Written on November 18, 2018
Revised in January 2019
Electronically published in March 2019
This is the first sermon I ever wrote, before I had even officially decided to pursue a career in ministry. After sitting on it for several months, I am still quite proud of it – and I also have no intention of ever delivering it as is. It needed to be written and I’m glad it was, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be delivered.
This sermon is dedicated with love to my friend Ellen Greenwood, who inspired me to write it simply by suggesting that I help put together a worship service for our home church one day. I’ve since helped with several, and I never would have started without her gentle encouragement.
No act of kindness, no matter how small, ever goes unnoticed. Every single act of loving kindness is a unique act of worship.
How is everyone doing today?
I heard a lot of “goods” and “fines,” but I wonder: if I were to ask you again, perhaps in a less public setting; if I were to ask you for a raw and real answer about how you are really doing today, what would you say? Or rather, what would you want to say?
If you were to ask me how I’m doing today, I would probably say, “living the dream.”
I read somewhere recently that when people say “living the dream” they actually mean “I wake up every morning wishing I was dead.”
Now, that’s a extreme. I do not wake up every morning wishing I was dead. I do wake up every morning to a very small person with very big needs who demands 150% of my attention before I’ve even fully opened my eyes, let alone had a cup of coffee. I work and go to school full time, I’ve got some personal stuff going on, I’m disgusted by most of the current political climate, and generally, I’m stressed.
Of course, in some ways, I am living the dream. I am incredibly blessed in all the ways that count and also very thankful. However, in a much more functional, practical sense, living the dream is not always an accurate representation of my state of being, and I’d venture to say that things are similar for some of you.
Many of us have heard the quote “Be kind always, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle,” often attributed to Plato. It turns out that this was not said by the philosopher, but adapted from a message by Rev. John Watson.
The full quotation, from his 1904 work entitled The Homely Virtues, reads:
“This man beside us also has a hard fight with an unfavouring world, with strong temptations, with doubts and fears, with wounds of the past which have skinned over, but which smart when they are touched. It is a fact, however surprising. And when this occurs to us we are moved to deal kindly with him, to bid him be of good cheer, to let him understand that we are also fighting a battle; we are bound not to irritate him, nor press hardly upon him nor help his lower self.”
Now, with that in mind and in the interest of being real, I’d like to share a story with you.
Last autumn, I was having a hard time. My son and I had to move unexpectedly. I had just changed jobs, things were tight financially, and Henry had been sick. All of this happened just weeks before the end of the semester, so I was preparing for finals and the holidays as well. I’d been speaking with my minister often, and she told me that Westside will always be available to me, should I need somewhere to study or hang out or just a soft place to land and catch my breath.
I was handling things pretty well, until I came down with whatever illness Henry had brought home from daycare that week. I went to the doctor and he told me I had bronchitis and needed to take some time off work, which I simply could not afford, and I told him as much and why. So, in addition to listening to my lungs and prescribing an antibiotic, the doctor asked to pray with me.
Actually, it was more like he told me he would be praying with me. He then held my hand in the exam room while he prayed to a deity that I do not believe in and told me that this deity would save me and solve all my problems.
I understand that this was done out of kindness. This doctor thought about what may comfort him if he were in my situation, and he tried to help. I hope the action was motivated by compassion, but that does not change the fact that it made me incredibly uncomfortable, and it did not change the fact that when I left the office, I still could not afford the time off work he recommended, and the deity had failed to solve all my problems.
I found myself in tears before I was out of the parking lot. I wasn’t just crying – I was ugly crying. I didn’t know what to do next. I had to do so much school work, pick up my prescription, and pick up Henry from daycare – and I had to get myself together in order to do all of that. I wasn’t even sure where I was going as I left the doctor’s office, I just drove.
As I arrived in the parking lot of Westside, I wasn’t sure if I hoped that anyone was here or not. On the one hand, it would be very nice to be greeted by a hug and a reassuring word, and on the other, I really needed to finish ugly crying in peace.
As it turned out, there was nobody here.
It was quiet, but not eerily. It was peacefully quiet. I entered the sanctuary and plopped myself unceremoniously on the floor.
After a moment of breathing in the immaculate stillness, my sobs quieted and my tears slowed. I looked up, and suddenly felt like I should light the chalice. I couldn’t tell you why. I just felt like I should, so I did.
I sat before that little light and thought about how I’ve spent the last eight years wishing someone would ask me to light it for the service. It’s just a little thing, nothing to ever get worked up about, but something that would be nice to do just the same.
