It's The Journey, Not the Task, That is Our Task, Rev. Arthur G. Severance

Start Date

Opening words

Its the Journey Not the End That  Is Our Task

Don't get discouraged.

 Temptation to give up sometimes blinds us to other possibilities when things look bad. A business man after a bad day at the office in this terrible economy was driving home from work one day, and saw a little league baseball game in progress. He decided to stop and watch. He sat down in the bleachers and asked a kid what the score was. "Were behind 14 to nothing," the boy answered with a  big smile.

 "Really," he responded. "I have to say you don't look very discouraged."

 "Discouraged?" the boy asked with a puzzled look on his face. "Why should we be discouraged? We haven't been up to bat yet."

    It is like the story of a person who walks into the doctor's office and says, "Doctor, I hurt all over."

    The doctor says, "That's impossible!" The person explains, "When I touch my arm, ouch, it hurts.  When I touch my leg, ouch, it hurts. When I touch my head, ouch, it hurts. When I touch my chest, ouch, it hurts."     The doctor just  shakes his head and asks, "You're a Unitarian Universalist, aren't you?"

     The woman smiles and says, "Why, yes I am. How did you know?"

     The doctor replies, Because your finger is broken.

 My colleague who is minister of the Olympia Brown UU Church in Racine Wisconsin, Tony Larson, often puts on UU Revivals with more than just a little tongue in cheek, but he often does his own translating of old hymns into UU language. FOlks start out somewhat playing, but eventually we realize that we are a liberal religion that draws from many religious sources, as in the Hasidic story earlier. So this hymn translation of What a friend we have in Jesus; meant respectfully:

   What a friend we have in Jesus.  What a friend in Socrates.
   What a friend we have in Buddha. To the kingdom we have keys.
   We believe in many saviors.  We believe in many seers.
   Souls whose universal gospel Speaks to us across the years.

   What a friend we have in Moses.  What a friend in Esther, too.
   We have Lao Tzu and Confucius.  And a prophet lives in you.
   When you're weak and heavy laden, Cumbered with a load of care,
   Think of friends thru-out the ages, Ev'ry-when and ev'ry-where.

   Have we trials and temptations?  Is there trouble anywhere?
   We should never be discouraged.  U.U. saints are ev'ry-where.
   Souls like President John Adams.  Souls like Olympia Brown.
   Oh, what friends we have to guide us.  Oh, what sages we have found.

   What a friend in Charles Darwin.  What a friend in Susan B.
   What a friend in Clara Barton.  They all helped to make us free.
   What a friend in P.T. Barnum.  What a friend in Jefferson.
   We've four hundred years of friendship.  And you bet there's more to come.

   Words:  Tony Larson

Linda Hart

Opening Words

        We gather here week after week.  The doors open, the heat comes on, coffee perks, and you all come.
        What is it that we come here seeking?  Many things, too many to mention them all.
        Yet, it is likely that some common longings draw us to be with one another:

                To remember what is most important in life.
                        To be challenged to live more truly, more deeply, to live with integrity and kindness and with hope and love,

                To feel the company of those who seek on a common path,
                        To be renewed in our faith in the promise of this life,
                        To be strengthened and to find the courage to continue to do what we must do, day after day, world without end.

        Even if your longings are different than these, you are welcome here.  Even if you do not have the strength and the courage to pass along, you are welcome here.  You are welcome in your grief and your joy to be within this circle of companions.

        We gather here week after week.  Another week is here.  It is good to be together.

Meditation

Let us reach for a moment of calm among the busy times.
Underneath the rush of tasks and the distraction of the many demands, seek for a moment of calm.
What is it that sustains us?  Where is a place of peacefulness amid the jarring noise?
It is only this, only this, only this quiet and peacefulness that we create.

