Celestial Lands The Religious Crossroads of Politics, Power, and Theology

Waiting Upon One Another — Sermon by the Rev. David Pyle

Last Preached December 1st, 2013

This is the first sermon I have written in my office here at the church.  Actually, it may be the first sermon I have ever written in any church office I have ever had.  Usually, I write my sermons in the early morning hours, sitting in the little study that doubles as a guest bedroom in the apartment Sandy and I share, or during warmer early mornings outside on the patio with a small fire in the outdoor fireplace.

But not this time.  This sermon was written in the late afternoon, in my church office during this Thanksgiving holiday weekend… this weekend that combines the American Holiday of Thanksgiving with the celebration of a Jewish Miracle known as Hanukah, and even our own spiritual recognition we call Chalica.

This makes the third thanksgiving we have spent here since your board of trustees hired me to be Rev. Jan’s Assistant Minister that our in-laws have come to stay with us during the week of Thanksgiving… and after all the years of not seeing them at all because of how hard it is for them to travel, it has been wonderful to start this new family tradition.

Well, wonderful I say… for all of us except Athena, our cat.  Athena has not been happy.  Not happy at all.  She goes through this every year, when all of a sudden there are people sleeping in every room of our small apartment.  All of a sudden there are no chairs in the living room that are not occupied most of the time.  There are people she barely knows standing between her and the places that are most important to her… her food, her water, and her litter box.  All of her patterns have gone right out the window.  Her humans, that would be Sandy and I, are paying attention to people other than her.

So, we have had a little hissing this week.  No claws have come out, which is an improvement over the last couple of years.  In fact, she has spent most of the time this week actually in the room with the rest of us, which is far better than the first year, when she sat on the landing of the stairs hissing at whoever moved.  I will take whatever improvement I can get.

And if I’m going to be honest, I get what she is feeling.  My own patterns have been thrown for a loop this week, and I am a creature of patterns.  I enjoy this time I get to spend with my in-laws, and even more importantly I know how precious this time is for my wife to be able to spend with her family… and I have had to watch myself… to keep from hissing a little bit when there are 5 people in a kitchen barely designed for one…

Or, when I need to go into my church office to write my sermon, a space that holds more counseling and conversing energy than the peace and solitude I usually need for sermon writing.  At least I was able to find a time when no one knew I was there writing… so there were not the normal knocks on the door I usually expect and love when I’m working in my office.  I try never to do anything in my office that requires uninterrupted concentration.

Our themes for the month of December are Waiting and Silence, and I’m sure we will move into all the ways in which those themes embody the images of peace and hopefulness, all the ways they embody thoughts of anticipation and the pregnant pause… but for today I want to explore another meaning for at least the word waiting… the connotation of that word that calls us to wait upon one another.

I remember years ago, when I was working my way through my bachelor’s degree by waiting tables in a chain restaurant, there was one employee who used to get really impatient with customers who took a long time ordering off the menu.  In the back of the restaurant he complained loudly about how inconsiderate it was that people would make him stand there waiting on them to make a decision.

This was when one of the more seasoned staff members gave him an old-fashioned look and said “Dude, you’re a waiter.  What did you think you would be doing?”

I have long had the thought that the six years I spent waiting tables were the best training I ever had for ministry… but that’s a whole ‘nother sermon.

It is in many ways a lost art… waiting.  Not waiting tables, I mean waiting in general.  One of the things that my mother-in-law Mitu has shared with me several times, from her perspective of a woman from the French countryside who has lived in the United States now for almost 40 years, is how impatient we Americans tend to be.  This year it came up over our discussing how the “Black Friday” sales not only crept into Thanksgiving, but also how people every year get into altercations to get the latest thing at the best prices.  I think it was last year that she reflected on the strangeness of this festival of getting brand new stuff happening the very morning after you have supposedly been grateful for all that you already have.

