A sermon delivered by The Rev. Kathy Schmitz on May 15, 2011
At First Unitarian Church of Orlando, Florida
"We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."
~ T. S. Eliot
In advance of today's Annual Congregational Meeting, Rev. Kathy reflects on her first nine months at First Unitarian.
“Dear Earth,” Max Kapp
Words for All Ages:
The Components of Prayer: Praise, Thanks, Sorrow, and Hope
“A Survival Meditation,” Nathan Walker
“Song of the Open Road,” #645 in Singing the Living Tradition
“Ministry Is All That We Do – Together,” Gordon McKeeman
Awakened from the Forest: Meditations on Ministry, Gary E. Smith
Permission is granted to quote freely with attribution. Permission is granted to use as a whole in worship with notice to the author. To reproduce in print, please contact the author.Sermon:
Today is our nine-month anniversary. Although you called me to be your minister just over a year ago, I did not begin to serve you until mid-August and so nine months ago, today, I became your minister and you became my congregation. (Seems like we should have a baby by now.)
Someone suggested that today, in advance of this afternoon’s Annual Meeting of the Congregation, I share with you some reflections about the beginning of our time together.
I’d like to do that, and I’d like to do it in the form a prayer. Let me explain.
As many of you know, because of my choice to dabble in interim ministry, I have had occasions to say good-bye to three different congregations in the last four years. How we say good-bye and manage departures is important, and so I developed a little ritual for myself. My last sermon to each congregation was in the form of a prayer. I found it a very rewarding way to wrap up with them. Now, I find myself planning to stay put for awhile and I thought I would adapt my ritual for use here – as a way of wrapping up each year.
As I discussed with the children, prayer can be thought of as having 4 traditional parts. They often begin with praise. Think of the beginning of many Jewish prayers: "Blessed are You, LORD, our God, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments…”
After praise, a prayer might move on to giving thanks. To naming those things for which we are grateful. Things large or small.
And prayers often contain laments. Expressions of sorrow. Things we wish were other than they are.
Lastly, prayers contain hope or hopes for what may come to be true in our lives or in our world.
Praise, gratitude, lament, and hope. I offer these to you in my reflections as a prayer.
We begin with praise. Let us pause for a moment of reflection. Think. What in your life could you hold up in praise, for honor, in admiration? About what could you exclaim, “Oh, that is so good!” It can be helpful to reflect on what we find deserving of praise. (Pause.)
There are many things I could praise about this congregation. Let me choose one overarching theme.
I am so impressed by this congregation ability to speak the truth in love. When I have seen someone have to speak to another person’s growing edges, I have seen it done with great respect. I have seen an acknowledgement of the person’s strengths as well as mitigating circumstances. You are capable of saying what needs to be said. I have not seen this done with an intention to injure or to harm. I have seen it done in a way that assumes goodwill and checks assumptions before acting on them. This is huge. It should not be taken for granted. It does not happen everywhere. You can speak the truth in love.
This translates to the congregational level in such a way that I can say that I am impressed by your ability to live with imperfection. This might seem like a strange thing to praise. However, I would argue that it is critical to life in community and the only way that we can recognize our full humanity.
This congregation does so many things well and, at the same time, this congregation has so many dreams of what is still possible. That can be very hard to hold in tension. Are we good enough, even though we haven’t achieved everything on our list? Yes! In fact, I will start to worry the day that you tell me you have no more dreams. The day you tell me that you are content just that way you are. The day you tell me you have nothing left to learn or to do or grow into.
My praise for this congregation is for its ability to love itself and its people, as they are, even while dreaming of what they yet can be.
Next, we come to gratitude, a second component of prayer. Let us pause for a moment of reflection. Think. What in your life do you appreciate? What calls out to you to give thanks? It is good to reflect on that for which we are grateful. (Pause.)
I start by saying that I do not say thank you nearly enough. I often think it, feel it, but then do not get it put into words. That is one of my growing edges.
