Companions in Fellowship, Learning and Service
David received a parrot for his birthday. This parrot was fully grown with a bad attitude and he cursed like a sailor. Every other word was an expletive. Those that weren't expletives were, to say the least, rude. David tried hard to change the bird's attitude and was constantly saying polite phrases, playing soft music, and anything else that came to mind. Nothing worked. Eventually he lost his patience and yelled at the bird. The bird only got worse. He shook the bird and the bird got madder and ruder.
Finally, in a moment of rage, David put the parrot in the freezer. For a few moments he heard the bird squawking, kicking and screaming and then, suddenly, all was quiet.
David, feeling frightened and ashamed that he might have actually killed the bird, opened the freezer door. The parrot stepped out onto David's extended arm and said, "I'm sorry that I offended you with my language and actions. I ask for your forgiveness."
David was astounded at the bird's change in attitude and was about to ask what changed him when the parrot continued, "May I ask what the turkey did?"
Q: What did the mama turkey say to her naughty son?
A: If your papa could see you now, he'd turn over in his gravy!
The holiday we have just celebrated, Thanksgiving is a celebration of communion. Okay, ... it's a stuff your face ritual. It is a harvest celebration. Cultures all around the globe and throughout history have celebrated fall harvest. It is one of many rituals that link us together as one human family.
Although Thanksgiving has become a secular holiday, it retains an element of communion. Families and communities across the come together in a spirit of gratitude for the many blessings we have received. We break bread with companions.
The word companion comes from two latin words; “com” meaning with and “pan” meaning bread. Today, I will present three ways that we Unitarian Universalists are spiritual companions. We are companions in fellowship, learning and service.
We are companions in fellowship. The word fellowship has been uses as a synonym for socializing, but it is more. In Latin the word that d that corresponds to the word fellowship is “communio.” Fellowship is a synonym for communion. We enjoy fellowship when we come together to affirm what is sacred, and when we honor values that we hold in common.
Fellowship offers a stronger bond than socializing. When people associate based merely in friendship, they will be gone when their friends move away or die. However, when fellowship is based upon worship, covenants and shared values, people remain part of our faith - when they lose their job, when their spouse dies, when they move to a new city.
You have heard it said that a family that prays together, stays together. Prayer provides staying power for congregations too. BTW, prayer should not be limited to the kind of prayer you rejected as a child or as a young adult. Our praying includes chanting done with sacred intention, Native American drumming, poetic and dramatic expression that addresses Ultimate Concern, ancient and modern forms of worship, address of what is.
We are companions in fellowship in the spirit of religious liberalism. What makes us companions is not that we may have different beliefs about God. What makes us companions in fellowship is that despite differences, without creeds or doctrines, we are able to worship together. We gather together, we stand in awe before the Great Mystery of life, and lift up our sense of the sacred and holy. As religious liberals we share an appreciation that truth is greater than can be captured in any story, book or set of doctrines.
We are companions on a journey of learning and spiritual growth. No one tradition can state precisely where the journey of spiritual growth begins or ends. And yet there are commonalities, shared themes and common values among the world's religious traditions. Spiritual growth involves an increased capacity for relationship. Most religious traditions are concerned with relationship to God. Some traditions direct us to become conscious of the relationship between the impermanent and the permanent, eternal or infinite.
In recent years our journey of spiritual companionship has emphasized “right relationship.” This term comes from the Buddhist tradition. In Buddhism, right relationship is one that causes no suffering. We use the term to refer to our covenants. We unite ourselves as a congregation and as an association of congregations by our covenants, our agreements of what we will do and how we will treat each other.
Our sense of right relationship calls us to work for justice, equity and compassion in human relations. It calls us to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of all people. It calls us into awareness of life beyond the human species. We are growing spiritually as we learn to live in harmony with our ecosystems, as we change habits to practices that will sustain life on the planet. We are learning to be in right relations with all the creatures who live upon spaceship Earth.
We are spiritual companions gaining awareness of ourselves in relation to something larger. Sometimes we Unitarian Universalists use the word God to refer to that something larger. We also speak of Ultimacy, our greatest sense of what is. We speak of Truth. Often we express reverence for the interconnected web of existence of which we are a part.
Please DO notice that the first two ways we are companions, namely fellowship and learning both include worship and both ask us to move out of isolation and into community. If what you are doing increases your sense of isolation, alienation and estrangement , it's not spiritual growth. Spirituality leads us to know ourselves in relationship to something larger.
We journey toward that someplace larger, and are not too concerned with what it's called. We are concerned more with the territory than the map.
Names on maps change. One year people call a city Leningrad, then
it becomes St Petersburg again. One day there is a country named Senegal and the next it becomes Mali. We are more concerned with the territory than the map.
The names and understandings of spirit change over time, and they change from culture to culture. Different cultures use different names to mark their path of spiritual growth. They use different names to identify milestones and the destination of the spiritual journey.
As UUS we are asked to value the territory more than the map. It is an essential part of what makes us a religious people. I may wish to drive to San Diego. You intend only to go to Tucson. We can travel on IH10 together for a long ways. I may wish to grow closer to Lord Jesus. You wish to achieve enlightenment. In this congregations it is possible for us to journey together toward faith and wholeness.
