Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Emerald Coast
“Our Mission: Service”
Rev. Rod Debs
March 14, 2010
Story for All Ages: “Patrick, the Dreamer” by Randy Hammer (Everyone a Butterfly, 2004)
A long time ago—in fact, sixteen hundred years ago—a 16-year-old boy named Patrick was walking when he was captured by raiders from another country. The raiders tied him up and put him on their ship to sell as a slave in Ireland.
For year after year, Patrick was mistreated by his master, a cruel chieftain who made him live in the hills of Ireland herding sheep. Patrick was a Catholic and prayed all those long days and months and years, alone on the green Irish grasslands, day after day, night after night.
Then one day Patrick walked away travelling many miles to the ship docks where he escaped by ship, first to France, and then back to his home in Britain. He had been a slave for six years!
Once he returned home, Patrick dreamed of Ireland. In one of his dreams, Patrick felt that he must return to Ireland, but not as a slave. Patrick studied for the priesthood and was ordained a Catholic priest. He even became a bishop.
In ten years, Patrick returned to Ireland where he spent the rest of his life as a priest teaching that God is a good God who loves human beings. In Ireland, he baptized 100,000 people and started 100 Catholic churches.
Today, all over the world, people celebrate being Irish or pretending to be Irish on St. Patrick’s Day (March 17). And many people dress in green like the Irish hillsides covered in sweet, green clover.
Sermon This morning I would like to begin with a quiz. There are two questions, and I will give you one minute for each. You may consult your neighbor.
OK, here’s the first question: Each of us had our private motivations for first attending a Unitarian Universalist congregation. What was one of your personal motivations for coming in the door?…
Here’s the second question: As a group, what are we doing here? Why do we exist?…
Six years ago, the Board of Trustees sent a team led by Shar Farley to a conference in Atlanta, featuring the Alban Institute trainer, Alice Mann, author of the book Raising the Roof. Thirty-five or so UU congregations sent teams to the conference, and we all returned with a plan to propose to our church boards.
This Fellowship’s Board liked Alice Mann’s plan, so they named a Discovery Team to study who we are and what we think we are doing here. The Discovery Team studied our demographics—who we are. Then, in 2005, they convened working groups to reflect upon what we’re doing here. A draft Mission Statement was posted for congregant responses. With the Board of Trustees tweaking the wording a little bit, the congregation voted to adopt this Mission Statement:
“The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Emerald Coast is a religious community united by UU Principles and committed to service, spiritual growth and caring fellowship.”
Beginning this morning and for the next two Sundays, I will offer my perspective on the three stated purposes for the existence of this congregation: Service, Spiritual Growth, and Caring Fellowship.
We begin with our stated commitment to Service.
In a market economy where everything costs money, it is seductive to think of church as a distribution center for various marketable goods: We pay our pledge, and in return we get: intellectual stimulation, theological insights, ethical instruction for our children, weekly psychological “uplift,” inspirational music, poetry and ritual, social support network, leadership opportunities, and other such church “products.” We shop for groceries; we do laundry; and we do church once a week. We do our religious duty and hopefully get something out of it in return. This perspective reduces religious community to private market transactions, like the transfer of energy when one billiard ball strikes another separate billiard ball. It assumes that we are whole, separate individuals.
I was digging in my garden a few years back, and I found this little plastic piece. It resembles a medieval king. Has a green felt bottom. Is it a miniature plastic replica of a medieval king? No! This is a part of a chess set. This single piece has no real identity apart from the game of chess. It has no meaning, no utility except in relation to pawns and knights, bishops, rooks and queen on a chess board and moved according to the rules of chess. We too find ourselves in our relationships.
In her book Our Passion for Justice (1984), the Rev. Dr. Carter Heyward writes:
“(W)e are in relation to others—quite literally… knowing ourselves… only in relation. We may live alone. We may need and crave solitude. But it is in relation that we live, and need, and desire; relation to the ground on which we stand, the fruits of the earth that we enjoy, she or he whom we embrace, our friends and our enemies; in relation to rich and poor, to peoples of same and different colors and beliefs and ways of constructing reality.” (p.127)
Holding this single chess piece separated from the entire lost set, I understand a bit of what Mother Teresa meant when she said, “Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.” This may have been a king at one time, but it is nothing alone. Mother Teresa said, “The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted.”
