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, October 04, 2005

Grosse Pointe Sermon

I have been asked to post my evolution sermon but, sadly, it is ridiculously long and will have to wait until we update the church page...

Here is the Sermon I preached in Grosse Pointe. Like I said before, it was good to be back. I am glad to have had the opportunity to see everyone again and spend some time with Rev. John.

I have two notes:
1) When I gave it, I departed quite a bit from my text at the beginning. GPUCers reading this will note the difference.

2)The hymn mentioned is "We will Keeep a Place for You." It is a children's recessional, written by John Corrado.

Coming Home
Rev. Adam Tierney-Eliot
Grosse Pointe Unitarian Church
Sept 25, 2005

Yesterday I took my son Conor over to the house
Where we spent the greater part of our year here in Grosse Pointe
(For those of you who don’t know
It is the formerly grey house right next to the driveway)
It was an interesting feeling
As, no doubt it is for many of you
When you go back to where you once belonged

We all, at various times,
Experience that feeling of returning home
During the holidays, maybe
Or, like me, on a business trip

Sometimes, if our home
Has been elsewhere long enough
And if there has been enough change
It becomes hard to place yourself, to see how and where you fit
Time and distance make different people out of us, after all
But for me, everything seems to be fine in Grosse Pointe
The Original House of Pancakes is still tasty
And the church still welcoming
As the hymn sung both here and in my church in Natick says
We will keep a place for you
Wherever you may go

Everybody should have a home
Everybody should have a place
Where they feel they belong
Where the faces are familiar and the people
Both challenging and welcoming
Everyone should have a home
And everyone should have a faith community
That they can call home, too

Have any of you heard people describe their church as a “home”?

What do we mean by that?
What makes us feel comfortable in this place
Or in any house of worship?
What makes us pick one community over another?
Well, for one thing,
We often are brought to the church that first time
By someone we know
And therefore have already begun
To create those connections
That turn strangers into friends

But there is more to it than that
Finding a church home
Can be as hard as shopping for a house or an apartment
And it shares with the house-hunt
A variety of the same concerns
What will it cost?
How does it look?
Will it meet my needs?

But, as with a house, when the church becomes a home
It is because of the people who live there
Who share and connect
Tell the stories and make the memories

Now, I am going to make a wild guess and say that your home
And your family are not exactly
Like your neighbor’s home and family
And so it is even with members of your extended family
Who live elsewhere
It is the same way with our congregations

Were we today at the Eliot Church, my usual stomping ground these days
You would see a cross behind the pulpit
And experience communion the first Sunday of every month
But we, too are Unitarian Universalists

And were you to attend the Episcopal Church next weekend
It would be different from both us
And the Conservative Synagogue
Is different from all three
And yet, though we choose to articulate it differently
And believe different things
We are all people of faith
And have more in common than not

Now, one thing that makes these church homes similar
Is that we all practice some form of hospitality

One of the things that we like to do at Eliot
Is read the Bible (in addition to many other things)
And one passage that speak to what we are discussing today
Can be found in the letter to the Romans
Contribute to the needs of the saints; [and] extend hospitality to strangers

Now the first part
Contributing to the needs of the saints
We understand (At least when we consider
that the saints that are being spoken of
Are really just normal folks like you and me)
And, for the most part do contribute
Not only in big cataclysmic events
Like hurricane Katrina
But in smaller ways
Like the local food pantry
The work of the Outreach Committee
And to the Church itself, for example

People are inherently good, after all
And when there is an obvious need
We try to fill it
But the idea of extending hospitality
Is a trickier one to grasp
(Though we do it all the time)
It is harder to understand

What makes us hospitable, rather than helpful?
When I think of extending hospitality these days
I think of the people who invited evacuees from the south
Into their homes
The colleges and universities that opened their doors

But also, the work that this church does at the Guyton School
This, too is an act of hospitality

Hospitality is a spirit of welcome
That we all carry with us
And that, when we feel like it
We lift up and use
Opening our arms and our hearts
Making the other
A part of us
Bringing people home
Sometimes literally
And sometimes metaphorically

Sure, in a crisis we want to help
And we practice the spirit of hospitality
When we volunteer
But those are the institutionalized versions of this spirit
With a set goal and a specific length of time
The true practice of hospitality
Of openness is a spiritual discipline
That is blessed with a wealth of possibilities
In our daily lives