The third way we become companions is through service. When we serve in a common spirit, we incarnate the values that we hold in common. Of the many ways we UUS can be of service, I wish to emphasize one today. One important way that we have served the divine and human is our continuing the prophetic tradition of Hebrew and Christian scriptures. Our path to faith asks us to build a land where sisters and brothers, anointed by God and all that is holy, shall then create peace, where justice shall roll down like waters, and peace like an ever flowing stream.
This third form of companionship comes to us from our liberal Christian ancestors and the Jewish roots they honored. It is important to remember that everything we have today- our practices, our values our living tradition comes to us through a Christianity that held on to the Jewish prophetic tradition. Our ancestors were Christians. They were Christians who turned back to the Jewish roots of Christianity. They were Christians who believed that following Jesus was more important than having an approved set of theological beliefs about him.
They were Christians who experienced the meaning of communion -not only as remembering Jesus, but as an invitation to become the body of Christ- to continue Jesus ministry and allow his compassionate spirit to move through them to work for justice. Our forefathers and foremothers were Christians who by following Jesus carried on the Prophetic tradition. The Unitarians and the Universalists were Christians who by receiving communion became companions, brothers and sisters committed to the work of establishing on Earth the kingdom of love. They, like the Unitarian -Universalists of our time understood that Jesus's greatest teaching and most challenging call was to love. They understood and we understand that to enter into fellowship, to receive communion, to receive the holy spirit means accepting the call to incarnate divine and eternal love into our experience of mortality.
We are spiritual companions who bind ourselves together in fellowship when we understand our ministry for this world. We are called to love this human race with all its gnarly imperfections. We are called as Unitarian Universalists not just to talk about love and the inherent worth and dignity of all people, but to value love, to pursue love, to experience love, to learn love, and to practice love. Love is the
doctrine of this church.
And being companions in this tradition asks us to do more than to bunker down someplace where we feel safe, where we fit in, where we feel important, where we feel loved.
Don't get me wrong we need these things. Safety, belonging, a sense of worth, love ... these are precious things. These are needs without which life will not thrive. I am not knocking these things. But we are called as Unitarian Universalists to grow spiritually. As William Shed said, “A ship is safe in harbor, but that's not what ships are for.”
To take the precious legacy of the Unitarians and Universalists and use it in order to avoid the challenges of spiritual growth, to use it to avoid doing the hard work of finding faith to live by... that would be to fail to understand or appreciate our tradition. In deed would be to misrepresent it. We are called to do the work of bringing love into this world. Love is the doctrine of this church.
Being Unitarian Universalists means being a religious liberal. Why do people identify as UU and then claim to be against religion? Unitarian Universalists must let go of false notions that equate religion with institutions that serve powers and principalities that exploit the weak. We can not, we will not deny the power, the value and the reality of liberal religion, the prophetic tradition in general and our Unitarian Universalist tradition specifically.
Our ancestors did more than reject the trinity. They affirmed the unity of the source of life that they referred to as God. The Universalists did not just reject the idea of eternal damnation, they affirmed the love and goodness of the source of life that they referred to as God. Their faith gave birth to a powerful optimism and became a force for liberation, that emphasized the social gospel. From abolition of slavery to public education, to prison reform, Universalists strove to incarnate divine love and move society toward greater humanity.
And we are called to carry this effort forward, to bring this love to life today. Love is the doctrine of this church. Being called to love is not an easy ministry. It wasn't easy for Jesus. It wasn't easy for Ghandi or Martin Luther King or any who have upheld the prophetic traditions by working for justice and dignity for all.
It's hard enough to love our neighbors. It's hard enough to love our family members. It's really hard enough to love our spiritual companions who join us in doing the hard work of the church. (Can I get an “Amen?)
Our prophetic tradition asks us to do all these things, and more. It requires us to notice that the streets are strewn with humans that this society has chewed up and spit out. It requires us to speak up and speak out whenever and wherever we can- whenever the powerful use their power to exploit the disadvantage of the weak. Whenever the few profit at the expense of many. We are called to use prophetic voice whenever corporation pursue short sighted gains that will harm the environment and health of future generations. Love is the doctrine of this church.
When gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people become the scapegoats of our day, we must speak up and act up. When people are discriminated against, when they become the objects of hate and violence, we must stand up. Brothers, sisters, we are called to stand on the side of love.
And if you are feeling that its too tall of an order, if you are feeling overwhelmed and overburdened and inadequate... when you've taken a break and still you weary of the journey, remember we are companions here. Our work is to keep a sanctuary that nourishes and nurtures souls and helps us to heal the world. Our work is to keep a sanctuary that helps us to see divinity; beauty, meaning and value. Our ministry asks us to be companions who help one another see the sacred behind and beyond the world of separate things that fall apart and die.
Our faith asks us to break bread together as spiritual companions. To receive the love that is here to share. It means cherishing the tradition that was given to us, and remembering it is bigger than any one of us. It means admitting that we can't do it all. We can't even figure it all out. Being companions asks us to remember the one thing that is always at our fingertips to do. Love is the doctrine of this church.
We are companions on a journey that is sacred to us. Let us celebrate and give thanks for this honor, this privilege- this gift. Love is the doctrine of this church. Who will declare and usher in a new kingdom of love? Who will live in it? Who will be a companion?
ah-ho mita-coo-yeah o-ya-see! (to all my relations) Amen. Blessed be.