Service is fundamental to who we are and to our becoming more whole. Our Social Justice project to support Opportunity Place homeless shelter for women and families, is our second congregational Service project. We are trying to help the homeless shelter get the homeless “pieces” back in the game. Get them back in the flow of social and economic relationships.
Remember the boxes of clothes, shoes and blankets we sent to Afghan refugees last year? Remember the pictures of barefoot children in the snow and mud? Refugee camps resemble so many chess and monopoly pieces, wiped off of their playing boards and dumped into vacant lots of winter mud and canvass tarps. The clothes, shoes, blankets and bags of coal that Blake and other military personnel distributed on their days off, were meant to help Afghan refugees get back in the flow of community.
You and I know what it is like to be this lost chess piece, to lose a job and to be a worker removed from our workplace. Some of us know what it’s like to have lost a home to bankruptcy or fire, to have lost family to divorce or to death or to job mobility. We feel lost. We feel that we are not ourselves except in relation to our loved ones and co-workers, and to our familiar life game-boards.
Through social justice Service projects we seek to help the disenfranchised, the excluded, those discriminated against—to help get them back into the flow of healthy relationships again. Get them back in the game and without discriminatory disadvantages that tie their hands.
In the game of chess, like in life, there are pawns with little power, and there is the queen with all the power the game can bestow. One could say with the poet William Blake, “Every night and every morn some to misery are born, every morn and every night some are born to sweet delight,” and conclude as does the poet, “it is right it should be so.” After all, the game of chess could not function with multiple queens! Or could it? When pawns reach the opponents base line, the player may trade the pawn for any other piece including multiple queens! Then we see the game’s full potential!
Our nation’s founders designed into the United States tax codes an inheritance tax in order to prevent creating in the United States, a permanent aristocracy as existed in Europe. It is possible that we who are privileged by the accident of birth or due to the blessings of social supports—that we might spread around some of our privileges that others too may rise to their greater potential as more than pawns of the game.
The Rev. William Ellery Channing who is considered the father of American Unitarianism, wrote of privilege and slavery in his sermon “Self-Culture”:
“The… All-wise Father, who has given to every human being reason and conscience and affection, intended that these should be unfolded; and it is hard to believe that He who, by conferring this nature on all men,… has destined the great majority to wear out a life of drudgery and unimproving toil, for the benefit of a few. God cannot have made spiritual beings to be dwarfed….
“Were I, on visiting a strange country, to see the vast majority of the people maimed, crippled, and bereft of sight, and were I told that social order required this mutilation, I should say, Perish this order. Who would not think his understanding as well as best feelings insulted, by hearing this spoken of as the intention of God?…
“Go then, to the Southern plantation. There the slave is brought up to be a mere drudge. He is robbed of the rights of a (human), his whole spiritual nature is starved, that he may work, and do nothing but work; and in that slovenly agriculture, in that worn-out soil, in the rude state…, you may find a comment on your doctrine, that by degrading (people), you make them more productive….” (32)
Like Dr. Channing, each member who sees some aspect of the social order that “dwarfs” our fellows and limits the unfolding of their divine-human nature, can call us to action. For the sake of our community wholeness, we join our hearts, hands and minds to remedy the mutilation of our fellow beings. Mother Teresa said:
“Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work.”
“Love begins by taking care of the closest ones – the ones at home.”
“Jesus said love one another. He didn’t say love the whole world.”
“I want you to be concerned about your next door neighbor. Do you know your next door neighbor?”
“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”
Our passion for healthy relationships, leaving no one as pawns or slaves or out, is our passion for wholeness. Everyone does better when everyone does better. The Rev. Drs. Edward Everett Hale and Forrest Church offer common-sense advice:
am only one
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything.
But still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.
by Edward Everett Hale
“Do what you can.” Forrest Church