My mother-in-law is a wise woman…

There is a verse from Christian Scriptures that I always find myself coming back to this time of year.  No, it is not the one about overturning the tables of the money changers, although that is a good one.  No, it is one from a letter attributed to Peter, written to several groups of early Christians living in scattered towns and cities in Asia Minor.  The letter is less about theology, and more about how to treat one another in spiritual community, and how to treat others in the world.  While there is much in the letter that I question and that does not connect with the context of today’s world, there is an idea that I have found awe inspiring…

It is expressed differently in the various versions, but three stand out for me.  The verse if 1st Peter, Chapter 5, verse 5.  In the King James Version it calls the members of the church to “be subject to one another”.  In the New Revised Standard Version, also known as the Oxford Bible, it calls upon the members of the church to “clothe yourselves in humility in your dealings with one another”.  The American Standard Version says “Yea, all of you gird yourselves with humility, to serve one another”.

Be subject to one another.  Clothe yourselves in humility in your dealings with one another.  Serve one another.  Oh, it makes me cry… how different the world would be if that were the basis upon which our society were founded.  I cry every time someone says that we are a “Christian Nation”.  If only…

Ok, I promise no more Christian Scriptures today…  although I believe this is a jewel of religious thought that passes beyond belonging to any one particular religious tradition.  It is a sentiment that is to be found in Buddhism’s focus on letting go of the self.  It is a sentiment deeply rooted in the sense of community of Islam, of Judaism, and of Mormonism.  It is a religious idea that is rooted in at least three of the seven principles of Unitarian Universalism.

Serve one another.  Clothe yourself in humility.  I have said in the past that I will never preach a sermon for whom the intended audience does not include myself… for this time of year I need this reminder as much as anyone.

It is a good reminder for me any time of year, actually, because my ministry as an Assistant Minister is one that is often more about projects and deadlines, about campaigns and policies, about making a reality of the vision and priorities of the Senior Minister and the Board of Trustees… and less about being with individuals.  As I was recently writing my annual self-evaluation for the Unitarian Universalist Association, our denomination, I wrote that my ministry had become more to the Church and the Community, each with a capital C, then it has been with individual members of the church community… even though it was the chance to minister with individual people in their struggles that had brought me to seminary in the first place.  I know that one of my struggles is that I can get so caught up in the vision and transformation of the whole that I sometimes miss where an individual person is within it all.  It is an aspect of being an Assistant Minister, of not being the called Pastor of the church, that I am continuing to struggle with and adapt to.

And so, I need the reminder as much as anyone, that in this spiritual community we call a church we are called to serve one another.  We are called to try and address what each other needs as much as we name our own needs.  We are called to the humility necessary to even admit our own needs, trusting that someone else within the church community is willing to help.  We are called to the humility of letting others know when we do not have it within us to help, because of our own struggles and pain.

One of the regular refrains you hear from me whenever I open worship is that we come here to learn how to be the community we want to see in the world.  For me, this is one of the primary purposes of church… to learn here how to create a better world.  Now, that means that at times we will not be all that great to each other, even here in the church… for I don’t know about you but I learn far more from when I get it wrong than from when I get it right.

I want to see a world where we place a higher priority on serving one another, rather than feeling we are in competition with one another.  I want to see a world that is more rooted in serving each other a wonderful thanksgiving meal around a table, than a world of getting into fistfights at the Walmart over the latest tablet or flat screen television.  I want to see a world where we make sure that everyone has enough food, clothing, and shelter to survive, and perhaps even thrive than a world where a very few have most of the resources.

I want to see a world where we come together to support a group of people who are trying to make lives better for others, as opposed to a world where too many people are focused on the ways they are fearful or inconvenienced by “those people”, and attempt to use the government to make “those people” go away.

