by Rev. Frank Clarkson
Trying to be Faithful
Last Sunday I talked about faith, not as believing in the unbelievable, but faith as how we choose to live. Faith as movement, the point of which is to take us somewhere. Deeper into our lives. Deeper into the world. Toward greater connection and more substantial commitments, a richer and more meaningful life.
I assume this is what you want, and what you are working toward. At least when you have time to think about big things like this. But if you are like me, you spend a lot of your life paying attention to what’s right in front of you—taking care of your responsibilities, juggling your various commitments, trying to find a little time for yourself now and then. Maybe it’s only occasionally that you step back and look at the big picture and wonder, “Where am I going? Am I living my life the way I want to? The way I ought to?”
I understand how the everyday demands of life tend to push away these big questions, as import as they are. Productivity guru Steven Covey says many of us tend to spend our time on what’s urgent, rather than on what’s important. If you’re not careful, your life goes by, faster than you think, and you don’t spend it they you intended to.
I hope you know I’m not immune to these pressures. But it’s my job to think about these things; to try and have something useful to say to you on Sunday; hopefully, to be a helpful presence in your life. So when I encourage you to make the changes you want and need to make in your life, please know that I am trying to make changes for myself too. Because I want to be present to this life, and this moment. Not just going through the motions or moving so fast that I miss it. You deserve that from your pastor. And the people in your lives, they deserve it from you.
Some years ago I was reading an article in the local paper about an evangelical church that had experienced significant growth. The reporter was asking, “What’s your secret? In a time when most churches are shrinking, you are growing—a lot. How did you do it? What’s your strategy?” I was curious about this too. But here’s what the pastor said: “We didn’t set out to grow here. What we have done is tried to be faithful. Any growth we have had was a result of that.”
“We have tried to be faithful.” Those words have stayed with me.
“We have tried to be faithful.” Those words have stayed with me. He didn’t say, “We have tried to be big, or important, or successful.” He said, “We have tried to be faithful.” I don’t know exactly what being faithful means for that particular church, but it must have something to do with living out the commandment to love God and to love your neighbor. In that congregation, it must have involved some time of listening for their particular calling, and then trying to follow where it leads.
Trying to be faithful means you are trying to live up to your own ideals, doing your best to walk your talk. For example, if you say family is important to you, what do you do? You make time for dinner together—maybe you even put away your cell phones! You attend your children’s games and band concerts, even when you may not feel like it. You call you mother, if you’re lucky enough to still have one. You do nice things for your spouse; you help with the chores, you show up. Because that’s what it means to be part of a family, right?
If you say ours is a warm and welcoming church, then you don’t just hang out with your old friends at coffee hour; you seek out the new folks and invite them in. If you say this is a congregation that stands for justice, then you show up for meetings and for protests, you write letters and send money and you seek out ways to be in touch with those who are marginalized and oppressed. You enthusiastically communicate the joy and value of this work, so others want to join in too.
Trying to be faithful doesn’t mean you do this perfectly. You’re trying, and sometimes you fall short. But you keep on trying.
Think about your own life for a minute. What does trying to be faithful look like to you? What are the ways, the examples of how you are living faithfully? Are you willing to share one? Will you speak out and say a way that you are being faithful?
(Several people shared from their own life experience.)
What does it mean to be a faithful Unitarian Universalist? We don’t have a creed that you have to ascribe to, but we certainly have principles we try to live by, and the expectation that we will act from a place of love, and seek after what is good and true, and roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty helping others. You know, “Love is the doctrine of this church, the quest for truth is its sacrament, and service is its prayer.”
When it comes to this church community, doesn’t being faithful start with showing up? Coming here regularly for worship and other things, and showing up for one another? Being attentive and present and helpful? And being faithful to our covenant; acting with integrity and care. Doesn’t being faithful also mean admitting our mistakes, and making amends for the wrongs we have done? Telling the truth, even when it’s hard to do.
It seems to me that being faithful is about being real with one another, being down to earth. Rather than engaging in pretense and illusion. I think of one of my spiritual heroes, Bishop Steven Charleston. An Native American elder and retired Episcopal bishop, he was the dean of the seminary I attended. He is a wise soul, and it was a blessing to be in his presence for those three years. These days he posts a daily spiritual reflection on Facebook. Here’s one from a couple of weeks ago:
“Come stand here in the strong center of faith. There is more than enough room. The ground of love is wide and without borders. You will be welcome whatever you believe, however you pray, without the need to prove your worth or explain your past. Here love is unconditional. Here people listen. Here kindness is a way of life. Come stand here on the high ground of hope. Discover the peace for which you have longed, the healing for which you have prayed. Come home to where your heart is, here in the future we are making together, the dream we are learning to share.” 
Isn’t this trying to be faithful really about practicing being human? Which is what the UU theologian James Luther Adams said church is for: it’s where we get to practice being human.
And this trying to be faithful is not a one-time event, it is a process. As these lines from the children’s book The Velveteen Rabbit remind us, "It doesn't happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.”
To be faithful means living an integrated life, walking your talk, working on becoming who you aspire to be. And when you fall short, being able to admit that, and seek forgiveness, and try again. As you travel this way, you do grow in faith. Making time for what feeds your own soul, you learn that you need this, the way you need food and water and sleep. You find practices that help keep you grounded and openhearted. You are drawn into deeper connections with others. You start to trust that there is more going on than you can understand or explain; there is mystery and paradox, there is unexpected grace. And even as you are in touch with trouble and pain and suffering, you also know a deeper peace. You find reason to be grateful. This gratitude for life, its joy and its sorrow, is what comes from a life of being faithful.
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you…
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is