Sunday, February 13, 2011

What's Love Got to Do With It?

Rev. Kit Ketcham, Feb. 13, 2011

Part I:
As I was thinking about the sermon the other morning, getting ready to sit down and write, a little frantic because my own experiences with romantic love, at least, have been a little erratic, a little unsatisfactory, and quite a lot painful at times. And as I was reflecting, in prayer, that evening, I realized that, though I may not have a lot of great romantic experience, I have plenty of experience with deep love, a wider love than romantic love, and this hymn popped into my head. I’ll read you the words of two of my favorite verses.

“O Love that wilt not let me go, I rest my weary soul in Thee, I give Thee back the life I owe, that in Thine ocean depths its flow may richer, fuller be. O Joy that seekest me through pain, I cannot close my heart to Thee; I trace the rainbow through the rain and feel the promise is not vain that morn shall tearless be.”

This is, of course, a very old hymn out of what I think of as the mystical tradition of Christianity, far removed from the literality of much of today’s traditional doctrine, and set firmly in a faith that recognizes the depth and breadth and universality of Love, linking it to the depth and breadth and universality of Joy, its sister.

I offer you this vision of Love to set the path of our reflection for today. We’re going to look at Love in three ways: the way of our most intimate relationships with beloved individuals; the way of our relationships within this congregation; and the way of our relationships with the wider world beyond these walls. And we’ll link it to Joy, its ultimate reward.

And I want us to look at Love---and Joy---as bigger than temporary romantic thrills or….. even the pleasures of chocolate! I want us to look at these two life forces as essential to our lives as individuals, our lives as a community, and our lives as contributors to society.

I invite you to close your eyes for a moment or two and let yourself think about the love in your life, particularly the love you receive from and give to the persons and creatures in your life, now and back as far as you care to go. (a few moments silence)

With your eyes still closed, answer this question either quietly or aloud: “Who do you love?: (say names out loud or only to yourself, whichever you wish) And then this question: “Who loves you?” (again, silently or aloud, whichever you wish).

What are the features of that love? Deep love may be physically intimate, or not; it may be painful at times, it may be exuberant or serene. It may be all of these things. Much of it depends on the nature of our interactions with the person or creature we love. It takes thought to express love in ways that the other person or creature can receive.

How do we express our love to a dear person or a dear creature? You notice I’m including non-human beings in my wonderings. Many of us live with a mate but almost as many of us live with other creatures---pets or wildlife or growing things. What tenderness do we offer to the living beings in our lives? How does that tenderness and affection freely given enhance our life together?

I don’t have a mate but I do have cats! Cats who thrive on my attention and care, cats who purr noisily in my lap, cats who gobble down the Friskies I spoon into their bowls, cats who are glad to see me when I come home, cats who receive the best care and affection I can give them. And what do we receive from those living beings? We can’t order our beloved ones to treat us in certain ways; we generally have to learn how our mates or our children or our pets give love.

The way my son gives love, for example, is pretty much how I like it to be---a phone call every couple of weeks, no requests for money, or at least not usually, an occasional request for advice about raising teenagers, an interest in how I’m doing, a strong “I love you, Mom” at the end of each call. When we are together, he hugs me, lets me give him a kiss on the cheek, is grateful for what I do for him, cherishes me and pays attention when I speak, even if he disagrees. He even reads all my sermons, which is a pretty great tribute for a minister!

One of our UU composers, the late Malvina Reynolds, wrote a lovely song about love: “Love is something, if you give it away, give it away, give it away, Love is something if you give it away, you end up having more. It’s just like a magic penny, hold it tight and you won’t have any. Lend it, spend it, and you’ll have so many, they’ll roll all over the floor, for Love is something if you give it away….you end up having more.”

When we are in relationship with those closest and dearest to us, we usually make a strong effort to keep those relationships warm and rewarding for both parties. It isn’t always easy. Sometimes dear ones are estranged from us; sometimes it takes a lot of work not to throw up our hands in frustration and give up, especially when there are major points of disagreement or dissatisfaction.

But if it’s worth it, if there are many years invested, if there are others to consider, we tend to make the effort as long as we can, not wanting to let go of a love that has been sustaining in the past and might be again. We are instinctively, I think, committed to love as long as we can manage it.

