Tuesday, February 16, 2016

On the Side of Love

Hands joined together as hearts beat as one, emboldened by faith we dare to proclaim We are standing on the side of love.

Standing on the side of love. I don't know about you, but that's an idea, a calling, I can embrace. It's something I can believe in. For some UUs, it fills a void.

There are those of us who suffer from a chronic identity crisis. People accustomed to Abrahamic religions ask us, what is it that Unitarian Universalists believe, naturally assuming that it's our belief that defines us. And some of us are struck dumb by the question. We don’t always know what to say, because UUs believe so many things, so many different things. We are "priests of paradox, apostles of ambiguity, nattering nabobs of nuance". I wish I could take credit for that wording, but I have to gratefully and humbly acknowledge the Rev. Fred Small for it -- as well as many other thoughts scattered like buckshot throughout this sermon.

Folks like me are tempted to say "For UUs, asking what WE believe is the wrong question. Our faith isn't based on belief." Try that for an answer and it's likely you'll be met with a blank, uncomprehending stare. Or worse, if they ask "Well, if that's the wrong question, what's the right question?"  Hmmmm!

So ... we have the 7 principles, countless pamphlets and little wallet cards -- cheat sheets -- all to remind us what we kinda, sorta believe. We're exhorted to compose elevator speeches -- summations of Unitarian Universalism so concise they might be recited on an elevator in its fleeting passage between floors.

Hmmm. Well, let's see. We're Unitarians, so we believe in one God. Right?

Every Sunday we sing a doxology. A doxology is defined as "an expression of praise to God, especially a short hymn sung as part of a Christian worship service".
So I guess that makes us one-God-fearing Christians.
Yes? ??
I don't hear any amens!

Are WE Christians? Do WE believe in God?   Simple, straightforward questions.

Answer?  Pick a card. Any card. And guess what? They're all right. Because, as we all know, the word "we" is the joker in the pack. Each of us believes what our conscience tells us we must, not any authority, not scripture, but as a result of a responsible search for truth & meaning. 

If you believe in a God or gods, if you think of yourself as Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Pagan -- great. The only legitimate question is -- does what you believe make you a better person. Religious Humanist? Secular Humanist? Atheist? Agnostic? Terrific. Same question.

Let's say personally you don't embrace a belief system. Whether you do or don't I ask you to consider as UUs that the important question is not what you, any group of you, or WE believe. No, the question, I submit, is -- where do we stand?

And I'm sure you know what my answer to that question is. A great place to be standing is on the side of love. Of course when I say “standing” I don't mean a physical posture. Rosa Parks stood on the side of love by remaining seated. I, and other UUs -- in another time and another place -- stood on the side of love by sitting in at lunch counters. Does anyone remember lunch counters?

Standing on the side of love is a moral stance, not just assumed privately in our hearts, but publicly -- witnessed boldly in our families and schools and workplaces & communities, at the State House, in the halls of Congress. I’m talking about faith in action.
Not sanctimony. It's about intentionality, even as we understand that our practice will be imperfect, as each of us is imperfect. What's our mission? What's our aspiration? What is our commitment?

It's not by accident that the group committed to social justice that we here gather in is not called the social justice committee. It's called the justice ACTION ministry. Before that it was the social ACTION committee. Coming from other UU congregations, it was one of the first things I noticed and admired when I got here.
It's a call to action.

It's a call to stand on the side of love.

When Unitarian Lydia Maria Child defied the prohibition of her time against women speaking in public and demanded freedom for enslaved African-Americans and the vote for women, when she protested the Trail of Tears, the brutal removal of the Cherokee, she was standing on the side of love.

When UU minister James Reeb & Viola Liuzzo answered the call from Martin Luther King Jr. to travel to Selma and were murdered by racists, they were standing on the side of love. 500 UUs marched in Selma, including 140 UU clergy. Pretty good for a very small religious tradition.

This Congregation marches in the annual Martin Luther King Day parade to demonstrate our solidarity with the African-American community. We have embraced the Black Lives Matter movement. We posted a sign outside to let the world know about it. It made some of our neighbors uncomfortable and our streetside sign was desecrated and damaged because of it. If the idea that black lives matter makes some of our neighbors uncomfortable, then making them uncomfortable is what we must do. Look, we know and consistently affirm that all lives matter, but in order to live in a world that better recognizes that, we need to attend to where lives are treated as not mattering. That black lives matter is what needs affirming now.  We must stand on the side of love.

Yesterday UUs in North Carolina gathered in Raleigh for the Mass Moral March to challenge the North Carolina voter suppression law. Busloads of UUs from several Washington, D.C.-area congregations joined them. They gathered on the side of love.

As people of principle, we're called upon to recognize and call out meanspiritedness and bigotry, to stand on the side of love in confronting the racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia -- the indifference to poverty and suffering -- that have lately become the calling cards of some candidates for high office.

This Congregation has been designated a Welcoming Congregation by the UUA (the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations) which means we've been recognized for embracing our LGBTQ members and neighbors. We've marched in the annual Gay Pride parades for years …. and we'll do it again on March 20th. Join us.

Now that it's legal -- we marry. Nationally, we were on the cutting edge of the gay rights movement and marriage equality. By courageously standing on the side of love, we won that one!

We're vigorous supporters of People Engaged in Active Community Efforts, otherwise known as PEACE. We consistently turn out large numbers at the annual Nehemiah Action Assembly to witness for justice in Palm Beach County. The next assembly is on March 14th. Be there, on the side of love with us.

We stand on the side of our Muslim neighbors, the Pahokee laborers, young Dreamers, the homeless, the oppressed, because justice for all is what love looks like in public. Justice is what love looks like in public. (Cornel West)

 We support climate justice, the environment, economic justice, voting rights, and reproductive justice. We confront exclusion and violence based on identity, be it sexual orientation, gender presentation, immigration status, race, class, religion, age, nationality, physical ability, or any other excuse for discrimination. Do we do it because we're big and powerful and we can? Yeah, that would be easy wouldn't it?

No, standing on the side of love doesn’t require size, deep pockets, or the ability to dictate to others -- not that kind of power. It requires courage. Courage is our power. And love.

Love makes us strong. Standing on the side of love affirms the full humanity of all people. It honors the inherent worth and dignity, the spark of the divine in each and every person.

Are we not a people of conscience? Are we not a people who stand for something more than our own comfort? Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it. So it is written. (Talmud)

Thomas Edison was said to have remarked: "A diamond is nothing more than a lump of coal that stuck to it." Are we willing to stick to it?

Rabbi Abraham Heschel taught us that a religious person is one whose greatest passion is compassion, whose greatest strength is love....
Martin Luther King Jr. added, “I've decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

So when someone asks what Unitarian Universalists believe, or why we insist that black lives do matter, why we speak up about the widening inequality of wealth & power, the appalling U.S. incarceration rate, climate change, immigration -- or why we're determined to drag ourselves down here each and every Sunday morning … let’s tell ‘em: ..We are standing on the side of love .. as if it was tattooed on our bodies … & burned in our hearts ... as testament … to the blood, tears, dreams, and inspirations ... of those who went before us .. who stood boldly ... on the side of love.

A bright new day is dawning when love will not divide. Reflections of grace in every embrace, Fulfilling the vision divine.  May it be so.

On the Side of Love, a sermon delivered by Larry Stauber at 1stUUPB on Feb 14, 2016.

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