Stepping into the dream together

Rev. Chris Jimmerson
September 3, 2017
First UU Church of Austin
4700 Grover Ave., Austin, TX 78756
austinuu.org

As First UU Church of Austin lives into our values and mission, what is possible? What differences will we make in whose lives? How big can we dream, and what will it take us to get there?


Call to Worship

By Leslie Takahashi

To worship means to consider that which has worth – today we consider, with gratitude, the many gifts of this community –

The opportunity to be affirmed in who we are and to offer that affirmation to others The chance to stand up together to help remake the world in the ideal of justice

And the aspiration to consider all life as precious for if all of it is made of stardust, how can it not be wondrous?

So this morning let’s welcome all of these gifts with gratitude – for they have been paid for with many currencies

The blood of the martyrs who died so that we can be free in our religion

The sweat of those who persisted in justice’s name against hostility and adversity The tears of those who struggled to build better lives for those in this life

The questions of our children as they understand the world anew and offer their understanding to us as a fresh lens

The laughter and joy of those giddy with the embrace of community

The dollars and cents of those who gave what they could – and then stretched a little more.

The infinite small acts of service that make the parts greater than the whole, done by those who knew themselves in sympathy with our purposes.

So today we consider with gratitude and humility what it means to pay forward what has been paid forward for us.

And now, with all of this, let us enter into worship with gladness in our hearts.


Reading

Gifts

For those who came before, who gave to us this faith that sustained us this, our beloved religious community.

We offer our gratitude and those gifts that are significant and meaningful to us.

For those who will come after us, our literal and spiritual children and grandchildren, who will carry forward our beloved Unitarian Universalism and our beloved church.

We offer our gratitude and those gifts that are significant and meaningful to us.

For the gifts of live and love.

We offer our gratitude and those gifts that are significant and meaningful to us.

For our common purpose, for the opportunity to gather as a community, for the blessings of nourishing souls and transforming lives both inside these church walls and beyond them, for the call to do justice.

We offer our gratitude and those gifts that are significant and meaningful to us.

For ourselves, we who form and carry forward our faith and our beloved community.

We offer our gratitude and those gifts that are significant and meaningful to us.


Sermon

“We gather in community to nourish souls, transform lives and do justice.”

What an inspiring mission. What a grand purpose. What a sacred reason to be.

And it arose out of set of values that this religious community has discerned are at our very core:

“Transcendence. Community. Courage. Compassion. Transformation”.

What glorious aspirations we share.

This is the time of year where we are engaged in our stewardship campaign to ask you for your financial pledges that will make living out those values and that mission possible next year. One of your stewardship ministry co-chairs really wanted me to call this the “Sermon on the Amount”. I declined.

I declined because I want to talk with you about more than just the amount. I want to reflect upon the vision that those shared values call us toward – the dream that we step into every Sunday, when we say together that mission, our sacred reason to be. – But I do also want to acknowledge that we sometime shy away from talking about money, especially here in church and especially as a part of worship.

And yet, a spiritual practice of generosity and a commitment toward responsible stewardship of our church and religious community is a vital part of nourishing our own souls and transforming our own lives. We have inherited this church, our spiritual dream and vision, because of the generosity of our religious ancestors, and we have the opportunity to pass it on even more greatly realized to those who will follow us. And to me, there is something divine in that possibility.

Our church, and all Unitarian Universalist (or UU) churches, are organized in a manner that is referred to as “congregational polity”. Polity just means how we organize and govern ourselves. Our congregational polity goes all the way back to 1648 and a written set of promises, or a covenant, that a group of our predecessor churches made to one another, called the Cambridge Platform.

Briefly, congregational polity, as established by the Cambridge Platform, means that we are a group of associated churches that support and work with one another so that we can all more greatly live out our shared UU faith. Each church pays into a shared administrative body called the Unitarian Universalist Association or UUA. The UUA provides many forms of important administrative and educational support to our churches and our larger UU work in the world.

However, each of our UU churches are independent entities. We own our own property and govern ourselves. There is no centralized denominational hierarchy that can tell us what to believe or what to do – all thanks to the Cambridge Platform.

