In 2004, my friend Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt gave the sermon at our annual Service of the Living Tradition. Her message inspires, comforts, and challenges me and when things get rough, I find myself going back to it again and again. You can read the whole thing here, but this is the part I find myself drawn to:
There are a multiplicity of new voices within our liberal ministries, voices with their roots in cultures and communities far different from the stentorian tones of our Puritan forbears, voices that bring warmth, innovation, new life and new ministries to our faith communities. Yet there are those among us who have chosen to view these streams of inspiration as an unfortunate distraction from our real work. It is as if we have forgotten the words of Theodore Parker, who more than a century ago asked us to imagine a church that â€œfelt that [humanity] was greatâ€¦; [its] duties great, and great its rights and great its power. What a church that would be, a church of faith and works; that warred with sin and healed the woes of [humanity] and loosed the chainâ€¦one such church is in this placeâ€¦ That work is for you,â€ Parker said.
This work, this broad, expansive, inclusive ministry is for us. So long as we remember that, we need not fear the many waves of the worldâ€™s changes. For we are never alone, not one of us; we travel always in good company. We walk with God, that Presence that has searched us and known us, even before we drew breath. We walk with every woman and man who has walked this liberal path before us, leaving behind fragments of grace to sustain us.
We walk with Olympia Brown, her last sermon both an invitation and a provocation to us: â€œStand by this faith. Work for it and sacrifice for it. There is nothing in all the world so important as to be loyal to this faith which has placed before us the loftiest ideals, which has comforted us in sorrow, strengthened us for noble duty and made the world beautiful.â€
We walk with James Luther Adams, who reminded us that â€œa living tradition is not bequeathed through some law of inheritance; it must be earned, not without dust and heat, and not without humbling grace.â€
We who minister in these days are being asked to earn our living tradition yet again in a world of dizzying change. Our lives will not be particularly easy, but those of us who answer the call to ministry have never asked for ease. We asked, instead, for these few things: the chance to make common cause with every [person] on lifeâ€™s journey, for the capacity to fall in love, over and over again, with life and with the source of life. We asked that we live to sing lifeâ€™s praises, and to point the way so that others might join us in the holy song. We asked for strength to do and to say the difficult thing, no matter what the cost. And we asked for the wisdom, through all our days, to count it all joy. Amen.