The member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association have a covenant between us. It is known as the Principles and Purposes of the UUA. It's not something given to us by a divinely inspired prophet. It didn't come from a pope, bishop or cardinal. It was created by a democratic process and ratified by a vote of delegates from our congregations in 1985. To a very significant extent this covenant, these promises that congregations have made to each other define who we are as Unitarian Universalists today.
Although we will focus today the 6th principle, I also want to mention the latter half of the document known as the sources. We alluded to this earlier in our service saying that we draw upon many sources for our inspiration, and we mentioned in a general way some of the major categories of the sources that inform us. I encourage each of you to read and reflect upon the UUA statement of our sources. Doing so will likely assist in gaining a better grasp of the living tradition of which we are a part.
Probably most of you are more familiar with the first half of the document. These statements are more than guiding principles. They are promises made by member congregations to each other. One of the 7 promises is that we will affirm and promote a world community with peace, liberty and justice for all. This is the 6th principle, our focus this month.
Having mindlessly recited the pledge of allegiance every school day of our child and teen years, we might find ourselves numb to the phrase liberty and justice for all. It was something we had to say, something that we gave lip service to. We may think of it as a political or civic idea. Perhaps the phrase has lost its' meaning to us. Either way, we might not have a sense of these as a religious principle.
I am hoping that today will bring us to a better understanding of this principle as a part of our religion. I'm hoping it will help us gain a deeper sense of the spirituality that we are practicing and promoting together. I want this principle to come alive for us, that it will become something that informs and inspires us, that gives us a sense of identity and purpose for living every day.
I have titled this sermon, "Toward the One, World Community." The phrase toward the one is theological. I intend it to express and articulate the religious orientation that leads us to practice this principle. But before I continue further with this theological orientation, I wish to share some of my personal history. I wish to say where I am coming from before I state where I see us going to.
I read my first UU pamphlet after attending a Nuclear Weapons Freeze campaign meeting held at the Lakeland UU Fellowship in Wayne NJ. I showed up on Sunday and found a group comprised mainly of left leaning folks, many of whom were activists. They led me to a much greater network of progressive activists and campaigns. I became active in the boycott of S. African apartheid. I walked on my first peace walk, in Newark calling for withdrawl of US support for El Salvadoran war on its people.
I didn't know anyone in the UU congregation, but felt an immediate sense of belonging there. There was one person, Walter Hoffman with whom I had previous connection. Mr. Hoffman was the father of two of my former schoolmates. He was also the Executive Director of the World Federalist Association, the founder of the campaign for UN Reform, a member of the US commission to improve the effectiveness of the United Nations. Mr Hoffman had more knowledge of the UN than anyone I had ever met.
I had visited the United Nations when I was a boy. My aunt lived walking distance from there. When I learned about the UN in social studies classes, I felt deep appreciation and a yearning for it to fulfill its mission. To me, the UN meant hope for the future of all people.
My childhood left me with a deep appreciation for people whose concerns went beyond their countries borders. I was raised Jewish just one generation after the holocaust. As a preteen I was staggered to learn of the horrors of what had been done to Jews. The question that I and probably every Jew has asked is "how could this happen?" My answer was that people turned away. To this day people often try to blame the entire series of events on Hitler and the Nazis. Read even the most basic holocaust timeline of events from 1938 to 1945, and you won't miss the culpability of the nations of the world. I recall vividly the film of the St Louis, a ship with some 900 Jewish refugees turned away by the United States.
Suffice it to say that my education led me to distrust nationalism, and to appreciate people who organize on behalf of oppressed people. Having brothers 9, 10 and 12 years older than me, who were draft age during the American war on Vietnam, further led to my distrust of "the establishment." For these reasons, the United Nations, global citizenship, and international efforts to protect human rights have always seemed imperative to me.
At the UU Fellowship, I found people who shared my concerns. The congregation hosted "the Peace Center with a peace library. For their first minister, they called a man after my own heart. Rev. Ray Pontier had been in hot water with his church because of his support of Vietnam War draft resisters, and when he made public his support for a woman's right to a safe and legal abortion, his church fired him. That's when the Fellowship asked him to be their minister.
This seemed like my kind of religion! I was tired of religion that defended and enforced and defended the status quo. I wanted a religion that followed the example of the trouble maker Jesus, who advocated for the oppressed and disenfranchised of society. I wanted a religion that walked it's talk, one that was a force for justice, ecology and liberation.
At the time, I assumed that all UU congregations were like my little left leaning activist fellowship. I assumed that being a religious liberal denomination meant that we would support a politically liberal agenda. In seminary, I found out otherwise! Political activism is not the primary agenda of our denomination. Furthermore, we have in our ranks a significant number of political conservatives.
Pragmatism slowly led me to an appreciation of our political diversity. When I first became UU, I could give lip service to acceptance of one another and diversity. I could say that I treasured our promotion of individual right to conscience, to our lack of creed, and freedom of belief, but I wanted us to be a real force for healing and justice. How could we turn away from issues that were most relevant to human suffering? How could we not get involved? Wasn't this antithetical to being UU?