In our turning toward ourselves,
        turning toward a time of quiet,
                opening ourselves to the silence,
                        allowing the voices to quiet.
                                Make no lists here;
                                Make no plans for the afternoon;
                                Do not anticipate what will come in the next moment.
                                        Only be.  Find the place of peace

In these moments we can touch the calm, if we open ourselves to it.
        Touch the calm:
                        feel a soothing salve touch the wounds, small or deep;
                        feel a moment of forgiveness:  for wrongs you have done, for wrongs that have been done to you.

        Do not worry what will come.  Simply savor this.  A shining moment, with all promise and peace and hope and light within it.  Savor this.
        The calm speeds away far too fast.  Let us rest within it, with these good companions.

Sermon
 Its the Journey Not the End That  Is Our Task
Bring a Friend Sunday
March 1, 2009
Rev. Arthur G. Severance

WALKING THE DOG

    The plane was flying from Seattle to  San Francisco . Unexpectedly, the plane was diverted to  Sacramento along the way. The flight attendant explained that there would be a delay, and if the passengers wanted to get off the aircraft, the plane would re-board in 50 minutes.

    Everybody got off the plane except one woman who was blind. A man had noticed her as he walked by and could tell she was blind because her seeing-eye dog lay quietly underneath the seats in front of her throughout the entire flight.. He could also tell she had flown this very flight before because the pilot approached her, and calling her by name, said, 'Kathy, we are in Sacramento for almost an hour. Would you like to get off and stretch your legs?' The blind woman said, 'No thanks, but maybe Buddy would like to stretch his legs.'

    Now picture this: All the people in the gate area came to a complete standstill when they looked up and saw the pilot walk off the plane with a seeing-eye dog! The pilot was even wearing sunglasses. People scattered. They not only tried to change planes, but they were trying to change airlines!  Supposedly this is a true story so remember...THINGS AREN'T ALWAYS AS THEY APPEAR!

    Yes, we are all  on this journey together, aren't we? And yet, were all on this journey by ourselves, too. It is that tension that sometimes is the reason, perhaps we come here, to find good and trusted traveling companions, knowing all the while that we are also alone. We who are on a religious journey, a pilgrimage of liberal religious search for truth, meaning, love, perhaps even God, are not so much concerned about salvation for the afterlife, but salvation for this life! Most of us I think would agree that it is the journey, not the destination, that is why we are here, that-  its the journey not the end that  is our task>

     The title of the sermon comes from the last verse of 2 verses that I wrote for the end of the song Circle Game by Joni Mitchell, one of my favorite folk songs of the 60s about growing up. with the haunting chorus:

 And the seasons they go round and round painted ponies go up and down Were captives on the carousel of time We cant return, we can only look Behind from where we came-  And go round and round in the circle game.

    Its a song about a very brief journey of growing up and actually ends when the boy reaches all of 20!

So the Years slip by and now the child is 20
 Tho his dreams have lost some grandeur coming true
There'll be new dreams, maybe better dreams and plenty
Before the last revolving year is through.

    As a folk singer that performed in coffeehouses and then for friends and in churches etc., I've sung that song for more than 40 years! I began singing it before I had turned 20!  So when I was turning 50 10 years ago I wrote 2 verses as my own ending, so to speak:

The years fly by and now the boys a man
 with wife and 3 pretty little girls
His dream of ministry and  a helping hand
 Turns him 50  in a different world

He knows now there are many years to come
  and fears not  future, pines not for  the past
He's learned that love will live when we are done
 And its the journey not the end that  is our task

 Fred Allen, the radio comedian of days past, said, "You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough."

     I first felt called to be a minister when I was in the 6th grade sitting in the Congregational (or United Church of Christ) church in NH with my family on Sunday morning listening to the minister preach a sermon on the Old Testament story about the young boy Samuel who God called to be a prophet. Samuel had been the young temple assistant to Eli, the temple priest  and was bring trained to be one, too. One night God called his name, and Samuel thought it was Eli calling, but Eli said he hadn't called. Again God calls and finally God tells Samuel that he will be, not a temple priest, but a prophet! One of those times that the minister said God was calling Samuel, I just remember that I felt shivers go down my spine and an overwhelming feeling that I , too, was being called by God to become a minister. There was something about the spirituality of being in the church community with my family and  singing those hymns which were designed, lets say, to bring on the religious dimension, the feeling of being connected with all of life under the guise of God and Jesus, and the surroundings, and the connection I felt to the sense of the divine, however one wants to define that. My family had always been active in church and I had always loved he church community.

