people sit in rows of blue chairs facing minister in robe at front of room

“The Bold and the Brave” – March 26, 2023

Mar 27, 2023

READING:

Trust, by Thomas R. Smith

It’s like so many other things in life
to which you must say no or yes.
So you take your car to the new mechanic.
Sometimes the best thing to do is trust.

The package left with the disreputable-looking
clerk, the check gulped by the night deposit,
the envelope passed by dozens of strangers—
all show up at their intended destinations.

The theft that could have happened doesn’t.
Wind finally gets where it was going
through the snowy trees, and the river, even
when frozen, arrives at the right place.

And sometimes you sense how faithfully your life
is delivered, even though you can’t read the address.

SERMON:

I’m going to begin with a short exercise. I want all of you to close your eyes (if that’s comfortable) and think back to the time in your life when you first came to this church–specifically, your first worship service. Now, for some of you this is a fresh memory. Others are going to have to do some serious time travelling.

Can you remember how you felt that morning–you’d made the decision to come, set your alarm clock, possibly even had some mixed feelings–why am I doing this? Maybe you had to wrangle children or other family members or pets…

Can you remember where you parked? Or how you got here? Or for those of you who first attended online, can you remember where you set up your computer and what it felt like to click JOIN, and then…wait.

If you were here, where did you sit in the sanctuary? Who was here? What was it like not knowing the words, or the music, or the order of things? Take a minute with this.

Maybe your mind has already naturally travelled here or is holding this already: what brought you here? So before you did whatever you had to do to get the Zoom link emailed to you, before you perused our website to see if you wanted to come, or called the church office to find out what time things got going around here, or (let’s keep time-travelling) looked in the yellow pages–what else did we do way back when? Knocked on the door randomly? Before all of this. What brought you here? What were you hoping for? What were you needing?

This is a very personal question I am asking. Even in the most mundane of answers, I would argue that something important was happening for you, in your life, at that time. For why else be this bold and brave? For that is what it takes–boldness and bravery–to cross the threshold to a new spiritual community.

For some of you it was your first time ever inside a church. Bold. Brave. For others it was your first time in a church after having been harmed by a previous church or synagogue or temple. Bold. Brave. For some it was your first time in a church after having left your beloved home church–because you moved, or some circumstance in your life had changed. Some of you arrived here during a crisis looking for comfort or meaning? Others arrived lonely, hoping for friends–a people, a place, to belong to. Some of you arrived outraged or oppressed by the state of the world and nation longing for allies and safety and hope. Many of you arrived with tender hopes and dreams for the young ones in your life.

And some of you felt none of this, and were dragged here by someone you cared about and you just wanted to appease them…but something must have stuck, for here you still sit. I hope you aren’t still being dragged…

No matter what the story:  Something important brought you here.  Or kept you here.

In all my time as a church member, church leader, church studier and now minister, in this big, wacky, sometimes-nebulous faith called Unitarian Universalism, one fact remains: we come to church to have our lives transformed in some way and to be a part of a community. To belong. And each feed and informs the other. You almost can’t have one without the other.

Maybe in Jean Renard’s story today, the church–this church, First Parish–is the gathering place at the top of the mountain. Each traveler, us, trusting it to be a place of meaning-making, and awakening and direction–worth the treks up to it for some are quite treacherous; all of us  arriving with a personal faith and life-path story to share and wonder about; and there we congregate with one another–these our fellows–whose companionship and care teaches us even more about awakening and transformation and belief and doubt and love. Most often there we sit together at the church at the top of the mountain and say, “Thank God we are in this together.”

And then, off those travelers go–back out into the world, only to return again. Maybe taking the same route up, maybe a different one next time, maybe alone, maybe with some company, some new travelers dragged…I’m running with this Jean Renard so forgive me for re-writing your wonderful story!

It’s good to go back to these memories of what brought us here. Because it puts our minds in touch with why we do all that we do here.

The covenants we enter into and renew, remind us of all this.  For the mutual promises we make here in this church–our covenants­–tell us “we are spiritual kin, bound together through fair and foul weather, shiny and not so shiny human beings trying to the good work we are called to do with one another and in the world…”

So you see this covenant we are about to enter into this morning is for all of us.

Not unlike our beautiful poem today about trust, which reminds us about all the places in our precious lives that we put our faith, today we travelers celebrate the mysterious paths which delivered us all to this blessed place. And we especially celebrate and put our faith in those who have chosen to join us as members. Our church is stronger and more beautiful because you are with us–the stories you come with, the what brought you here, the shiny and the not-so-shiny.

And soon we will get to witness them signing the membership book–a record of all your arrivals here–across time. So, let’s get ready now.

Minister: Ours is not a doctrinal community. You are not asked to subscribe to the same beliefs– That is not our way–for we all boldly and bravely walk upon different paths. We are, however, a covenantal community. So, rather than asking that we all believe alike, we agree to make the effort to love alike. And in that way we make, as the basis of our community, promises to ourselves and to each other about how we will be together. With that high purpose in mind, we ask you, the members and friends of our congregation to rise in body or in spirit and prepare to speak aloud. The words are on an insert in your OOS. Members and Friends of First Parish, please say the words in unison:

Congregation: We welcome you as the newest members of our community.
We promise to make room for you as you explore and find your place here.
We want to hear your questions and your ideas, your hopes and your fears.
We will do our best to live up to your expectations of us, as individuals and as a community.
And we hope you will recognize that we are imperfect,
and that you will love us even when we disappoint you.
We may stumble sometimes, but we will not abandon you.
We celebrate your choice to join us and honor us with your presence and commitment.
Take your place among us with confidence – you are welcome here.

Minister: To our new members. You have heard this congregation’s promise, and if you are ready to continue this journey, please read your promise aloud.

New Members: We join you today with open hearts.
We are new to this community, and there are many things we don’t yet know;
we hope you will reach out and help us learn.
We also come to you with a lifetime of experiences from other places;
we hope you will take the time to hear the wisdom and fresh ideas we bring.
We will strive to bring our whole selves to the table,
understanding that we each bring something unique and precious to the circle.
We also recognize that this community is made up of imperfect human beings;
so we will practice compassion when our hearts are aching.
Today, we take our place among you with joy and confidence.

Minister: Having given and received promises, and having entered into covenant with one  another, may this community be blessed in our ministry together. May we be faithful to our promises, and to each other. On behalf of The First Parish of Watertown Unitarian Universalist Church I say to you:

May your mind be on fire with wonder and wisdom;
May your heart be aflame with love for this life;
May your hands be ignited with purpose;
And may your spirit be aglow with courage and compassion.
Mike, Eric, Laura, Debi, Juliette, Mark and Fritz: you are lights unto the world,
and you carry our steadfast love with you wherever you may go.
Amen and blessed be.

You may now sign the membership book.

Minister: Please welcome the newest members of First Parish of Watertown!!

 

Reverend Sophia Lyons
Website | + posts

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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