When I began thinking about what I might say today, my overwhelming sense was one of gratitude. I am so happy to be your minister. I am so grateful, every day, for the opportunity that I have to do work I love and that I find deeply meaningful. I feel like I am where I belong. Thank you for being partners with me in this work.
I want to especially say thank you for the ways that you have welcomed me in this first year. There were the little things that aren’t really so little, like wearing your name tags. What a blessing that is to someone new among you.
One of the bigger things that I am grateful for is summed up by a little story. A few weeks into my time here, there was a potluck getting acquainted lunch. As I was getting ready to leave that day, I stuck my head in the kitchen to thank those who had made it happen. In response to my thank you, someone, I honestly can’t remember who, said simply, “You do your job. We’ll do ours.”
And that is what I have found all along the way. In this partnership, everyone has a part to play. There are things that are especially mine to do. There are things that are especially someone else’s to do. I am not in this alone. None of us is in this alone. This can be seen as a deeply spiritual understanding of congregational life, of life itself… we do not, cannot, do this alone.
And then we come to laments, the third component of prayer. Let us pause for a moment of reflection. Think. What in your life causes you sorrow? What grief do you carry? What calls out to you for forgiveness? It is good to reflect on what in our lives brings us regret. (Pause.)
One of the things that I have had to learn to be OK with this year is dropping balls. Too often, things have fallen off my to-do list. It is, of course, part of the spiritual practice of living with imperfections to make peace with such things. And, I really am fine with not getting everything done. What I am truly sorry about is the possibility that my dropping a ball might cause someone to think that I did not care about them personally or that I did not care about the thing that they cared about. Please know that never once did I say, “Hmmm, Bud’s not really that important to me and his project is really silly so I’ll just blow off the thing he asked me to do.” Not once.
I admit to being an optimist, and I make no apology for that. I do apologize for the times that my over optimism has caused me to over commitment and thereby cause someone else distress. It is my goal to arrange things so that I drop fewer balls in the year ahead.
And, speaking of the year ahead brings us to the fourth component of prayer, hope. Let us pause for a moment of reflection. Think. What are you hoping to bring into your life? What does your heart long for? What do you look forward to with anticipation? It is good to reflect on what we that which you would like to make real in our life or our world. (pause)
My biggest hope for us in the coming year is that we will be bold in building on what we have to empower and include more people. As Unitarian Universalists, we have a powerful message of love and inclusion to share with people who are religiously homeless and spiritually hungry. There are people in Central Florida who experience hate and exclusion as a daily diet. Are we willing to feed them? There are people who are lonely and afraid. Are willing to open our hearts and our doors so that they might have a home? I hope we are.
And I hope that we have the spirit of adventure and experimentation that this will take. Because we don’t have all the answers. Because we don’t really know exactly how to do what we need to do.
We do, however, have a direction. And we can head that way.
Will this be easy? Heck no. Will we make mistakes along that way? You bet. Will we have lots of opportunities to learn, to grow, and to practice forgiveness? Oh yeah. Will it take all of us? I think it would be best that way.
So here we are, you, and me, wrapping up one year and preparing for the next. Taking stock and making plans – so that we can enrich this ministry we do together. For I truly believe that this is a shared ministry. I may be the professional minister, but the work of the church is a shared ministry. It takes all of us. Shared ministry is what we do together.
I offer you my praise for your incredible ability to love yourselves and each other, as you are, even while new dreams of what is possible continue to emerge.
I thank you for being welcoming partners in this work. Reminding me, and others, that in congregations and in life, we do not, cannot, do this alone.
And for those moments when I have let you down, I apologize and ask your forgiveness. May we all continue to learn from our mistakes and forgive ourselves and each other.
And may we have hope in our hearts and great courage for the adventure before us. And love. May we have love to keep us going when our courage fails. May we be bold in creating together the future that is possible.
Amen & Blessed Be