    The first was small country church in a small town of about 400 people that was Baptist Congregational Union church, the only church in town, and I loved the hymn singing, especially the gospel songs from the Baptist tradition. Then The Larger, Gothic Congregational church that probably had 400 members when we moved to the small city of Laconia, NH.     Looking back, I realize that I felt nurtured in the bosom  of the church, if you will, the beloved community, of what I call the religious dimension, connected to the holy, the sacred, a universal element seen in all religion with different particulars, but similar feelings perhaps. I will argue that it is not theology as much as relationship to the holy or idea of God that religion and church is about.

     In the latest issue of Spirituality and Health (March/April 2009) is my favorite column which was going to be the sermon subtitle:  Roadside Assistance for the Spiritual Traveler, by Rabbi Rami Shapiro. Perhaps the reason I resonate to Rabbi Shapiro so much is that I suspect him of UU leanings and in this answer if you substitute UU for the word atheist, you'll see what I mean. . The question: Can I Still Love my Brother the Atheist? My brother and I have been Christians all our lives. Now he says he's an atheist. How can I have a relationship with someone who believes in nothing?

    Being an atheist doesn't mean believing in nothing. While your brother no longer believes in a creator God, he may well believe in the power of human reason to improve life, the moral capacity of people to create just and compassionate societies, or the preciousness of life and the need to protect it. He may experience a deep and transcendent awe when peering into the night sky and contemplating the wonder of life and its evolutionary unfolding. He may be greatly humbled by his own existence and may feel an obligation to devote his life to the betterment of life. In short, he may believe and experience many of the same things you do. Invite him to share his doubts and his convictions. Listen with an open heart and mind, and I suspect you will find your relationship not only continues but deepens.

     So I would eventually leave the traditional concepts of Christianity and the United Church of Christ in the tumultuous 1960s and 70s and decide not to go to seminary; indeed, I left the church because it became irrelevant to my journey which had become more intellectual, philosophical, universal, and as we now know, that term we so often use, Unitarian Universalist without knowing it!

     And when I finally discovered UUism because someone invited me-to their service because they thought Id like it- let me repeat that- because someone invited me!-I soon decided to enter ministry and became a UU minister and ended up going ironically, to a United Church of Christ seminary close by!

    When Cathie became pregnant with our first daughter, Cristina in 1977, I had had a number of jobs, trying to find myself, as we liked to call it in the 70s. I was working as a counselor in a residential treatment center that didn't pay much unless you had a masters degree and I was thinking about maybe getting a degree in psychology or social work, but wasn't really passionate about it. When I found out that I was going to be a father, I suddenly felt like it was time to grow up and figure out what I really wanted to do. The problem with psychology or social work was that it only satisfied part of what I wanted, and I started thinking of ministry again, though Cathie and I both had been completely turned off by religion and had never been to church since we met. We were married at my parents house in a hippie wedding! Our sense of community had been satisfied by socializing with friends and by the arts etc. I thought of ministry because it had the  psychological aspect of counseling which I liked, the social work aspect of social justice work, of course, but also other creative avenues like writing, singing, worship leading, teaching courses, conferences, and the religious dimension, except for a couple minor problems., like I hadn't been to church in more than 10 years because I didn't like church! I didn't believe that Jesus was divine, I didn't believe in the miracles, and I wasn't too sure about the existence of God. And I hadn't yet heard of UUism because NO ONE HAD INVITED ME AND WE KEEP OURSELVES SUCH A SECRET!

    I called a friend from college who had gone into the ministry and his first question was whether I was saved. I hesitated and then said, that that was part of the problem, That not only was I NOT saved, but  didn't believe that Jesus was divine, I didn't believe in the miracles, and I wasn't too sure about the existence of God, etc. I figured I better be honest about this.