Our desire and instinct to love those closest to us does not die just because we are angry with each other. It takes a betrayal or serious injury of some kind to discourage that instinctive behavior. Chances are we have all been there. Chances are we, right now, have a great deal of love to give the beloved ones in our lives, a great deal of love to give away.

In a phrase in his song “Everything Possible”, UU composer and minister Fred Small has written: “You can live by yourself, you can gather friends around, you can choose one special one, and the only measure of your words and your deeds will be the love you leave behind when you’re done.” With those words in mind, let’s continue with the elements of our worship.

Part Two

Let’s sit for a few moments in silence and consider what the experience of Joys and Concerns means to us. (silence) As we have listened to the joys and concerns of our gathered community, I’m wondering what thoughts and feelings arose for you as our fellow congregants spoke of their lives.

This time during our service gives us a chance to learn what’s going on in others’ lives, their struggles, their griefs, their hopes, their joys. As we listen, we may have a myriad of varied reactions.

We may feel compassionate or sorrowful at hearing of a loss, sympathetic or eager to help if we hear of a need, tickled by a triumph but sometimes even impatient or skeptical, if it’s not our thing or if we are feeling cranky or tired.

But Joys and Concerns is a snapshot, a bird’s eye view of our congregation. In these moments we have a chance to see the humanness, the much-varied lives of our fellow seekers. It can feel sweetly sentimental or jarringly tragic. But Joys and Concerns always invites us into a place of shared life---and love---with our community.

I have experienced this ritual in many congregations over the years, and have seen it used appropriately but also as a bully pulpit for attacking someone, for expressing political opinions, for deriding another person’s faith tradition, for making assumptions about what everyone there believed about some issue, in addition to the more positive candles for soccer wins or lost teeth or birthdays or healings.

I was the worship leader one day many years ago at my home church in Colorado when the teenage son of a former minister who had been asked to resign spoke his mind about the way he thought his mother had been treated by the congregation. Not an easy thing to hear, or respond to, yet very personal and moving and a reminder to our congregation that our actions have unintended consequences.

We are reminded during this time of our shared life, of the losses we have faced and may still face, of the joys we have experienced and have yet to experience. We grieve and rejoice together for a few moments during our service.

Most congregations have a way of letting everyone know what’s going on in the lives of members and friends. Those who don’t have a candle-lighting ceremony such as Joys and Concerns make an effort to announce needs and happy occasions in some way, either from the pulpit or in the O/S or newsletter. It’s really important to know of the struggles and triumphs that we individually are facing. How else can we help out? And these events affect our life together as a community.

Our life experiences help to create the atmosphere of our community. If we are grieving, we may be short-tempered. If we are rejoicing, we may be impatient with another’s sorrow. But we also may be aware, in our grief and our joy, that our responses to each other will be interpreted through a lens we may not understand.

So that if I am grieving some loss and am just trying to make it through the day, I may misinterpret someone else’s words as hurtful when they are not intended to be. If I am joyful about some wonderful event, I may not realize that my excitement may be seen as a slight to someone else.

As we get ready, next Sunday, to vote on our carefully constructed Covenant of Right Relations, we are acknowledging how tricky it can be to get along with each other all of the time. Even happily married couples or longtime friends can get testy and crabby if their toes are stepped on, even accidentally.

Every once in awhile, I hear folks complain about how somebody has hurt their feelings by making a remark or suggestion that rankled. The incident may seem trivial to somebody else, but it has hurt someone deeply or made them feel unimportant or invisible. I occasionally am guilty of making these kinds of remarks and I am also sometimes the one who is hurt.

One of the things I’ve learned over the years, even if I don’t always manage to remember it, is that it is helpful to assume innocent intentions on the part of someone who has hurt my feelings. I have learned that rarely does anyone intend to hurt my feelings; it’s more often that the sensitivity I experience is related to what’s going on in my life at the moment.

I hope our vote on the Covenant of Right Relations next week is a positive vote, a vote to approve it and include it in our official documents, the ones we use in our governance and in our congregational life together. We tend to be a peaceful congregation, generally, and as we grow, it is important to offer that peace to those new folks who join us. Newcomers like to know what the guidelines are, for being together as a faith community, and our Covenant is our baseline guideline.

Our Covenant is based on the affirmation we speak together every Sunday morning: “Love is the spirit of this congregation, and Service is its practice. This is our great covenant, to dwell together in peace, to seek truth in love, and to help one another.”