When I speak to my church and to others
About the idea of hospitality
I ask them to consider all that goes on
To make church happen on Sunday morning
A not so small group of people
Each and every week work hard to put this party on

From the flowers in the sanctuary
To the Religious Education program
The clean building, the beautiful music
And the order of service
All require somebody (or some bodies) to do it
More often than not, these people are volunteers

Now, what has motivated these people
(many of them sitting here with us today
who would tell you modestly,
that I am making much of a small thing)
What motivates them to make this place
A welcoming place for the rest of us?

Is it habit? A sense of duty, maybe?
Sure, probably for some
But the driving force, at least in many of our church homes
And other institutions
Is love
Love not just for the church, but for the people in it
The congregation past, present and future
Again, we read from Romans
Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law

This is the same love, so basic to human existence
That we have seen in the tragedies that have been on our minds lately
But, while it sometimes asks us to sacrifice ourselves
Or, more often, our things and our time
To the greater good
This love gives back, otherwise we would be
Mere shadows of ourselves
No, in fact, like the famous Ebenezer Scrooge
When we learn divine hospitality
When we cultivate a welcoming spirit
We are given fullness and life

Denise Cooney, a New Jersey paramedic
Who was among those who went to help
At the World Trade Center four years ago
Said recently I don’t want you to remember
What we lost, I want you to remember what we gained. Compassion and insight.

This compassion and insight Cooney speaks of
I believe, is in all of us
And maybe on that day we didn’t so much gain a new thing
But have an old, pre-existing thing revealed
The prophets of all the great religions
Have been calling for us to see this love
This tie that binds
For many, many years

And houses of worship
Stand as an example of this love
In a world that sometimes seems to be growing
Increasingly cold and insensititive
Our church homes call us to reach out
For example, I was reading the most recent copy
Of the Grosse Pointe Unitarian

And was pleased to see that people were coming together
To help support Christ the King Lutheran Church
Which is having severe financial problems
Another example can be seen in Wellesley Hills, MA
Where the congregation has decided
To pay this year’s mortgage
For one of the UU churches in New Orleans

True hospitality means
That we travel through some rough spots
Always acknowledging the pain
Sometimes sharing the pain of others
And working through it
The Reverend Gordon “Bucky” McKeeman
Once said If we choose to care, if we choose to love, we choose not only the ecstasy of meaning but we choose with it the devastation of loss, which is another way of saying that the burden that weighs us down is also the means of keeping us afloat

There is choice that implied choice
In the comments of McKeeman and others
Between engaging the world
And disengaging
However, it is something of a no-brainer
We only get, as far as we know,
One go around on this earth and most of us
Would like to experience it in the most profound way possible
Mckeeman says
If we don’t care, we are nothing
I don’t know about you, but I like being something
In your home, you are something
You are somebody

And not just because you care, but because others care about you
The Islamic mystic Rumi
Said in our reading today
You may seem the microcosm/but, in fact, you are the macrocosm
The branch may seem like the fruits origin
But, in fact, the branch exists because of the fruit
We are the macrocosm, we are connected, he tells us

This is why we can see the transcendent
Both alone on a mountain top
And on a sidewalk in Times Square

Just like the fingers on our hands are a part of our bodies
So are we part of nature, the world
And the Universe

Let us live honorably, the writer of Romans tells us
Let us live honorably

A sentiment that can also be seen in Buddhism
The Buddha realized 4 methods of speech that bring peace to our lives and the lives of those who surround us.
1. Words of Honesty: 2. Words of Kindness:
3. Words that are Nurturing: Words that comfort rather than harm the heart,
[And] Words that are Worthy: Speaking only what is worthy and valuable for the moment

These rules may not be so much to make God happy
As they are to make us happy
To make each other happy
To help us welcome differences
To open our hearts
Our minds and our doors
To new experiences and new ways of being
Becoming open to the flower
Blooming in the hedge
That Basho wrote abut so long ago

And as this welcoming spirit grows
We can in the words of another poem by Rumi
Make peace with the Universe
Take joy in it
Resurrection will be now
Every moment a new beauty
And never any boredom