The wind blows
But the rains do not come
The heart aches
But the tears do not fall
There is a season
Beyond all reason
Plant a seed
Wait for the rain.
This birch tree was in my front yard in Utah. It is hard to tell at first glance, but two of the tree’s branches grew together and then separated again. In my yard in CA, I have a redwood tree that became two trees. They share roots and a trunk, but rise close to 100 feet separately.
I think that is how we grow too. Sometimes we need to check back with where we have been before we are ready to grow again up into the sky.
When I woke today
Everything had changed
Yet the sun still rose
The birds still sang
Their ancestors’ songs
The melody is here
A timeless pattern
Deeper than memory
My bags are packed
Goodbyes all said
Going to sing my song
In another town
With a different drum
The beat goes on
And the sun will rise
And the day after that
With more clarity
So I pray
Grant us grace
Bless our journeys.
Opening words (here)
We have talked about change a lot in the last few months. I admit that it has really been on my mind and in my heart particularly after I decided in the late fall that I would leave you at the end of June. That is coming up pretty quick now, isn’t it? My last worship service with you will be June 22.
Change is natural; we know that. And some changes are ones we feel sad about while others fill us with eager anticipation. Often both emotions are present at the same time.
The choir’s song this morning about summer reflects the gladness that most people feel when a hard winter is over and the long warm summer days have finally come. Today we have also put out our summer runners, one of the ways we mark the changing seasons in this congregation. It is important to acknowledge change and the passage of time.
Nic’s wonderful song is also about the excitement of change, about following a dream.
I love the song, but one line in it gives me some pause.
“Don’t look back – you can never look back where you’ve been. You can only look where you’re going.”
I love the image that birds don’t look back over their shoulders when they are flying, but it also makes me think about the Bible story about Lot’s wife.
The book of Genesis does not tell us her name, as is often the case with female characters in Bible stories. She is just “Lot’s wife.” Some Jewish Midrash refers to her as Edith. Midrash is a tradition that tries to fill in some of the gaps in the ancient stories; sort of a description of what might also have been happening that can help explain the story better. Anyway, as the story goes, Edith and Lot were fleeing the city of Sodom right before it was to be destroyed. They were told not to look back. Edith looked back anyway and God turned her into a pillar of salt. Why did she look back? Was she having a hard time letting go of what her life had been in that city? She must have had friends and family members living there. It must have been impossible for her to just walk away and not give it at least one parting glance. She must have been crying as she left, and perhaps the whole pillar of salt thing is just a metaphor of the salty tears she shed knowing that all she had known before was going to be destroyed.
Change always involves some loss. Always. Even when the change is overall a very positive one, there is some grief involved. Ending a bad marriage or relationship can be a very good thing, particularly if abuse has been involved, but there still can be some grief when it ends. Maybe it is just sadness over the loss of the hope for what might have been. I think it is important to recognize the full spectrum of emotions that come up around change.
Some of you who have left other religions to become Unitarian Universalists may still feel some grief about the things you left behind in your other faith tradition.
Whatever the change is, it is important to look back, to know what you are leaving, and to grieve the loss. Only then can you really look forward and step into the future. I promise, you won’t turn into a pillar of salt, although you may shed a few tears.
What isn’t always so healthy is to not look back at all, to just shut the door to the past and pretend it doesn’t matter anymore, even that it never mattered at all.
The past always matters. Good or bad or in-between, it matters. The future is built on what has gone before.
I found our reading about the train this morning a little nerve-wracking. The train could have come as it did once before and caught more young boys mid-span. More lives could have been lost. Some changes, some bridges that we need to cross in our lives, can be simply terrifying. They can take real courage to navigate.
But some of what I like about that story is the description of what it felt like to be in the middle of that bridge:
“We were in between. We were off balance. We were unknown to our own selves. As if on cue, the breeze picked up, whipping through the wooden beams.
It tousled Terry’s hair. He smiled. Another gust, cooler, caused me to stop. Christian hollered and tossed his t-shirt high above our heads, and for a moment it rode the wind out beyond the bridge. I shut my eyes, threw open my arms, wide, and let that same wind rush across my skin. Then, with eyes open, we stepped forward.”
