Good morning! These first 12 days together have already afforded me the chance to fall in love with this place, this congregation and this community more fully! I am grateful to have made new friends, to have met new colleagues, to have eaten at new restaurants and to have seen new mountains.
I am glad to have had so much to celebrate in this time in American history that I am guessing will be remembered shamefully sorrowfully.
It turns out, that at the US-Mexico Border, thousands more kids have been pulled from their parents than was previously reported. And it turns out that in this country we are now more likely to die from opioid deaths than car accidents. And it turns out that, that in spite of the longest US government shutdown in history, this administration has continued efforts to expand oil drilling, continuing to process drilling permits and new applications, moving ahead with a plan to increase drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.
It is a moment where there is a lot that breaks our heart. And we must let it. We can’t turn away. But, I feel as if there is a new cause daily that tugs at me- a new email asking for my signature, my call, my letter, another day to write, a new invitation to join a fight.
There are places that need saving and people that need hope and real help. There is fresh water that needs protection, a democracy, in need of fair elections. There are teachers on strike, national parks closed for hikes, federal workers growing desperate, to feed their children…
With so much that really needs us. Where do we put our time and our money? Where do we put our skills and our gifts?
Some of us end up doing too much and burning out. Some of us feel painfully paralyzed and end up doing just a little. Some of us are overwhelmed by the truth and live in denial, changing nothing and doing nothing. And doing little or doing nothing, creates dissonance between what we believe and how we live and that can surely bring us down.
So where do we start?
I have found myself returning to the words of Unitarian Minister Edward Everett Hale, “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”
This week a large group of us gathered around a beautiful dinner table, hosted by Laura Terpenning. It was the annual Social Action Planning Meeting and she had festively adorned the table with both utensils and sharpie markers, inviting us to share our ideas and thoughts about how to effectively and faithfully live out our commitments to justice and love, as a community of faith.
As people shared, I learned how much we do both individually and collectively! Between socks and blankets, food drives, community gardens and meals for shelters, sanctuary support and examining white privilege, we are a congregation that is not refusing to do the somethings that we can do.
In the face of seemingly impossible odds, we are not giving up. We are actively engaged in building the world we believe God wants. And after hearing many of you share what actions you are taking and what causes hold your heart, I think that not only will this ongoing commitment, ask us to be brave out in the world, it will summon us to be brave with one another.
Because it can be hard to share what lights us up for real or what gives us joy when no one is watching. It can be difficult to let others in on our genuine within…
But that is what is needed right now, in this congregation, in this county, in this country- the authenticity inside all of us released into the world, in the form of our passions, our talents, our gifts. What is needed, in the words of Howard Thurman, is this: “There is something in every one of you that waits, listens for the genuine in yourself” know, what is needed right here, right now, “what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
What is needed right now, is for each of us, whoever we are, to give whatever gift we have, what is needed is our courage to dust off or fuel up or plug in, for the sake of Beloved Community, what is needed right now, is each of our differing gifts on full display, in full activation! I believe that the Universe begs for us to join in, however we can.
Maybe you have heard this address to the Community in Corinth before. The first part sounds a bit condescending and patronizing, “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed…” I mean really? But the next part is important. I take heart knowing that even those early adopters for Jesus’ teachings of radical love, needed to hear this word, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.” Variety, variety, variety. That is with intention. The diversity is by design.
So I think this means that if we are doing Beloved Community well, if we are taking seriously the task of welcoming the fullness of creation, we must make room for the genuine within one another, which means we must be able not just welcome, but celebrate the diversity of expression and gifts among us, in all that we do.
This means that if we are doing Beloved Community with all our heart, sometimes we will be uncomfortable. Because here’s the thing: if we are living out and living up to our call, this means we can experience the same thing and some of us will call it wondrous and some of us will call it weird. And when that happens let us celebrate… It means we are on the right track. It means we can be moved not just when it is just our flavor of music or activism or programming, but when those we love are being inspired, we are all lifted together.
But sometimes this can be hard to live out.
Because in order for us to be the kind of place where each of us can bring our true gifts out fully, I think we must be able to set aside what we think we know.
A friend in recovery taught me the Set Aside Prayer and it goes like this: "Dear God please help me to set aside everything I think I know about this person, this place or this thing, so I may have an open mind and a new experience. Please help me to see the truth about this person, this place or this thing. AMEN." *
Setting aside creates an opening, a space for possibility.
I was thinking of the Set Aside prayer this week because it is natural for all of us to map onto one another what we think we know. One person greeted with me a worry, “I don’t think Pastoral Care will be your focus but…” Another person shared with me, “Well I am guessing you aren’t into classical music…”
Each of us carry these inside of us, it is natural. And yet in this beautiful beginning, I wonder if this tendency holds us back and blocks our yearning to share and give without restraint.
I think it could be powerful to practice “setting aside” with one another. If we could each set aside our assumptions, set aside our projections, I wonder what might happen?
Maybe an accountant wants to sing? Maybe a young person wants to visit the elderly? Maybe an artist wants to pull weeds? I wonder what might happen if we set aside what we think we know about one another and about what is needed or what God might be up to here?
If we set aside what we think we know about one another, what possibilities might emerge? What might unfold here, if there was a place for a gift, or a person, or an experience, a new variety, or something unexpected?
The fact is that it takes courage to share who we are. It can take guts to go with an idea or to run with a passion, to give whom we are, to use our gifts for the sake of all of us, especially when we are new.
“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” That’s the part that is so powerful and also easy to miss. The scripture says that we share our gifts, that we are invited to come alive for us, and for all of us- for the common good.
It can be hard to share what lights us up or gives us joy, to let others in on our inside, but when there is room for a variety of gifts and voices, all of us are uplifted, our individual efforts and talents are multiplied, the world is made more whole.
Our sacred texts tells us that our variety is a gift from God, and that when there is room at the table for the novel or unexpected, the Spirit is sure to be made known in plentiful and particular ways!
What is needed right now, is each of our differing gifts to find dazzling display, in full activation. If you have the gift of dance or the gift planting gardens, if you have the gift of patience for visiting those who imprisoned, if you make blankets or march in the streets, bring it on, bring them out. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.
Bring them out, for who you are and for the hope and the healing of the world! Bring your gifts, in all their variety. Be bold and be brave because you never know when God will show up and need just what you have, you never know when the Spirit will call upon, the genuine within you.
May it be so. Amen.
* The Set Aside Prayer comes from the Chapter to the Agnostic