Why Are We Here?
Opening Words (here)
The words church and God in the reading may have made some of you uncomfortable. Remember what I said the other week? Listen to your discomfort. It can be a good thing. In the story I told the children, I imagine the person who was asked the question about the purpose of the church was more than a little uncomfortable.
So why are we here? Why are you here? Why does the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalist even exist? History could be referred to of course, there were reasons this congregation was formed. There were reasons that some of the founding members mortgaged their homes in order to purchase this land and build these buildings that we enjoy.
I love questions. You will learn that. I think most Unitarian Universalists love questions. One could even say that asking questions is a part of our free faith. We don’t have creeds, but instead we have guidelines for ethical behavior, which is what our seven principles are about. If you don’t remember them, they are on the back of your order of service. This is not a faith tradition where everyone can do whatever they might feel like doing, whenever they feel like doing it. It is an accepting tradition; we do acknowledge our imperfection. We aspire to high ideals and know we will still sometimes fail, sometimes dismally. That is OK, but the demanding part of our faith is that we keep trying. We have goals and visions of the world we would like to create. It isn’t an easy task.
This fellowship has a mission statement. Did you know that? It pretty much answers the question of why we are here. It says what we are supposed to be doing here together, on Sundays and throughout the week.
The mission statement is on the front of your order of service.
“Building character, enriching spirits, promoting community, and serving humankind through spiritual growth and social action.”
It is a pretty great statement, I think. Do you all like it too?
But what does it mean? Building character: this fellowship intends to build the characters of those who participate. Someone from another congregation told me that they came to Sunday services to learn how to be a better person. Is that true for you? It matters how we live our lives and how we treat each other. Character also includes other things like integrity and responsibility, practicing compassion and forgiveness, being open minded, curious, inspired to make a positive difference with our lives, both for the people we are close to and for the wider community and world.
We are also here to enrich spirits, to help people feel whole and to experience joy and sorrow in ways that are real. A religious community needs to provide comfort to those that are hurting. Has this fellowship ever done that for you?
Promoting community – this is what we practice because we know that we are all connected. Our congregations can be places where we can discover how to get along with people who are different from us, who will change us and who we will change, because we are all a part of that interconnected community of life on this planet. We can then take what we have learned out into the world and help others learn about living with both respect and with love.
Our purpose is also to serve, all of humankind the mission statement says. Unitarian Universalism is not a “sit back and enjoy own spiritual understanding. No, we are called to serve, and spiritual growth is what fuels our social action. We can learn to love the whole world, including ourselves.
But why do you come here? Why do we need a congregation like this one here in this town? Why do we need a religion like Unitarian Universalism in the world?
So think for a minute about why you came here this morning. You are here after all, so you must have a reason for coming.
What are some of them? Go ahead and shout them out. I know some of you are not shy.
Robin Bartlett, a Unitarian Universalist Religious educator, in her blog post from which our reading was taken, has heard a lot of people say they come to church for their children, because the children are asking questions about God, or because a neighbor or friend is trying to recruit them into a more conservative religion.
Some people say they come to church because the sermons are entertaining. The crazy preacher can be really funny; you never know just what she will say. You could find much better entertainment, however, on TV, in the movies.
Maybe you come for the music, but you can find great music a lot of places, at concerts, festivals, and even on I tunes.
Some people say they come for the intellectual stimulation, to hear words and ideas that make them think. Of course you could attend a college level lecture for that. There are a lot of other places you can go to stimulate your brain cells.
Maybe you come because you care about social justice. This community works very hard in many ways to bring more justice, equity, and compassion into our world. But if social justice action is your only reason, there are literally thousands of other groups you could join that are doing fabulous work for a wide variety of social causes.
If you are looking for inspiration here, for motivation, for ideas on how to live in this complex world, you could read poetry, listen to TED talks, or join a self-help group.
If you are hurting and looking for comfort or if you are trying to find yourself, you could go to therapy.
Some people come to church to make friends, or even to find a life partner. You could also do that at a bar, a health club, or through social media.
Some people also come to church to find God, the holy, to connect with their inherent spirituality. There are other ways to do that. Go out in nature, watch a sunset, plant flowers, or play with your children. You will surely find the holy there.
Did I cover everything?
I did forget one, which reminds me of another joke. I’d heard it before, but one of our elder’s shared it with me the other week.