That in between space is important, it is where transformation happens. They were free floating in the wind and then they stepped forward with courage and joy. They suddenly knew they had the power to cross that bridge safely and discover what was on the other side.
This congregation is currently in an in-between space. I am currently in-between too. Beginning July 1, I will no longer be your minister. We are saying goodbye to a relationship we have shared and valued. We will do that formally and ritually on the 22nd of this month. Although I am sure I will see some of you again, it will be a completely different relationship than the one we have now.
You are also looking forward to the future. You will soon have a fabulous new minister and with her you will enter a time of reevaluating your mission and goals.
The wind will blow about you and through you and you will move boldly to the other side of the bridge. I know you will, because you are courageous and faithful people.
And for me, I am going home and will be close to family and old friends. I will also be starting a new part-time ministry in a congregation very different from this one. I will still be a minister, but I won’t be your minister anymore, and that is something that in some ways is heartbreaking for me and, I know, for many of you. We have done good work together and your hearts really are entwined with mine.
As in the poem I wrote and read this morning at the beginning of the service, we need to unravel the threads that have bound us together carefully. They are not going away, just being transformed and woven into a different tapestry, one that I suspect will be even more beautiful that the amazing one we have created together. The new one will come from your collective dreams, so dream deeply and dream well.
We will all, I hope, look back on our time together with love and gratitude, but not with any kind of nostalgia that will inhibit our welcome embrace of the future. Great things really do await, the only real limit is a failure of imagination.
It is pride weekend here in Utah and I need to say something about the incredible progress that has been made because courageous people lived their dreams. When I first came out, it was illegal in most states to even be in a relationship with someone of the same gender. If someone caught you kissing, you could be arrested and thrown in jail.
Today marriage equality is real in, I forget how many states it is now, and Wisconsin is the latest. It will happen, again, in Utah.
But even achieving marriage equality throughout this nation will not mean the work for justice will end. Not until everyone, no matter who they are, who they love, their immigration status, or how much money they have, not until everyone, and I mean everyone can count on being always treated with dignity and respect then we will not have true justice and equity in this world of ours.
Our closing hymn today is one of our favorites I know. I chose it for that reason, but also because of some of the words.
“From the light of days remembered burns a beacon bright and clear. Guiding hands and hearts and spirits into faith set free from fear.” It is good to look back at the past as long as looking back becomes an inspiration that gives us the courage to meet the future.
“From the stories of our living rings a song both brave and free calling pilgrims still to witness to the life of liberty,”
How we live, right now, today, matters.
“From the dreams of youthful vision comes a new prophetic voice which demands a deeper justice built by our courageous choice.” And I just need to say that a youthful vision can come from someone of any chronological age.
But yes, deeper justice can come to one and all. We just need to keep the fire burning and the dreams alive. I love you. Nameste.
Video will be posted (here)
Call to worship (here)
So did you remember to reset your clocks last night? The folks who forgot should show up pretty soon.
We go through this changing times thing twice a year. “Spring ahead, fall back.” “Spring ahead” sounds like a good thing, a great leap forward, progress. “Fall back,” on the other hand, is a term that when used in a military sense might mean retreat, something you do when you are worried that you might be defeated. Circle the wagons and all of that; it doesn’t feel as positive.
What I don’t get, given that one seems more positive than the other, is that it is in the hopeful spring that we lose an hour of sleep.
We don’t get that hour back until the coming fall when we can then retreat to our beds and regain that lost sleep.
Of course, like too many things in our world, there are the haves and the have-nots. If you are born in the summer, you get a bonus hour every fall that you don’t have to pay back for six months, no interest. Ah, but for winter babies like me, an hour is stolen from us in the spring which we don’t get back for half a year. It is, if nothing else, an interesting excuse for being tired.
Every year it seems, the Utah legislature entertains the idea of not participating in daylight savings time.
Arizona never got with the program after all, so why should Utah go along?
