Sunday, March 27, 2005

My Easter Sermon Excerpt, With Love

Happy ending, Peacebangers! Just know that what originally appeared on this blog wound up serving as fodder for one of the most joyous and memorable Easter services I am ever likely to celebrate with my congregation:

From the Easter Sermon, "It Matters To This One"

...The church is a kind of training ground, or gym, if you will, for the soul. We spend regular pew time in here with the aim that on the other days of the week, we might find it easier to remember that the Earth is a living organism that needs our care, and that each person upon it is actually a brother or sister of ours.

Here we train ourselves to look at the insides, rather than the outsides, of people and situations. We remind ourselves of the need to speak peace, bring peace, act peace, be peace. Our children desperately need to see this in us and we desperately need to extend it to each other. I dare say that the dominant culture of our day does not much encourage the peacefulness and sense of kin relation between us.

So we come together on Easter morning affirming the things that need to be affirmed if we are to endure as a species, and we do it knowing that it’s tough work indeed. We are such complex and secret creatures, as you know. You know as well as I do that we can spend an hour in here with the very best intentions and with full hearts, but that the minute we walk through the door we are going to see a whole lot of evidence that everything is crazy and broken, and we might as well chuck the church nonsense, go shopping and stay drunk on chocolate and denial for the rest of our lives.

If you think the Easter story is crazy, it is. It is absolutely crazy and ridiculous, as we are. Deciding together to experience life and joy where there is every reason to proclaim death and failure is absolutely ridiculous. As the composer Stephen Sondheim wrote, “Send in the clowns. Don’t bother; they’re here.”

We celebrate a ridiculous story here today, a fantastic story. Jesus’ original community of disciples went home on Friday afternoon thinking the whole enterprise was over, failure. Enough with this kingdom of equals, enough with the promises of God’s healing and love for all. It was done. Finished.

And then the women went back to tend to the body of their rabbi the next day and they found the tomb empty. They saw an angel. Or a figure in white, it depends who you ask. The details of their vision aren’t consistent among all the gospel accounts, but it startled them just about out of their skins and they went running off to tell the men. The men said, of course, you’re being ridiculous.

This is what we usually say when something seems an enormously obvious failure and ending by our conventional wisdom. “Don’t be ridiculous, there’s no life to be seen there, and there certainly aren’t any angels.”
So a couple of those downhearted men walked to a town called Emmaus, seven miles out of Jerusalem, as S. just read to us. They were doing some Monday morning quarterbacking, no doubt, and assessing what went wrong, who screwed up, getting ready to label everything with a big black marker called “We Lost” and going to get back to their oppressed, frustrating lives.

But you know, there is that human spark of hope and God that beats in every one of our breasts and has since the beginning of time, and lo! these men too had a vision. It began ordinarily enough, with a stranger walking beside them. The two men had already decided the women disciples were fools for believing that Jesus was still alive, and yet they got pulled into the very same experience of life and faith as the women did. They got pulled into just as much ridiculousness.
Wait a minute!
Wasn’t that Jesus?
Where’d he go?
Was that really him?
Wait, that was him, wasn’t it?
Oh my God, you’re kidding me!

All that time they walked along the road together, but they didn’t see who it was keeping them company, Luke tells us, until the breaking of the bread at the table. When they finally got it, they just about fell over themselves. And in this wonderful line, one of them says to the other, “Wait a minute. Let’s go over this. Didn’t our hearts just burn within us as he was teaching us on the road?”
Yeah, mine did. Now that you mention it. Yeah. My heart was burning. But I didn’t think I’d mention it or anything. I thought I was being ridiculous.

I love that Jesus himself in this resurrection appearance even says to the disciples, “You’re such fools.” He knows better than anyone that when your heart is full, when it is burning within you for love and inspiration and recognition of the holiness at the heart of being, you don’t worry about making sense.

