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The list of Selected Sermons.
Presented June 7, 2015, by Rev. Scott Aaseng
For all that has been: Thanks.
For all that will be: Yes.
On my first Sunday here three years ago, we acted out the Wizard of Oz story. I took the part of the Wizard, who as it turns out isn't really a wizard who can do any special magic. The Wizard is someone who simply points out to the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion that they already have what they need: extraordinary intellectual curiosity, exemplary compassion, and courage in the face of danger. I suggested that's pretty much what I would be doing here, pointing out that you already have what you need for the journey: keen, critical minds; warm, compassionate hearts; and a willingness to put your convictions into action. In my sessions on what it means to be a Unitarian Universalist, I would share a saying that many Unitarian Universalist children are taught: "We are the church of the open minds, the loving hearts, and the helping hands." A lot of what I've done over the last 3 years has been simply trying to help you be more intentional (my favorite word) about how you use them.
I'm not sure I've added much in terms of critical thinking; you're a really smart bunch already-that comes out in pretty much every service and every discussion that happens around here. But I think the new We banner expresses a deeper wisdom that's been reflected in our services and discussions. It's a wisdom that was already here, but that I've worked with you to articulate: that we are not just a collection of individual minds, but that we are part of a greater whole, a greater We-whether that's the We of Quincy Unitarian Church, or the We of the community of Quincy, or the We of the United States or of planet Earth, or the We of the interdependent web of existence of which we are a part. If you recall, the idea for the banner came out of Gertrude Stein's comment about California, that there was no There there-until somebody finally put up a giant sculpture of the word There in Oakland, so there is now a There there. I suggested we put up a big We to express the truth that there is a We here, which in our highly individualistic and Me-oriented culture is actually a radical statement. I didn't bring the We here - it was already here. I just pointed it out, and Addie and others put it into the beautiful form that now graces these walls, proclaiming boldly that there is a We here to which we all belong.
I didn't need to add much to your warm, compassionate hearts either, because you've always been a really warm, loving bunch. That comes out in the ways you care for each other day in and day out in this church community, and support each other especially in times of need. But I think the new flaming chalice symbolizes both the warmth of that compassion for each other and the extension of that compassion beyond these walls in service to the larger community. The chalice was given by the family of Frieda Marshall in her memory, and she was surely the exemplar of service that's at the heart of this community. And I don't think it's incidental that the chalice is of the same style and form as chalices at other UU churches around the country, symbolizing our connection with other UUs and our common commitment to serving our communities and our world. Again, I didn't bring that commitment to service; it was already here in the concern you have for what's happening in the community and in the world, and in the way you show that concern by giving to families and schoolchildren and others in need. I have just suggested becoming more (what's my favorite word?) intentional about how you might do that, perhaps joining with others working for racial and economic justice in Quincy, or joining with other UUs around the state working for justice of all kinds in Illinois, from climate justice to economic fairness to marriage equality.
Which brings me to the part about courage and the willingness to put your convictions into action. The rainbow welcome sign out front is a third visible sign of how this church has grown in its expression of who you already are. You've always been a welcoming congregation. You welcomed the Jewish congregation in Quincy into this building years ago, and hosted the Islamic Center after that. You've welcomed a variety of other people with a variety of other views into this church, and now you've welcomed the Upper Room Christian Fellowship. But the fact that you went through the Welcoming Congregation process meant that you went through the process of becoming more (what's that word?) intentional about that welcome and what it means - both it terms of welcoming others into this community, and in terms of we who are and how we deal with our own biases and the prejudices we grew up with and learned from our culture.
And then you went ahead and put that rainbow sign out front, knowing full well that churches have been vandalized and burned for taking similar stands. But you did it anyways - not because there was nothing to fear out there, but because it's an important sign to people of all gender identities and sexual orientations that you need not fear in here, that we not only tolerate or even welcome everyone, we embrace each other in all our diversity, as Joe Conover put it so eloquently in the mission statement.
And all this is grounded in our fundamental UU principle of respect for the worth and dignity of each person. Just as the Wizard told Dorothy she already had what she needed to be at home in the world, so each of us only need remember that we already have what we need to be whole, perfect and complete. That we have inherent worth and dignity simply by virtue of being human, and we respect the inherent value of others for the same reason.
