Fire It Up! : Celebration Sunday

You know, as Unitarian Universalists, we’re already really good at something. Know what it is?

Guess. I’ll just wait while I listen for the right answer…. Just kidding. Here’s the answer. Being individualists. That’s the answer.

Families cut off from other families, going at it alone. People isolated and going at it alone. We already know how to do this really really well. Does my saying this come as a surprise to anyone? Anyone out there saying, Is he talking about me? What?

So for us, the spiritual discipline is coming together as community, for worship, for work, for play. Even when it seems like there’s never enough time, making room for community every week. Recognizing and honoring its unique power for positivity. When we hear a call to support it through our gifts of time and energy and money answering that call and doing it generously and cheerfully. Again and again, as the individualists we are, we need to reminded of how we are always holding up the chalice of our lives to receive from sources far beyond us and then carrying that goodness for a time and then giving that goodness back.

And you know, it IS happening. Coming together as community. Higgins-the-drops-of-water-we-all-are. Our Annual Campaign for 2013, for example, Best one since 2007, my first year as your Senior Minister. Awesome! Keep it up!  Keep those dollars coming in! (or I’ll just keep going on like a public radio fund drive….)

And how about stories like the one we heard from member Beth Stevenson a moment ago. More evidence of the power of community. Did you see how thick her book was, stuffed with creations by herself and her family all related to participation in this place? I’ll bet many of you could produce a similar-sized thing, or you’re on your way to doing so…This place changes lives.

Then there’s what happened yesterday. Our Spirit in Service folks showing the fire of their commitment. Maybe you saw the pictures on our UUCA Facebook site Celebration Saturday—a day of service a day of showing love to this place which has loved countless people and families and causes and ideals over the years here in Atlanta– 25 plus people manicuring this place outside raking pine straw and leaves weeding the butterfly garden trimming trees and bushes on and on inside cleaning air conditioning vents working on the bathrooms wiping down the pews and hymnal holders polishing the piano pulling out pencils stuck in the pencil holes with pliers (that’s one of the things I did yesterday).

Each and every action may be a drop in the bucket (it’s like that old saying creation is heaven maintenance is hell) but put them all together and it’s a river, it’s an ocean….It’s Spirit in Service it’s about inspiring all of us to find a way to give back and you know it felt really good to be here it felt really good to see people who’ve been here for 40 years and people who’ve been here for just four months or less all serving together taking care of our spiritual home. Just fired me up!

Community is powerful. Separate drops of water coming together to become a stream, a river, an ocean And that’s how dreams are born.

There’s a story that my colleague the Rev. Patrick O’Neill tells that speaks to this. Listen to his soaring language as he shares an experience from a trip to France visiting the famous Chartres Cathedral…

Nothing I had read or studied prepared me for the sheer beauty of Chartres. It sits in the midst of an agrarian countryside, fifty miles from Paris, with no city high-rise buildings around it or anywhere near it. As we approached it one spring day, driving from the south, it rose up ten miles away. We saw it as I imagine pilgrims in the twelfth century saw it, as they walked from all over Europe to visit Chartres.

It was an aesthetic experience in every way just to be inside that building. But above all, it was the light, the softness and texture of the light, as it filtered through gorgeous glass windows, stained red and blue and green and gold more than 800 years ago, all still vibrant with color.

Imagine, eight centuries of sunrises and sunsets. It was the light that I remember in Chartres, what those windows did to it, what they created with it. They wrapped you in color, and they turned the cold hardness of granite stone flooring into a kind of warm liquid carpet. Those windows were each impossibly beautiful and impossibly intricate, with hundreds of mosaics leaded together to illustrate epic stories from scripture, or stories from the lives of the saints, from the life of Christ, from the prophets, from the history of Christendom.

Each window of a medieval cathedral is a kind of storybook, an artistic rendering for worshippers and pilgrims of a far-off, preliterate culture in the time before printing presses, when faith was transferred through oral teaching, through stories and parables, through music and visual art.

Not far inside the cathedral I found myself standing at the foot of one soaring, magnificent window, with hundreds of pieces of mosaic glass of all colors. It seemed to recount the entire Old Testament; it was so elaborate and exquisite.

At the very bottom of the window there was a small frame that showed a cobbler, a shoemaker huddled over his worktable. Our guide saw me studying this image. “This is the Shoemaker’s Window,” he explained. “It was installed in 1201, and is considered one of the most beautiful of all. It was a gift from the shoemakers of every village in France, who each contributed whatever they could, even the smallest coins, to commission this work of art for God’s house.”

The royalty and the wealthiest nobles of France, he continued, gave some of these windows, but this window was a gift of the shoemakers. Another window was given by village water-carriers from all over France. Butchers gave another. Fishmongers gave one. Vine-growers and tanners gave windows in the same manner. As did masons, and furriers, and drapers, and weavers, coopers, and carpenters and cartwrights. The blacksmiths gave a window, and the milliners gave one, and the apothecaries gave one, too. “These windows, many of them,” said my guide, “were given one mosaic at a time, piece by piece, coin by coin, by people who wanted to contribute something beautiful to last the ages.“

Patrick O’Neill concludes in this way:  How I wish I could transport every one of you to see those windows in Chartres Cathedral this morning, right now, to see what those working people from little villages all over France were able to give to their church, and hence to all the pilgrims of eight centuries, like me, who have visited there.

That’s what Patrick O’Neill wishes and I wish that too—but only in part…Only if it helps us truly see what we’re been doing here at UUCA in this very building for the past 46 years. Only if it helps us see how, with our drop-in-the-bucket coins, one by one by one, we’re creating something beautiful to last the ages, just like the shoemakers and the butchers and the fishmongers and the vine-growers and the tanners and on and on.

Not stained-glass windows, obviously. Not a one in sight in this prize-winning example of modern architecture. But what do you see? What does the light shine through here in this place?

In a deeper sense, the answer is US. The light shines through the stories of OUR living and our dying. The stories of OUR trials and triumphs. Stories of OUR search for truth and meaning in life, OUR seeking after justice and peace in this hurting world.

These are OUR epic stories, OUR Old Testament and New Testament, OUR scripture….

The stained glass windows in Chartres Cathedral have lasted for 800 years and more. But how long does the influence of any one of us last down the ages?

Forever.

Eternally.

If not through our children, and our children’s children,then through our actions, our deeds, our influence. Stained glass is beautiful and amazing, but what we are building here is people. Our mission is to affect eternity.

Some people today say that moderns can’t build cathedrals with all their stained glass glory. It takes more than opinions to build cathedrals, they say. But I say that it is no opinion that the work of our Unitarian Universalist faith is to affect eternity through building up lives of integrity and justice-seeking.

That is not opinion. That is fact.

So get fired up like Higgins the drop with a dream. Get fired up like the Spirit in Service folks from yesterday. Get fired up like the shoemakers and the butchers and the fishmongers and the vine-growers and the tanners and on and on from 800 years ago because today you believe you believe you live with deep assurance of the power of this community to change lives you want the promise to be fulfilled and you will stop at nothing for our future to begin.

Can I hear an AMEN?