Ingathering Homily

Ingathering Extravaganza 2012
Sep. 9, 2012

From John Gibbons:

National Anthem

Opening Words:
Play ball! And as our old Afghan friend Rumi said, Come, come whoever you are. Come wanderer, come worshiper, come lover of leaving. Come though you have broken your vow a thousand times before. Ours is no caravan of despair. Come, yet again, come!

Join with me please, call-and-response, in our Unison Affirmation:
Love is the spirit of this church.
And service is its law.
This is our great covenant:
To dwell together in peace.
To seek the truth in love.
And to help one another.
May it be so and amen!


The Unitarian Universalists have returned to church! Like the swallows to Capistrano, like the buzzards to Hinkley, Ohio, like the moth to the flame, like the great white sharks to Cape Cod…oh never mind, you get the idea.

Welcome whether you are here for the first time today or you have been here forever. Welcome whatever your identity, whatever your theology, whatever your age, sex, race, class, political, social and sexual orientation and expression, ability, disability, whatever’s working or not working in your life. Welcome as you are and as you would become. As said in Swahili, ubuntu: I am because we are; our common humanity links us together inseparably.

Welcome as well the jazz stylings of Bob and Fran Tyler.

Welcome our great choir, fresh from singing the National Anthem at the Lowell Spinners game and, earlier in the summer at Fenway Park, home of the…well, never mind.

Welcome special guests Genki Spark. Genki is Japanese for “enthusiastic, energetic, lively” and they are “a multi-generational Asian women’s performance troupe that uses taiko drumming, martial arts, spoken word, dance, and personal stories to inspire creativity, build community, and promote cultural pride to further a world of respect for all.” Those are all things that our First Parish community stands for as well and we feel so fortunate that you can be with us this morning.

Genki Spark is fresh from a summer pilgrimage of remembrance and reconciliation to Tule Lake concentration camp in California where over 18,000 people of Japanese heritage were incarcerated during WWII. We honor your witness of suffering and hope.

Welcome to our good Iraqi friends who also witness to suffering and hope and thanks to the Babylon Restaurant in Lowell who have brought food to share and food to purchase after the service.

If you’re new and want to stay in touch with First Parish, visit the Welcome Table and fill out a blue connection card where you can take your sexy smartphone and zap our sexy new QR code and visit our sexy website. Or you can take a pen or a pencil or a crayon and let us know who you are and we can begin to introduce ourselves to one another, which of course is the most radical thing you can do.
Families – visit the religious education table and update your information and enroll your kids.

The Senior Youth group welcomes all 9th – 12th graders for their first meeting tonight from 6:30 – 8:30 at the church. Come and have fun.

“The nominating committee will be sponsoring a “helping hands” table on Sept. 30th at both coffee hours. They ask that you stop by to find out how *you* can lend a hand.

Get your Stop & Shop grocery cards.

Get your tickets for the fabulous Peter Mayer concert, coming up on September 29, a benefit for our legislative ministry, UU Mass Action.

Welcome…and hold your wild applause till the end of this long list…Parish minister Megan Lynes, Religious Education Director Lisa Rubin, Ministerial Intern Joe Cleveland, Music Director Brad Conner, Youth Music Director Janet Welby, Volunteer Coordinator Sandy Boczenowski. I am senior minister John Gibbons…and now your ushers and bagel-and-cream cheese servers…Board members Dave Packer, Margaret Jackson, Dee Russell, Sandi Currier, Bob Johnson, D.J. Prowell, and President, Mike Boczenowski!

Rev. John Gibbons
Over the summer I’ve been trying to improve my preaching and I’ve been studying some cutting-edge communication methods. Just for example…I am pleased to introduce to you the President of the United States. Please welcome Barack Obama!
(John placed an empty chair next to him.)

Mr. President, is this your first time visiting a Unitarian Universalist congregation?

You say it’s more like you’ve been here forever? What do you mean by that?