    Interestingly, he said that that really wasn't a big problem if I was really serious about wanting to be a minister because seminary was a place to help you build an adult faith and they often tear down the childhood faith you come in with! He suggested I call the nearest UCC church minister and start attending. We did that and I found the minister cold and not too anxious to have an agnostic like me, and perhaps I should mention my long hair and beard might have been part of it, as a member. We started attending faithfully, if I may use that term loosely, but I left every service angry and unfulfilled. I hated it. I came to be nurtured and fed and left, starving and lonely. People were as cold as the service! I think we had been going for 2 months before we found out there was coffee after the service downstairs!  There was no announcement, verbal or written, nor did anyone invite us.

    Now this was a conservative UCC church,  so what I found was that if you didn't already believe in all the doctrines, you didn't get much out of the services, and I certainly wasn't convinced or inspired to believe in any that I had doubted. IN fact, I now realize that I was becoming more of a UU the longer I stayed!

    The liturgy included the ritual saying of doctrines and prayers which I did not believe and eventually actually found offensive! I realize that those who do believe them find them just the opposite; they can be comforting, meditative and like a mantra. But I was a searcher, and found no help at all there from anyone except the assistant minister, who was open to more discussion, but he left soon after we arrived. Eventually, we stopped going, and I realized that UCC ministry was not for me if I couldn't stand going to church! It was great disappointment.

    We found another church that was a nondenominational church that had been a liberal Dutch Reformed active in the peace movement and the minister had left so it was lay led and more like a UU fellowship, but there was no connection. It was more like the human potential movement f the 60 and 70s, more psychological;/spiritual and the music was a three piece group-piano, electric guitar and electric base with a combination of liberal hymns and folk-rock songs. I loved the contemporary music! It was kind of a counterculture church and we attended it for a while, but there was no connection to a denomination so no possibility of ministry. It was more satisfying, but still not exactly what we were looking for. By now we had two children and there wasn't really a satisfactory RE for them. We designed our own child dedication service for our second daughter, Katie. Our oldest, Cristina, had been Christened in the Lutheran Church where Cathie's mother attended and taught Sunday School at her mothers request. We figured it couldn't hurt, but it didn't really make any sense to us.

     Interestingly  some friends who lived some distance from us started attending a UU church and told us about it, saying that it sounded like something I might be interested in, especially because it was the church of Emerson and Thoreau, two of my personal saints! Then, another friend invited us to a lay led fellowship close by and as I've said before and as many of you have experienced, it was Eureka! We were home! We had found what we were looking for! It was not the end of the journey, it was finding the companions and even more importantly, the vehicle for the journey! After we had been going for a while and I saw that members often put on services, I quickly decided to put on a service, utilizing my photographs of slides and my music and titled it Raison dEtre Searching for love, truth, beauty, perhaps even God Soon, I started thinking about ministry again! This time, it made sense!

    Unitarian Universalism was the vehicle that I had been searching for to make the spiritual journey; it is not that it is the only way or the only vehicle that will get one there, it is the vehicle that I needed, and that many of you have also found that you needed. There are many vehicles, many paths, many religions. I don't believe that only one is right and true and the others are all wrong and false. Think about it logically. Wouldn't the billions of people through history have caught on to them by now?

    Rabbi Rami Shapiro in the column  Roadside Assistance for the Spiritual Traveler, again: You talk a lot about religion, but what exactly do you mean by it?

 My definition comes from anthropologist Barbara King (Evolving God) and historian Karen Armstrong (The Great Transformation). King defines religion as humanity's quest to connect with and belong to more and more inclusive levels of reality: moving from I to thou, from us to them, from them to all, until we realize our connection with all life - mineral, vegetable, animal, and beyond. Armstrong understands religion as ethical alchemy, adding corresponding sense of compassion, justice, and concern to Kings sense of belonging; not only do we belong to all life, we care of all life. For me, then, religion is the practice of opening myself to ever larger circles of compassion, concern, and belonging until, at last, I reach beyond all divisions t lovingly encounter and embrace all life as the one life, God.