As I say, I'm not sure I've brought anything radically new so much as encouraged you to be who you already are and be more (what?) intentional about it. Like the Wizard who isn't really a wizard, I've just tried to help you realize what you already have and help you be who you already are.
ON THE OTHER HAND, almost every Sunday I've been here I've suggested and invited . . . all right, on the back of the order of service it says I've pushed and challenged you . . . to consider becoming more than you have been. To consider growing - not so much numerically (though that's part of it), but growing in being fully human, in terms of your thoughts AND feelings AND actions, to consider growing in how welcoming you are, to consider growing in sharing what you have, to consider growing in how you serve others. And of course growth means change. So, just like on the first Sunday I was here, I had us sing: "Don't be afraid of some change."
And the wonderful thing that I've heard in my conversations with many of you is that this congregation has become less afraid. Less afraid of UU ministers, for one thing (and we're really aren't all that scary-I hope!) You've also become less afraid of the whole search process, and of affiliating with the UUA. Some of you have even enjoyed attending the MidAmerica Regional Assembly or Midwest Leadership School, and you've welcomed UUs from other churches in the area. You have friends in Springfield and Macomb and Alton and Columbia and Burlington and Davenport and Peoria and Charleston and Hinsdale and Chicago and Hobart, Indiana. Connecting with people in those churches is exactly what it means to be part of the UUA. It's those connections that helped you find Rev. Taves, and I suspect she'll bring her connections with UUs in the St Louis area. Some of you are talking about visiting the UU church in Tulsa, and of course you'd be welcome to pay a return visit to the congregation I serve in Hobart.
I think you've grown in other ways, too, in terms of sharing who you are, giving what you have, using what you've got, and taking a stand on side of love - and taking the risks that may come with that.
And what about me? I certainly have changed and grown by being here. You may not realize it, but I'm actually slightly rounder and heavier than I 've ever been, though I'm not sure you can take credit for that, and that's not actually what I'm talking about anyways . . . I also have become a little less afraid - or maybe I've just learned more ways of dealing with my anxieties and of letting them go. I hope I have become a little more humble about who I am and what I can and can't do, and perhaps what I should and shouldn't do. One of my biggest learnings has been becoming aware of the assumptions that I brought with me about what church should be like. That whole conversation about being a fellowship or a congregation or a Beloved Community was a learning process for me as well. I've learned more clearly that there is no one "right" way for a church to be.
One of the things I've been most grateful for has been your gracious listening to my "talks" (even though I still think of them as sermons). Over and over again I have been touched by how kindly you listen to and consider what I say, and often think more highly of what I've said than I do myself. There's a generosity in your listening that's allowed me to be a bit more free to be who I am, and for that I am deeply grateful.
The lyrics to the song from Wicked that Stephen played put it like this:
I've heard it said
That people come into our lives
For a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Well, I don't know if I believe that's true
But I know I'm who I am today
Because I knew you . . .
Like a comet pulled from orbit
As it passes a Sun
Like a stream that meets a boulder
Halfway through the wood
Who can say if I've been changed for the better?
I do believe I have been changed for the better
And because I knew you
I have been changed for good.
You have unquestionably made me a better minister and a better person, and for that I am truly grateful.
The story about the messiah being among us is a story about the revolutionary power of looking for and finding the good in each other, which then brings out the goodness in each of us. You've looked for and brought out the goodness in me, and I've looked for and tried to bring out the goodness in you, and isn't that what it's all about? Your willingness to see that goodness amidst all the other stuff that I bring has been a gift, for which I will always be grateful.
I'm grateful for all that you've given me, for all that you've taught me, for all that you've been, and for all that has been.
There's a song that the Deep Waters listening group sings at the end of each gathering that captures that sense of the gifts we are to each other:
Thank you for your loving hands
Your loving heart
Your loving ways
Thank you for the gifts you bring into the world each day.
I hope you appreciate the gifts you bring: your honest, inquisitive, open minds; your warm, welcoming, loving hearts; your dedicated, justice-seeking, helping hands. I hope you appreciate the gifts that you are, and that you will remain open to the endless possibilities yet to come. And I hope you keep looking for the messiah who is among you - among us - among the greater We of which each of us is a part.
One version of the meaning of "Namaste" is: The good in me recognizes the good in you. And so, the good in me recognizes the good in each and every one of you. Namaste.
The Quincy Unitarian Church Home
The list of Selected Sermons.