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!

Monday, May 01, 2006

Annual Meeting and Other Thoughts

I have been thinking, lately, about my job and hoping that I am doing it well. Certainly, when I think of all the time and effort our volunteers put into making Eliot Church run (WITHOUT BEING PAID!) this minister can only hope that he even comes close to approaching what this congregation deserves. Annual Meeting was yesterday, and I find myself in agreement with PeaceBang. I am impressed with the church and how it works.

As part of my preparation for (and reflection of) yesterday's meeting, I have been checking out old Minister's Reports. These, too have made me reflect on how I do my job. Also, Dad went to William Sloane Coffin's funeral and mailed me material he picked up there. Again, reading those things has been a humbling experience. Well, there is much for me to work on, of course, and I shall...

Here is a copy of my sermon delivered right before Annual Meeting. I should also note (at the risk of shocking some people and risking my curmudgeonly veneer) that we used our new Singing the Living Tradition hymnbooks for the second time and for the first time with me in the pulpit (Larry Lamond preached last week)! This, of course, is in addition to the Pilgrim Hymnal that we have used here for many years...

Walking Together
April 30, 2006
Eliot Church
Rev. Adam Tierney-Eliot

I realize that many of you here today
(Less than an hour before
The beginning of our Annual Meeting)
Are well aware of the fact
That there is much about church life
That revolves around what we could--
For lack of a better word--call business
We, after all, have a budget, we have programs, too
We have bills and we have income

Actually, it requires great attention to detail
On the part of many of us
To keep things running smoothly
So, thanks to all of you who have made today’s meeting possible
There has been and will be a lot to do
And to get to this day requires hard work and dedication
So much hard work, in fact, that we can forget at times
That there is an actual reason why we do these things
And the reason is
That they are a necessary part of our walking together

The Bible scholar James Muilenburg once wrote
About the imagery in the Old Testament
The way of a man was the course he followed through life, the direction of his going and the manner of his was drawn from the vicissitudes of daily life, from a land of many roads and involved the beginning and end and the intention which prompted the journey.

Each of us is also on a journey
A spiritual one, a religious one
We, too are trying to walk on the correct path
And we have, for many reasons, decided to do it
As a congregation
Together, we are trying to find our way
Seeking to discover gems amidst the refuse
For it is as a group that we find we are best able
To find ourselves
The Bible tells us that there are many different paths
Many different roads one can take
And that people do not always choose the right one
2 Kings tells us that
Amon [for example] did what was evil in the sight of God, as his father Manasseh had done. He walked in all the ways in which his father walked, served the idols that his father served, and worshipped them.

The ancient history of Judah
Is full of kings and other leaders like this
Amon was the norm: self-serving, ambitious
A worshipper of Idols
Of the Gods of his own creation
The Bible says he was walking in the ways of his father
And makes it clear that he was walking
On the wrong road

Now, there were fewer kings like Josiah, his son

Josiah was less concerned about following his own will
More interested in following God’s
But he, too, walked down a path made by someone else
The Bible says He walked in the way of his father David;
He did not turn aside to the right or to the left

We all, you see, depend on others
To help us find our way

But we can, if we choose, make one departure from the journeys
Of these ancient kings
Amon and Manasseh and Josiah
Traveled down the paths
That were appointed for them
In our Democratic faith, however,
We do not follow blindly
While we recognize the importance of history

We are not necessarily bound to repeat what has gone before
Our path, determined as it is
Through the explorations and arguments
Of a group of diverse and strong-minded individuals
Is important not just to the congregation as a whole
But to every individual
For participation here changes us
Lifts up our souls and broadens our horizons

Who among us joined the Eliot church
Because they really wanted to go to more committee meetings?
Maybe there are a few
But in the end, there probably aren’t many
However, I am sure that many, if not most of us
Would say that we joined in part
To get a better understanding
Of the Divine, of our own hearts, of our place in this world

And we have chosen to do this
Not by reading self-help books
Or by watching the many television preachers
Available to us on cable
But instead by belonging to a faith community
That makes demands on us

This is not always a convenient choice
Nor is it usually terribly fashionable
But it is the choice we make /to walk together/
In those three abiding principles
That Paul tells us about, in his first letter to the Corinthians
Faith, Hope and Love

Now, of these three, Hope is the easiest one to describe
Coming together gives us hope
We support each other through hard times
We stand Rank By Rank in times of celebration and sorrow
It is the spirit of hope that John writes about
When he says Beloved, we are God’s children now
Hope is a promise for the future
Faith and Love, however, Faith and Love
Are what we practice on our journey

William Sloane Coffin tells us In his reading today
That faith and love are related
And so they are
Faith [he says] is being grasped by the power of love

Love is the glue that binds us together on our walk
And today, more that any other day
(More that Christmas Eve, or Palm Sunday, or Easter)
Today is the day that we celebrate it
We celebrate
With a Baptism, New Member Welcome, and Annual Meeting
Today is about the sacrifices we make for what we love
This institution, The Eliot Church, the people who come here
And consider it their religious home
And, yes, the Divine presence we seek
And that seeks us, too

If our building disappeared, if committees ceased,
If there wasn't any coffee or snacks after the service
Would we still gather here to worship
To walk together?
I believe the answer would be yes
For a congregation is not a building
In the same way that a family is not a house
Neither are we the sum total of our programs
Deep in the center of this (and any other) authentic community of faith
Is Hope for the future
Belief in each other in our common endeavor
And love for all of creation

We do not come here to annual meeting
We do not join this congregation
So that we can pledge or volunteer
We come here to
Walk in the paths of righteousness
And because of this we give
We give to each other and we give to ourselves
There is one more important step
When we choose to participate in a religious community
We also must welcome strangers
And invite them to walk with us
To be strangers no more
For there is no one, no matter how they have lead their lives
No one who is beyond hope
No one who cannot be loved
Paul once wrote to the Corinthians
Remember, my sisters and brothers, not many of you were wise. Not many of you were nobly born. Not many of you had power or influence. But God chose what is foolish in this world to shame the wise. God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that do not exist, to bring to nothing things that are.

And so, on the path
We take together
Let us remember that we were once new
That we once needed a hand
(as every one of us will again)
And that when we go about our business
Giving of our time and our money
It is because we are truly blessed
Blessed to be part of a community
As fresh and vibrant, and healthy
As this one