Calling and Community

Sermon given by Rev. Frank Clarkson, September 30, 2018.

This month we’ve been reflecting on vocation and calling. And let’s not stop when the month ends! Let’s keep asking questions like “Who am I?, What is my purpose? What brings me joy? Where am I called to stand? And with whom?”

Listening for you call, clearing out the time and space where you can hear the longings of your own soul and the leadings of the Spirit, this can seem like an individual pursuit. To open yourself to these mysteries requires some space for silence and stillness.

But any call worthy of the name does not draw us into isolation, it inevitably calls us out of our individual selves and into wider and deeper experiences, into connection with others. This reaching out is good for us; it is essential for us, if we want to live good lives and be of use. We need a community, Elaine Prevallet writes, we need people 

“who are willing to risk grounding their lives in values that may make them marginal to the larger culture, who are willing to be responsible with and for and to each other, who are not afraid to ask hard questions. We need them to help us recognize that our own individual gift—who I am—is for something, has a unique role to play, a contribution to make. We need them to help us name the gift and and find its place within a frame; we need them to keep us accountable and honest and steady in a culture geared toward constant change. The pull of individualism is so strong that we cannot afford to go it alone.”

Maybe you already know this; you’re here, aren’t you? But it doesn’t hurt to be reminded. When I was young, people went to church because it was the expected thing to do; it was seen as a civic duty. These days, fewer people come to church out of a sense of obligation, and that’s a good thing. Some of you come primarily for the human connections here, some of you come because you want and need to be more in touch with the Spirit, some of you are looking for a place to put your faith and values into action, some of you are looking for religious education for your children, and maybe for yourself as well. All of these are important, and part of a healthy and life-giving spirituality.

When I walked through the doors of a UU church twenty-five years ago, I had no idea how that vibrant congregation was going to change my life. For the better. When some day I’m no longer a parish minister, when I don’t have to go to church, when I’m no longer expected to show up, I’ll still go—because I need the grounding, the connection, the call to be in touch with that which is larger than myself. I need a community, to be healthy and happy and of use in the world. And I suspect I’m not alone.

“We are all longing to go home,” Starhawk says,
“to some place
we have never been—a place half-remembered and half-envisioned
we can only catch glimpses of from time to time.

Somewhere, there are people to whom we can speak with passion
without having the words catch in our throats.
Somewhere a circle of hands
will open to receive us, eyes will light up as we enter,
voices will celebrate with us whenever we come into our own power.

Community means strength
that joins our strength to do the work that needs to be done.
Arms to hold us when we falter.
A circle of healing.
A circle of friends.
Someplace where we can be free.

I was meeting in my office on Thursday with someone who started coming here about a year ago, and she said how much she appreciates this community, that there’s something good and vital going on here. She’s grateful for how real you all are: that we don’t pretend we’re all the same, that we are engaging with important issues like racism and immigration. She didn’t say we’re perfect: she mentioned that it can be hard for new people to find their place at coffee hour, when lots of people seem to have regular folks they like to connect with. It’s takes some care and attention to widen that circle; you need to be watching if your eyes are going to light up when someone new enters, right? It’s a little thing, but can we commit to practicing, every Sunday, being more attentive to those in our midst, especially those whom we don’t know yet? 

As the events of the past few days remind us, as if we needed any reminder, we are living in a divided country. On Thursday evening, after that day of intense testimony in Washington, some of us from this church attended an interfaith Sukkot dinner up the street at Temple Emmanu-El. One of us hadn’t registered, but came anyway, he said, because he needed to, after that divisive day. We sat together, people of different faith traditions, people from different towns and backgrounds, and we talked about the food we were enjoying, and the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, which calls people to be hospitable and happy, and to share that happiness. We talked about poetry and religion and the challenges of these days. We looked into each other’s eyes, and heard each other’s voices, and it was good. This is what community does: it causes us to stretch and grow, it helps us connect across our differences, it restores us to a fuller vision than we have all on our own. It helps us to be happy. And don’t we need more of that?

If this month you’ve been inspired to reflect on your own vocation and call, I hope you’ll continue to work on that. You can attend our monthly “Reflecting on” series today at noon, reflecting on vocation and calling. Today I want to remind you that callings aren’t just for individuals; communities and countries have callings too. Is it possible that the events of the past week, and the past year, in which the #metoo movement is creating a new space for women to speak out, and asking men to listen and to learn, to own up to our past mistakes, to try and be better humans; is it possible that this is our country’s calling, in this moment? To throw off the patriarchy, to undo the oppression that has been so painful and damaging? Is this our country’s calling: to remake our society into one in which violence is not accepted or tolerated or, God forbid, celebrated. I’m not saying we are anywhere close to being there yet, but there is an invitation in this moment, isn’t there? In this moment, when each of us is being asked: Where do you stand? And with whom?

On a different level, what about us here in this place? What do you sense is our calling as a congregation? Where is the energy moving? What is wanting to emerge? Who might we be inviting in, or reaching out to? Where are we being invited to go?

I’ve been in conversation with my friend Dave, who’s a professional photographer, about him coming here to make a little video about our church, to tell people what we’re about here. When we met to talk about this, Dave gave me some homework: he asked me to write down a few words about this congregation: who are we, and what do we want folks who are looking for a faith community like ours to know? This was harder than it sounds, to put into a sentence of two who we are and who we aspire to be. If you want to try this too, write it down, and share it with me, ok? 

As I pondered this, I pictured you all here, and what you share with me, and the feeling I get when we are gathered together. And a phrase kept coming to mind: “a community of the Spirit.” I didn’t
make it up; it’s right there in the first line of the Rumi poem we heard this morning:

There is a community of the spirit.
Join it, and feel the delight
of walking in the noisy street
and being the noise…. 

That poem ends this way:

Why do you stay in prison
when the door is so wide open?
Move outside the tangle of fear-thinking.
Live in silence.
Flow down and down in always
widening rings of being.

 When I say a community of the Spirit, I mean a place where we are reminded that we are part of something which is always more. Where we are open to this Mystery, which we catch glimpses of from time to time, and when we do, our hearts are moved by the beauty and the pain and the preciousness of this moment and this life. We see that our worries and fears are smaller than we imagine, and that our separateness is an illusion. We understand that we do belong to one another, and it is good. 

Don’t you need such a community, especially these days? A group of people that supports you, and keeps you honest. That helps you stay grounded, and encourages you to soar. That helps you work out your own liberation, so you can help others to find their liberation too. That reminds you we are kindred, pilgrim souls, making our way by the lights of the heavens, making our way home, together. 

Isn’t this our calling? To be led by that which is larger than ourselves; to be inspired by a spirit of love and justice. To hold open a space for healing and wholeness. To practice, every day, opening our hearts and our hands and our arms— a bit wider, a bit wider, making room for what is yet to be.