Monthly Theme: Being Mortal
Call to Worship Rev. Denis Letourneau Paul
You’ve got a lot going on in your life.
Your days are filled with challenges that feel like they will drag you down into a deep dark pit of despair
Your days are filled with tasks
Soaked with obligation
Like homework and deskwork and emails and bills
That seem to keep getting put on top of each other, one after the other, in a big pile whose bottom has never revealed itself.
Your days are like hourglasses looking for sand to fill them,
To take up the space of nothing special
Your days are filled with abundance of the best kind
All of the happiness of children laughing and singing in the schoolyard outside your window, reminding you of the days when you didn’t have a care in the world
Your days are filled with tasks
Soaked with Joy
As you Love your family,
Revere the Natural World,
Discover greater meaning in life, and Connect to new places and people
You find meaning in the simple activities
Like baking cookies and walking the dogs and petting the cat and listening to the baby coo in that way that makes your heart feel like it’s going to burst.
Your life is somewhere in between those two extremes
A mix of the mundane and the sublime
Bottomless piles and bursting hearts
You do the only thing you can do.
You come here to share what you can.
You give away a bit of the mundane to the person next to you or in front of you or behind you, somebody who will journey with you and hold the hope for you when you can’t.
You carry a bit of someone else’s mundane, and somehow, it seems lighter than your own.
That’s the mystery of sharing our lives, committing to one another to be present on this journey.
And that is what we are here to worship today….that is what is worthy of giving shape to….sharing the burdens and the love in covenant with each other.
This is our life.
Story Rev. Denis
“The Tall, Tall Tale of John Murray”
John Murray was born on December 10, 1741 on a windy and blustery night in Alton, England in the county of Hampshire. He was the oldest of nine children, and his parents were strict Methodists.
His parents and their minister believed that people were born sinful, and would have to work their whole lives to overcome their drive toward evil.
This scared John because his parents and his minister taught him that most people would go to H. E. double hockey sticks when they died, and that God already knew whether or not John was going to heaven. No matter how good he was. He wasn’t very good at resisting temptation, so young John was convinced that he was not going to heaven.
But despite his fear, he grew up to be a good church going man, in that cold, rainy, often stormy climate. He became a preacher.
Then one day, he met a beautiful young woman named Eliza.
Things were looking up! His life became full of hope for the first time!
John and Eliza were married in a beautiful ceremony on a sunny day. A year later, they had a little baby, and they were very, very, veeeeeeeeeery happy.
He preached regularly in his Methodist church. He was respected. He was becoming a bit of legend.
Then, one day, John was asked by the senior minister, his boss,
to visit a woman who had stopped attending their Methodist church. It turned out that she had met a radical new minister in town, a man named James Relly who was preaching…. craziness!
James Relly believed that … get this, Cantor Rachel … James Relly believed that people are good! He believed that anybody could get into heaven, that all you had to do was to be a kind and compassionate person and treat yourself and other people with love and respect, and you could earn the key to eternal happiness! He taught his parishioners that God loves everyone, no matter what, all across the Universe. So, James Relly called this nutty idea Universalism.
Well, the unthinkable happened. After hearing this new teaching from his former parishioner, John Murray was converted! He became a Universalist! He felt happier than he had ever felt in his life, like the weight of the world was lifted off his shoulders. For the first time, he was buoyant. He wasn’t worried about the future of his soul!
But then, things turned bad again.
When people found out he had embraced this blasphemous idea of Universalism, they were not happy. His family stopped talking to him. His friends stopped talking to him. He was thrown out of his church, so he had no job. Soon, he was going broke.
Then his baby died.
Then his beloved wife Eliza died.
John Murray was destitute, grieving and depressed. He vowed he would never preach again.
So, on a cold and wet morning, he boarded a merchant ship and headed for the New World, the land that in a few years would be called the United States of America.
It was a rough trip crossing the Atlantic Ocean, with lots of wind.
As the ship approached its destination of New York City, the rain, which seemed like it hadn’t stopped in years, became heavier
The storm beat against the ship, and there was thunder!
And the ship was blown off course, all the way south to Barnegat Bay in New Jersey. Of the coast, the ship was beaten about in the storm. Everyone on board felt sick.
In the morning the rain stopped.
And the sun came out.
But the ship had run aground on a sandbar off the coast, and there was no more food on board.
So, John Murray got off the boat, and walked a thousand feet across the shallow water toward a house, at a place called…
wait for it, because it’s the perfect name…
….the place was called Good Luck Point!
And standing on the edge of Good Luck Point was a man named Thomas Potter. It turned out that Thomas Potter had just built a little meetinghouse, and was waiting – literally waiting on the beach – for someone to show up who could preach the good news that God loved everyone just the same, that people were born good and free of sin, and that all had the chance to get into heaven.
John admitted to Thomas that he preached, but John also told Thomas that he had promised himself that he would never preach again.
Thomas Potter begged John Murray to preach in the empty little meetinghouse. Then the wind picked up again
Potter begged and pleaded. So, John Murray relented and said if the winds didn’t die down by Sunday, he would preach that day.
On September 30, 1770, John Murray preached his first Universalist sermon from that little pulpit at Good Luck Point.
When he was done, the wind died down.
And John Murray became one of the first if the fathers and mothers of Universalism, which he believed should give people not Hell, but Hope and Courage.
Homily Rev. Denis Letourneau Paul
My friend Mike’s grandfather was a legend. He was a notorious counterfeiter on the downlow. All his friends and family knew that during the Great Depression he printed $100 bills in his basement, passed them off to unsuspecting strangers whenever he went out of town, and NEVER got caught.
