Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Measure a Year

There are 525,600 minutes in a year. That answer is right for most calendar years.  A leap year (with February 29 tacked on) has 527,040 minutes. But the time it actually takes the Earth to travel once around the Sun is about 525,948.76 minutes. (That translates to 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds.)  So what?  For me this is the opposite of what comes to my mind when I think of measuring a year.  Try doing research for a sermon tilted “Measure A Year.”  If your research on measuring what matters most you find yourself sifting through measuring performance, investments, marketing, digital measurement plans, wealth, who’s the skinniest, the smartest, the most attractive, and many other self indulgent measurements. 525,600 is a lot of minutes to do something more meaningful with. What have you done with your minutes this past church  year, or today for that matter? How do you measure a year in your life?

A popular song from the musical RENT, Seasons of Love, is probably one of my favorite songs ever because it tells many truths about life, especially how to measure a year in life. Jonathan Larson offers many possible ways to measure a year, but the most remarkable one he mainly focused on was measuring a year in love. Measure your life in love.

 Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
 Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear
 Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
 How do you measure, measure a year?
 In daylights, in sunsets
 In midnights, in cups of coffee
 In inches, in miles
 In laughter, in strife
 In five hundred twenty-five thousand
 Six hundred minutes
 How do you measure
 A year in the life?
 How about Love?
 Measure In love
 Seasons of Love

 Five hundred twenty-five thousand
 Six hundred minutes
 Five hundred twenty-five thousand
 Journeys to plan
 Five hundred twenty-five thousand
 Six hundred minutes
 How do you measure
 The life of a woman or a man?
 In truths that she learned
 Or in times that he cried
 In bridges he burned
 Or the way that she died!
 It's time now
 To sing out
 Though the story never ends
 Let's celebrate
 Remember a year in the life of friends
 Remember the  love!
 Share love, give love, spread love

Ultimately, this song is asking how we use our time; our talents; our treasure. How do we find purpose and meaning in our life?  Everywhere we look, people are all trying to sum up a year in the easiest way possible. There are plenty of different ways to go about summarizing. One way is to go over everything horrible that happened. That might be the easiest path and the likely path for many to take. But what do we get out of that approach? Other than an extremely depressing list that could give any sane human being nightmares, not much really.  Or, if you’re going for the more optimistic approach, you go look at only the good things that happened. While this one’s a bit trickier, it’s much more gratifying. This method can give you a more positive outlook on life, but it may not give you a realistic one. That is why you will see a particular picture on the cover of the order of service that reminds us of the mountain highs and the valleys low.  It's realistic and while it may not be the most interesting way to measure it, is the most important.

In some ways, the song's lyrics parallel words in the New Testament: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.”  It is calling us to bear fruit; called to invest our lives in those around us. And we are asked how we will measure our fruit. Yes, on a supermarket scale, but not this time. (That was a joke!) No we will measure our fruit by turning back and asking if those we encountered are better off as a result of time, care, and faith. Can I get an Amen, Chorus?

But life can be long and difficult at times. It is hard to invest in others all the time. It's hard to invest in others all the time. In the passage I just mentioned we are given a hint of how to be consistent in bearing fruit. “Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”  To use another metaphor, bearing fruit is not an individual sport. It’s a team sport. A player on a team needs to listen to the coach, do what they say; not just to get playing time, but to be a better player, to help the team win. To produce fruit we must remain in the vine.

525,600 minutes!  525,600 journeys to plan. 525,600 minutes.
How can you measure the life of a woman or man?

We may be best served by focusing on the little things, versus the big things. Everywhere I’ve looked, people are focusing on celebrities and politicians, and what happened in their lives. Instead of focusing on what effected millions of people, why not take a closer look at what happened to just one person? Someone made a friend. Someone got married, and someone else got divorced. A tiny child started kindergarten, and a not-so-tiny child started college. A person was hurt, and a person was healed. Children died in city streets, and a child was born. The poet Mary Oliver tells us that instruction for living a life are to pay attention, be astonished and to tell about it.  I’m not going too deep here as Paul Ward will deliver the sermon next Sunday titled “Waking Up” that will have everything to do with paying attention.