Maybe that is why my UU History professor in seminary had us sing out Boo-yah after any mention of the Cambridge Platform.

Oops, boo-yah.

Let’s do that together. The Cambridge Platform.

Boo-yah.

The Cambridge Platform. Boo-yah.

The Cambridge Platform.

Boo-yah.

Thank you for indulging my religious nerdiness. Now, another result of congregational polity is that there is no centralized denominational body that provides us with overall financial support. The lion’s share of the funding that allows this religious community to step into the dream together, live out our mission, our sacred purpose together, comes from the very members of this religious community. We have to fund ourselves, also thanks to the Cambridge Platform.

Boo-yah.

And that’s OK, because I know that this congregation is up to it.

We have … you have the spiritual generosity to step into that dream together.

I know this because I have watched you pledge to a capital campaign that will result in creating a welcoming table for more and more folks who will join us in living our sacred purpose together. Strengthened by their presence among us, I have no doubt we will step into the dream even more fully.

And I have experienced the spiritual generosity of this church very directly and very personally.

Several years ago now, not that long after my spouse Wayne and I joined this church and before I went to seminary, Wayne developed a disabling and potentially life-threatening condition called polymyositis.

Polymyositis is likely an inherited condition wherein the immune system attacks the body’s own muscles.

For Wayne, it caused a number of symptoms and problems including weakening his leg muscles to the point where it was difficult for him to walk.

Members of this church brought us food. They offered to take Wayne to his various medical appointments. One member came by and gave Wayne two beautiful walking canes that this church member had hand carved himself.

I can’t begin to tell you how much that all helped.

I was working as the executive director of an immigration legal services non-profit at the time, a job that required well over 40 hours per week. Trying to balance that with caring for Wayne’s needs and just being with him was extremely difficult, and the help that members of this church gave us made a real difference.

Plus, I was scared. I was greatly worried. My heart was hurting over seeing what the disease was doing to Wayne and the fear that it might take him from me.

Just knowing that this church was holding us in prayers and love helped us to make it through that time.

Now, I want you to know that Wayne is doing much better now.

The polymyositis is in remission, and he is even seeing a fitness trainer at a gym, doing exercises people half his age have no business doing.

And in my time with the church since then, and especially now as one of your ministers, I have witnessed this religious community do the same for so many others – helping people through battling cancer and other serious illnesses, holding family members and loved ones through the deaths of ones they loved, loving and supporting one another through any number of life’s challenges and sorrows, and also celebrating life’s joys together.

And that’s only some of the spiritual generosity of this religious community that occurs within these church walls. But you also take that generosity out into our community and our world in so many ways.

We have folks working for justice by engaging in antiracism activities, fighting for LGBTQ rights, the rights and dignity of the disabled, women’s rights, immigration justice and so much more. We have a group of real leaders in the Austin area on the environment and climate change.

This congregation offered sanctuary to Sulma Franco and helped her avoid deportation to her home country of Guatemala, where she would have faced persecution and most likely even death.

That’s the difference that gathering in community to nourish souls, transform live and do justice makes. It changes lives for the better.

Sometimes it even saves a life.

I believe it changes our own lives by helping us to be better people.

People living more fulfilling, ethical lives and who are moved to work for justice in our community and our world.

What an inspiring mission. What a grand purpose. What a sacred reason to be.

And the thing is, I could go on. I have only scratched the surface of all the many ways in which this congregation is demonstrating your spiritual generosity by living out that mission. In all, we have over 80 ministries and programs.

I want to change gears just slightly now though and talk about the resilience and spiritual generosity this religious community has demonstrated over the past several months, while our senior minister, Meg, has had to be out so that she could heal and recover from the serious infection she had developed.

First, I can’t begin to adequately voice for you how much the love and support so many of you expressed to Meg and Kiya has meant to them. You helped lift their spirits at a time when it would have been easy to fall into despair.

And all the while, you have kept that mission alive.

For instance, over these past few months, a dedicated group of church leaders have expanded our efforts toward antiracism, multiculturalism and dismantling the dominance of white norms, both in the church and by working with other groups out in our community. We can and must keep expanding this work; however, we have an everstrengthening base upon which to build.

