Monday, January 20, 2014

Home Economics

“Here we are home.”

These words from our opening words this morning invite us to begin thinking about what exactly home means to each of us and if this religious community measures up to our notion of home.  I turn to author Sharon Parks who describes home as “where we find ourselves living” when grappling with such questions. Parks doesn’t refer to the place where we find ourselves living as our physical address, the actual physical structure that stores our material possessions such as a house or an apartment, or a specific town or region. The home she refers to are the places and moments when we truly feel alive and inspired; when we are encouraged and sustained to become who we are meant to be as individuals and as a community; a place where we are living our faith, values, and conscience.

I suspect we all want some of these same things from feeling at home: safety, security, sanctuary. We can all agree that love, fulfillment, and family would be high on our list. We sometimes get sidetracked when deciding if this church, this community, meets our expectations of what a home should be. We find ourselves concerned with questions about the temperature of the sanctuary, if the style of music and sermon reaches us each and every time, if the color scheme on our website is perfect, if each activity offered is one we would enjoy, if the placement of pamphlets in the narthex is just right, how bulletin board assignments are made, and on and on. These are important considerations in managing our home but do we really come to church, this home, to have these questions answered?

Christian pastor Dan Burrell tells us that all of this “seems to miss the key points. What is most important?”  He says we should consider the vital questions such as “What does this church use for its standard of truth? What is the basis for its faith? Will I be spiritually fed at this church? Does this church have an area in which I could be a blessing or encouragement?”  He asks “Do we really go to church for activities and events, convenience and comfort, to have our egos stroked and our desires met? Do we never consider that the church might need us? What part should each of us play in the health, growth, and ministry of the church? Where could my spiritual gifts be best put to use?”  How do these questions lead us to assert that this place where we are living is our home?

When the place where we are living offers a free faith and traditions that encourage spiritual and personal growth regardless of our beliefs we know we are home.
When the place where we are living encourages us to speak out against injustice towards our fellow human beings and our planet we know we are home.
When the place where we are living allows us to raise compassionate, responsible, and loving children we know we are home. 
When the place where we are living provides us with and values the opportunity to help rebuild the life of a stranger we know we are home.  When the place where we are living feeds the hungry, ministers to the outsider and the shut in we know we are home.
When the place where we are living has a seat at the table and an ear for the voice of the gay man, the lesbian, the straight person, the person of color, the able bodied the impaired, a child, an elder, the poor, the privileged, the single, the married, the partnered, we know we are home. When the people where we are living comfort us by our bedside while we recover, prioritize our needs over their own, and hold our hand while we struggle emotionally we know we are home.
When the people where we are living stretch out their arms and offer congratulations, sympathy, empathy, and love we know we are home.

When we gather in this place to celebrate a birth, mourn a death, live in laughter and sorrow we know we are home. When this place touches our soul not only with liturgy, but with voices and instrument, we know we are home.

We ARE home. This community is where we truly find ourselves living, as it has for those who have come before us. If we understand that this Congregation needs us it isn’t going anywhere. This Congregation will continue to gather long after we are gone. But will this Congregation continue to dwell together in peace, seek truth in love, and to help one another?

Simply gathering isn’t enough. To truly live here we need to practice good household economics. In Dorothy Bass’ book Practicing Our Faith we learn that “for most "economics" suggests investment, trade, taxes, profit, loss, and the cultivation of wealth. Economics is rooted in the Greek word oikos, meaning household, and signifies the management of a household -- arranging what is necessary for well-being. Good household economics is about the well-being, the livelihood, of the whole household.”

Now comes the hard part. How do we agree on what is necessary for the well-being of our household? Perhaps we don’t need to be concerned about achieving consensus and answering this question. Surely it’s enough to know that all of our ideas and gifts will be gladly received and considered. I have a Unitarian Universalist joke that may illustrate my point. “How many Unitarian Universalists does it take to change a light bulb?” And here is the punch line: “We choose not to make a statement either in favor of or against the need for a light bulb. However, if in your own journey you have found that a light bulb works for you, that is fine. You are invited to write a poem or compose a modern dance about your personal relationship to your light bulb and present it next month at our annual light bulb Sunday service. We explore a number or light bulb traditions including incandescent, fluorescent, three-way, long-life and tinted; all of which are equally valid paths to spiritual luminescence.”

This joke tells us about ourselves. Though we may each arrive with different lists of what is needed for us to truly live in this household, each list will be heard. Karen Armstrong, the brilliant writer and lecturer about world religions puts it this way: “Religion is not about accepting twenty impossible propositions before breakfast, but about doing things that change you. It is a moral aesthetic, an ethical alchemy. If you behave in a certain way, you will be transformed.” As Unitarian Universalists we insist that each of us have the opportunity to develop our own beliefs, spiritual practices and ideas of what the household economics of this community will be.

Celebration Sunday is the perfect time to share what you believe will make this community whole.  It’s an opportunity to commit your time, treasure, and talent; an opportunity to come forward and name the ways in which you will support our household in maintaining a loving ministry, making sure the voice of our liberal religious movement moves beyond these walls and makes a difference in the lives of people locally and globally, and ensuring our children have a place to explore religious truth, meaning and experience.

Our religious community is one in which we practice life changing forms of giving. I know there are of a lot of amazing congregations, but aren’t some of the most inspiring people you know, right here beside you? Just for a second, think of someone in this room who did something that helped you, or changed you, or guided you, or inspired you. If you don’t yet know people here, invite any face from anywhere, to come to mind. There are a thousand reasons you come to church, and I bet most of them have names. If you think of it in coffee hour, find that person you just thought of, or call them up later, and tell them how they bring you meaning and joy.

We have an opportunity to invest in this Congregation. The opportunity to ensure that the diversity, the advocacy, the religious witness, our stewardship, and the care of one another remain living.

We come here, our home, to grow our souls. If that’s not how you’d express it exactly, we can say we come here to find our vision and our passion and to figure out over and over who we are called to be. We come here to heal, to play, to serve, to get our hands dirty our conscience examined and our minds invested. We come here to practice being our neighbor’s friend. We come here to be certain we’ve asked ourselves recently: What is a life well lived?

I leave you with the words of Michael Schuler:

If you are proud of this church, become its advocate.
If you are concerned for it future, share its message.
If its values resonate deep within you,
give it a measure of your devotion.
This church cannot survive without your faith, your confidence,
your enthusiasm, your generosity.
Its destiny, the larger hope, rests in your hands.

Here, we are home.  You are home.

May it be so

Home Economics, a sermon delivered by the Rev. CJ McGregor at 1stUUPB, Jan 19, 2014.


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