Delivered at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Akron. Midday Service, April 1st 2007.
The Story of Palm Sunday is one I resonate with. Just days before giving himself up to be sacrificed Jesus triumphantly entered the city of Jerusalem, According to the custom of the times when a great leader or prophet entered the city, cloaks and tree branches were placed before him as a sign of honor. We must know that many of the people who did so had never heard Jesus speak, but they must of heard rumors about his message of acceptance and love. And so they turned out to honor him, to show their support.
“I tell you, if these were silent, the stones themselves would shout out."
Have you ever felt that way? Just felt powerful, exalted, and triumphant? It doesn’t happen very often, if we are a lucky once or twice in our lives we may really feel triumph. That’s not a bad thing, we see time and time again how those who are placed on a pedestal. Actors, entertainers, athletes, maybe sometimes even ministers, simply cannot live with such expectations.
We are a social animal and as such although we may look to a leader, to expect of that leader to be always perfect, to always win, is to strip away their humanity.
A few years ago where I work I was involved in an organizing campaign. Those of you who have ever seen or taken part in a union dispute or campaign will know exactly how messy, and dark, and complicated these types of things can become.
I was asked one evening “If you hate working here so much, why not find another place to work?” I said “NO… no... I do not hate it here, I am proud, honored to work in a place that does so much good. This is about trying to make us better, about assuring our future, not about tearing down.”
Now I am not promoting labor unions what I am trying to say is that many of us who find a church home within Unitarian Universalism do so because we want to make something better, we want a better future, and we want to be a part of something with a rich history, deep traditions, and an eye on the horizon.
Unitarians and Universalists in the United States have been abolitionists, reformers, and workers for justice. We have consistently been on the forefront of social justice issues in this country since as long as we have been around. We ordained non-white Americans at a time when most churches would not even let them in the door. We ordained the very first woman into a mainstream denomination. And we continue this today by ordaining gay, bi, and lesbian ministers, and we are on the forefront, the vanguard of pursuing equal rights for those among whose gender identity varies from what society calls common.
It is not only justice that has driven us. We count amongst our ranks theological geniuses, prophetic American voices who have reshaped the way the world understands faith, life, and nature. The Unitarian, and to some extend the Universalist, church was the hub of what has became known as the transcendentalist movement. Our membership roles resound with names like Emerson, Channing, and Parker who reshaped the very foundation of our faith.
More modernly Universalists in the middle 20th century reshaped Universalism in a very similar fashion. One of those reformers would even find his way to this church as our minister for 21 years, and serves as our Minster Emeritus still today. Gordon McKeeman.
We come from a long line of people who have chosen, who have demanded change in their world. And so it is today, we fight, we demand, we stand up for change, in our communities, in our world, and yes even in our congregations.
But let us not forget, for all our work, our hard, sustaining, important work. For all that we envision for the future, for all our hopes and desires about who we can and should be. We are also a people who do great things.
We are a people who have triumphed.
We are a people who have weathered the storms of fundamentalism and theocracy. And though we be few, we consistently, courageously, and demandingly been at the forefront of every march, every advocacy, and every effort.
Gordon McKeeman said, “If we who have chosen the critical, purifying way in religion have neglected some essential, it has been our propensity to diminish and trivialize our religious practices and thus to diminish our effectiveness as liberators, as resacralizers, as agents of wholeness, and our ability to repair of the world.”
It is important to take this time, to know who we are and feel good about what we have done and what we are trying to do. It doesn’t really make the next steps any easier, and it doesn’t mean we get to rest for long, but it is important to remember just how vital and amazing this faith we share is. It is important to realize we have been and will be triumphant. If we come from a place of honesty, a place of care, and a place of faith, we shall ever be.
To close I would like to go back to Gordon McKeeman,
Let me make the songs for the people,
Songs for the old and young;
Songs to stir like a battle-cry
Wherever they are sung.
Not for the clashing of sabres,
Nor for carnage nor for strife;
But songs to thrill the hearts of all
With more abundant life.
Let me make the songs for the weary,
amid life's fever and fret,
Till hearts shall relax their tension,
and careworn brows forget.
Let me sing for little children,
Before their footsteps stray,
Sweet anthems of love and duty,
To float o'er life's highway,
I would sing for the poor and aged,
When shadows dim their sight;
Of the bright and restful mansions,
Where there shall be no night.
Our world, so worn and weary,
Needs music, sure and strong,
To hush the jangle and discords
Of sorrow, pain, and wrong.
Music to soothe all its sorrow,
Till war and crime shall cease;
and the hearts of all grown tender
Girdle the world with peace.
Amen, and May It Be