Four people with taper candles light chalice framed by two rings

“An Ethic of Love” – September 17th, 2023

Sep 17, 2023

Reading:

From Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds, by Adrienne Maree Brown.

“When we are engaged in acts of love, we humans are at our best and most resilient. The love in romance that makes us want to be better people, the love of children that makes us change our whole lives to meet their needs, the love of family that makes us drop everything to take care of them, the love of community that makes us work tirelessly with broken hearts.

Perhaps humans’ core function is love. Love leads us to observe in a much deeper way than any other emotion….

If love were the central practice of a new generation of organizers and spiritual leaders, it would have a massive impact… If the goal was to increase the love, rather than winning or dominating a constant opponent, I think we could actually imagine liberation from constant oppression. We would suddenly be seeing everything we do, everyone we meet, not through the tactical eyes of war, but through eyes of love.”

SERMON:

“An Ethic of Love”

Many of you have come to know that I believe in the power of prayer. This is a daily spiritual practice that not only keeps me sane but returns me to myself. When my mind is moving a million miles an hour, when my nervous systems is on ten, when I am feeling outrage at the state of the world, exhaustion, hopelessness, fear, blame–prayer is the only thing that puts my mind, heart, body in touch with the bigger picture. Kind of like when you are sweating it out on a crowded, loud, and raucous dance floor, and you remove yourself, get up on the balcony, catch your breath, have some water and are able to take in where you are and who you are with–how many people are dancing. Where the music is coming from. What time is it, anyways?

Prayer, for me, is the balcony view. And most often the prayer I pray comes from Ezekial, in the Hebrew Bible. I have shared it with you before, God says to the prophet Ezekial: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” In my prayers, I simply ask God to do this for me: please God, don’t let me go stony. Don’t let my anger or anxiety or exhaustion turn me stony. Return my heart to itself.

Simply, when my heart is returned to itself, not stony, I am able to be guided by and feel LOVE–for myself and my fellows. Most of the time, I sleep well and am a fairly calm and grounded person thanks to this prayer.

The word ‘Love’ is not unlike the word ‘God.’ Both are hard to define. Both mean different things to different people. Universalists were the first to equate these words as one and the same: God IS Love. But just like the word ‘God,’ the word ‘Love’ can be bandied about irresponsibly. It can be adhered to sloppily and lazily, or forgotton all together. It can be recited or received like a poorly defined platitude, or a loosy-goosy concept that we are unaccountable to, or choose to live by only when it feels comfortable or convenient.

I believe we as human beings are collectively feeling the adverse effects of this casual and selective kind of Love. Many of us are not getting the love we need. And many of us are not giving the love we have to give. Adrienne Maree Brown says it so beautifully: “If love were the central practice of a new generation of organizers and spiritual leaders, it would have a massive impact…If the goal was to increase the love, rather than winning or dominating a constant opponent, I think we could actually imagine liberation from constant oppression.” “Perhaps,” she says, “humans’ core function is love.” Social scientist Brene Brown says that “after collecting thousands of stories, [she] is willing to call this a fact: a deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible human need from the moment we’re born until the day we die…when those needs aren’t met, we don’t function as we’re meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick…”

So, my question to you today is the same question that our larger faith is now asking us: what would it look like, and who would we be as Unitarian Universalists if the ethic of Love, both given and received, was at the center of everything?

In June, history was made in our faith in two ways. We elected Rev. Dr. Sofia Betancourt, a queer, multiracial, AfroLatine first-generation daughter of immigrants from Chile and Panamá, to be our faith’s president. She will serve us for the next six years. And second, we voted to spend the next year tightening up revisions on Article II of our faith’s by-laws. This section is where our principles and purposes are articulated. Currently, these are our seven principles and six sources. They are printed on the back cover of your order of service. Because we call this church a Unitarian Universalist church, and pay member dues to the UUA, and covenant as friends and members of this church to affirm and promote these seven principles and six sources–this is really important. These are our guideposts for how to live together. And how to put our faith in action.

And in 2017 UU’s began talking about amending this Article II section because the 8th Principle had been written and proposed. A principle that explicitly addressed racism and oppression and called us to accountably work to dismantle these systems within our institutions and beyond. Many congregations in the past six years have made the decision, with the UUA’s blessing, to adopt it into our own by-laws–not to wait on the UUA–so that we can immediately, immediately, start putting it into action. And this church gets to be proud of this–we were one of these congregations. We unanimously voted to adopt the 8th Principle in June of 2022. There are 1034 UU congregations in the US, and, to date, 274 have adopted the 8th Principle. I want us to be proud of this!

And in the meantime, since 2017, the UUA board committed to establishing an Article II Study Commission, which spent years working with task forces, holding grassroots conversations, issuing surveys, and engaging in studies, proposed their revisions based on these conversations and also asked for one more year to make some more tweaks to it at the General Assembly in June 2023. This was overwhelmingly approved.

