For those unable to attend on Sunday, February 25, here is the text of Beth's sermon:
The Reverend Howard Thurman:
Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. Then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
There is something special about Christmas that is different than any other time of the year. Many of us feel a special magic in the beautiful Christmas lights, sounds and smells. We remember how Christmas began as a celebration of a wondrous birth of a baby. We are happy to feel the love of family and friends. We delight in the music of bells and carols. Some people, like me, make pies and cookies and large meals for those we love, filling our homes with delicious smells. We make or buy presents and wrap them with special love for our family and friends. We practice music and create art to share with others; hoping they will feel the magic, too. We bring out the holiday decorations from the basement or garage and spend hours decorating our homes and Christmas trees. We work hard to create the special feeling that excites us all. And although Christmas can be a lot of work, it’s all worth it because it makes us feel so good inside and happy to be together. The magic doesn’t happen without a lot of effort. In fact, we make the magic together. All of us. It wouldn’t happen without us!
And when Christmas is over, sometimes we feel a little disappointed that the magic of Christmas is fading away and our lives are going back to the way they are most of the time. To “normal”.
But the joy and magic, the love and caring, the hard work that creates Christmas isn’t really gone. There is still a lot of loving work to do.
Deep in our hearts, we know that Christmas is about love, transformational love.
We celebrate the Spirit of Life, the Spirit of Love that makes our lives blessed, our hearts happy, and our relationships filled with caring and joy. It is one of the main reasons we come to this congregation, to experience that love and sense of being together as a community.
Now, I ask you, does the Spirit of Life go away on December 26th?
Should we stop living with the Spirit of Love on December 26th?
Should we wait until the holidays are over and stop celebrating on January 2nd?
Does that really make any sense at all?
If we are going to continue to celebrate the Spirit of Life, to live the Spirit of Love, to really claim the Spirit of Love as our deep faith, how do we do that?
The magic, the miracle, is that the more we give to others from deep in our hearts, by caring for them and supporting them, the more we experience the Spirit of Love ourselves. It’s an amazing phenomenon. I experience it all the time, so I know, personally, that it’s very real. And it matters, not just in making me happier, but in making the world a better place for everyone.
So, if we want Christmas to continue, then we have to continue to do the work of Christmas. We need to continue to live the Spirit of Life, the Spirit of Love, to truly live like we were meant to live, deeply joyfully loving others. We need to think carefully how we can create the strongest magic of love.
If we decide to go back to “normal”, to live like the magic of love, the mystery of the Spirit of Life, isn’t worth transforming our lives and this world, then we have lost a precious opportunity with which we have been blessed. Christmas can and must continue every day. This is too important to forget! We all need to live like we shine with the magic of love.
That’s a tall order, you think. Yep, it is. I don’t know anyone who can do it all the time. But I do know people who live as if their lives depended upon shining with love. They do it because they know that living like that gives them the power to change the world. Many of those people are right here in this room. In fact, everyone in this room does this sometimes. We all know this. But we can all stretch a little and do it more. Every single one of us.
What is so profoundly important to know is that love not only binds us together and can heal the wounds of being human; it has the power to actually change the world. We can try and use this power by stretching our resolve, becoming more determined, and immensely braver. I say this to you knowing that I might sound naïve. But we all know that this world needs more very brave people. Everyday heroes. And each of us can be an everyday hero.
So how can we make our Spirit of Love more powerful? One thing is to do the thing you love to change the world. Some people like to write, others build with wood, some people like to give inspiring speeches, or care for animals or do research in laboratories. Every one of us has a strength or skill that can be part of stretching our loving service to be more powerful.
The question is, “What is your strength?” Usually it’s the first thing that comes to mind. Think about it for about five seconds; not more. When you know, make a mental note of it.
Another important question that might help you make your love more powerful is, “What thing in the world would you like most to see improved?” Think about that for about five seconds and make another mental note.
When you know those two things, then you have a pretty good idea how you can begin to make the deep and lovely magic of the Spirit of Love last throughout the year in a powerful way.
The world is so full of needs. Just listening to the news for the last year has been agony for many of us. Refugees are fleeing war, violence and drought; and if they safely make it to the other side, are often living in terrible conditions with insufficient food, medical care, sanitation and even water.
Around the world over 15,000 kids die daily from preventable causes. Millions of children in the developing world can’t go to school. Elections everywhere have been divisive and difficult. Racism is dividing our country. Students are being shot and killed in their own schools. Lives are ruined by child abuse, drug abuse and violence. In our own community hundreds of people don’t even have a place to live. The economic recovery is leaving many behind, especially immigrants. Global warming is threatening ecosystems around the world. It just doesn’t stop.
If we think too much about all of it, we just want to pull the covers over our heads. Or we turn on the TV and zone out. Sometimes it feels like the world’s problems are just too much to bear.
But we UUs are made of sterner stuff. Our Spirit of Love is practical and powerful. It was Universalist Clara Barton who went into battle to save soldiers’ lives and created the Red Cross. UU ministers marched with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, one of them giving his life for the cause of justice. It was Unitarians who worked tirelessly to save thousands of Jewish children and adults during World War II and whose work gave rise to our Chalice as our religious symbol. They were ordinary people who were compelled to live their lives by stretching their love to address huge needs that critically important for millions of people. They were everyday heroes.
So just what is your special strength or talent that you can use to create the miracle and magic of powerful loving service? Please be courageous. After all, you are Unitarian Universalists! If you can claim that faith, then you can do this!
We are already transforming ourselves by imagining the biggest possible love that we can bring into the world. Think of the lives that we can save, the hurts healed, the earth protected, the wrongs righted. Being transformed is exciting and deeply wonderful. Please take the next step by planning your next, perhaps your first, step towards that transformation. Is it a phone call to make, a letter to write, an action to take? What is it that you will do to stretch your love, to extend the profound magic of the Christmas spirit to create the best world for all?
And then don’t stop. Think of the next step and then take it. And the next. Day by day we can transform the world and our own lives.
But there is one thing more to know about this powerful work of exercising the magic and mystery of the Spirit of Love. It’s a lot more fun and powerful if we do it with others.
I can speak from personal experience that taking a stand, speaking up, doing the work of justice is a lot more effective because I do it with others. If I had to do it alone, I wouldn’t know how to begin and I wouldn’t have the information or skills I need to do it effectively. And, I find that the other people who want to do this work have the same values, courage and commitment that I do. So I don’t feel so silly. In fact, I know that I can trust them with my deepest hopes and fears. And together, our voices are louder than if we speak alone.
No matter what you decide to focus on, whatever you change you want to make in the world, you are much more likely to enjoy doing it AND be more successful if you find others who are working on the same issue and join forces with them. Each of us inspires the other, which is important, because sometimes the work of deeply loving the world is not easy. Sometimes you have to challenge yourself to do something that’s way outside your comfort zone. Having the support of others makes that a lot easier.
Today we can vow to live in the power of our love and give it, every day, to the world and as a gift to ourselves. Amen.
Closing Words: by L.R. Knost
Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world.
All things break. And all things can be mended.
Not with time, as they say, but with intention.
So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally.
The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.