Sermon: In Our Own Image

OPENING

My sister Laura has a high balcony-like patio over-looking her back yard. 

We discovered that it is a great place to pitch water balloons to our children, and at our children.

It has become somewhat of a tradition to kick off the summer this way. 

All the cousins and their friends look forward to it. We parents look forward to it also   

– taking careful aim at our offspring!

The kids love rushing towards the balloons trying to get splashed with the cool water on a hot day.  Except, we discovered, adequate notice is important. 

Because, especially for children not familiar with the tradition, it may be rather shocking to be called over to the bottom of the balcony     

only to discover you are now the target and about to receive something

you did not ask for,   

and may not want.

So, to ensure that no one here feels like they just stepped into the path of an unannounced water ballon, I want to disclose that:

Today we will explore somethings that as New England-based Unitarian Universalists, we do not often talk about. 

There will be words used, that while they do not make the FCC’s seven banned words list, the resulting visceral reaction has been noted to be similar in UU spaces when they are heard. 

And, it is really unfortunate, because when we get caught up on focusing on words that trigger us, we become distracted and can miss something we may appreciate.

So, let’s get the trigger words out of the way now.

God.  Goddess.  Jesus Christ.  Bible.  Spirit.  Pentecost. Transcendence.

And,   Breathe!

I am asking – not that you instantly believe everything in today’s service,     but that,     for the present moment,     you consider it.

I ask that you relax

And, when you hear one of those pesky words or passages

That you relax some more.

Let us light our chalice.

Then Covenant.

MEDITATION / REFLECTION:

Rev. Meg Riley  Senior Minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Larger Fellowship charges us with this thought:

To commit to creating

a prophetic congregation today

is to grapple with what it means

to take responsibility for co-creating

the holy right here on earth.”

As we turn inward guided by Jason’s beautiful music, let us contemplate

what the holy is to us.

READING # 1

Oh me! Oh life!

By Walt Whitman

“Oh me! Oh life!

        of the questions of these recurring,

Of the endless trains of the faithless,

of cities fill’d with the foolish,


Of myself forever reproaching myself,

(for who more foolish than I,           and who more faithless?)


Of eyes that vainly crave the light,

of the objects mean,

of the struggle ever renew’d,


Of the poor results of all,

of the plodding and sordid crowds          I see around me,


Of the empty and useless years of the rest,

with the rest me intertwined,


The question,       O me!          so sad, recurring

—What good amid these,

O me,      O life?

Answer.
That you are here           —that life exists.

That the powerful play goes on,

          and you may contribute a verse.”

READING # 2

The Paradoxical Commandments

by Dr. Kent M. Keith

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.

Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.

Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.

Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.

Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.

Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women

with the biggest ideas

can be shot down by the smallest men and women

with the smallest minds.

Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.

Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.

Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.

Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.

Give the world the best you have anyway.

SERMON

The scriptures tell us that we, humans, are created in God’s image.

I am here to suggest that

We create God in our own image.

Our god,    

the one of our choosing,

is the one who makes us feel most comfortable in our own skin.

The one who helps us reconcile with life   

and with death. 

The one, who when our faith is challenged,

and when we endure great losses or sorrows,

-we turn to in pain

and when we experience great wonders and joys,

-we turn to in gratitude.

David Foster Wallace in a 2005 Commencement Speech entitled “This is Water” claimed:

There is actually no such thing as atheism.

There is no such thing as not worshipping.     

Everybody worships.

The only choice we get is what to worship.      

And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship

-be it Jesus Christ or Allah, Yahweh, Jehovah, the Wiccan mother-goddess

or the Four Noble Truths

or some infrangible/inviolable set of ethical principles

-is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.”                  

Pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.

What did he mean by that?

Well, . . .

Worship – allure and imperishable beauty

And you will always feel ugly

Worship money 

you could live in poverty     

or be a millionaire

and never have enough

Worship power

you will always feel weak and live in fear

Worship intelligence or mastery

No matter how smart or successful you are

You will always feel like a fraud

On one level, we already know this

Through modern psychology 

as well as through parables and myths passed down to us

through generations, religions, and lessons.

Yet the trick is keeping the truth of these knowings up-front in our daily consciousness. 

Being present to this knowledge every day.

And using this knowledge as we make our choices.

David Foster Wallace says,

“The insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful;

it is that they are unconscious.

They are   default-settings.