And just for context, this change to Article II is not the first revision. Let me make that more clear: our current principles and sources were adopted in 1985 and slightly revised in 1995. Before 1985 we had six different principles established in 1961, and another set of purposes from 1936, and before then a set from 1887. This isn’t counting the evolving principles of Universalism, which are often completely erased and discounted in the story. I share this with you simply to remind us all that we, as a faith and religion, are ever-changing. That, my friends, is what makes us so utterly wonderful, right?

But let’s get back to where we are now. There are some revisions that need to happen to what will be our newly articulated Unitarian Universalist promise and purpose, but the foundation of what this Article II commission proposed will remain: “Love is the power that holds us together and is at the center of our shared beliefs and values. We are accountable to one another for doing the work of living our shared values and ethic through the spiritual discipline of Love.” They’ve created a dynamic image that looks like a flower, or waves, or arms stretching out from the center where we find the word Love and a chalice, surrounded by words that pointedly show us how to live this love: Interdependence, Equity, Transformation, Pluralism, Generosity and Justice.

As one of my colleagues Rev. Peggy Clarke named, “love is at its center: the heartbeat–the life-giving force that animates all these other values. In this new articulation of who we are, we are saying that Love is our organizing principle and from Love, or because of Love, we live big, hopeful, beautiful lives, and we promote choices that accountably hold people up, dismantle racism and systems of oppression, heals our planet, supports expansiveness, inclusion, right relationship, spiritual seeking, and life in all its full and rich dimensions.”

We will do more learning this year around this, so that this congregation will be prepared for this vote, as well as prepared for what it means for this community, and our own spiritual lives. I was deeply inspired by the history-making at General Assembly–so inspired that I made the theme of this church year: Love. And I will be working hard to consider for myself–as a devout Unitarian Universalist–what this means when I consider love as my guiding ethic, my guiding theology, and my commitment to work for collective liberation. And it’s your responsibility as Unitarian Universalists to hold these considerations for yourselves as well. I hope we can do this together. Because I still have a lot to learn about this.

But I want to return to the other big piece of history-making at GA. The Rev. Dr. Sofia Betancourt, whose election as our UUA president was in perfect step and synchronicity with our 8th Principle adoption and it’s powerful, rippling effect on our Article II revisions and this our Ethic of Love.

When asked what she would be bring to the role, her response was this, “often as UU’s we shy away from theological engagement in the work of justice and in the work of welcome and in the work of right relationship with one another,” and she brings an understanding of how we can bridge collective wholeness and worth with radical, sacred, theologically hefty love.

She told us that she “wants Unitarian Universalism to be difficult.” A faith with a promise of home, and wholeness and dignity and community care, that can’t be swept away or made comfortable or easy to digest…that makes us work for it and can’t and won’t rest when our global siblings suffer, or our Earth weeps, or people who have been historically marginalized tell us they are hurting.

She said that “we are not pledging as UU’s to follow one teacher or leader or rhetoric. We are pledging to follow the work of faithfulness itself: a faith that teaches us to be risk-takers, justice promoters and love embracers every minute of every day.”

This is what she calls an Ethic of Love. And she told us that what she brings to us is the hope and call to be “Envoys” of this Love.

I hope you will take some time this beautiful Sunday afternoon to put her name into google, go to her website, and listen to her talks and sermons. Get to know her. And get to know what Unitarian Universalism’s hope and promise is for today and tomorrow. Let it move you and change you and inspire you. It certainly has me.

I want you to spend some time with this question, today and in the days to come: What would it look like if Love was at the center of everything? What if Love was the organizing principle of every committee meeting, every email you sent, every decision you made? What if Love was the organizing principle at your kid’s school? Or our city or state government? What would it look like if, when making decisions, Congress asked themselves what the most loving choice would be? What if corporations prioritized Love over profit? What if Love was the driving force, the central principle of every institution, every organization, of our lives? What would happen if we put Love at the center of Everything?

Imagine the witness we could become in the world if Love was at OUR center? This should feel both easy and really hard. Aspirational and possible. Something to ‘work for’ as Rev. Dr. Sofia Betancourt teaches us.

There are a lot of prayer practices that help with this, and I hope that you will reach out to me if you’d like to learn more about some of them or tell me if you have one for yourself. Maybe you can teach us about it.

Much is unknown. And these are uneasy times. And, I don’t need to tell you that there is so much love here. You’ve got it to give, and for those of you who need it, just say the word.

I love you. We’ve got this. Amen.

Let’s sing: #134 Our World is One World

Reverend Sophia Lyons
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Rev. Sophia is committed to radical welcome and spreading the good news that is our bold Unitarian Universalist faith. Some of her areas of interest include interfaith partnerships, addictions ministry, spiritual direction, and working towards collective liberation for all. Rev. Sophia aspires to live her life and fulfill her ministry guided by spiritual seeking, big love, and the seven principles of Unitarian Universalism.

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