Our topical theme for the month of March is Wisdom and the spirit word associated with that is Awakening. Put these two words together and you have the fundamental commodities of the church…our church…All Souls Church. So, why is it that All Souls exists? Come find out!
Why All Souls?
A Sermon Offered to All Souls Church, Unitarian Universalist
March 8, 2020
Rev. Shayna Appel
Welcome & Announcements
Chalice Lighting “A Community of Faith” By Judith L Quarles
At this hour, in small towns and big cities, in single rooms and ornate sanctuaries, many of our sibling Unitarian Universalist congregations are also lighting a flaming chalice.
As we light our chalice today, let us remember that we are part of a great community of faith.
May this dancing flame inspire us to fill our lives with the Unitarian Universalist ideals of love, justice and truth.
Hymn #126 Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing
Opening Words by Keshab Chandra Sen / Arranged by John Haynes Holmes
Unto the Church Universal,which is the depository of all ancient wisdom, and the school of all modern thought;
Which recognizes in all prophets a harmony, in all scriptures a unity, and through all dispensations a continuity;
Which abjures all that separates and divides, and always magnifies all that unifies and brings peace:
Which seeks truth in freedom, justice in love, and individual discipline in social duty;
And which shall make of all sects, classes, nations, and races, one global [beloved] community;
Unto this Church and unto all its members, known and unknown throughout the world,
We pledge the allegiance, of our hands…, hearts, [and minds]
Time for All Ages Aesop & Son “The Winking Horse”
Reading #1 “A History of Church, Including Yours” by Sean Neil-Barron [adapted]
One day, your church was born. Maybe it was a gathering of saints, called together for the common worship of a wrathful god, ceaselessly praying between bouts of decrying the evil of Christmas or dancing. Or maybe a few brave souls answered a notice in the newspaper, curiosity piqued by the announcement of a religion where free-thinking and tolerance were bedrocks.
No matter how it happened, your church was born. A gathering of people—humble, caring, anxious and quirky all at the same time—who covenanted, to be with one another on the journey of life, death and everything in-between—and so it began. A faithful few. Beautifully imperfect, called to that central task— that human task—of connecting, loving, and serving.
It was just a baby, and yet it was thrust deep into the human condition. Tasked to hold minds and souls, bodies and hearts along the roller derby of disease and birth, infighting and joy, and christmas pageants. Sometimes all of those at the same time. They gathered to hear the world broken open, for insightful sermons, rejuvenating music, and a community whose fierce devotion to each other’s wellbeing rivaled a mama bear’s for her cubs.
But it wasn’t always like that of course. There were the trying times—and I don’t just mean Phyllis or Jack, those stubborn but loveable souls who inhabit the netherworld of committee meetings—no, I mean the trying times: when the church almost split in half over the war or integration, or when the mill left the town vacant, or when the minister crossed that line, and the people couldn’t speak about it for decades.
But somehow you were still here. Still on the town common [or this hill], still the church that everyone recognizes, still the ones that shows up every time you were called on, still using the communion silver (until you voted to sell it, or store it away).
New people came, and they changed things. Small things, big things. Things that nobody noticed as it happened, until suddenly it was hard to even recognize anything anymore. That was a hard moment, a tearful moment. And other things changed too. The proclamations about God, once heard loud from the pulpit softened: Wrathful became loving. Distant became intimate. Mandatory became optional…
The history of your church is more a story of the determination of love to break forth than it is about…tie-dye, or chalices, sermon discussions or social justice committee meetings. The history of the church is the history of human enterprise, evolving in its sights and sounds, yet revolving always around its core. The history of your church is the gift of potential and momentum, of baggage and personality. The history of your church is the launch pad from which you spring—into action or disarray. Each day your church is born.
Reading #2 “I Call that Church Free” by James Luther Adams
I call that church free which enters into covenant with the ultimate source of existence,
That sustaining and transforming power not made with human hands.
It binds together families and generations, protecting against the idolatry of any human claim to absolute truth or authority.
This covenant is the charter and responsibility and joy of worship in the face of death as well as life.