Besides the fact that lyrics of Seasons of Love just kicks my butt emotionally, it made me think of two things…how do I really measure a year, and is it  the right measure?  And second, the things I do measure do not hit the heart (in email, in voicemails, in hours commuting, in meetings, in conference calls, in Powerpoint decks, in airport security lines, in mantras recited to keep from freaking out in overcrowded places, in tweets, Facebook posts, on my smart phone, on my laptop).  Do these mesh with what I really like to measure (nights slept under the stars, days of silence, time, time with the divine and nurturing my spirit, time with my family, time with you in this congregation, time in the pub? Yes, ministers drink beer. Moments such as these will give you the energy and forward thrust to create the kind of life that you want to measure with the right metrics.  Time keeps rolling on … how are you measuring a year in your life?

Let me remind everyone that we measure this time of our year because historically Unitarians and Universalists left their homes in June and flocked to the sea for cooler air and summer revivals. The most famous being the Universalist revivals led by Quillen Shinn in Maine throughout the 19th century. And so we continue that tradition by slowing down, taking stock, and gearing up for a September return when we believe our next church year begins. I return to the question I asked a few minutes ago. What have we done with our minutes this past church year?

I’m elated that the chorus from the Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church in West Palm has joined us. One of their minister’s, the Rev. Kevin Jones, is a dear friend of this Congregation. Our chorus guests are our partners in justice. Francis David, a 16th Century Unitarian once said, You do not have to think alike to love alike.” Our two congregations are proof of that. Though our faith and theology may take different roads we walk together for justice. We’ve participated in and supported PEACE and have made strides in bringing down all that keeps marginalized communities down and have demanded action from our leaders.

  • This Congregation has packed thousands of meals that were delivered to families in our county who go without eating on a daily basis.
  • We’ve offered many grants to community organizations to help support their mission. Those funds came directly from you.
  • Some of our members can be seen at St. George’s distributing meals.
  • We’ve planted fruits and vegetables as a sign to our commitment to sustainability.
  • We’ve disappointed one another but are surely on the mend.
  • We’ve increased our ability to grow young Unitarian Universalists in our children and youth.
  • Our thrift shop brought in over $17,000 with a handful of volunteers that will support our congregation. A handful of volunteers.
  • We offer scholarships not only to people wanting to go to university, but to trade schools and will offer scholarships to those seeking their GED.
  • We support women’s health programs.
  • We support Haitian efforts to build a well in a community without accessible water.
  • We stand up for the rights of all.
  • I can tell you we are stronger than we have been in a long time -- committed to loving and leadership.
  • We have been transforming ourselves and the work has been intense.  But we’ve past the test.  We’re here.  We’re here.
I’d like you to rise and tell us of a success or challenge you’d like us to hold up from this past church year.

(Congregants rise and tell stories of successes and challenges)

We’ve mourned together, we’ve laughed together, we’ve tested one another.  Yet here we are ready to serve the community, honor our Unitarian Universalist roots of freedom, compassion, and reason.

How do we measure a year? Whether it be a church year or your year, we measure it in love. Our impact on the world and on our inner selves are the guideposts that measure the journey of the year. Paying attention, working to understand what is meaningful, nurturing the soil we stand in so we may bear fruit.

Let our 525,600 minutes be filled with love, commitment to change inside and outside of these sanctuary walls. Let our minutes be filled with partnering with others in our community because none of us can do it alone. Let us use our minutes to sit under the night sky and wonder, to stand in that protest, to walk in that march, to hold the hand of our youngest.  Let our minutes be used in developing meaning in our lives. The meaningful life involves difficult undertakings such as stress, struggle and challenges. However, while sometimes unhappy in the moment, we – connected to a larger sense of purpose and value – make positive contributions to society and to this Congregation.

Happiness without meaning is a shallow and often self-oriented life, in which things go well, needs and desires are easily satisfied, and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided. The meaningful life guides us from the past through the present to the future, giving one a sense of direction. It offers ways to value good and bad alike, and gives us justifications for our aspirations.

From achieving our goals, regarding ourselves in a positive light, to a deep and rich spiritual grounding, a life of meaningfulness is considerably different than mere happiness.

May it be so.

Measure a Year, a sermon delivered by the Rev. CJ McGregor at 1stUUPB on June 7, 2015.

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