They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into,

day after day,         

getting more and more selective about

what you see     

and how you measure value         

without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.

And the world will not discourage you from operating                                             

on your default-settings,         

because the world of  men      

and money      

and power             

hums along quite nicely                        

on the fuel of fear       

and contempt       

and frustration        

and craving and the worship of self.”

He continues to say:

We have “The freedom to be lords of our own tiny skull-sized kingdoms,                                                                   alone at the center of all creation.

Yet. . . .The most precious kind of freedom –  the really important kind of freedom

involves attention,         

and awareness,        

and discipline,     

and effort,           

and being able truly to care about other people                                       

and to sacrifice for them,         

over and over,        

in myriad little ways, every day.            

That is real freedom.

The alternative is unconsciousness, the default-setting”

(some call this default setting the “rat race”                                                               

it becomes “the daily grind”          

….”the ruts” we get in…)                                         

Others simply recognize as the inertia of their lives.

-the constant gnawing sense of having had

and lost                  

some infinite thing,           

or worse,                      

not having ever believed that we are part of        

some infinite thing.

King Solomon wrote the book of Ecclesiastes, which is kind of a manual for understanding the daily grind…

Solomon, reputedly one of the wisest,

wealthiest,

most successful men of his time

implored readers to understand that all of those things

(wisdom,     wealth,    success)

were mere vanities

and that if one should realize all the aims,

hopes and   

aspirations of life,

they would not bring satisfaction to the heart. 

For that to occur is through our connection with the Divine. 

To think and act as if this were otherwise, 

…following our mind alone,     

without consideration for our heart, 

can only result in an unhappy, unfulfilling life.

Perhaps with that in mind,

Robin Sharma has been quoted to say

“The mind is a wonderful servant, but a terrible master.”

Being a slave to your unconscious default-setting is a living death.

Choosing what to think….

Being cognizant and aware enough to select what you

pay attention to

That’s consciousness.

Having a steadfast practice that allows you to steer yourself back when you wander,

allows you to actively choose what you focus on….

That’s freedom.

And, that’s intentional worship,       

even if you don’t yet know it by that name.

How we consciously choose to experience the Divine

can determine how our life unfolds day to day.

This is not to say it will determine, in some karmic way,

whether we encounter injustices, grief, or suffering. 

To suggest that these are completely unavoidable would be grossly misleading.

For I can state with certainty that every single one of us in this room today has encountered sorrow.          

And anger.        

And fear.

Yet, how we respond to the things that happen to us

is the key to whether or not our lives feel burdensome,

or worthwhile.

The Rev. Marlin Lavenhar tells us in his sermon entitled: “Why Life is Not Fair” that  ((and let me say that Marlin knows about life not being fair – his daughter died when she was three years old.  She was before that healthy, vibrant, happy.  Then out of the blue she encountered a virus   that for some unknown reason attacked her heart and she died.))

So I take to heart his words about Life Not Being Fair.

Marlin says:

Why is the wrong question to why things happen to good people.”

The more important question, Marlin says is

Because bad things happen – What are we called to do?

We don’t know why and we never will.”

He preaches that:

“In the face of evil and tragedy and injustice

the only response that makes any sense at all

is to love.

We are called to love.

In the midst of it all,

we are called to continue to risk   loving    and receiving love.

We are called to be instruments of love.”

Marlin urges us:

“The only god to believe in is a god of love”

1 Corinthians 13:11-13 

11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became an adult I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

The author of this book, the Apostle Paul, in speaking about how our perceptions change as we mature next noted:

v 12:  Now we see but a dim reflection as in a mirror;

then we shall see face to face.

Child self – – to adult self

Verse 12 continues…

Now (as the child self) I know in part;           

then (as the adult self) I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

After childhood ways of thinking have matured, and adulthood consciousness embraced, Paul teaches in

v13: And now these three remain:     

faith,    

hope,   

and love;

But the greatest of these is love.…

and

1Cor 14:1   Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit.

Love and gifts of the Spirit

We can distract ourselves endlessly by seeking responses

to the unanswerable question:    

WHY?

All the Whys of Life.

We can consult clergy and psychics,    

shaman and scriptures,

and we will never with certainty find the Absolute Answer.

We are far bettered served,          

and serve others better:

When bad things happen, and they will…

When good things happen, and they will…

To mindfully,       

thoughtfully,          

carefully choose which God          

we will filter these life experiences through.

