strategic planning committee has set out some goals that will help us be clear about what we would feel unfaithful if we did not do. You can pick up a copy of their broad, preliminary goal statements on the table in the foyer. The committee invites your feedback.
Of course, being faithful to our calling requires more from us than just a plan. We are planning so that we can do better what this congregation was created to do: to nurture and challenge people of all ages and families of all kinds to learn, live, and love together. In the meantime, we need to keep doing those things. Rev. Ann Tyndall wrote a great sermon called “What Church is For” in which she says:

Church remains a multi-generational community of companions—people with whom you can share the ups and downs of your life; people among whom you can be a whole person, not the fragment-of-self you are at work, or the fragment-of-self you occupy in your family. At church you are among people with whom you can explore the big questions—Why am I here? Where am I going? How should I live? Why do bad things happen? What’s next? Your companions will keep a candle burning when you enter a dark place, and rejoice when you emerge.

We are companions, and we are figuring out together that it matters what we love and how we love. As a congregation, we are asking ourselves questions about our identity: Who are we?; about our purpose: What are we called to do?; and about our the context and responsibilities: Who is our neighbor? These are big questions, holy questions, and ultimately, religious questions. The word “religion” is rooted in the word religare—to tie or bind together. If we do this work well, we will be bound together as a community by our common commitment to the answers we find.

As I think about the mountains, and why their beauty calls to me, I’m aware that I have come to love this valley and this community. The changing mountains remind me of the ceremony of installation you so graciously and beautifully held for me three years ago, when we affirmed together that the mountains are our home. South Valley—the place, the congregation, the people, have become home for me. The beauty still calls to me, but I’ve come to realize that it indeed matters what we love and I have come to love all these things. That’s why it hurts to lose Pete, and it’s also why looking up at the mountains fills me with comfort, awe and joy. It is all tied up together and the common thread is love.

Love calls to me. It calls me to be the best partner, the best parent, the best minister, the best person I can be. It calls each of us to live in ways that are faithful and caring and committed to the things and people that we love. And it calls this congregation to be more than a gathering of like-minded people, more than people looking to get our own needs met. We are called to love, to reflect on what that love calls us to do, and then to do it, with courage and resolve. It calls us to be generous, passionate, and gentle with each other and ourselves. It calls us to give, to work, to risk, to change, to grow. It calls us, in fact, to embody love in all we do.

In that spirit, I’d like to introduce something that Pete told me is “crazy enough it just might work.” I have here ten envelopes. On them is a question: “Who will take the South Valley Challenge?”  I am looking for ten people who are feeling brave and will accept this challenge sight unseen. The only assurance I can give you is that by accepting the challenge, you will be helping South Valley live its covenant of love, reflection, and resolve and you will get to have some fun. If you are ready to do this, please come forward and take one of the envelopes. After all ten are claimed, we’ll see what’s inside.
If you missed out on getting an envelope, that doesn’t mean you can’t take the challenge too. You just have to provide the “seed” money of $100. You can also lend your ideas, muscle, and energy to the people who were brave enough to jump up and take the challenge sight unseen. The more we work together, the more fun the South Valley challenge will be.
And just so you don’t worry—I’m not giving away the church’s money. The $1000 we just “planted” in our community was provided by several generous, anonymous donors specifically for this project. They’ve entrusted their money to you, confident that your creativity, entrepreneurial spirit, and commitment will allow their gift to make a big difference.

Frankly, I can’t wait until February to see how this has all worked out– to see which seeds sprouted and produced a crop. The goal isn’t the biggest payoff, the goal is to take a risk for Love: to get creative, try something new, to make the world a better place, to help this community thrive.

There is something about South Valley that lets us do crazy things like this challenge. Pete was, in my eyes, such a great example of the kind of commitment and love this congregation brings out in people. We are becoming the community and the people we want to be. We are responding to the call of Love, and that can sometimes look crazy. We do it anyway. We affirm life in the face of death, we affirm hope in the face of fear, we affirm our connection to one another in the face of isolation, and most of all, we affirm the power of Love in each and every face and in this community. We are the body of Love, at work in this world. May we do the work well.

Amen. Ashé. And Blessed Be.

As we extinguish this chalice, we know that the energy of action, the light of truth, and the warmth of love burn on in our hearts and in this community, which though scattered, is always bound together by our common commitment, caring, and Love. May this beloved community go now in peace.

Amen. Ashé. And Blessed Be.


3 thoughts on “SERMON: How We Are Called

  1. Thank you for the lovely sermon this week, Sean. It really helped to be able to sit in a room and feel the same things about Pete. Jean Mann did such a wonderful job of performing. It was like her songs were meant for the day’s sermon. I wish I had brought some cash to buy her CDs…

    Thanks again…

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