It’s Sunday morning and the alarm goes off. A woman turns over in bed and groans. She turns to her partner and moans. I don’t want to go to church today. I know the sermon is going to be boring. People will ask me to do things I don’t have time for. I’d rather just stay home and sleep in today. Her partner turns to her with a sigh. Honey, you have to go to church today. “Why? Why do I have to go to church?”
The answer? “Honey, you have to go to church because you are the minister.”
There are many reasons to come to church, but unless you are the minister, there are many other options. Even ministers can decide on a different career choice. Almost none of us are do it for the money in any case.
But how many places can you go where all of those reasons can apply?
Robin Bartlett tells us to go to church
“for community, for learning, for solidarity, for a good word, for love, for hope, for comfort, even for salvation. Go to church because you can’t imagine not going. Go to church because (of what) your church …demands of you. Go to church because you cry in the worship service at least once a month. Go to church because you look forward to seeing the people.
Go to church because your church forces you to put your money where your mouth is–to use your financial resources to make a statement about what has worth. Go to church because you are known here. Go to church because you want to be known. Go to church because you pray for this same imperfect, rag-tag group of people all week until you meet again. Go to church because you need to in order to get through your week. Go to church because if you miss a week, you feel like something was really missing in your life. Go to church because your church community helps you to go deeper; to risk transformation; to yank you further down a path–to ultimate reality, to truth, to God–kicking and screaming. Go to church because it is a statement to yourself and your children about what has value and meaning. Go to church to find your purpose and live it. Give yourself the gift of church.” http://uuacreligiouseducation.wordpress.com/2014/02/11/dont-go-to-church-for-your-children/
She goes on to say, specifically addressing parents who say they come to church for their children,
“If church is not a gift for you, it won’t be a gift for your children.
You know that old (line) that we borrow from (the) plane instructions we hear read by flight attendants–… apply your own oxygen mask first before you apply your child’s, right? Well, you are your child’s religious educator and oxygen mask. Not our (religious exploration) curricula. Not our volunteer teachers. Not (the) minister. You. That’s a big responsibility, and (maybe) you don’t feel up to the task because (few) of us do.
But if we aren’t getting our spiritual needs met–our religious yearnings satiated; our deepest cries in the night soothed; our need to serve and be served; our God-sized hole occasionally filled, emptied and then filled up again– then we are never going to be up to the task of helping our children do the same.”
She says, “Don’t go to church for your children; go to church for you. You deserve it. Your children deserve it. And this brutal and beautiful world needs you to.”
That last line is worth repeating, “This brutal and beautiful world needs you to.” How important is this congregation, not just to those of us who gather here each Sunday, but also to others in our town, in our state. I think we offer a vital service just by continuing to exist and to thrive. We offer hope to the young person wondering if their life is worth living because they are gay, to the man just released from prison expecting to be shunned by everyone he meets, to the recovering alcoholic, to the person who is homeless,to the eccentric thinker who everyone else thinks is just crazy, to the members of conservative religions who worry that their questions are somehow sinful, and to all the people who are suffering in so many ways from a culture that is far from accepting of differences and difficulties. Even if they never find their way here, even if they never sit in this room with us, if they know about us, we have given them some hope. We have made a difference. We have offered an alternative, a radical alternative, a community based on love.
So if you have been thinking this morning about the reasons you come here, I assume you have thought of more than a few.
I have another question for you. How much would it cost if you went other places to get what you find here at this church? How much more would you be spending on tuition, on therapy, on concert and movie tickets, or on drinks in a bar, if you did not come to church? What about the things that are truly priceless? How could you possibly meet anywhere else the diverse and wonderful people we have here in this religious community? Where else would you be welcomed with such open and loving arms no matter who you are and how you are feeling? Where else are tears and laughter both not only acceptable, but treated as precious?
One last joke so we can end on a lighter note
“If you don’t know what eschatology means, it’s not the end of the world.”
Hilarious right? OK, for those of you who don’t get that joke, eschatology is the theological stance of a particular religion on the end of the world. It isn’t something most Unitarian Universalists worry about much. We definitely don’t take the book of revelation literally. We may worry about environmental disasters or wars ending life on this planet, but our various views of God and the divine do not include the idea that God will destroy the world at some future date.
No, our theology is about life, about continual new beginnings, second, third and fourth chances. It is a life saving, life enhancing theology. We stand on the side of love, and that is why we are here. Amen and Namaste.