I wouldn’t have believed it until I saw some of those counterfeits, which Mike’s grandmother sent to him for birthdays and Christmases. They were really good! But Mike didn’t try to use them.
That wasn’t what made Mike’s grandfather a legend, though. What made him a legend was that he invented the Jackalope.
Do you know what a jacklope is? It’s a fantasy creature, like Pegasus or a unicorn, existing for centuries only in stories and the imaginations of people who tell the tales.
It has the body of a jack rabbit, a big coarse-haired bunny, and the horns of an antelope, a much larger animal, distantly related to both the deer and the cow.
Well, Mike’s grandfather and his brother studied taxidermy by mail when they were kids in Douglas, Wyoming. One weekend when they were in their 20’s, they went hunting for deer with a bunch of friends, one of whom owned a bar. They didn’t take down any deer, but they did come home with a whole bunch of jackrabbits …
And a set of deer horns they found on the ground. So, to make the trip feel more…..successful….they stuffed one of the jackrabbits, put the deer horns they found onto it, and sold it to their friend, who hung it in his bar, and the Legend of the Great Hunting Trip of 1932 came into being. They became famous for finding the mythical jackalope.
The story became an overnight sensation. And they couldn’t make jackalopes fast enough.
70 years later, in 2005, the Wyoming State Legislature actually considered a resolution to make the Jackalope the state’s official mythological creature.
Mike’s grandfather was a legend in his own time, and still is.
A legend is a story that is widely considered to be historically accurate, but isn’t really authenticated. Nobody knows for sure if the story is true or not. But people want a legend to be true. Usually because a whole group of people attach their identity to it.
The legend helps the group of people know who they are and who belongs to them and their group.
The folks of Douglas Wyoming are incredibly proud of the jackalope kind of coming to life in their town they erected a huge statue in the town center and celebrate it with a fair every year.
The legend of Miriam was that she was the sister of Moses and helped him lead the people of Israel across the Red Sea.
When they got to the other side, she sang a beautiful song, and her integrity and courage were so respected by their God that he provided the people with a well, a source of clean fresh water, that followed them as they wandered the desert. Wherever they went, the well followed them, right up until the moment Miriam died.
The legend of St Patrick is that as bishop of the church in Ireland, he banished all snakes from the island forever.
Many Irish people love him so much still that on St Patrick’s Day, in cities all across the world, people celebrate, dressing in green, dying rivers green, and drinking boatloads of beer. On St. Patrick’s Day, everyone is Irish!
And for Unitarian Universalists, John Murray’s Legend is that he appeared to Thomas Potter at Good Luck Point at exactly the right moment, and walked through that shallow water, like a mirage. We don’t necessarily believe in predestination, in things happening because of fate.
But somehow we believe that he was meant to be there, that he stayed happily ever after and was the ultimate Universalist, the spiritual father of us all.
And that’s the thing about legends right? As I said before, they may not necessarily be true, but believing the stories helps us know who we are, and the stories, the legends, begin during our lifetime, based on things that may have happened.
But Legacy is different.
Legacy is what you leave behind, and hand down from generation to generation.
Miriam may not have really had a well that followed her and her people across the dessert. But, she did leave behind a people who survived a couple of generations in there, just long enough for the youngest among them to never know slavery.
Forty years of wandering allowed them to form a new understanding of who they are, how they are connected to each other, and what their responsibilities are to one another. The wandering made them a unified people, of one identity instead of twelve, still. That we know. And these days, perhaps the most important of her legacies is simply that she was a woman and a prophet, in a time when women weren’t seen as prophets.
Miriam is somebody that girls and women today can look back to as and exemplar of how to be in the world, and how to lead with courage and integrity.
John Murray didn’t really hang around at Good Luck Point for very long, and Thomas Potter’s little chapel never really grew into a full fledged church. And there is no way that John Murray walked across water.
But he helps us remember one of the things that is most important to us: a belief that everyone has value because they have the potential to be good and kind; and a belief that if there is a god, god is much too good to condemn anyone to hell.
John Murray helped us come to the conclusion, together, that there is no such thing as hell.
Those are great legacies. Legacies to be proud of. Miriam left to Jews and John Murray left to Universalists, generations whose beliefs connect them to each other and help them make the world a better place.
The Legacy of St Patrick, though? I’m not so sure. He’s loved, even worshiped by many Irish folks, but he wasn’t even Irish. He was English.
And when he became the Bishop of Ireland, he didn’t actually drive the snakes out of that country. That was just an allegory.
He actually drove out the Pagans, Celtic people who didn’t worship a Christian God, but instead celebrated the change of seasons, the passage of time, and the bounty of the land itself. The snakes were a metaphor for people the Catholic church didn’t like. And somehow, what people remember is the legend of the snakes, and not the legacy that untold numbers of people died, and for centuries, Celtic people had to hide their faith in fear.
St. Patrick is proof that you can have a great legend, that may not be really true, even though the legacy of your life is pretty deplorable.
As much fun as it may be to imagine myself being a legendary character like Mike’s grandfather, as much fun as it is to think of myself inventing something as creative and lasting as the Jacklope, I think I’d rather be like John Murray or Miriam, and leave behind a legacy that brings people together and makes the world better. It just feels so much more meaningful than being the reason for a big party every year.
How about you? Would you rather be a legend? Or would you rather leave behind a legacy that you’d be proud to have handed down from generation to generation?
After the service today, the Committee on Ministry is going to be facilitating a conversation about our legend and our legacy. What are the things that inspire us and draw us together? What can we DO, together? And what will our legacy be for the generations that come after us?
So please. Stick around for that. You’ll be glad you did.