There are still times when I wish we could take more collective action for progressive social change. I was ecstatic when delegates to our general assembly voted to pass a resolution to urge congregations to educate and organize to stop global warming. I celebrate the trend of congregations becoming "green sanctuaries." To achieve Green Sanctuary certification, congregations carry out 17 projects, some of which have a social justice/ social change component. A result of this program is the construction of leed certified buildings, and congregations installing solar power systems. Some congregations have been instrumental in the greening of their cities. All congregations participating experience a change of consciousness and behavior in their members.
However, I slowly came to appreciate our political diversity, for two reasons. I've seen how easily politics can become divisive. Political allegiances are fleeting at best. If UUism is to have lasting impact upon society, it must be stable, and find ways to unite people on shared values.
Second and more importantly I have come to understand the need society has for liberal religion. We are needed if for no other reason to offer an alternative to religious fundamentalism. There is no question in my mind that religion will exist as long as human beings do. The question is whether religion will be a force for healing and liberation, or for violence, destruction and oppression.
The answer to that question will determine the quality of human life in the future. Our future will be determined by our collective consciousness and prevailing belief systems. Humanity, if it is to learn sustainability, must also learn to shift some of its beliefs and practices. We have experience and skills to assist in this endeavor.
We respect each of the world's religious traditions and cultures, and maintain that none have the complete or absolute truth. Our members draw from each of these cultures. Through openness to each other's truths, through connection and sharing, all are enriched. In the process, beliefs and practices that do not support life are exposed.
To reach a sustainable future, humanity needs to shift from its old ways of thinking and being in this world together. We need to learn to revere and respect the interdependent web of existence. Dr MLK put it this way: "we must live together as brothers or perish together as fools." King urged us all "to rise above individual concerns and develop a world perspective." The world needs us to live and promote our 6th principle.
Religion addresses and orients us to the prime characteristic or nature of our existence. Some religions call it God. Some call it the "Tao" or "the way of harmony with nature." Some tell that the ultimate nature of existence arises from nothingness, or no-thing-ness.
This reminds me of a story. One day the cantor sees the rabbi go into the sanctuary. He hears as the rabbi cries out "Oh, God. Before You, I am nothing!" The cantor enters the sanctuary where he sees the rabbi laying prostrate on the bema. The cantor lies down prostrate too, and also cries out "Oh, God. Before You, I am nothing!"
The janitor unseen in the back of the sanctuary is moved by the display of devotion of these two men. He comes down the aisle, up to the bema, lies prostrate, and he too cries out "Oh God! Before You, I am nothing!"
The cantor nudges the rabbi and whispers, "So look who thinks he's nothing."
Whether we call our source God, the Tao or the great no-thing, we are interdependent. In his most recent book, The Dali Lama stated that the fundamental cause of human suffering is our inability to perceive things as they are. He said that we "imagine that people or things have an existence that is separate and independent from each other".... "the true nature of existence is that of codependent coexistence co-arising."
In new age terms, we are one. In UU terms, there is a unity to existence. Rev. Forest Church recently deceased UU Minister said, "that all of humanity comes from the same source and shares a common destiny." This knowledge leads us to hold our relationships as sacred. It leads us to value our communities, including the global community.
Advocating for a world community with peace, liberty and justice for all is part of our spirituality. It's one way we experience the relationship between each of us as individuals to something vastly greater than ourselves. It is part of the way we UUS learn to have faith.
Do not be fooled by our lack of creed or doctrine into thinking that ours is an anything goes religion, or that it's okay for us to forget the religious nature of our association. We are here to promote faith and consciousness. We have a spirituality, that teaches us our connection to life eternal.
As with all great religious traditions, ours encourages us to look inward as well as outward. One way that we approach our god or ultimate truth is by discovering our being in relation to all. We approach our god or ultimate truth by living with and learning from each other. We turn within ourselves, using reason but also turn outward and share our beliefs and our faith to a greater community.
We celebrate with awe and wonder the simplicity and complexity of our being part of a world community. Seeing ourselves as part of this community, we are called to support it toward life. Seeing ourselves as part of this community, we are called to work for peace, liberty and justice for all.
Our concern is not limited to individual consciousness. We are concerned with our collective consciousness too. What will the consciousness of humanity be in 20 or 50 years? Will our social systems continue to be framed by an outdated erroneous mechanistic world view? Will we continue to behave as if we are separate and independent of each other? Will we continue to support the delusion that we can advance ourselves or society by fighting to get ahead of the others? Will we can continue to support a system that allows individuals and corporations to profit for acting in ways that diminish the public wealth, the quality of life for the community, and/or the health of the ecosystems that sustain us?
We want to promote a faith and spirituality that supports quality of life and continuance of life. Holding the reality of our world community, calling for justice and dignity for all, these can be our contribution to humanity and human consciousness. This is one way we can serve.
Service gives meaning to life. Such has been taught by all the world's great religious traditions. Science too makes clear that every organism and species exists with a particular mission- as some way to serve life. One way that we can serve is to call humanity and ourselves to awaken. We can call humanity to see itself as a world community with a common source and a shared destiny. We will help our world to thrive if we can awaken to the God within each human, if we can see divinity or the sacred in life, in communities, in the world community of the human family.
By compassionate connection, we will come to cherish the world community and our relationships within it. We will come to worship the One, or the Oneness of Everything. We will be called to the spirit of life, and we will be blessed.
So be it.