These beautiful and meaningful words have been fleshed out in the Covenant’s language as promises we make to each other:
We warmly welcome all.
We speak with honesty, respect and kindness.
We listen compassionately.
We express gratitude for the service of others.
We honor and support one another in our life journeys, in times of joy,
need and struggle.
We embrace our diversity and the opportunity to share our different
We address our disagreements directly and openly, and see conflict through
to an authentic resolution.
We serve our spiritual community with generosity and joy, honoring our
We strive to keep these promises, but when we fall short, we forgive
ourselves and others, and begin again in love.

Our Covenant is not going to be a law, a set of rules. It will be an ideal to strive for, a way of reminding ourselves about the human behaviors that most exemplify the life of the Beloved Community.

Let’s consider these ideas as we move forward in our worship service.

Part 3:

The Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker, president of Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, has written:
Your gifts - whatever you discover them to be -

Can be used to bless or curse the world.

The mind's power,
The strength of the hands,
The reaches of the heart,

The gift of speaking, listening, imagining, seeing, waiting

Any of these can serve to feed the hungry,

Bind up wounds,

Welcome the stranger,

Praise what is sacred,

Do the work of justice
Or offer love.

Any of these can draw down the prison door,

Hoard bread,
Abandon the poor,
Obscure what is holy,

Comply with injustice,
Or withhold love.

You must answer this question:
What will you do with your gifts?

Choose to bless the world.

The choice to bless the world can take you into solitude

To search for the sources of power and grace,

Native wisdom, healing and liberation.

More, the choice will draw you into community,

The endeavor shared,

The heritage passed on,

The companionship of struggle,

The importance of keeping faith,

The life of ritual and praise,

The comfort of human friendship,

The company of earth,

Its chorus of life welcoming you.

None of us alone can save the world.

Together -- that is another possibility,

Rebecca Parker

This morning we have taken up a special offering for WAIF, our island animal protection agency. These donations every month to a variety of helping agencies on Whidbey are one way we choose to bless the world. By reaching out to abandoned animals and their caregivers, we say emphatically that we care what happens to the animals in our world and we are grateful to those who volunteer their time and energy to caring for the many homeless animals on the island.

How are we as a community blessing the world in other ways? Let’s reflect silently for a moment or two on this thought. (silence)

I’ve been noticing the sign on the Trinity Lutheran marquee this week, which states “Do the Math! Count your blessing!” I’m not sure if the sign is intended to read “count your blessings (plural)” but I kind of like the way it turned out, because I’ve thought, every time I drive by, “Yes! My blessing counts, in this world!” I can bless the world, with my every action.

Those of us who were brought up in strict conservative Christian homes might have gotten the notion that only God---or a clergyperson---could give blessing, that mere mortals were not “blessed” with that ability.

But I disagree. We are all capable of giving blessing. Our every act of giving love is giving blessing. When we raise our arms in an arch over our children as they leave for their classes, we are giving them our blessing as a community.

When we offer love to any living thing, we are giving blessing. When we take care of our own health and needs, we are giving blessing. When we offer kindness to our mates, our kids, our friends, we give blessing. When we care for the earth, whether it’s by refraining from littering or polluting, whether it’s by tending a garden or indoor plants or watching protectively for deer or other wildlife on the highway, we are blessing the earth and its creatures.

So, circling back around to the title of this sermon, “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” Here’s what I think: Love has everything to do with it. It is our most potent power, to love. It affects every aspect of our lives and can be used to heal or, if warped and maimed into false love, it can be used to destroy.

We can choose to bless or to curse each other, our community, and the world. If we bless, the outcome is Joy; if we curse, the outcome is Despair. What will we choose?

Let’s pause for a time of silent reflection and prayer.

BENEDICTION: Our worship service, our time of shaping worth together, is ended, but our service to the world begins again as we leave this place. Let us go in peace, remembering that the power of love is our power, our strength, our opportunity. May we go forth in love to bless the world, to bless our community, and to bless all those we love. And in so doing, may we reap the blessing of Love, which is Joy. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

1 comment:

Jean said...

Thank you, Kit, for this wonderful message. I read it after a loving and challenging phone call with my grand-daughter who at 32 is struggling so to love herself. I am reminded that sometimes the "intimate relationship with a beloved individual" is about the love we offer to our very own self.