a sermon by the Reverend Dr. Susan Veronica Rak – preached on 21 May 2017
None of us alone can save the world. Together‚ that is another possibility waiting.
This is our Annual Meeting Sunday. It comes just once a year, sometime toward the end of May or even in early June. it may seem to be more of a chore than a blessing = it sounds tedious or very corporate. Trust me, that last one it isn’t. Although you may vote on budgetary matters, there are no ga-gillion dollar CEO salaries to vote on today. No IPO’s or billion dollar losses or news of chemical plant or oil drilling in sensitive places to worry about. ThIs is just a Unitarian Universalist congregation annual meeting. And it is an opportunity to choose to bless the world.
Yes, you heard correctly – it is a chance to “save the world” in our own small way. Meetings like the one we hold today are about hearing reports and making decisions and casting votes. it is part of our cherished heritage. Our organizational structure is our congregational polity. This comes to us from something that occurred 369 years ago.
In 1648 ministers from Massachusetts and Connecticut gathered in order to articulate a form of governance for the churches being established by those of Puritan and Pilgrim heritage in New England. That is, they needed to figure out how these churches should be organized, who should have authority, how they were to go about the work of the church.
You see, these Puritans and Pilgrims had come from England where, for decades they sought to reform the Church of England – holding study groups, discussions, and conferences to consider how the churches could most effectively express and emulate what they considered the Word of God.
But the hierarchy of Church of England was not amused and considered these actions as a challenge to its authority, and so they disrupted these meetings and those who took part were punished.
So when some of these dissidents fled and arrived in the New World, the Colonies, they sought to create their own congregations, not controlled by the ecclesiastical authority thousands of miles away. The result of that 1648 meeting was a document called The Cambridge Platform. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? No? Well, it is something mostly studied by seminarians, especially those preparing for the Unitarian Universalist ministry. And it is central to who we are as a religious institution.
The Cambridge Platform looks back to the days of the apostles, when they “went from place to place and preached the gospel”. When there was a “competent” number of professed, baptized believers, “they formed into a distinct church.” These churches were formed not by an ecclesiastic decree or official authorization but through a mutual covenant.
They could not be a church “without their freely and mutually covenanting to walk together in all the duties and ordinances of the gospel.” The Platform went on to say that although people could be believing and practicing Christians, as long a they remained un-connected and separate, they cannot be a proper church.
We have moved away from or discarded much of the theology, doctrine or disciplines recommended within the Cambridge Platform. But at the center is “a characteristic that has held throughout the generations and the centuries: and that is the way we create, organize and govern Unitarian Universalist churches and congregations. The Cambridge Platform says: “We freely covenant to walk together.” Each Unitarian Universalist congregation – including this one – is an agreement among peers to come together. We are not deemed a congregation because we strictly and properly adhere to a certain creed or doctrine, or because some bishop or papal authority decrees it to be so. We are a congregation, a religious community, a fellowship, because we covenant, we agree, to be there, to gather in this spiritual community.
The founders of BuxMont UU Fellowship freely gathered and called this commnityinto being. Indeed, that very “freedom” is a cornerstone of what BuxMont was and is today. You are not the same congregation that existed here 56 years ago, or 40 years ago, or 20… or even just 5 years ago. You have changed, evolved, expanded – and that, too, is a characteristic of who we are.
Congregational polity does not require theological conformity. And this is the “save the world” part of our our polity. I do not mean that we, individually or collectively will actually, physically, in this moment, “save the world”. But this polity, this piece of our religious DNA, can make that possible.
Not because we will easily come together in agreement to adopt a particular position that will, by its very nature, bring about justice or end war or guarantee equality and freedom. But because we will engage and wrestle with those issues – as individuals and as a community – that this possibility emerges. This takes time, patience, and a willingness to listen, to change – to risk. But that, my friends, is the challenge of this over 300-year-old doctrine as we now live it.
As the UUA Commission on Appraisal document Interdependence notes:
When we say we agree to govern ourselves in accordance with the principles of “congregational polity,” we affirm the moral and spiritual values that we believe this form of governance expresses and sustains by its very nature.
This is not simply a social or political way of organizing our selves. It is a calling to a covenantal relationship. A calling to be together.
Our coming together on Sunday mornings to worship is one way we enact that. Joining together to work to better the world is another. Holding congregational meetings where we discuss matters and or take votes is another. But at the heart of it IS a theological imperative. For one of the enduring tenets of the Cambridge Platform is a grounding in what the authors were trying to articulate: that is, “why”.
Why would people choose to walk together by forming congregations? What is the purpose of the church?Why, indeed. These are not new questions.
As a religious movement, Unitarian Universalists have been asking ourselves that question a lot of late. As a congregation, we are asking it, too. And none of us are coming up with simple and memorable answers. But we try!
Back in March and April we held two Sunday Services to try and find words to describe this congregation – what it is now, and a sense of its purpose.Your conversations told us that ButMont Unitarian Universalist Fellowship is
welcoming of all, especially seekers of truth.
It is not mainstream in its theology or religious practice – independent and informal.
It is a warm and cheerful and outgoing community – a chosen family for some.
It is a community that is white, middle aged, mature.
It is a place to grow, grounded in its natural setting and beautiful space.
This I think describes the BuxMont UU Fellowship we all know so well. When you were asked to think about what BuxMont might be five years hence, the majority mentioned that some things will still be the same:
that sense of community or family
the acceptance that is felt
a strong Religious Education program for children and youth
a diverse and inclusive music program,
a preserved and maintained natural setting in these grounds and gardens .
