Seasons of Love

Please join me in a moment of meditation and prayer.  Spirit of Life and Love, we open our minds and hearts to all that is good and we pray for a spirit of love and understanding to dwell in us deeply.  May the words of my mouth, the meditations of all our hearts, and the way we live our lives bring more love, justice, and compassion into this world.  May it be so and amen.

Here we are, together again.  I offered my first sermon at UUCA in April of this year.  As always, I am grateful to Rev. Anthony David for the opportunity to share this pulpit with him and my colleague, the Rev. Marti Keller.

When I preached in April, the Spring season was upon us.  The flowers were blooming, our allergies were in full swing, and the days were getting longer.  When I led our annual LGBT Pride Service in June, joined by so many wonderful friends and members of this congregation, we were embracing the Summer season.  We were getting ready for the extreme heat, making sure our air conditioners were working, and brewing Iced Tea.  As I preach today, we are on the verge of the Fall season.  The leaves are starting to change colors, weather forecasters are frightening us about the upcoming Ragweed season, and the nights are getting longer.  If Anthony keeps asking me to preach what’s turning out to be once a quarter, I should be addressing you again come Winter, quite possibly the week after Christmas, and I’m sure we’ll have some seasonal things to discuss then, too.  I would welcome that!

We have reached Labor Day weekend and the traditional end of summer.  Fall is upon us and a really exciting thing has happened.  Our children have gone back to school!  It’s enough to make even UU parents say, “Praise the Lord!”  Oh.  I’m sorry.  I mean, “Praise the Landing on Mars or some other scientific feat!”  I think that the beginning of school might be more exciting for the parents than for the children.  As if this isn’t exciting enough, here’s something else: Later this month our favorite TV shows will premiere and we’ll be set for a whole new season of drama and intrigue.  I’m certainly looking forward to watching Modern Family, Grey’s Anatomy, Glee and The Good Wife. I’m sure you have some favorites you’re looking forward to watching also.

Yes, I think we are ready to welcome the Fall season in our personal lives and in the life of our faith community.  Next week we will have our Ingathering Service and Water Celebration.  We’ll start a new program year together and we have some amazing activities, events, and educational classes planned for children and adults.  As we stand on the precipice of a new program year together, I thought we might take some time today to look back over the last year of our lives.

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes.  Five hundred twenty five thousand moments so dear.  Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes.  How do you measure a year? [1]

That’s the question that the characters in the Broadway musical and movie RENT [2] explore as they live among poverty, drug addiction, and the struggle to make ends meet.  This movie chronicles one year in their lives together.  It also portrays the shadow that hangs over them—the AIDS pandemic of the early 1990s in the East Village of New York City.  Four of the main characters of RENT have HIV or AIDS.

“How do you measure a year in human life?” they ask.  Is it in daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee, in inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife?  How do you measure a year?

I think the fact that this question is asked over and over implies that we have choices about how to answer it.  We have choices in how we live our lives and how we measure them.  We have choices about how we respond to the different seasons that come into our lives.

Rev. Ian Lawton wrote, “Meditation on Choice” and in it he says:

You aren’t the chosen people.  You are the choosing people; choosing life in each moment as best you can, mixing it up in the grey zone, flexing and flowing with circumstances as they arise.

Flexing and flowing with circumstances as they arise.  I love that image of fluidity.  Life requires so much fluidity, the ability to adapt, to be willing to change, to face full on whatever comes at us.  And so many seasons come at us, not just the four that we witness in Nature, of course, but those four seasons of Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall remind us that life is always changing.  That’s the beauty of the poem from the Hebrew Scriptures in the book of Ecclesiastes:  For everything there is a season.

There are so many seasons that we cannot possibly do justice to all of them in one sermon.  I have three seasons that I want us to explore in more depth this morning.

The first is a season of giving.  As Carol Ann Arvan shared this morning, we are embarking on our annual stewardship campaign soon and we are going to do it differently this year.  We’re going to do a canvas, which means that the goal is to have face-to-face, real live conversations with each other!  Perhaps cups of coffee together.  Or lunch or dinner together.  Times where we sit and have meaningful conversations about our hopes and dreams for this community of faith.  This canvas has the potential to build and deepen relationships with one another.  Isn’t that what community is all about anyway?  It’s our relationships with one another that keep us coming back here, that keep us engaged.

I love the American writer, social activist and self-identified pagan, Starhawk.  She’s written a beautiful poem about community and in it she says:

Somewhere there are people
To whom we can speak with passion
Without having the words catch in our throats.
Somewhere a circle of hands will open to receive us,
Eyes will light up as we enter,
Voices will celebrate with us
Whenever we come into our own power.
Community means strength that joins our strength
To do the work that needs to be done.
Arms to hold us when we falter,
A circle of healing.
A circle of friends.
Some place where
We can be free.

[3]

I hope UUCA is, or is becoming, that place for you.  A place where you are welcomed, seen, heard, encouraged and supported during the good times and the difficult times.

During the canvas, we want to hear those stories of how UUCA has been your community.  We want to know what you love about it and what concerns you about it.  And sure, we also want to ask for a financial pledge so we know how to plan for next year’s budget.  All organizations depend on generous donations.  I believe we give back to congregations of faith and other organizations out of a sense of gratitude for what we have found there.

