I am a parish minister currently serving the Eliot Church of Natick MA. Eliot Church is a Community Church affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ. Any statements made and postions held in "Unity," however, are solely mine(of course, they may be used with appropriate atribution). Therefore if you disagree, please do not blame the church!

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Lent Sermon Notes I

Its that time of the year again! Here are the notes to last Sunday's sermon. As I have mentioned before, the next two weeks will feature a couple of guest preachers. The first of these is Chris Walton. It should be interesting! If you would like to know more about Chris, you can click on the "Pilocrites" link down in the "links" section.

I am sorry for not putting this in a more "sentence" form. However, I find that almost impossible since I don't always speak in complete sentences on Sunday morning (or any morning, for that matter)! Just imagine that I am talking, then it makes more sense...

OK, one more thing: The readings from Nancy Wood and John Wolf are shortened in the sermon. They were regular readings in the service. Wolf and Scott can be found in Celebrating Easter and Spring (Seaburg and Harris ed.) and Wood can be found in Singing the Living Tradition. Both of these works can be purchased at the UUA Bookstore. The Bible texts not otherwise idetified in the sermon come from the day's readings: Matthew 5:21-26 and Proverbs 24:1-6.

Who Do You Love?
Rev. Adam Tierney

Welcome to the first Sunday of Lent
And happy Valentine’s Day Eve!
Tomorrow we will all try
To shake off the winter doldrums
To warm up our hearts a bit
To celebrate
The great romantic loves of our lives
And, of course, to buy greeting cards
And chocolate and flowers
At least, that is what grown-ups are supposed to do

But all holidays are really for kids
And it is the children that
Get the best part of this holiday, too

Now, I know that most of you
Attended elementary School
So I am equally sure that I am not the only one
With many, many memories
Of buying those cardboard valentines
With Batman and the Hulk on them
Each one saying something like
You’re Super!”

And then dutifully filling them out
With the names of every single classmate
And putting them in carefully prepared
And appropriately decorated lunch bags
During snack-time
Maybe some of you had crafty parents
Who had you make the required 23 Valentines
For each and every student,
Teacher and volunteer in class
Maybe your kids have made a few, themselves
For, as we all know, things have not changed that much

Now I have a confession:
This annual ritual, when I was growing up
Used to drive me crazy
I didn’t like it one bit
Addressing the cards kept me from my normal games
And, of course, I had to give cards to people I didn’t like
But now I have ceased to be the Valentine’s Grinch
And I will tell you why:

In a world with so much conflict
And so many ways to demean and to hurt others
The little cards in the little bags
Are a sign and proof that it doesn’t have to be that way
Tomorrow, at least the kids
Will have to practice forgiveness
And if not forgiveness, the suspension of hostilities
They will have to work hard to love each other

Valentine’s Day reminds us of the injunction
Made by Jesus in Matthew 22:37 and 39
You shall love God with all your heart and with all your soul
And you shall love your neighbor as yourself

Not only is this the religious message
Of the holiday
Which is, after all, the feast day
Of the Christian martyr
And Roman Catholic St. Valentine
But, truly, I would suggest that it is
A valuable and valid theme
For the entire season of Lent

Have any of you given anything up this year?
As you know
It has been a tradition through the years
In various parts of Christendom
To make a sacrifice of some kind
To go without in order to become closer to God
Fasting is a popular way to do this
And I spoke of it in the fall

Yet our tradition, way back to its roots
Has often taken a rather casual stance toward
Times such as this
So many in the free church
Do not observe Lent at all
Or do something smaller
A partial fast like giving up sugar
Or trying out Atkins for a while
Or taking up jogging
And like the New Year’s resolution
What we choose to do during this time
Doesn’t always have a lasting impact

But there is another way to look at Lent
This passage from Matthew is a part of it
After all, we are preparing for Easter
A pretty special and usually fun holiday
Clinton Lee Scott, in our reading today
Called Lent
A time of maple syrup and raised doughnuts
A time not for monastic introspection
But for expansion of mind and heart

What better way to observe the season
Than to Love this great and divine gift
Of an earth that is on the cusp of awakening again
And to find the good in others
And in ourselves?