During this time, so many of you have worked in so many ways as we battled the many harmful bills that came up in the Texas Legislature. We were not always able to stop some of them, but there were important victories. I was happy to see that on Wednesday of last week, a judge at least temporarily blocked one of the most harmful of those that did pass, Senate Bill 4, the so called “show me your papers” anti-immigrant, anti-sanctuary city law.

Over the past few months, you have kept this religious community growing in so many ways. A dedicated group of building committee volunteers did a new set of canvassing visits for our capital campaign to invite relatively new members to participate. Those newer members responded very generously, and many of them have now become canvassers themselves!

And speaking of new members, 46 great folks joined the church between January and July of this year. That is more than joined in all of 2016.

In general, Sunday attendance has also been up, as has attendance in our Faith Development classes for our children and our youth.

If you did not get to be at the service that our high school youth did in May, let me tell you it was profoundly moving. It was great evidence that our folks that work with our children and youth over in our faith development wing are doing amazing and holy work. Rumor even has it that a couple of our youth have begun considering going to UU seminary.

The greatest number of members from this church ever to attend our Unitarian Universalist annual General Assembly did so this past June. Under the leadership of our excellent denominational affairs chair, our participation in our larger faith is growing.

And, so many of you have worked in so many ways to continue and expand our social justice and interfaith efforts this year.

Under the leadership of it founding chair, we have formed and sustained a terrific new Women’s Alliance.

Then recently, this congregation has again offered sanctuary to an immigrant that faces potentially life-threatening consequences without it.

Over the past week, I have been heartened by the generosity shown across our country to offer support and aid to people affected by Hurricane Harvey. I have been especially touched by the responses of our local UU churches, and most especially you, the folks of this church.

Because once again terrific leadership has stepped up from among you. They are providing us ways to donate tangible items and/or to make a financial contribution to folks who have been affected by Harvey. You can also contribute to help our UU churches that were damaged by the storm. Please visit the social action table in the gallery after this service to find out more.

These are just a few of the ways you have kept our mission alive and the spiritual generosity of this religious community flowing over the past few months while Meg has had to be away.

I tell you all of this because that is not what so often happens when a well loved minister is unexpectedly absent for an extend period due to serious illness. What more often happens is that much of what I have just described grinds to a halt. Anxieties rise. Tempers flare. Attendance and new member growth fall.

And very often the poor soul who steps in as the acting senior minister under such circumstances is treated in way that, oh, let’s just say is quite the opposite of the compassion, support and generous spirit with which you all have treated me.

And although of course I would not have had it happen under these circumstances, the compassion and support you all have shown me, has allowed me to learn and grow as a minister. You have helped my soul thrive, and for that I am and always will be extraordinarily grateful.

The resilience, compassion, generosity of spirit and commitment to our mission and ministries this religious community had demonstrated during this time is nothing short of amazing. You are already stepping into the dream together.

So, our stewardship campaign is just the way we provide ourselves with the resources it will take to keep living that dream together next year.

Members of the church have already pledged $300,000 toward 2018, many of them raising their pledges by significant amounts compared to this year.

I know that not everyone has circumstances that will allow them to do that, so here is that sermon on the amount after all. In this church, we ask that our folks pledge an amount that is meaningful and significant to you within your means. We are hoping to increase our pledges by around 5% overall.

Oh, and we also ask that you please be nice to your canvasser.

They are wonderful group of church volunteers who we can never thank enough.

“Transcendence. Community. Courage. Compassion. Transformation”.

What a compelling set of values this religious community shares.

“We gather in community to nourish souls, transform lives and do justice.”

What a sacred reason to be.

May we keep the dream of this, our beloved religious community alive and growing by continuing to support ourselves as we have done going all the way back to the Cambridge Platform.

Boo-yah! And Amen.


Podcasts of this and other sermons are also available for free on iTunes. You can find them here.

Most sermons delivered at the First UU Church of Austin during the past 17 years are available online through this website. You will find links to them in the right sidebar menu labeled Sermons. The Indexes link leads to tables of all sermons for each year listed by date (newest to oldest) with topic and speaker. Click on the topic to go to a sermon.