I call that church free which brings individuals into a caring, trusting fellowship,
That protects and nourishes their integrity and spiritual freedom; that yearns to belong to the church universal;
It is open to insight and conscience from every source; it bursts through rigid tradition, giving rise to new and living language, to new and broader fellowship.
It is a pilgrim church, a servant church, on an adventure of the spirit.
The goal is the prophethood and priesthood of all believers, the one for the liberty of prophesying, the other for the ministry of healing.
It aims to find unity in diversity under the promptings of the spirit “that bloweth where it listeth . . . and maketh all things new.”
Sermon “Why All Souls?”
Our topical theme for the month of March is Wisdom and the spirit word associated with it is Awakening. Put these two words together and you have the fundamental commodities of the church. Or, as Keshab Chandra Sen put it in our Opening Words for today, “Unto the Church Universal, which is the depository of all ancient wisdom, and the school of all modern thought…” In other words, the church is the beneficiary of all ancient wisdom and it keeps that ancient wisdom relevant by constantly awakening to new meanings. Wisdom and Awakening.
A few weeks ago I asked you to answer the question, “Why?” as it pertains to our congregation. Why does All Souls Church exist? According to our Mission Statement, All Souls Church exists to create and sustain an open and caring community where we may find inspiration for our spiritual growth, opportunities for lifelong religious education and encouragement for putting our beliefs and values into action and service.
Which is all well and good, but WHY does All Souls Church exist? For that matter, why does Unitarian Universalism exist? This is my topic for today and I hope and pray by sermons end, we will have awakened to some new wisdom!
Won’t you pray…FOR me! [Spirit of Life, may the words of my mouth…..]
There’s a great TED talk that was given by Simon Sinek on how great leaders inspire action. Sinek’s inspiration for this talk began with a question concerning why some organizations do better than others. He was also wondering why some leaders are naturally successful – inspiring – while others are not. He carefully examined a number of great leaders and a number of very successful companies and he discovered that they had something in common. Apparently, they think, act and communicate in exactly the same way- and this “way” is the exact opposite of how everyone else thinks, acts and communicates.
To help explain the pattern of thinking that leads to success, Sinek created something he calls the golden circle. It’s actually three nesting circles. The outer circle is the “what.” What does your organization do. According to Sinek, 100% of people can tell you what their organization or business does.
Based on our mission statement, All Souls Church;
- Creates and sustains an open and caring community,
- We find inspiration for our spiritual growth,
- We engage in life-long religious education,
- And we are encouraged to put our beliefs and values into action and service.
This is our mission statement, this is what we do, and according to Sinek, we all know what we do. This is the outer ring of the golden circle.
The next ring in is the “how.” How do we do what we do? Fewer of us would be able to answer this question, according to Sinek. I had to look at it for awhile, but eventually it occurred to me that creating and sustaining an open and caring community might be how we enable one another to find;
- inspiration for spiritual growth,
- opportunities for life-long religious education, and
- encouragement to put our beliefs and values into action and service.
But, WHY do we do what we do? Why do we bother creating and sustaining an open and caring community where we may find inspiration for our spiritual growth, opportunities for lifelong religious education and encouragement for putting our beliefs and values into action and service? What difference does it make for us or for our beautiful but struggling world?
Sinek says that people don’t buy WHAT we do…they buy WHY we do it. And, interestingly, he says the goal is NOT to do business with people who need what we have. Rather the goal is to do business with people who believe what we believe.
Why do we do what we do here? What is our purpose, cause, or belief. Why do we get up in the morning? Why do we get up on Sunday mornings? And why should anyone care what we do here? What difference does it make?
In our first reading for today Sean Neil-Barron says that;
The history of [our] church is more a story of the determination of love to break forth than it is about… tie-dye, or chalices, sermon discussions or social justice committee meetings. He says The history of the church is the history of human enterprise, evolving in its sights and sounds, yet revolving always around its core. Sean says that The history of [our] church points to the gift of potential and momentum,… the launch pad from which [we] spring—into action or disarray. Each day [our]church is born.
In this reading I believe Barron points us in the direction of our “why.” By asking us to look beyond the what and the how, beyond tie-dye, or chalices, sermon discussions or social justice committee meetings, Sean invites us to look at the historic arc of the church. There, he says, we will find the history of human enterprise.