To create that world, we have to both see and work towards a larger vision of a world made whole… and we have to minister with and be with individuals… with each other.  We have to be Subject both to the world as we want it to be, and be subject to the needs and gifts of one another.  We come here, each Sunday and indeed every day of the week in our full and dynamic congregational life, and we Wait upon each other.  Sometimes that Waiting is serving one another, and sometimes it is having patience with one another.  Sometimes it is waiting, slowing down to allow others to catch up.  Sometimes it is waiting, pausing together in silence until the fullness of a moment is shared among us.  And sometimes, it is waiting together until we have gathered amongst us the strength and the resources we need to build the world of peace, love, and hope that we envision.

And so, I’m going to suggest for you a practice this month, a practice of Waiting and of Silence.  A practice of serving one another, and of being clothed in humility.

 

There is a covenant that many Unitarian Universalist congregations across the country share together each Sunday as a part of their worship, written by James Villa Blake in the late 1800’s.  A version of it was used every Sunday in my home congregation on Galveston Island, in Texas.  They begin worship each Sunday with the words “Love is the doctrine of our church, and service is its prayer.  This is our great covenant, to dwell together in peace, to seek the truth in love, and to help one another.”  Love and Service… Service and humility…  help one another.

I believe that the spirit behind that covenant is how we as Unitarian Universalists live the idea that is rooted in First Peter 5:5…  be subject to one another, clothed in humility.

We have a tradition in this congregation, and indeed a tradition across the many congregations of our association, that I want to invite you into.  As congregations and as Unitarian Universalists we have come together to create an organization, known as the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, to do together what we cannot do alone.  The UUSC, as it is called, is kinda our version of the Red Cross and Amnesty International, all wrapped up into one.  They mobilize Unitarian Universalists from across the world to respond to natural disasters, such as the devastating Typhoon that recently hit the Philippines.  They also organize Unitarian Universalists to speak truth about injustices happening around the world, from the campaign to end torture to advocating for water rights in Africa.  I am a member of the UUSC, and our congregation is a proud supporter of the work they do around the world.

One of the ways we show that support each year is by participating in the Guest at Your Table program.  This year the program is highlighting and supporting the work of people around the world who have empowered others to stand up for their own civil rights.  Traditionally, we invite you to have this little box somewhere in your home where you see it, and when you do to place a donation within the box.

But it does not have to be this box…  in fact, the UUSC is moving away from printing thousands of these boxes a year for environmental reasons.  It could be a coffee cup in your home, or a jar, or just a place where you keep coins.

What I am inviting you to do is to add something to this practice… and that is to recite the Blake Covenant or something like it each day, whether you make a donation or not.  I have copies of the Blake Covenant up here, and in a moment we will have a time where if you wish to support Guest At Your Table this year, you can come forward, and collect a box and the covenant.

And, each day of this month, I invite you to take a moment to wait… to be intentionally in service of another, someone you will likely never meet, far across the world.

 

So may it be blessed be, and amen.

 

 

 

2 Thoughts on “Waiting Upon One Another — Sermon by the Rev. David Pyle

  1. Beverly H. Seese on Monday December 2, 2013 at 9:01 +0000 said:

    Hi David,
    Enjoyed reading your piece this morning.
    I’m part-time minister at the Kokomo Fellowship, going on 4 years.
    It’s a good combination for me with my work as a counselor at the Adult Education Program in Lafayette.
    I’m from California originally and have several nephews in the LA area.
    Best wishes for the holidays and the coming year.
    Rev. Beverly H. Seese

  2. Beverly, Wonderful to hear from you! And give my love to all those UU’s at the Kokomo Fellowship. I loved the opportunities I had to visit and present worship with them. I will cherish the memory of driving to preach there behind a snowplow in 2008.

    I am on contract to be here in Ventura California until August of 2015, and after that we will see. If you are out here between now and then I would love to see you.

    I do not preach often, because my ministry is far more about Social Justice (mostly around issues of homelessness) and congregational administration and transformation (and the military ministry, of course). So it is humbling to me to know a colleague read the sermon the day after I preached it. Preaching is such a small part of my ministry now that I just did not think anyone would read it. I’m putting them up more for myself and for future search committees than anything else.

    Be well and blessed! David

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