I am glad we do, however. This semi-annual changing of the clocks is a fabulous metaphor and it keeps us on our toes. It also reminds us that our days and our lives are more tied to the seasons and that the hours of daylight matter. It also gets us used to change. Maybe that is why Arizona doesn’t like it.
Some of you are old enough to remember Bob Dylan and his song “The times they are a changing.” Those of you who are younger may remember your parents or even grandparents playing the record. I loved Bob Dylan’s songs when I was young. I still do.
“Gather ’round people Wherever you roam And admit that the waters Around you have grown
And accept it that soon You’ll be drenched to the bone If your time to you Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ Or you’ll sink like a stone For the times they are a-changin’”
Prophetic words as our glaciers melt and the seas begin to rise. Can we learn to swim? Can we reverse the effects of the massive climate change that we have brought to our planet?
“Come writers and critics Who prophesize with your pen Keep your eyes wide The chance won’t come again Don’t speak too soon For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who That it’s namin’
For the loser now Will be later to win For the times they, they are a-changin’
Pay attention, he was telling us there. We don’t know what will happen. Will the horrible income disparity in this country continue to grow until there is no middle class and only the very rich and the very poor? Will those who are getting the short end of everything be able to make enough changes that they will be able to win justice?
“Come senators, Congressmen Please heed the call Don’t stand at the doorway Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt Will be he who has stalled There’s a battle outside And it’s ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows And rattle your walls For the times they are a-changin’”
That verse really makes me think of our Utah legislature and their reaction to marriage equality. The halls of the statehouse have been rattled by more than one demonstration, including an absolutely huge rally for cleaner air. They are still standing in the doorway, however, blocking progress and change at virtually every turn.
“Come mothers and fathers Throughout the land Don’t criticize What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters Are beyond your command Your old road is Rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one If you can’t lend a hand For your times they are a-changin’”
I loved that verse when I was young. I am somewhat less fond of it now, however. Adults have always questioned what the young people are doing. Saying they play too many video games is not all that different from what the matriarchs and patriarchs of the old hunting and gathering clans probably said about those crazy kids that wanted to plant corn and then wait around for it to grow. The youth are always the ones who are destined to lead us into the future. I will try to lend them a helping hand whenever I can and hope that I know when it is time to step aside.
On the last verse of the song, Dylan, as he often does, goes Biblical:
“The line it is drawn And the curse it is cast The slow one now Will later be fast
As the present now Will later be past The order is Rapidly fadin’
And the first one now Will later be last For the times they are a-changin’”
Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.
Dylan’s song is in the apocalyptic tradition. That is the apocalypse, or the end times, or even the end of time. There will be great change, the tyrants will be banished, and the kingdom of God, the beloved community, will be established here on earth as it is in heaven.
Who wouldn’t move heaven and earth to bring about justice? I do believe as 19th century Unitarian Minister Theodore parker said, “the arc of the universe is long but that it bends toward justice.” I do believe that most things anyway, get better over time.
I told you a few weeks ago that I thought change was mostly good because change means we are alive.
The times truly are always changing, in both good ways and in bad. They change in big ways and in small. Change is always a challenge, and always an opportunity. Change can be exciting and it can also make us angry.
Many of you I know have had a variety of reactions to the announcement I made about my leaving at the end of June.
There were some tears, and I know that almost all of you, while in some ways happy for me, are also sad that I will be leaving. We have loved each other well. Some of you, maybe even all of you, are likely just a little bit angry as well.
“How can I leave you? Why won’t I stay, another year or two at least?” That anger is OK; it is a very human reaction. We talked about anger last week. People get angry with their loved ones who die, just because they have died and left them, so of course it is fine for you to feel some anger. Remember the three steps I suggested to handle anger in a healthy way?
Own it, understand it, and then do something with it. Create the future you want.
Change can also bring fear. That is a big one and fear is, like anger, a normal emotion in the face of change. What will happen? Imagining the worst-case scenario is really easy to do. What if you can’t find another minister? What if you don’t like the next minister? Maybe we shouldn’t have a minister at all or maybe just a part-time one, just in case, just in case?
It is OK to have all of those feelings, all of those fears and anxieties. As I said, it is very human to feel like that when faced with change, especially a change that is not one you particularly wanted.