The things you all hoped might be different included
having the building maintenance needs taken care of
a stronger connection to the community outside our doors
more members – not just “more” but a greater diversity of persons in that increased membership, including more “younger” members (whatever that means – I guess it depends on the age and viewpoint of the person writing that down!)
and last, but not least, financial security – that you would raise enough money to fund your aspirations. That is clearly a current anxiety that you wish will be resolved in the future.
So you look at these hopes and wishes for five years hence and realize that to get there, to have any of these come true, requires change NOW, a refocused Fellowship moving into the future.
When you talked about “What is BuxMont UU Fellowship ‘for’? What difference does it make to the world that you are here, that you exist? you used words like ‘refuge’ or ‘sanctuary’
– BuxMont UU is an open and accepting place where people of all kinds who are rejected elsewhere –
for who they are, for what they believe – can come and find support and comfort here –
for personal and spiritual needs and for friendships and community.
One person noted that “perhaps BuxMont doesn’t make a difference in the world, but it does to me.”
And that is an important statement… it tells us about BuxMont’s potential. Because if you can translate “making a difference” to one singular person, you can begin to build on that strength as people come together – freely covenant together – for a shared purpose. It’s finding that “shared purpose” that may matter more in the future than what BuxMont can do for each individual’s needs.
In 2009, the Strategic Plan stated three major goals:
The BuxMont Unitarian Universalist Fellowship will be a “haven”, a welcoming place that fosters individual growth and community.
That you will be a “beacon”, shining a light outward into the surrounding community – so that you will be known for living your Unitarian Universalist values
and thirdly, BuxMont UU Fellowship will continue to be “vibrant and growing”, having “sufficient resources” to be well staffed and offer a variety of programs that support the mission of the congregation.
What I learned from all your hundreds of comments is that you pretty much believe and support these goals to this day. You aspirations have not changed. But how tangible these goals remain, or indeed how heart-felt your commitment to them is now, are conversations you must have. This is not about writing a new statement of purpose – you know, the one that’s read each Sunday. But it’s about using this information to plan a way to the future – what must change for you to move toward these goals.
And I asked a question about “risk”…
Some folks responded by talking about how BuxMont supported their taking a personal risk, for example in performing music.
Some answered in the broader sense – about this congregation being a place that might encourage risk – not risky behavior, but boldness, conviction… coming from a place of firm faith and confidence in the community.
On one end of the spectrum was a person claiming that “Risk is BuxMont’s middle name…” to the other end where another lamented that there is never enough money to take risks.
And in the middle were affirmations of “reasoned risk” – risk taken only after serious logical thought and consideration of ramifications. Which I respectfully submit is hardly “risk” at all!
Are you really like the people handing out water bottles at a marathon – which is something I saw on one form? As necessary and helpful as that may be, is that what you’re here for?
I had hoped, and perhaps even promised, that these two workshop would lead to information that would help frame the ministerial search. But from what I have heard and read and seen, these conversations need to continue on – and they will as the Search Committee begins its work. Undoubtedly, you will all be part of this ongoing conversation to clarify your purpose in the next four r five months.
So we ask, is BuxMont UU Fellowship
a “lighthouse”, a beacon that stands for something and invites people to be involved and be committed to a shared ministry?
Or is it a “haven” here on the creek, set apart from the world and sheltering all within its walls? A retreat from the challenges and conflicts of society?
Ot is it something of both???
I am quite certain that our socio-political climate today calls us strongly to these two ideals. And frankly, to be “both/and” is what the world may need more of these days… perhaps that is how we can best bless the world now. One saving gesture at a time…
The choice is yours… what will you do with your gifts?
Reading – Choose to Bless the World by Reverend Dr. Rebecca Ann Parker
Your gifts—whatever you discover them to be—
can be used to bless or curse the world.
The mind’s power,
the strength of the hands,
the reaches of the heart,
the gift of speaking, listening, imagining, seeing, waiting
Any of these can serve to feed the hungry,
bind up wounds,
welcome the stranger,
praise what is sacred,
do the work of justice
or offer love.
Any of these can draw down the prison door,
abandon the poor,
obscure what is holy,
comply with injustice
or withhold love.
You must answer this question:
What will you do with your gifts?
Choose to bless the world.
The choice to bless the world is more than an act of will,
a moving forward into the world
with the intention to do good.
It is an act of recognition,
a confession of surprise,
a grateful acknowledgment
that in the midst of a broken world
unspeakable beauty, grace and mystery abide.
There is an embrace of kindness
that encompasses all life, even yours.
And while there is injustice, anesthetization, or evil
there moves a holy disturbance,
a benevolent rage,
a revolutionary love,
protesting, urging, insisting
that which is sacred will not be defiled.
Those who bless the world live their life
as a gesture of thanks
for this beauty
and this rage.
The choice to bless the world can take you into solitude
to search for the sources
of power and grace;
native wisdom, healing, and liberation.
More, the choice will draw you into community,
the endeavor shared,
the heritage passed on,
the companionship of struggle,
the importance of keeping faith,
the life of ritual and praise,
the comfort of human friendship,
the company of earth
the chorus of life welcoming you.
None of us alone can save the world.
Together—that is another possibility, waiting.
from Blessing the World: What Can Save Us Now by Rebecca Ann Parker and Robert Hardies