     Unitarianism starts out theologically  right at the beginning of the development of Christianity, though it will always be considered a heresy, by denying Trinitarianism or more simply, by saying that Jesus is a great prophet, deeply and profoundly inspired by the sacred and we believe deeply in the teachings of Jesus about love of God and towards one another, but not in the teachings about Jesus that made him into a God or that required belief in miracles.   Unitarianism starts out theologically  right at the beginning of the development of Christianity, though it will always be considered a heresy, by denying that God would predestine anyone to Hell or that God would not give us a chance to redeem ourselves by our behavior. not just by what we say we believe, or indeed that God would ultimately send anyone to Hell!

    By the 20th century, both   Unitarianism and    Unitarianism have become very liberal  denominations and are predominantly humanist; in 1961 they will merge and will not have a belief requirement.     Emerson said ( and I've adapted it to be inclusive): "All people love something, just as they all have a faith they live by...The gods we worship write their names on our faces, be sure of that."

Rev. Dr. Daniel Connell

Unitarian Universalism: The Religion
=many scriptures, not one
=here and now, not the hereafter
=freedom, reason, tolerance, love as overarching values
=deeds not creeds, show your work, live your faith
=evolutionary theology, language changes
=we are saved by Love,
we are made holy by character
We share with other religious liberals:
=no original sin, God is Love
=unity of experience: faith & knowledge, sacred & secular
=non-creedal, authority of conscience
=need for religious community
=congregational polity, democratic methods
=a spark of "divinity" or the "highest good" in every person
=a destination: an earth made fair, all her people one, we co-create the world.

    There is much discussion whether UUism is a religion or not. We are usually listed as a denomination under liberal protestants in text books on religion, , though not necessarily considered Christian. Religiously, you see, we really are a belief continuum from A to Z those who describe themselves as  Atheists to some who no doubt would claim to be Zoroastrian! The top beliefs are humanist, Earth-centered, theist, Christian, but none required. I usually talk about us being in religious relationship with one one another, respecting one another's beliefs, even though we sometimes have to work on that! I will call us a religious vehicle, how's that? I have found myself at home in our worship services because I find myself comfortable with the language we use, what I call the 7 day a week language, language that anyone, not just the true believer can understand. Some times biblical language turns our folk off, yet we find much interest in studying the Bible as myth and metaphor as conveyor of great wisdom and tradition, though some us still must wade through our own psychological baggage before we can be fully open to hearing that wisdom. Some of us have been religiously abused, but more and more of us come now having been religiously deprived, and now are hungry for a sense of religion, a yearning for spiritual growth. Indeed, I have come to believe that that is the real growth that is needed here more than numerical growth.

    So we come here, pilgrims on the journey, not looking so much for the answers or the guarantees to the final destination of salvation in the next life, not looking for the golden gates of heaven, but for help in getting through the everyday life right here, right now, and needing help, needing companions who can be counted on and willing to be a companion that can be counted on. Willing to share what we have so that we all can get by. Learning that religion is about right relationship and that it isn't easy, but requires us all to work at it in our church lives, meetings as well as our marriages, jobs, and all our relationships including the one we have with ourselves and the holy, however we define that! Love is the answer; may we co create it here.

I know now there are many years to come
 And fear not  future, pine not for  the past

Ive learned that love will live when we are done
 And its the journey not the end that  is our task.

 Amen, Shalom, (Peace in Hebrew), Assalaamu Alaikum(may Peace be upon you in Arabic), Abrazos a todos (Hugs all around) Namaste, (A Hindu greeting the divinity within you) Blessed Be, and let me add one more blessing that I adapted from the Spanish long before I went in to ministry. Vaya con Dios is Spanish for Good-bye, but literally is Go with God, SO I adapted it to say Vaya Con Su Dios, Go with your idea or interpretation of God.

 

Event type
Worship Service