But, after you acknowledge your feelings and fears, then what? Do you hunker down and just sit with them? Do you pull back and disengage? I hope not.
If you do that, you miss the good that can come from the change. You miss out on feelings of anticipation and excitement. Getting a new minister is exciting!
Who knows what new skills and gifts they will bring? Who knows what they might be able to teach you? Who knows what you might be able to teach them. Ministry in a congregation is a journey of partnership.
A minister of a church is a leader of course, but a minister also follows the lead of the congregation, channels in a way the hopes and dreams of the gathered community. I have followed you as much if not more than I have lead you. Where do you want to go next? That is for you to decide, both as individuals and as a community.
Sometimes we want to turn the clock back. We want to return to what we think was a simpler, less confusing time. It we really remember the past, chances are it was just as complicated and confusing as it is now.
Sometimes we want to set the clock ahead, to skip over what we are dealing with right now, to jump to some future time where everything will be settled, where everything will be wonderful, where all our problems will be solved.
I don’t know what the future will bring. I do know that it will be different. I also know that it will very likely be every bit as challenging and confusing as everything is right now. It will also be just as exciting and just as wonderful.
Every year, an hour is taken away from us, and every year we are given an extra hour to do with as we will. Let us use that loss and that gift as best we can.
When we get to our closing hymn, think about how you and we are on our way to the freedom land.
Best of all, in these changing times, know that we have the freedom to decide what that freedom will look like and how we want to get there.
Did you reset your clocks
Springing forward in time
Did you change them last night
Or wait until morning
Was your bed extra cozy
Did dawn come too soon
Was the light in your window
From the sun or the moon
Sometimes we look forward
Sometimes we turn back
An hour is lost
The time it has changed
Wake up and get going
With deliberate haste
A whole world awaits us
A new day will be born
From struggle and memory
From work and regret
Love leads us on
This we will never
For a video of this sermon click (here)
Opening words (click here)
To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose, under heaven. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like that. Sometimes a change happens that makes us angry, that fills us with rage or with grief. I know many of us here today are feeling grief and loss because of our good friend’s sudden death this week. I know I am. Just a few weeks ago, he stood right here before you, sharing his thoughts and his wisdom. What a gift that was, and what a gift he was. It is a gift we should be grateful for.
I don’t know why he had to die. I just found out this morning how he died. I do know that we will miss him. He filled a space in many of our hearts, a space that is aching with emptiness today.
But loss such as this one, my dear friends, is a part of life. We are only here for a season, and then the wheel will turn and things will change. We are creatures of habit, however. We like most things, at least the things we like, to stay the same.
Change does not always feel good. Despite today’s sermon title, I don’t believe that change is always good. The death of someone we love never feels like a good thing, even if it is expected, even if the person has been ill for a long time. Pete Seeger, whose song we just sang, lived to 94 before he, too, died this week. Pete lived a very long life, but many of us are feeling his loss today as well.
Our world seems a little smaller, a little lonelier when good people have left it. There are so many people who I wish were still with us. People I knew personally and people who influenced my life even though I never met them in person.
I know you all have people you miss. It is OK to think about them. Grief never completely goes away when we have lost someone we love. But do not forget that love cannot die. It continues inside of us, it keeps us warm as we remember with gratitude the blessings that loved ones brought into our lives.
But changes will come no matter what we do. Impermanence is the essence of being alive. As in our reading, it is important to accept this fact, even as we struggle to hold on to what we love and what matters to us. Nothing lasts forever, all is Dukkha, and while we suffer from some changes, there are also changes we would love to see both in our lives and in the world.
Change always involves some loss, but it also can create opportunities. And in that sense change is good. It means we are alive and awake to possibilities. Our climate is changing, not for the better, but people are starting to come together, to work with each other, to both lessen the impact of the changes and to work to repair the damage that has been done. We can have cleaner air to breathe. We are a people who want to make things better. We want to bring more justice and freedom into the world. We want the hungry to be fed and the sick to be healed.
We are not content with the world just the way it is.