Oh! Your grandparents were Unitarian Universalists in Kansas and Washington State, and then when your grandmother died just a few years ago her memorial service was at the UU Church in Honolulu.

And that UU church in Hawaii was where your mother took you to Sunday School.

Mr. President, I’m not sure that it’s good for your image to be seen with us this morning!

Oh, that’s right, you’re not seen. Well, Mr. President, what did you learn in that Sunday School?

Oh, you learned about freedom of belief…and unbelief. And you learned the importance of thinking, leading with your head as well as your heart. And you say you also learned about democracy and citizenship and respecting differences…Christians and Jews and Muslims and Buddhists and atheists and all the rest.

Yes, Mr. President, I understand we should respect Republicans, too.

And then, you say there was a day when someone brought a duck to your UU Sunday School and the kids were trying to figure out if it was a girl duck or a boy duck and you raised your hand, saying you knew how to tell the difference and you said “Let’s vote on it!”

Yes, yes, Mr. President I understand that’s just a joke…what did you say?

Yes, of course, people are entitled to their own opinions but they are not entitled to their own facts. The truth is the truth. That’s that thing about reason. Unitarian Universalist sermons, you know, are subject to fact checkers and truth squads. I know that well!

Oh and you say that when you were in Sunday School you were also in a play?

What was the play?

It was Herb Gardner’s play, A Thousand Clowns. That really is a great play. Mr. President, it was performed here one Sunday morning some years ago as our service and my son was in it.

And what else?

You’ve got a favorite passage from that play that you’d like me to read? Something that has stuck with you all these years? OK.

So the character Murray Burns has been a father to his 12-year-old nephew, and when a bureaucrat threatens to take him away, Murray says, “I just want him to stay with me until I can be sure he won’t turn into Norman Nothing. I want to be sure he knows when he is chickening out on himself. I want him to get to know exactly the special thing he is or else he won’t notice it when it starts to go. I want him to stay awake and know who the phonies are. I want him to know how to holler and put up an argument. I want a little guts to show before I can let him go. I want to be sure he sees all the wild possibilities. I want him to know it’s worth all the trouble just to give the world a little goosing when you get a chance. And I want him to know the subtle, sneaky important reason why he was born a human being and not a chair.”

Anything else you’d like to say, Mr. President?

You say that you think that’s the reason for gathering in liberal religious communities like this one? That we may come to know “the subtle, sneaky important reason why we are born a human being and not a chair.”

I agree. We agree. Thank you for being with us this morning, Mr. President. The President of the United States, Barack Obama!

I really did read something this summer. An author named Barbara Butler Bass reminds us that “Latin used (the word) ‘credo,’ “I set my heart upon” or “I give my loyalty to,” as the word to describe religious “believing.” In medieval English, the concept of ‘credo’ was translated as “believe,” meaning roughly the same as German cousin belieben, “to prize, treasure, or hold dear,” which come from the root word ‘Liebe,’ “love.” Thus, in early English, to “believe” was to “belove” something or someone as an act or trust or loyalty. Belief was not a intellectual opinion.”

Yes, we are here to stay awake and know the phonies, and holler and argue, and see the wild possibilities, and give the world a little goosing, and know why we are born a human being and not a chair; but deeper still we do all these things in response to a deep and profound love of this earth, these changing seasons, this changeable weather, and a deep and profound love for one another in all our diverse pain and possibility and inherent, insurgent and resurgent beauty.
Dearly beloved, let us belove! “

We do not need to think alike to love alike,” said our forbear Francis David. And so now, as you are able, get up and out of your chairs, get off your rear ends and join hands all around.

And so said our forbear Hosea Ballou, “Let us agree in love for if we agree in love there is no injury that can do us any harm; and we know as well that if we do not agree in love, there is no other agreement that will do us any good.” Dearly beloved, can I get an amen?

Our Love Is Here to Stay. Our love is here to stay! Music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin. Bring it on, Brad!

Ingathering Homily
Rev. Megan Lynes

“Update Your Truth Here”

You know, who needs coffee when you have Taiko? Is anyone still asleep out there?

