Homily given by Rev. Frank Clarkson, June 23, 2019
Last Sunday we heard from our Coming of Age youth, and I’m glad so many of you were here to receive that blessing, of their words and presence. If I had one wish for our young people, it would be this: that they feel at home: in themselves, in their families, in this church, and in the world. Isn't this what we are all seeking? The way home?
A couple of weeks ago, Josh Goulet preached a wonderful sermon and something he said has stayed with me, about our third UU principle; which affirms “acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth.” Josh noticed that acceptance of one another comes first; that it’s only after you feel some level of belonging, that you are ready to stretch and grow spiritually. In other words, once you feel at home, once you feel safe and secure enough, then you can go deeper and reach out and take risks and help others.
The choir just sang “Light in the Hallway,” a song a parent might sing to their to a child who’s afraid to go to sleep; words that we could stand to hear too, however old we are:
So count your blessings every day
It makes the monsters go away
And everything will be okay
You are not alone
You are right at home.
What do you do when you’re anxious or afraid? Counting your blessings is a good place to start; being mindful of what is good, and what you have to be grateful for. As is asking for help, saying, “Don’t leave me alone, I’m afraid of the dark!”
We all are afraid sometimes. There is so much one could be fearful about. On this day I’m thinking of, and praying for, those immigrant families in our nation who are afraid of that knock at the door or that traffic stop than will cause them to be detained. In these fearful times, we would do well to remember the wisdom in the Bible, how it says, again and again, “fear not.” This is what good religion does: it helps us to have more faith than fear. And it’s what we try to do here. As Theodore Roszak puts it, to “hold open a space where you can become yourself, without shame or fear.”
I am so grateful that I am here in this community, and that it’s my job to try and pay attention and call attention to what is going on, in our lives and in the world. That I get to reflect with you on what matters, and what is needed, in these days. I am grateful that we are here together. Trying out and working out these principles we aspire to, that we each have worth and dignity; that we are here to learn to love and help one another.
Of course this is easier said than done. Community, like family, can be a lot sometimes. Right? Because it can be hard to get along; we get our feelings hurt, or we disagree but maybe don’t want to rock the boat, or we are disappointed that someone didn’t show up, or didn’t acknowledge us. And what about that person you find annoying?
I am so grateful for the healthy and thriving community we have here. For how you love and accept one another, for the kindness you show and share. For all the ways you care for those in need and are so generous in helping others. For how you teach our children, and take care of this church community, and try to change our world for the better.
If you asked me how we could grow, I’d say we could try taking more risks. Like speaking more truth to each other. Continue to be kind, and be careful with your words, but when you need to, to say what you want and need to say. Even those things you may be reluctant to give voice to. You know, things like, “you disappointed me” or “I’m worried about this,” or “On this, I disagree with you,” or “Why didn’t you show up?”
I understand this can be risky. We all have experiences of speaking our truth and it not going well: the other person feeling hurt or criticized, and getting defensive, and then you wonder, “Maybe I should have just kept my mouth shut.” It’s good to be wise about when to speak up. But what’s our future, in this congregation, and in our families and communities and in our nation, if we can’t talk directly and truthfully to one another? If we can’t stay present for the hard and challenging conversations? If we can’t name what matters?
The good news is, when you feel at home enough, in yourself and in the world, then you can take this risk. Then you can be more present, more honest, more forgiving. And when you do this, when you share yourself, what you give comes back to you. And you find that true community is like being at home, together. Which is something even us introverts need, and long for.
Acceptance of one another doesn’t mean we always agree, or that everyone always gets their way, or that we don’t sometimes hurt or disappoint each other. But in a healthy home, you can be real, with yourself, and with others. And from that foundation, you can go anywhere.
I love how the Presbyterian minister Eugene Peterson describes the local congregation; he calls it “this kingdom of the holy that is primarily local, relentlessly personal, and prayerful ‘without ceasing.’” This is how I experience you, as this community of connection and Spirit, that creates this place of miracle and wonder right here. Do you sense it? Do you see that the kingdom of the holy is right here? And if you open your eyes and your heart, you can find it anywhere!
The invitation is to be seeking after this mysterious presence, to be open to these messengers of goodness and glory that are all around us in these sweet June days. To remember, as Mary Oliver says, that our work is loving the world:
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here,
which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes…
And, I would say, to be given these companions, and these sweet June days. All these gifts. So, my friends, let us be grateful, and let us be glad.