I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting, and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. -- Pope Francis
I have never been one to stay within the bounds of my own faith. It is important to see how congregations worldwide work, what their leaders do, and the effect the leadership has on the community around it. A good reason to increase my attendance at Newstalk on Sunday mornings. Our Unitarian ancestor Francis David tells us “We need not think alike to love alike.”
Time magazine has named Pope Francis Time’s Man of the Year. He is called The People’s Pope. He has gone beyond Time magazine and has been featured on the cover of the GLBT magazine the Advocate and most recently Rolling Stone magazine. Jimmy Hendrix, Mick Jagger, and Pope Francis have become the Rolling Stone holy trinity. Jon Stuart hails him based on his economic principles, many Unitarian Universalists blog positively about him, and even one article in the satirical blog The Apocryphal Press stated that Pope Francis was actually applying to be a Unitarian Universalist minister because “he is a very undisciplined person.” The likelihood of that happening is slim. Just as slim as Fox news firing Meghan Kelly. Some have been on the lookout for a rabble-rouser as Pope. They’ve been watching for a real zealot capable of spearheading a restoration of uncompromising, conservative Catholicism.
Pope Francis seems to be a different kind of Pope. During his first year in office, he reached out to all religions, meeting with leaders from the Orthodox Church, Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, and also Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus. He even extended the olive branch toward atheists and agnostics. He made headlines worldwide after he appeared to cede ground on a defining battlefield of our time. “Who am I to judge them?” he said about homosexuals. These are issues that previous popes, especially Benedict XVI, had generally taken conservative stances on. By contrast, Francis seems gentle, liberal and inclusive. This is undoubtedly a movement and one that I’m calling Popeularity.
Of course this Pope has not changed his viewpoints on many of the issues core to UU social justice work, like marriage equality, and equal rights for women in priesthood and health issues, but his focus on works and justice cannot be ignored. This pope has moved from the Vatican into a hostel, traded in his Mercedes-Benz for a Ford Focus, and pointed out that trickle down economics breeds inequality. He has set an example for religious leaders all over the world, and those who seek truth and justice.
Francis has shocked Vatican officials by urging Catholics to stop focusing on the sins of homosexuality and contraception, and instead to take up issues of social justice, in particular helping the poor. He has issued direct criticisms of capitalism and urged greater tolerance. The Pope just might like to be a UU as he’s never felt at home in a rigid, dogmatic system. UU’s are much more in line with his ethical vision. And we do a really super coffee hour.
What can we learn from Francis? He has a lot of time left to make big mistakes and he even expects that he will, but can we learn from a man who is very adamant that he is not perfect? And will our differences of opinion over core issues stop us from growing because of his example? We are no stranger to social justice work and we teach acceptance and work to empower the disenfranchised, and support human rights. But the question I have for us is this. As a Congregation, as a tradition, as a movement, are we bruised, hurting and dirty due to our work towards justice, or are we just clinging on for security?
If we leave with just one thing this morning it is abundance. Francis tells us “The final measure of abundance is not what we have. The final measure of abundance is the openness of our hearts.” Thus, the work of achieving abundance begins with the opening of our hearts. I knew nothing of the pope before he became Pope Francis. And, according to him, I probably wouldn’t have liked him. I probably wouldn’t have been inspired by him had I known who he was before becoming pope I am inspired by his enduring patience, his humility, his ability to suspend judgment and create a kinder more loving church. How do we cultivate big hearts open?
Embrace uncertainty. Be willing to doubt. Pope Francis said, “If a person says that he met God with total certainty and is not touched by a margin of uncertainty, then this is not good…. It is not good If one has the answers to all the questions. That is, if I am absolutely convinced of the truth and the correctness of my position, then my heart is a reversed funnel, letting others in only in dribs and drabs; letting in only those who agree with me. If I embrace uncertainty and am willing to doubt myself, then I make space for others in my life. I make space for my own growth. That is abundance.
Value people more than rules. Pope Francis said, “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods…. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.” He said, “I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds.” That is, if I insist on following rules before getting to know people, before building relationships, before meeting peoples’ immediate needs, before healing wounds; if I insist on the higher value of my truths, my principles, my doctrines, my faith, my power, my world-view, and thereby fail to encounter the person right in front of me, then my heart is a reversed funnel. I lock out multitudes. If I put people first and not worry about the rules, that is abundance.
Accompany people, whoever they are. Pope Francis said, “A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’”
Perhaps the greatest gift we have to give, yet which in the midst of scarcity is so profoundly difficult to give, is our presence, our ability to accompany people who need accompaniment, our companionship. If I cannot dedicate at least a portion of my life to accompanying others, then my heart is a reversed funnel. But if I can go when called, if I can literally be there for others and welcome their accompaniment when I need it, that is abundance.
If we are building something sustainable to secure and promote peace, nonviolence, justice, fairness, equality, compassion, reason, liberty, freedom, healing and love — fearless, generous, unlimited, undying love; we are living with big hearts open. Then we are living with abundance. This is the message of the movement I’m calling Popeularity.
Let us continue to stretch ourselves to be the accepting and compassionate people we are. Let us recognize our allies, those who walk with us for justice and compassion and not theology. We need not think alike to love alike.
May it be so
Popeularity, a sermon delivered by the Rev. CJ McGregor at 1stUUPB on Feb 9, 2014.