Sunday, November 24, 2019

A Place to Share Love

Rev. Jane Page
November 10, 2019

What are we here for? – Here at this place – the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro. So far in this sermon series, we’ve examined the following purposes for our presence:

This is:

A Place for Community

A Place to respond to the injustices of the world

A place to share our time, talents, and treasure

A place to celebrate who we are – with a special focus on gender and sexuality.

A place to honor life and death.

And today we are exploring how this is a Place to simply Love One Another. 

(Sing) “Love is a many splendored thing!”  Yes, it’s splendid, and magnificent and complex, and often painful – but oh, so necessary.”  Why do we need to love?  Why do we need this place to love one another?  And how can we do that when we are so different in many ways.  Those are the three questions I want to touch on today in this message.

So – Why do we need to love?

We as human animals have evolved the capacity and need to love.  We can go all the way back to at least our early mammal ancestors in looking at this.  Israeli Professor of Human Evolution Ada Lampert wrote a book called The Evolution of Love which helped me to understand this.   She states:

The placenta and milk are expensive investments that mothers make for the sake of their kids, but they are worth nothing unless they are part of a caring, devoted, alert mother. To watch the child eat is a joy; to watch it sleep is to dissolve in pleasure. To think of any threat to the little one’s well-being gives rise to deep fear; to know that the threat is over brings forth deep relief. This is the new emotional world of concerned, caring, loving mothers. In the same way that evolution selected milk glands, the womb, the birth canal, and so forth, it selected the urge, the concern, the joy and the satisfaction that motivate mothers.

The mammalian mothers were the first in evolution to feel concern about others, and they set the cradle for the evolution of love, the dependence of every individual on proximity, belonging, being cuddled.

Throughout evolution, love, first as touch and then as a rich cluster of loving behaviors, has become a need, and even a prerequisite, for physiological and psychological well-being.

I’ve witnessed all those feelings again firsthand as I prepared this sermon AND cared for my little great granddaughter Alayna who was with me for a couple of weeks. 

So – we’ve evolved these feelings that help our offspring survive – then that carries over to helping other family members survive – even our offspring caring for us as we age – if we are lucky.  So, it began as a survival technique for the family and continued to expand to the extended family and to the tribe.  We take care of our own.  And, as the song we sang recently said – “We need each other to survive.”

But the world has changed.  We no longer stay put with our families of origin – or with our tribes, our lands of origin.  Many of us find ourselves among strangers.  Yet we still have these same aspects of our evolution to connect and belong and love.  We talked about some of that in the first sermon in this series when we talked of coming together for community.  We find our new tribe in new places.  And for some of us, Unitarian Universalism is a place where we can call home.  And a place for us to find and give love. 

So =Why do many of us need THIS place as a place to share love?  We are attracted to Unitarian Universalism for different reasons.  Some come because they want the freedom to seek their own spiritual or religious paths.  Some come because there are like-minded (or open minded) folks here.  And others come to be part of our efforts to improve ourselves and the world.  But we are all quite a bit different – kind of like a family made up of children from different cultures and backgrounds – all adopted by the same parents – as teenagers.  It makes for some interesting – and sometimes difficult situations.  So that leads me to that third question.

How can we possibly love one another when we are so different in many ways?

I have a true story that I want to share that I read about in UU world in an article by Rev. Victoria Stafford.  Now I could tell you similar stories about some of you – but I don’t think that would be a good thing to do in this situation.  Sometimes it’s better to look at others and see how it may relate to us.

Rev. Victoria writes:

In the first weeks of my first ministry in an old New England congregation, a woman came to see me. Nearly 90 years old, she was a lifelong member of that church; her parents had joined in the late nineteenth century. She didn’t like change, she said. She wasn’t sure that she liked me, or what she called my “point of view.”

“Just remember,” she said. “I have outlived all of your predecessors, and I will probably outlive you.”

This woman was a dedicated political conservative in what had become a progressive community; she was a liberal Christian in a congregation that had known gracious eras of theological diversity and also some fits of intolerance; she’d worked for the U.S. State Depart­ment through three wars and for the American Unitarian Association through the merger with the Universalist Church of America. In this church of her childhood, which she’d never left, most votes at most annual meetings had not gone her way for the past forty years. She was no stranger to discord.

In the end she did outlive me there: she died shortly after I accepted a new call in another state, and I was saddened by the news.

Over ten years we cultivated a fierce, respectful love for one another, and what I loved in her most was her commitment to that church, no matter what; her fidelity to it; the ferocity with which she paid her pledge each year, no matter how wayward the budget or insufferable (in her humble opinion) the sermons. She kept her covenant with that people, with their proud history and the bright promise of their future, and with the free faith tradition they embodied. I was a young minister then, and her way of being in relation, her integrity, taught me more about Unitarian Universalism than anything I’d learned in seminary.

Why did this member stick around – even when so many things didn’t go her way.  Because this was her tribe, her people.  And she was living out the promises she had made to herself and to them. We say that we are bound not be creed – but by covenant.  By the promises we make to one another about how we will be together. 

