Sunday, March 8, 2015

Celebrating our Heritage

This month of February is our month of stewardship. From this pulpit, I've talked about caring for that which is not ours, UUism as a way of life, and our responsibility of stewardship to preserve that way of life. Today I'd like to hold up our inheritance. What have we inherited from those who founded this Congregation, and all the others who came before us?  The Ross Room, in this building, has been newly dedicated as a record of our history. It is filled with memorabilia from our archives, most of which have -- until recently -- been hidden away gathering dust. It is a room of our inheritance.

Our story for all ages this morning was called "The Keeping Quilt." The dresses and aprons and shirts and shawls from loved ones in "backhome" Russia, were wearing out, or outgrown, so their fabrics were transformed into a beautiful quilt, preserving the stories of the people who made or wore them, and the love that went into them.

When someone is planning a quilt, they have to think about the whole project. How big a quilt? Who is it for? Are you going to reuse old clothing, or use only new fabric? Will you buy it or ask your friends for their leftovers? What patterns will you use? Are you going to make your own or use something already created? What colors do you want? How thick a stuffing do you want? Will the fabric on the back be the same as on the front? Will you hand-quilt it, or use a machine? Some of these questions need to be decided in advance, and some of them can be figured out along the way.

This month of stewardship, the final days of our campaign, is the time to examine our heritage, our inheritance, all the dresses and aprons, that make up our beloved community and think about how to keep it a beautiful, warm, comforting, and inspirational quilt.

To acknowledge our ancestors means we are aware that we did not make ourselves, that the line stretches all the way back. We remember them because it is an easy thing to forget; that we are not the first to suffer, rebel, fight, love and die.

Author Alice Walker writes: The grace with which we embrace life, in spite of the pain, the sorrow, is always a measure of what has gone before.

We honor the people who gave so much of themselves, to create and sustain the foundation of what we cherish today; we will also take the time for a little spiritual reflection on what we hope that we ourselves are bringing to birth as we live our lives here in this community.

In the Book of Deuteronomy we read:

We are ever bound in community:
We build on foundations, we did not lay.
We warm ourselves at fires, we did not light.
We sit in the shade of trees, we did not plant.
We drink from wells, we did not dig.

These words are an ever-present reminder to us of the blessedness of the time and place we find ourselves in, and at the same time a profound reminder of the responsibility we hold to those who will follow. We sit here in worship this morning in this beautiful sanctuary, and we become part of this beloved community because someone else, many someone elses, laid the foundation, dug the wells and planted the trees. We have this place and this community so that we may have a time and place where we may "rest in the grace of the world and be free". We have this community where the beauty we love can be what we do and where we may find ways to kneel and kiss this ground. 

We have, this place, this Congregation, this very life, on loan from those who came before us, and we hold it in trust for those who will come after us. That is the meaning of stewardship -- to hold in trust.

The big question then is what are you going to do with what you have been given? How are you going to hold on to it? The poet Mary Oliver in her poem "This Summer Day" asks this question of us in the way only a poet can do. She writes:

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper,
I mean the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth

instead of up and down
who is gazing around with her

enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms

and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention,
how to fall down into the grass,
how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed,
how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last and too soon?
Tell me what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

I know that what I wish to do with my one precious life and that is to leave the world a bit better for those who follow after me, to know I have made a difference, to keep digging wells, laying foundations and planting trees so that they will be there after I am gone. I want to care for the present while honoring the past, in order to embrace a future that is bright, has meaning and hope.

The kind of ministry I have chosen is focused on helping congregations honor the past and clarify the present so that you may embrace the future with health, strength and passion.

There is a legendary image from Africa called the Sankofa Bird. Visually and symbolically Sankofa is expressed as a mythic bird that flies forward while looking backward with an egg (symbolizing the future) in its mouth. Sankofa teaches us that we must go back to our roots in order to move forward. That is, we should reach back and gather the best of what our past has to teach us, so that we can achieve our full potential as we move forward.

You have entered into the spirit of Sankofa. You have chosen to set forth in a bold new direction. You embodied the aspect of Sankofa that moves forward. I've been here nearly 20 months, watching you stretch, resist, stretch more, and embrace me in my sometimes impulsive guidance. So now what?

You still hold the egg of possibility in your mouth. Where will you take it?

Like the Sankofa bird, holding the egg in it's mouth and looking back at its past as it flies forward, you too are flying forward with a fuller and deeper understanding of where you have been and have the opportunity to better understand the people and events that are our inheritance, an opportunity to examine your heritage. It begins just beyond that door.

So imagine with me for a little bit about what the future of this Congregation might look like. In my minds eye I see a thriving liberal faith community, with exciting and varied programs, stable ministry and dedication to service and justice that is a vital an integral part of Palm Beach County.

I see -- in many different possible forms and images -- a church building that is striking in beauty and versatile in use, with lots of space for programs, worship, education and especially people. 

I hear music -- lots of music. I see a beloved community of people who live with each other in diversity with kindness, gentleness and encouragement.

I see dynamic ministry taking place both through the work of your minister and through the ministry that each one of you are doing. I see people of all ages being spiritually fed and intellectually challenged in their faith and beliefs, children, youth, young adults and students, parents, mid-lifers and elders.

In other words I see you thriving. Embrace that Future.

We build on foundations, we did not lay. We warm ourselves at fires, we did not light.  We sit in the shade of trees we did not plant. We drink from wells we did not dig.

Whatever future you envision whatever future you embrace for this Congregation will depend on the foundations you prepare today.

Stewardship means to hold something in trust, something that we have been entrusted with, and to care for it. It means holding that precious egg of possibilities as you fly forward into your future. It means honoring the past and those who have gone before us; standing firmly in the present; and, most of all, embracing the future.

May it be so.

Traditions, Achievements, Beliefs: Celebrating our Heritage. a sermon by the Rev. CJ McGregor delivered at 1stUUPB on Feb 22, 2015.

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