Change is still hard. It is important to acknowledge all the complicated feelings we can have about any change, about any loss. Our emotions can be very complicated. We can be sad. We can be angry. We can be afraid. All of these emotions are very human. It is good to just let yourself feel them. Cry, shed the tears and don’t try to stop them. We can be angry with a person who has died because they have left us. That is OK too. Fear is normal as well. What will happen and how can we go on? What other horrible changes might be coming?
What is also important to remember, is that change will come to those feelings. Life will go on. You will find other people to love and others will love you. The sun will come out and a small bird will sing. Life will feel good again.
If we don’t understand this, if we do not understand that such change will come, then we could become stuck in despair. That happens to some people. They become overwhelmed and they lose hope because they no longer believe that anything will ever change. It is, in some senses, losing faith in life, because life is all about change. Even rocks are changed as the wind and the rain wear their sharp edges away.
Erik Wikstrom had this to say about change and the church:
“If you are who you were, and if the person next to you is who he or she was, if none of us has changed since the day we came in here— we have failed.”
“The purpose of this community— of any church, temple, zendo, mosque— is to help its people grow.”
“We do this through encounters with the unknown—in ourselves, in one another, in “The Other”—whoever that might be for us, however hard that might be— because these encounters have many gifts to offer.”
His prayer is that people will go forth from the worship service each Sunday, not as they were when they came, but as the people they could be.
Holly Near wrote a song about change. It is a prayerful song. Beth will sing it now.
I am open and I am willing For to be hopeless would seem so strange It dishonors those who go before us So lift me up to the light of change
There is hurting in my family There is sorrow in my town There is panic all across the nation There is wailing the whole world round
May the children see more clearly May the elders be more wise May the winds of change caress us Even though it burns our eyes
Give me a mighty oak to hold my confusion Give me a desert to hold my fears Give me a sunset to hold my wonder Give me an ocean to hold my tears.
I am open and I am willing For to be hopeless would seem so strange It dishonors those who go before us So lift me up to the light of change”
Are you open? Are you willing? Are you ready to be lifted up to the light of change?
Change does not mean chaos. You still have your values; you still have your visions and hopes for what can be. Hold onto them let them guide you. Hold onto each other as well. Lift us all up to the light of change.
Pete Seeger taught me something this week, something I needed to learn. He had a long career as a musician and social activist, but his was full of changes. He sang with the Weavers and with Woody Guthrie; he was a Communist for a time. He was called up before the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 50’s and was blacklisted for quite awhile. He was active in the Peace Movement, he worked as an environmentalist to clean up the Hudson River, and while in his 90’s he sang for the Occupy Movement. He did a lot of different things and, as the world changed around him, he also changed. He used his voice and his passion for justice in a variety of different ways, but he also always held on to who he was.
He was always guided by love and compassion. There was anger at times, righteous anger, but it was never mean spirited. He sometimes called the people who had power damned fools, but his song was always the same. Pete Seeger was a good Unitarian Universalist. He joined one of our churches because his values were our values. His songs were always love songs, even the angry ones. They were songs about the love of justice, of freedom, of the planet and of people.
They were songs about the love between and among us all. The love that lasts, that is stronger than death and loss, that is stronger than hatred, and stronger than despair.
If we hold onto that love, we will always know what to do. We will greet whatever changes may come in the spirit of that love.
We will keep singing. We will keep dancing.
I wrote a poem about Seeger the day that he died. It was about him, but it could have been about anyone like him. It could have been about all of the people we are missing today. There is nothing better than to live your life fully in a way that helps to heal the world.
You’ve died in your bed
But your songs they still play
In my head and my heart
No lullabies these
They say wake-up and rise
We will march to the beat
Of your troubadour’s heart
Walking the pathway of peace.
Your hammer we’ll swing
Until justice has come
Your bell we will ring
Until freedom is real
And your song about love
We will sing it for you.
Keep singing the songs. Keep singing the songs for your heroes, for your loved ones, for those who inspire you, for those who are kind.
Sing the songs too for those who are lost, abandoned, or afraid. Bring them hope with the power of your songs, and bring them peace with the power of your love. May it be so! Namaste