Sunday, April 16, 2017

Our Resurrected Selves: A UU Experience

NOTE: This is the sermon that I gave at Pathways Unitarian Universalist Church in Hurst, Texas, on Easter Sunday 4.16.17. 

Happy Easter! On this day, most Christians (not all) celebrate the resurrection of Jesus – a much debated teaching that after he had been dead for three days he then came back to life and continued his ministry for several more days until another debated teaching when he ascended into heaven.
Now, I am not going to get into the theories or theological assumptions of what happened or if it happened regarding this teaching. I would like to borrow this idea of ‘resurrection’ from our Christian heritage in Unitarian Universalism for the sake of helping each person here – including myself – identify more closely with the UU experience.
Most people know that I served for four years as a priest in the Orthodox Catholic Church. I resigned (9 years ago) at the age of 33. I had also joined a Unitarian Universalist congregation while I was in seminary (about 15 years ago) – because my spouse was already a member of the local UU. I had resigned in 2008 because I felt like a salesman who didn’t believe in his product (It’s hard to sell something when you have little faith in how or if the product works). This is not to say that I disbelieve in certain teachings within Christianity but I knew that I could no longer use the church that I was ordained in to try to convince myself of things like the divinity of Jesus, the existence of heaven or hell, the second coming, or even the resurrection.
And so it is interesting today that I am speaking on Easter Sunday – a day set aside to give memory and honor to the story of a man that liberated Jews and Gentiles alike of his day in a particular region. This story that spread throughout the Middle East, throughout Israel, throughout Greece. It is a story that continues to spread.
The story of resurrection (in the metaphorical sense) gives hope and gives meaning to new beginnings, to absolution, to the dying away and to new birth. In many ways, resurrection is important to Unitarian Universalists because how many of us have had our own deaths? Our own, true, real, painful and sorrowful spiritual deaths? How many of us were handed something to believe by our parents or family members only to choose another path or to be enriched by UUism?
I can honestly say that I endured the pains of death from my history of Christianity. I desired so much to ‘be better.’ I desired so much to ‘know more.’ I desired so much to be a ‘good example.’ I would attend conferences, retreats, write inspiring articles, lead workshops, and even provide pastoral care that I was trained to provide – and it would not work! And I tried! I am telling you I tried! Dear God – I tried!
So for a few years, I camped out on Sundays in front of my laptop and was a member of The Church of the Larger Fellowship, an online UU church without walls. At the time, I was living in North Richland Hills, Texas. I had been planning on visiting Pathways UU many months prior. As it happened, I was able to attend the very first Common Ground service at Pathways in the current "new" location. From the very beginning, I was hooked.
But as I reflect on the period from leaving the faith I once knew and proclaimed (in part at least) to my time of taking refuge in the Church of the Larger Fellowship to even coming to Pathways and attending First Jefferson in Fort Worth, I realized during those years that I needed to get real with myself. I needed to take a spiritual inventory – not of what I do not believe in but that which I do believe in.
Sometimes, we hear UUs saying things like “I don’t believe in that Jesus stuff” or “All of those Pagan gods and goddesses confuse me – how can anyone keep up?” or “I support your path I just don’t want to hear about it every Sunday.” Spiritual inventory is a necessity for all Unitarian Universalists as it gives us a time to pause and reason out the things that speak to our very souls. It is an opportunity to learn about ourselves, about others, learn about other belief systems – even if we do not choose to go down those paths. It gives us a chance to stand at the great buffet table and sample teachings from humanism, paganism, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and so on.
And so in that time, I realized that there are certain teachings in Christianity that I actually do find comfort in – like loving my neighbor, treating everyone the way I would like to be treated, teachings of hospitality and promoting world peace. These are similar in the teachings of the Buddha. These are similar to the teachings which Gandhi lived out and expressed.
It is through these opportunities that we see that we are spiritually rising. We are being birthed into a new reality. We are dying to that which we once knew, or were taught, or even understood. We have veered onto a new path and we accept what turns or forks we may come to along the way.
In our reading this morning, Ruiz points out this very thing. “The dream you are living,” he says, “is your creation.” He advises that this is our reality that we can “change at any time.” What this tells me as a UU is that I have so many different opportunities in which to expand my thinking, my spirituality, my mind as I make the decisions in this very moment or even over time of which part of the spectrum I belong to. This may change 5 or 20 years from now or may even be enhanced. The joy is that I am in control of my thinking, I am in control of my reasoning, I am in control of my own creating. I am in control of my own reality.
And while this liberation theology entices and draws us in, it does not excuse us of our “destiny of being human,” as Ruiz reminds. He advises that we do have two choices in life: to suffer our destiny or to enjoy our destiny. We can either suffer altogether in our human experience or we can choose to love and be happy – no matter what life has thrown or will throw at us.
I wrote a few weeks ago about Joy-Theft and what it means to let others steal one’s joy. The topic had to do with a family member, who is a Southern Baptist, who had the audacity to attack my beliefs (or in her opinion, the lack thereof) and I went further to defend and explain to her why I do not believe in the same thing she believes in. I felt it necessary to prove my point.
We don’t do this to each other (or shouldn’t) in the UUA. We don’t persecute others for what they believe or do not believe. We hope that others outside of these walls will do the same. That they will not bring us spiritual injury – but sometimes they do. And sometimes we let them. Sometimes we walk away and sometimes we stay and argue. And it is hard that just as we are here to respect everyone on his or her path inside UU, our principles call us to respect everyone on his or her path outside of UU – even those who are out to bring us spiritual harm.
For many of you, situations like this resonate all too well – whether it be with a family member, a friend, a co-worker, or other acquaintance in your life. And it is hard sometimes to coexist with those whose religion or philosophy or viewpoint calls them into action and give them what they may view as a right to say whatever they want to say regardless of how much it may hurt others. But for UUs, we always take the high road, we always look past that person who is uttering things that may result in negative energy, we look past the pain.
We return to our anthem that so many UUs have repeated over and over and over – in some form – when we say “Love is the doctrine of this church.” UU gives us a different perspective in life.
And that is why I am inviting you this day to celebrate what resurrection means to Unitarian Universalists. I invite you to rise from the ashes. I invite you to claim yourself. I invite you to claim your own reasoning and your own truth. I invite you to coexist with others inside and outside of our faith. I invite you to continually seek without being robbed of your own personal integrity.
“The dream you are living is your own creation.” Today is a day of rising again either from a death of a reality you once knew or maybe because you have been dead inside and have not sought out true meaning within your identity as a Unitarian Universalist. Or perhaps your resurrection is discovering new things about yourself – like accepting new challenges, beginning new chapters in your life.
Whatever resurrection is calling you to rise from in your life, know this: you are among good company while you sort that all out in your life. And if you need someone or some folks to assist you along this journey we can help with that too.
If you are visiting with us for the first time this Sunday or if this is your first Unitarian Universalist experience or if you have only been here a few times, know that we surround you with love and acceptance and do not expect you to prove yourself. We welcome your inquiries and we welcome your struggle. That’s who we are. This is what resurrection is.
So mote it be.
The Blessing:
And as we ponder upon these words in our hearts, I invite you to be filled with the discernment that the Rabbi Jesus experienced in the desert, the joy that the Buddha experienced in the forest, the happiness that Mohammed experienced on the mountain. In all things, may this day bring you love and peace.

Namaste! Shalom! And Blessed Be!