I’m so glad that our Unitarian Universalist faith says in its first Source that our living tradition receives wisdom from many sources, including the “direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces that create and uphold life.” It’s right there on the first or second page of your hymnal. Now that’s the Easter experience in a nutshell, isn’t it? Direct experience of a transcending mystery and wonder. I’m so glad, because it gives me permission to be ridiculous. ... I’m grateful for it. It says that spiritual truth is just as valuable as scientific truth in how we make meaning. It affirms the mystical. I respect that. I especially respect it when a group of people’s direct experience of transcending mystery and wonder leads them to see the possibility of life, ministry, healing and hope where there was death.
How blessed to be that ridiculous. It’s what I live for.

If you want to set out to be that ridiculous, and I hope you do, here’s how: set out to find bits of light, love and understanding wherever you can. Have a direct experience of ridiculousness that turns the way you perceive reality from death to life; from destruction to creation. Pick one small ridiculous act of life and commit it. (Commit random acts of ridiculousness!)

There is a corny story that I like about that kind of small, ridiculous act of finding life amid death. A boy is walking along the beach where thousands of starfish have been tossed up and stranded by the tide. He is tossing them back to the sea, one by one. An older man stops and watches him for awhile, and he chuckles. “What does it matter, son? There are still thousands of starfish on the beach.” And the boy throws one more starfish back into the tide and he says, “It matters to this one.”

It’s a corny story but it came back into my mind a few weeks ago and I couldn’t get it out. Here’s how it happened.

I went to see a production of the musical “Gypsy” at a local theatre. One of the characters, a pushy stage mother, is a real animal lover and she gets her daughter a lamb for her birthday present. The girl, Louise, sings a lovely song to the lamb, called (appropriately enough), “Little Lamb.” I know the show pretty well and I wondered how this theatre would handle the live animal situation. Would they do it with a stuffed animal or what? So I was just as charmed as everyone else in the audience when a real, snowy white lamb got pushed onto the stage in a diaper at the beginning of the scene. It was just as cute as can be, going “baaa baaa” and pulling at its harness while the actress sang to it.

Later, backstage, I asked the producer about it: “Getting that lamb must have been a real challenge for you!” Yes, it was, he agreed. And I congratulated some friends who were in the show. “LOVED your performance, LOVED the lamb!”
“Oh, we love the lamb, too!” they said. But one of them pulled me aside and whispered to me that they had gotten the lamb from a slaughterhouse and that the lamb was going to go back there after the show. To put it delicately, she was scheduled to become lamb chops.

In the interest of full disclosure I will say that I am a carnivore and I thank my brother and sister chickens, cows, sheep and pigs for much of the food that I eat. But I am also a lady of the stage and it seemed to me that this little lamb was also a lady of the stage, and ladies of the stage are should not be served up with a side of mint jelly on anyone’s dinner plate. Even if they do pull at their harness and bleat while fellow actors are trying to sing.
It bothered me.

So I prayed about it. “I know I’m being really ridiculous, but I just feel I am supposed to protect that lamb.”
The still, small voice inside answered me. It said, “Well, you have ten fingers and a mouth: get on the phone!”

So I called around, and I visited around, and through a lovely lady of this congregation, P., I was put in touch her daughter-in-law A. We had a great rollicking talk one afternoon at the Science Center down the street, along with An., and A. was more than happy to provide a home for the lamb. She had had sheep before and she was happy to get another one. And the farmer was just as happy to sell the lamb to me.
The lamb is now named Little Compton. She is living happily in Pembroke. There is no mint jelly in her future.

And we welcome her and her mistress our church this morning.

(At this moment, A.and Little Compton entered the back of the meeting house and walked up the center aisle. The rest of the sermon was delivered with Little Compton standing beautifully and calmly by my side).

Go ahead and be ridiculous. And when you are practicing the ridiculous Easter faith of loving the world, of finding life amidst lost causes, of practicing hope amidst despair, and of letting your hearts burn within you for joy -- remember the disciples, and remember the starfish, and remember this lamb. And remember that it matters.

It matters to this one.


Blogger Denise said...

Damn, we didn't have a lamb visit us at our UU Fellowship (Gainesville, FL) today. We did have a very nice service though. Maybe next year we can get a lamb too! I'll mention it to some folks!

Happy Easter - I'm off in search of random acts of ridiculousness to perform!!


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