And consider, how can we consciously cultivate a practice that enables us to take control over decades-long default programs?

The Reverend David Ruffin last year when talking about the Christian account of Pentecost – when hundreds were reported having received the holy spirt

Dave’s interpretation was:

“Pentecost didn’t just happen    – it is happening! 

Pentecost is happening!! 

Today is a day for a direct encounter with the transcendent.

And so is tomorrow.      

And the day after that. 

And here is the thing.  (Dave says)    

Pentecost is not passive. 

It is not something we can passively await.  Pentecostal moments of transcendence only come     when we become co-collaborators in Pentecost. 

Whatever transcendent event that may have happened in that early christian community, its real power is as a present-day co-created reality –    

that is to say:   

A Pentecostal Practice.”

What is a Pentecostal Practice?

It is the direct transcending of the spirit.

Now,  I know,       

Not all of us are on the Pentecostal “Spectrum”  🙂

Not all of us even believe in connection to Spirit.

And, even those of us who are     

and do,      

may well hesitate in owning any phrase with connotations so steeply rooted in christianity.

Yet, our own religion -Unitarian Universalism- has roots in this idea of transcendence.

Transcendentalism for example.

The followers of Transcendentalism felt a deep calling

to live lives of personal integrity    and to bring about social change.

Transcendentalism evolved as an organic consequence of the Unitarian emphasis on free conscience and the value of intellectual reason.

Yet, Transcendental philosophy was not grounded in mere physical experience, rather deriving from the inner spiritual or mental essence of the human.

Indeed,  Transcendentalism made personal spiritual experience and individual conscience its guides.

Transcendentalists wanted a religion that allowed for a personal connection to the Divine.

And, my guess is that all of us can relate to moments of feeling deep connection.

Connection to Nature

Connection to other Humans

Connection to Divinity

When we experience those connections – that is the beginning of transcendence.

Often times it is

Transient transcendence     – a passing sense of confirmation;

evidence we are part of something more than what is seen.

Yet, for one reason or another, it does not become our lived reality.

We inevitably sink back into our patterns of being weighted down by the world,

systemically or personally feeling entrenched in fears

and uncomfortably,       

or numbly

facing our daily lives.

But we can choose something different.

We can choose to practice transcendence.

Practice.

And by practicing transcendence, inasmuch as it is a solitary implementation that creates a unique feeling for each of us individually,

it is also a way of being together in this world.

Transcendence is a way of being in this world together.

Because, whether one of us is practicing it,

or all of us are,   

the connection is palpable.

And if we each take steps day by day to hone the skills of transcendence,

we strengthen not only ourselves, but our community.

We strengthen our relationships with one another.

Of seeing our imperfections, and greeting each other in love anyway.

We say YES to the Call to be instruments of Love.

And in doing so,     

will begin to see the world,       

and each other, through more authentic and compassionate lenses.

And in doing this,       

we not only answer the call to Love,

we fall in love

with Life       

and with each other

all over again.

In the Novel A MAN CALLED OVE  by Fredrik Backman
he affirms:

“Loving someone is like moving into a house. At first you fall in love with all the new things, amazed every morning that all this belongs to you, as if fearing that someone would suddenly come rushing through the door to explain that a terrible mistake had been made, you weren’t actually supposed to live in a wonderful place like this.

Then over time,  the walls become weathered, the wood splinters  here and there,    and you start to love that house not so much because of all its perfection,  but rather for the imperfections.        

You get to know all the nooks and crannies.   How to avoid getting the key caught in the lock when it’s cold outside. Which of the floorboards flex slightly when one steps on them  or exactly how to open the wardrobe doors without them creaking.

These are the little secrets that make it your home.”

Love.            

When we choose to experience it and act from it,             

Love has a wonder all its own. 

We can take heart in this     

when we experience the less polished sides of each other. 

We can choose to love each other anyway.

And when our perceptions of life and living become jaded              

when bad things happen,

we can choose love     

and choose faith in the Divine here as well. 

Because when we pause for even a moment in Nature                          

we cannot deny that there is something more than

out there

…and we can choose to have that knowledge     

have positive significance to us.

Jane Roberts talked about why it is important to not simply rely on default-settings but  to be aware of what we think.  She said:

“Whatever you habitually think sinks into the subconscious. The subconscious is the seat of the emotions     and is a creative mind. Once the subconscious accepts an idea,    it begins to execute it. Whatever you feel is true,   your subconscious will accept and bring forth into experience.”