When we come into the membership of a Unitarian Universalist congregation – it’s kind of like coming into a marriage.  We are making a family – or coming into a family.  And since we are very different, we usually find that we can walk together in our differences if we covenant together.

In 2007, after five years of living with Greg Brock, I agreed to marry him.  And when two folks marry – they also make a covenant together – usually called their marriage vows. 

Now a covenant is not really like a contract.  When you “break” a contract, the contract is null and void.    With a covenant, you might mess up – but the bond is too important, and you just keep recommitting to it as long as you both agree to it.

Unlike some couples who write separate sets of promises, Greg and I decided that we would make the same promises to each other on our wedding day – and these really were to be just a restatement of what we had been LIVING for the previous five years together.  But since we wanted to say the same thing, we had to find words we agreed on.  Needless, to say, our wedding vows were very short. 

I, Jane Altman Page, take you, Gregory John Brock, to be my husband –

to have and to hold from this day forward,

in times of joy and times of sorrow,

and to grow with you throughout the seasons of life.

May our home be forever filled with peace, joy, and love.

Nuff said.  That’s a covenant.  The Greg and Jane covenant.

Covenanting with one another is a very old practice among Unitarian Universalists – going all the way back to our Puritan spiritual ancestry.  The leader of the Puritans aboard the Arabella, John Winthrop, saw the need for this as they were still on the high seas.  You may recognize his name from history as the first governor of Massachusetts.  Here are his words. 

Now the only way to avoid . . . shipwreck, and to provide for our poster­ity, is to follow the counsel of Micah, to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God. . . . [W]e must be willing to abridge our­selves of our superfluities, for the supply of others’ necessities. We must up­hold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience, and liberality. We must delight in each other, make others’ conditions our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, our community as members of the same body. So, shall we keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.

What Winthrop was presenting was a Declaration of Interdependence.  In her UU World article on covenants, Rev. Stafford stated:

Those who heard John Winthrop speak would surely have grasped the metaphor of danger: they would have been afraid not only of foundering, literally, on New England’s rocky shore, but of failing in their errand to establish this commonwealth, their “city on a hill.” The only way to avoid shipwreck, spiritual or otherwise, was to “keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace”—to make and keep a sacred covenant together.

Similarly, the early churches of the standing order in New England made covenants among themselves as congregations and in association with each other.  We, as Unitarian Universalists have continued this tradition.

When I was in seminary in the early 2000’s, the value of the covenanting process was re-emphasized at our seminary and within UUA.  More small groups, large groups, and congregations began to use a more formal covenanting process as they struggled to “love one another” with various challenges and differences.  Some congregations moved to having more specific covenants that addressed how they would be with one another, often called a relational covenant. 

Ten years ago, I encouraged this congregation to adopt a relational covenant when I shared my sermon, “Can You Say Covenant.”  We surveyed the congregation, had a small group to work to draft something, get feedback, and present to the congregation.  Then in November 2009, we voted on it and many who were there signed it. 

Last year we made the decision to recommit to our covenant at this every year on the day we had our Annual Meeting and offer the opportunity for others to sign as well. 

I’ve printed these and you or your neighbor should have one.  I’m going to ask you to stand as you are able and Let us read this covenant together.

Congregational Affirmation and Relational Covenant

Love is the spirit of this fellowship, and service is its prayer.  This is our great covenant:  to dwell together in peace, to seek the truth in love, and to help one another.

To this end, we, the people of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro, affirm the following relational covenant:

·        We warmly welcome all who gather in our community.

·        We honor and support one another as we explore our spiritual paths.

·        We embrace our diversity and grow from sharing our different perspectives.

·        We address our disagreements respectfully, communicating directly with the person or group involved, and see conflict through to a genuine resolution.

·        We serve our Fellowship community with generosity and good humor, and we acknowledge and express gratitude for the service of others.

·        We respect our individual boundaries and the boundaries of others.

·        We support one another in love through times of joy, need and struggle.

(You may be seated.)

Now  - Will we always be successful in staying in Covenant?   Probably not, we may still say things that hurt someone’s feelings or not have careful boundaries, etc.  But hopefully we will catch ourselves or one of our other loving members will gently share with us that we are out of covenant, and we can make amends and begin again in Love. 

So, in summary:

Why do we need to love another another?

We have evolved the feelings of love to help one another survive.

Why do we come HERE to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro to love one another?  We are attracted here to each other and to this place for many different reasons.  Here we have found our tribe!  Our people – and we give and receive much needed support and love.

And HOW do we love one another when we are very different in many ways and have disagreements?  Through covenanting with one another, and coming back into covenant to begin again in love when we falter. 

This place is a Sanctuary.  We have proclaimed it to be a sacred space – indeed a holy place.  And we can bring our whole selves – our heads, hearts, and hands – and even sometimes our dancing feet – to this place and love one another. 

For as the song says, “When our heart is in – a holy place.  When our heart is in a holy place.  We are blessed with love and amazing grace.  When our heart is in a holy place. “

May it be so!

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