It’s really such an honor to have you here with us Genki Spark. You have brought to Bedford not only your beautiful art form of sound, rhythm and verve, but also something that runs deeper than even the drum beat we now all feel in our bones. You are opening up for us something powerful that you as Asian women have worked together to practice, respect and cultivate. I’ve seen your pictures on the web; Youth you’ve taught in the Boston school system proudly beat drums larger than they are. Teenagers on a college campus throw their whole bodies joyfully into the guided experiment called “go for it!” And you rock the house at Gay Pride!

So many of us keep our real selves tucked up small or hidden in some way, and in contrast you are like a field of open peonies in the sun. You remind us that every human on earth has a spark within, a roar to let loose, and a beat to follow. A heritage is a precious gift to hold onto, each of us has one, and we thank you for sharing the unique culture, community and tradition of Taiko drumming with us here in Bedford. We can’t wait to hear more.

Today Genki Spark reminds us just how important it is to link our heritage with our vision. A heritage can of course be your ethnicity, your people’s personal story of survival, or maybe something like your class background and all that that means in your family. When you think of your heritage, what comes to mind?

In the intro to our UU hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition, we find the words “Religion is a present reality; it is also an inheritance.” In coming to church, we place ourselves in the great stream of memory and hope. In religious community tradition and innovation go hand in hand. This is to say, you belong here today as part of our living tradition, and your unique offerings add to who we are as a whole. You matter. We’re glad you’re here. Open, peonies, open!

This summer, on a heritage journey of our own, a pilgrimage of First Parishioners went to visit our partner village in Abasfalva, Transylvania, which is now a region in Romania. Since 1990 we have been visiting there every few years to share our different cultures and explore our shared Unitarian roots. The villagers, most of whom are now over 75, open their homes to us, cook enormous quantities of food for us, and cup our faces in their wrinkled hands. You may know the bible story of the prodigal son who loses his way in life and ultimately returns home to his estranged family who accepts him with open arms. Even without a common language, it’s clear that our Abasfalva friends welcome us home like the lost children we sometimes are. When we land with them, we really land. They re-attach us to our Unitarian roots and remind us from whence we’ve come. Mostly though, they love us, just like the story goes, and that’s what links us securely to our past, and to our people.

This year, wanting very much to give back something tangible to our partner church friends, our First Parish community raised funds for an overnight trip that would take a group of fifteen villagers to visit some Unitarian high holy places. Thank you to all of you who made that possible. Most of them had never seen the historical places we all think of as especially significant, though they live only a couple hours away.

The villagers are farmers and so leaving their animals for two days was difficult. Who will milk the goats? But somehow the trip came together. At night the dorm rooms were filled with the happy chatter of elders having what can only be described as a sleepover party.

By day we stood together in quiet church vaults, with high stone ceilings. At the top of a mountain we sang Spirit of Life and a Hungarian hymn inside the prison cell where Francis David, a martyr for religious tolerance, died in 1579. His final “crime” was not that he was a Unitarian, though he was persecuted for that as well. Rather, he would not recant his belief that each of us must always be able to update our own truth. As our children learn in Sunday school, we must each decide what is true and right. Our conscience has shaped our heritage, and it is our great liberating force. It must change as we change. Our religion should be a tool that helps us to use our minds, regain our compassion, and think anew about how to work for the common good.

So as we begin our church year, I invite you, peonies all, to open yourselves to who you are, examining who you have been and who you would like to become. Come stand among fellow parishioners and ask yourself what separates you from the rest. Can you tell that you matter? Do you know that you are glorious and good? And do you know that no one is beneath you, you are no better than any other soul? Come here to update your truth and speak your truth in love. Come running like the prodigal son, knowing your family longs for your return. Let us be the family that opens our arms to the lost one.

This community is our inheritance, it is our lifeline, it is a piece of the world we dream about. Will you open yourself to the spark of all that is and will be? If so, let the church year begin.

Welcome home, one and all.