How this relates to others Roberts says:

“You are so part of the world

that your slightest action contributes to its reality.

Your breath changes the atmosphere.

Your encounters with others

alter the fabrics of their lives,

and the lives of those

who come in contact with them.”

She also wanted a defining factor, to that end she speaks:

“I kept looking for a logic that would explain life. It never occurred to me that     instead    love is the vital synthesis.”

Again.     Love.     And connection.

In the words of our foremother Poetess Anne Bradstreet:

Then higher on the glistening (glistering) sun I gaz’d,

  Whose beams was shaded by the leavie tree;

The more I look’d, the more I grew amaz’d,

  And softly said, What glory’s like to thee?

Soul of this world, this universe’s eye,

No wonder, some made thee    a deity…

Ralph Waldo Emerson took this sentiment to heart affirming:

“Let me go where ever I will,
I hear a sky-born music still.


It is not only    in the rose,
It is not only    in the bird,


But in the darkest,   meanest things
There always,    always    something sings.”

Sure, we can chalk their words up to fancy talk,  whimsical dreams  and ignore them; 

yes, we can continue on with our default-settings.      

 

Or we can choose to embrace the Divine    

and see where such a decision leads us.

We can choose to release ourselves from the distraction of trying to solve the insolvable,

  and begin to live.

Because, whether we like it or not, we create our personal gods in our image with every choice we make,

and too

with every choice we try to avoid making.

The good news is:

We can choose to worship gods of benevolence,   

of compassion,       

of kindness;    

We can choose to worship gods of forgiveness,

of transcendence,     

of peace; 

These are the gods of love.

We can choose to whom we belong.

And when we choose them, we answer the call to love.

And when we answer the call to love… even in the face of our imperfections, in the face of uncertainties and fears…

We begin to emulate the god we created in our own image.

May the Gods we choose to create in our image   

give us the courage to risk  loving  and receiving love.

Amen and Blessed Be.

CLOSING

While me may not ever know the “whys” of existence,

and where it may take some of us great effort

to mindfully realign our default-settings,

as we begin cultivating transcendent practices,

let us take heed of the Reverend Naomi King’s prayer:

“Sit down beside us, Beloved, in the garden,     and let us rest against your knees, that we may recount why we are thankful and how.

At the end of our days,    may we be thankful for all the chances   to choose love          and to choose hope      and to choose justice     and to choose generosity   and to choose wonderment    and to choose joy.

Sit down beside us,     Beloved,  in this graciousness of being,     and let us lean against your knees,      and breathe in the yes that is    and breathe out with all the love we have to give.”

Let us remember this.

May we ever feel our connection to each other and to all we call Sacred.

Let us co-create this reality together.

Go in Peace.

July 3rd promo.jpg

End Notes:

 July 3rd – In Our Own Image – Order of Service

– – Rev. Meg Riley‘s Quote Found in the Book: “Prophetic Congregations in the Twenty-First Century” A People So Bold, ed. John Gibb Millspaugh

– – In 1968 Kent Keith penned the Paradoxical Commandments. He was 19 years old and were included in a leadership booklet he wrote for high school students. While they were in many ways his self written guiding principles, he didn’t speak publicly about the Commandments in his work.

After 25 years the commandments started popping up, people mentioning them to him, then in 1997 they came full circle to him in a big way:

He was at a Rotary Club meeting and someone began the meeting by reading the passage.  Saying the commandments were taken from a sign on the wall of a Children’s home in Calcutta that Mother Teresa had founded.  Everyone had assumed she wrote them. Kent’s story, journey the commandments made without him and the coincidences that brought them back to him, are worth knowing about.

http://www.paradoxicalcommandments.com/

– – David Foster Wallace audio “This is Water”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=955mKxyBnnE

Rev. Marlin Lavenhar sermon: “Why Life is Not Fair”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kKM19Y2pTLM

– – Rev. Dave Ruffin’s sermon:Transcending Together”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWKysDCe0-M

Jane Roberts is an American Author, poet and reputed channel of The Seth Material.

Robin Sharma is a Canadian speaker of new thought and leadership.

Ecclesiastes: Name. The Hebrew word means preacher and refers to or signifies one who calls together and addresses assemblies.

– – Rev. Naomi King links:

Twitter (@RevNaomi), BLOG, UU Quotes Tumblr