It may be harder than it sounds
And it does require a sort of fast
For Lent requires a change in attitude
A way to work our way toward abundance

John Wolf puts it this way
Fast from criticism, and feast on praise
Fast from self-pity, and feast on joy
Fast from ill temper, and feast on peace
Fast from fear and feast on faith

But what,
What is Jesus, himself, calling us to do
What does he mean
When he says to love our neighbors
As we love ourselves?

In a novel by David Eddings
One of the main characters is asked
Why he addresses those he doesn’t know as “neighbor”
And he tells his questioner that he says this
Because it is true/Everyone is his neighbor, in a sense
And because not everyone will turn out to be his friend
That is to say, that when we are told to love our neighbor
We are not talking about the same kind of love
That grown-ups, at least, are thinking about on Valentine’s Day

The Buddha says in the Dhammapada
Never does hatred cease by hating in return
Maybe it is the prison of hate
That Jesus spoke of in our reading
The one where we will not get out
Until we have paid the last penny
If this is so, then Lent is a good time to pay up

Either way
The Buddha here articulates
A basic understanding that requires
Us to at least try to see someone else’s pain
To understand their perspective and their roots

To love someone certainly doesn’t mean
That we have to like them
It is much more an issue of respect
Of understanding that each person we meet
Every living thing we encounter
Is a part of the world that we, too are a part of
All are holy, even if we must work to find the holiness

Whether we like it or not, we are connected
And it is this idea that makes it possible for enemies
To make up after a conflict has ended

Jesus in our reading today
Tells us If you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, go and be reconciled and Come to terms quickly with your accuser on the way to court
We, too should be able to reach out
To make contact with those we have hurt
Or who have hurt us
Either literally, or when that is not feasible
(and sometimes it really isn’t)
In our souls and in our prayers
To reach out and
Find a way toward our own peace
And reconciliation

Why don’t we all make a commitment
To, over the next month
Make contact with our neighbors
Say "Hello" to the stranger
Or reacquaint ourselves
With at least one friend
That has drifted away?
That is something that
Can have a permanent and positive effect

But loving our neighbor
May just be the easy part
A friend of mine told me a story
About a time when he worked in an inner city mission
He spent all of his time helping folks with food vouchers
Job searches, legal and medical help
In fact, he worked so hard that he hardly noticed
That his family was coming apart
That his health was declining
And that, in spite of all the good he was doing
He wasn’t happy, he didn’t feel like he was making a difference

One day, after leaving a long meeting
An older colleague came up to him and said
You know, you aren’t doing what Jesus told you to do
Now, these are fighting words in the ministry
(Even for many Unitarian Universalists!)
And my friend was taken aback
Until this colleague said
You love your neighbor, but you do not love yourself
These things are of equal importance

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to love ourselves
Sure, we try
(We even buy ourselves chocolate and flowers from time to time)
But that isn’t quite the same thing
Because the love we are talking about
The “self-care” if you will
Must include that same respect
We try to show to others

That is what Rev. Scott seems to be getting at
When he says that Lent
Is a time for becoming more alive
It can help us find the spark of life within ourselves

Again, it takes courage to love ourselves
After all, there are things about all of us
That aren’t that loveable
We have hurt people, we have hurt ourselves
We need to forgive, we hold grudges
And could do better in a million ways large and small
That is OK, we are human beings
But now, as we seek the good in ourselves
During this time of self improvement
Maybe we can find the strength
To do the hard work of healing

So, as we seek out that old acquaintance
Or lean over shake hands with the stranger
Why don’t we also
Commit ourselves to do something
That we have always dreamed of doing
Renew a hobby that we used to love
Register for a course, read a favorite book
Let us try to get in touch with that part of ourselves
That is NOT concerned with work or the kids
Or the errands that take up our waking moments

If we do
I suspect we will find that
That same still, small voice
That makes us get up and go to church
This is a time for contemplation
A time for silence, too
The poet Nancy Wood writes:
My help is in the mountain
Where I take myself to heal
The earthly wounds

Let us all go to the mountain
And to the church to pray and worship, too
So that we have an answer to the question
Who do you Love?

Proverbs tells us that By wisdom a house is built
And by understanding it is established

This is the case with the world at large
And with that internal world we all inhabit
We, seekers after wisdom
Need to find it in the many places and moments
It is offered to us
By loving our neighbors and loving ourselves

And by maintaining a strong
And vital faith
Loving the Divine with all our hearts
And all our souls