In our second reading this morning, James Luther Adams calls that church free which enters into covenant with the ultimate source of existence, that sustaining and transforming power not made with human hands. And while today we UU’s may not all agree on what that ultimate source of existence is, or even if there is one, Adams reminds us not to get so caught up in church work that we forget to engage in the work of the church. He encourages us to look beyond the works of our own hands so that we might be enlivened and enlightened, held and nurtured by awe, wonder and mystery – things we meet on the forming edge of our lives.
Adams also lifts up the importance of bringing individuals into a caring, trusting fellowship, that protects and nourishes their integrity and spiritual freedom; that yearns to belong to the church universal. He says that the church that does this is open to insight and conscience from every source; it bursts through rigid tradition, giving rise to new and living language, to new and broader fellowship.
Alright, now we’re getting warmer! And I love how Adams frames his aspirational vision of the church with the words, “I call that church free…” I call that church free which enters into covenant with the ultimate source of existence…I call that church free which brings individuals into a caring, trusting fellowship.
So, why do we do what we do? Why do we exist? Here are a few thoughts that I hope, in this season of stewardship, inspire some of your own.
-We exist in order to hold space for people from different faith traditions and no faith who desire to work across those differences in order to build the beloved community.
-We exist because, in a nation as divided as ours is today, that desire to build beloved community across differences is a rare and precious commodity, a priceless skill, and a much needed virtue.
-We exist because the long arc’s of history, and her-story, have shown human beings over and over again that no thing worth doing can effectively be accomplished alone.
-We exist because we believe that every person is born with a soul, which gets crushed, beaten down, or stolen all together over time and because we believe that soul reclamation IS the work of the church.
-We exist in order to help one another discover and fortify the masts we can bind ourselves to when the tempting songs of the sirens would lead us into idolatry of the mind and/or spirit, into blind consumerism, into centering ourselves and our privilege, or any other so-called social norm of the day.
-We exist to help our members learn to stand peacefully at the abyss of the unknown long enough to hear the unknown call them by name.
-We exist in every time and in every age to be radically counter-cultural.
-We exist in order to model the courage it takes to speak truth to power, even and especially when there is a cost to doing so.
-We exist because in a world that moves at a break-neck pace, we believe in the discipline of stopping on a regular basis so that we can be more intentional about how we live our lives.
-We exist in order to get comfortable with the idea that we need one another. (Or, in order to get a little less uncomfortable with it!)
-We exist because evolution has the potential to occur within each and every life-span, and the source of that evolution loves us too much to leave us unchanged.
-We exist because we believe there is a natural tendency towards, and value in, personal growth and development, and because we understand that can’t happen in a vacuum.
-We exist because quirkiness is a continuum and we are all on it!
-We exist because, at its best, religion is a free exercise, but not without accountability.
-We exist in response to the primal human need to both know and be known.
One day, [our] church was born….No matter how it happened, [our] church was born. A gathering of people—humble, caring, anxious and quirky all at the same time—who covenanted, to be with one another on the journey of life, death and everything in-between—and so it began. A faithful few. Beautifully imperfect, called to that central task— that human task—of connecting, loving, and serving.
This is why we do what we do. This is why it is so important for us to continue to exist! This is why the stewardship, care and conservancy of this rare and precious gem known as All Souls Church Unitarian Universalist is paramount. This is why the stewardship, care and conservancy of the wider Association of UU Congregations must be our imperative.
We are the beneficiaries of all ancient wisdom and it is up to us to keep that ancient wisdom relevant by constantly awakening to new meanings. Wisdom and Awakening. Awakening and Wisdom. The foundational commodities of the church, from which all else arises. May we be found by both in abundance! Amen.
Hymn #1020 Lean on Me
Offering A Stewardship Moment
Blessing Candles of Joy & Sorrow “The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Hymn #1028 The Fire of Commitment
Extinguish the Chalice “This is the Message of Our Faith” by Maureen Killoran [adapted]
This is the message of our faith
To act with passion in the face of injustice.
To love with courage in the midst of life’s pain.
This is the meaning of our chalice flame.
May it empower our hearts until we are together again.