In some seasons, our sense of gratitude is greater than our financial resources; we certainly understand that.  Each of us will be asked to give what we are able to give to UUCA and not be ashamed if it’s not as much as we’d like to give or if others give more.  Maybe some of you are in a more financially secure season and you can give more.  That’s wonderful AND that’s how seasons work.  They rotate; they take turns.  If this isn’t your season to give more, then the spiritual task is to trust your season of giving more will return another time.  Here’s something else we can choose to trust: If we all give according to our means, there will always be enough.

The season that goes hand in hand with giving is the season of receiving.

Many of you know I consider myself a born again UU and I am still in a conversion process.  I believe true conversion is a gradual process of learning, growing, becoming.  I am learning how to be a Unitarian Universalist and what that means for me.  Back in April I told you that I am pursuing plural standing with the Unitarian Universalist Association which means that I will maintain my credentials with Metropolitan Community Churches that I am currently ordained by and credentialed with but that I will also hold credentials as a UU minister.  I am moving along in that process and am happy to share with you that I am now an official “aspirant”.  And true to UU form, once I read about 500 more books, write a tome, and stand before a few committees, I’ll move into official candidate status and then prayerfully into fellowship status.

Because I’m new to Unitarian Universalist culture, I see things with new eyes like anyone who’s coming in from the outside.  I want to share with you this morning something that I’ve witnessed that I’m really curious about.  I serve as your Pastoral Care Coordinator and that means I have the privilege of accompanying you through the seasons of your life, through the best of circumstances and the most difficult of circumstances.  What’s curious to me is that some people tell us after the fact about something major that happened in their lives.  It concerns me because I think, “If we had known, we could’ve offered you support and encouragement.  We could’ve visited you in the hospital or at home.”

I wonder if this says something about our Unitarian Universalist culture?  From what I understand we are rugged individualists and we value taking care of ourselves, thinking for ourselves, doing for ourselves.  May I say these are wonderful values to hold and practice, AND, sometimes we need help and it’s okay to ask for that.  Sometimes we need to admit that we are afraid.  Or lonely.  Or depressed.  Community means arms to hold us when we falter.  I know that means we have to be vulnerable with each other and I understand it’s not the most comfortable position to be in, but I hope you can hear me affirm for you today that when you reach out for support, I will still think you are smart and capable, strong and beautiful.  I promise you I, and all 13 of our amazing adult lay ministers and our four high school chaplains who work with our youth, will think the same thing.  We will not think less of you for asking for help.  We will understand that it’s your season to receive.  We will be glad to be of service because we love and care for you.  When you let yourselves receive from us, you help us live our mission.  I can assure you we will not be perfect but we will do whatever we can do to help you bear your burden.  To everything there is a season, including a season of receiving.

All the characters in RENT live under the shadow of HIV and AIDS.  Everyday they are wrestling with what it means to live fully in the moment and what it means to let go.  When the leaves on the trees change colors and look so beautiful, the irony is that they are letting go and dying.   In this beloved community of faith, we had 47 deaths this year.  Some people who died were members of this congregation; others who died were people loved by members in this congregation.  My stepfather, Manny, died in March.  Many of you lost friends and parents too.

Ira Byock is a hospice doctor and in his book, Dying Well: Peace and Possibilities at the End of Life, he writes that he has, “A utopian notion of people being born into the welcoming arms of community and dying from the reluctant arms of community.” [4] I would say that many of us this year let our loved ones go with reluctant arms and we will miss them terribly.

Sometimes a season of letting go carries with it a more metaphorical meaning and question as in, “What is it that I need to let go of?”  Perhaps it’s habitual thoughts of worry or anxiety; perhaps it’s a grudge against someone; perhaps it’s a tendency to criticize your partner or your children; perhaps it’s the inner critic, the voice that’s constantly telling you that you are not good enough, thin enough, beautiful enough or smart enough; perhaps it’s regret.  Whatever it is can fall down to the ground alongside the leaves and decompose into the earth when we choose to consciously focus on what we need to let go of.

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes.

Five hundred twenty five thousand moments so dear.

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes.

How do you measure a year?

The characters of RENT suggest, “How about love?”  That powerful force that defines the times of our lives like having coffee with a friend, or laughing with our children, or comforting someone who is in pain.  Love.  That significant measurement that holds and sustains us moment by moment—that has the power to bind us together in our hearts and souls.  How about love?

I know when we look around at the world today it seems we are not measuring in love.  It appears that love is nowhere to be found given the war, poverty, famine, disease, violence that is so rampant in our world today.  It seems that so much of our five hundred twenty five thousand minutes are filled with pain, hatred, and revenge.

Let me share a scene from a wonderful movie called “Love Actually” [5] with Hugh Grant.  He says:

Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport.  General opinion is starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that.  It seems to me that love is everywhere.  Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends.  When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love.  If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion… love actually is all around.

Because the story never ends and love actually is all around us, it’s time to sing out and celebrate, to remember a year in the life of friends.  In the coming year, may each moment we are blessed with, each season we are fortunate to experience, may we measure it in love.  Seasons of love.  Blessed be and amen.


[1] “Seasons of Love” is a song from the Broadway musical RENT, written and composed by Jonathan Larson.

[2] RENT is a rock musical with music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson.
[3] Starhawk, Dreaming the Dark: Magic, Sex and Politics.  Beacon Press, Boston, 1982.
[4] Byock, Ira, M.D. Dying Well: Peace and Possibilities at the End of Life.  Riverhead Books, New York, 1997.
[5] “Love Actually” is a 2003 British romantic comedy film written and directed by Richard Curtis.