And then I realized I did not need anyone else’s permission to light the chalice. I belong here. This is my spiritual home and it will never let me down.
The pounding in my head was accompanied by a deep pressure in my body, much the same as that from a weighted blanket or a much-needed embrace. It was foreign, but not uncomfortable.
It was the pressure of this place. Not the walls which physically compose the church, but the absolute, abundant love which those walls could never contain.
It was my own potential and my own capacity to receive and reciprocate that love. It was my spirit awakening, even as I felt most broken, to tell me that I am enough. I am surrounded by people who are enough. I am loved, I am worthy, and everything will truly be ok.
We are bombarded daily by the message that we are not enough.
Advertisements and media are constantly showing us how to “improve” our lives – how to lose weight, cover up our stretch marks and wrinkles. They tell us to purchase happiness, whatever the commercial version of happy is on any given day.
Many major religious traditions tell us that we must atone for our sins, which they define, in a way which they decide, in order to be granted salvation from eternal punishment, which we likely haven’t done anything to warrant.
Programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous tell their members that they are inherently flawed, that they will relapse and die without the program, and they must earn redemption.
I don’t buy it.
I am here to tell you that you are enough.
We all are.
Being enough does not mean that we do not have things to work on, it means that we are strong and can push through them to achieve our highest good. It means we do not have to earn any type of redemption. because instead of being inherently flawed, we have inherent worth and dignity.
Unlearning this concept of inferiority is difficult. We are inundated with negative messages about ourselves every day. Profits are made off of low self-esteem, not self-love or truth.
Luckily, we are highly intelligent creatures and we are wired to learn and adapt to our environment. We learn something new every day and it is not only ok to adapt our behaviors, thoughts, or worldviews as new information becomes available – it is responsible.
Standing on the Side of Love, an interfaith public advocacy campaign, was launched in 2009. The campaign was developed in response to the 2008 shooting at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, our sister church across town. The shooting was a politically-motivated attack which claimed the Earthly lives of Linda Kraeger and Greg McKendry. The lingering effects of the shooting are still present in the collective heart and mind of the Unitarian Universalist community.
According to the campaign’s website,
“The Knoxville community responded with an outpouring of love that inspired the leadership at the Unitarian Universalist Association to launch our campaign in 2009, with the goal of harnessing love’s power to challenge exclusion, oppression, and violence based on sexual orientation, gender identity, immigration status, race, religion, or any other identity.”
This campaign was launched in good faith and driven by compassion. That does not change the fact that the name of the campaign was inherently ableist and exclusionary to differently abled people.
Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better,” and the 2017 Unitarian Universalist General Assembly did just that. The Assembly called for the campaign to adapt their name to be more inclusive, and on January 10, 2018, the Unitarian Universalist Association announced that the campaign would now be called Side With Love.
As UUs, we strive to hold sacred the interdependent web of life of which we are all a part. When we come upon a spider web, it can look so fragile – but every single segment is made of silk, one of the strongest substances on Earth. Our interdependent web of life is made strong by something even stronger and more resilient– by Love.
That doctor I saw thought I needed his God – but my God? My Godde is Love.
This Godde can come to us in poetry, in smiles, in silence. This Godde can come as tiny red flowers and in the frigid emptiness of a winter morning. This Godde can come as deep knowing without any empirical evidence and in a fleeting moment of clarity. This Godde is a flicker of hope that refuses to die when all logic says it should.
Love is that piece of all of us that is pure and untouched by negativity, that piece of childhood that we cling to. The thread from which all are woven and of which all are a part.
Modern religion often uses middlemen. It uses sacraments, rituals, rules, fear, shame, and scripture to try and tame what cannot be tamed. It attempts to put labels on that which cannot be confined to a name. The spiritual experience, Divinity, Godde – it is all made of Love.
That’s it. No conditions. No rigid rules. No boundaries. No dogma. No creeds. No exceptions.
For me, acts of worship are acts of service. When I am working in the service of others, I am closest to the Divinity within myself and that within my fellow travelers. This intimate contact with the Divine could never be made one-size-fits all. Every single act of loving kindness is a unique act of worship.
As we attempt to embrace a world that would tell us otherwise, let us radically accept that we are enough, and we are a part of a wider community of people who are all also enough. The beautiful thing about this community is that we are all different, and we all have a unique light to shine upon the world.
Let us remember, today and every day, that we need not justify our right to exist exactly as we do, that anyone around us could be facing a hard battle, and they are just as enough as we. May we address all of our fellow travelers in love, and in doing so, make their battles just a little bit easier to fight.
May it be so.
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