Sunday, February 26, 2017 “Considering the Immeasurable of Our Community Life” Rev. Patty Willis

READING “Lupines Blooming in a Muddy Field”

When Etty Hillesum, a Jew and brilliant Russian scholar living in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam, stayed at Westerbork, the way station for Jews who would be eventually sent to extermination camps such as Auschwitz, she looked beyond the barbed wire and watched the lupines blooming in the muddy field. The measurable, countable, areas of life in Amsterdam at that time were grim. Yet, she found the immeasurable: the jasmine blooming outside her window, evenings with friends, sharing the limited food that was available. The feel of the sunlight on her face. As the area she traveled disappeared, her inner landscape become larger and larger. The immeasurable sustained her. May her memory urge us to find the immeasurable. The daffodils growing on our snowy fields.

In Arizona, I met someone who loved Christmas lights, lots of Christmas lights. He built a home near the Arizona/Mexican border in a place where many migrants passed in the night. One year, with many-colored lights, he turned his barn into a church. One night, when he discovered migrants, cold and thirsty, huddled against the side of his barn. They had thought they discovered a church that would shelter them. The man sent them off into the night.

Many churches are like this man’s “fake” sanctuary. They appear to be places of refuge, but when you come inside by what you hear or what people say, you discover that you are not safe at all. This is a tragedy and the way that I believe that many religions have failed the world.

Sanctuary is at the core of a church—a place for refuge and safety.
We want to be a real sanctuary. And, we are the ones who build that sanctuary.
For this stewardship campaign, our graphic, which you have seen on all the flyers, is of people catching stars to build a sanctuary. What are these stars?
Charles Eisenstein, the author of Sacred Economics writes that:
Today we suffer a poverty of immeasurable things, priceless things; a poverty of the things that money cannot buy …

I believe that these stars that will build the sanctuary on our poster are forged from the very practical gifts that we need in order to exist and those immeasurable things.

With the world suffering from this poverty of immeasurable things, I invite you into a radical act of seeing and valuing above all else, the immeasurable. For truly, when we don’t perceive these immeasurable things, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t there—it means that we are not seeing them. We have been tricked into not seeing them because all around us are the distractions of the measurable. I dislike conspiracy theories—I feel that they are not helpful—but sometimes I wonder if there isn’t some underlying plot to keeps us turning our eyes away from the immeasurable to what money can buy.

During the early days of feminism one reaction to the falsehood that women who stayed at home weren’t working was to write up all the things that they did and then attach a price to it.

It was a good step, but attaching number values seemed to cleaning a house, or preparing food, or waking in the night to take care of sick children, or read the same story over and over again seemed to de-value what a mother does. So much was missing from the picture because we cannot attach a number value to love, patience and sense of duty and all the immeasurables we exchange and give the people we love.

And, I feel this discomfort when I see people attaching a number value to what I and the wonderful people who serve you do. How can we give a number to the religious exploration program that our children actually enjoy, the music that Mary Lou Prince has brought to this sanctuary and lifted us week after week, the happiness and love and professional work of our administrator, Cindy Martin, and the many years of loyalty and hard work of our custodian James Carlson? What about all my sleepless Saturday nights (and inability to enjoy Saturday evenings) as I ponder what you might need to hear—knowing that you are all so different, with lives at such varied places? At the center of our stewardship campaign is our hope to more fully and justly compensate these people who are giving us immeasurable gifts and through your practical giving you will be able to reward them.

We are not matching their gifts, we are showing that we see how immeasurable they are. This year, as you ponder your 3-T cards, I encourage you into that radical work of considering the abundance of immeasurable things among us.

And speaking for the staff, we have received much from you of that immeasurable gift of “love” — and I hope that you have felt ours.

Another underrated and immeasurable gift is “duty.” Duty opened your hearts to serve on the Board or take another position when you were really busy in your personal life because in order for this community to continue, we must have leadership.

This building itself provides immeasurable things to our surrounding community far beyond its bricks and spiffed up social hall. Through all the changes of the past thirty years, this community has symbolized a sanctuary of acceptance to people who felt marginalized in the larger community. When I introduced myself to a religion teacher at Juan Diego Catholic High School, he said, “Oh, you are the minister of that church where I send LGBTQ students who are struggling with acceptance. We have done well with acceptance around gender and sexuality. Not just to find the similarities but to appreciate how we are different. Just as the countries of origin of people seeking sanctuary changes with all the complexities of the world economy and war, from Vietnam to El Salvador to Syria and Somalia, so do the needs of people in the world. Now, in 2017, as people, especially Muslims, are being targeted and we are being called to open more to the differences in religion. As in our work around sexuality and gender, this is work to do within our community and without. We are theists, atheists, agnostics, Wiccans, seekers, Evangelical Christians, Mormons, and more…

On the way into our sanctuary, the wall to the left shows how our sanctuary has spread into many parts of this Salt Lake Valley and into the world. We can now add that photograph of Pastor Etienne on his very real motorcycle because Mary Lou and Cassie Olson shared their time and talents and the treasure that came out of the performance. We spend our time going up to the Capitol and marching and reaching out, knitting and giving our prayer shawls to the people living at the hospice for the homeless and our own members. That wall is evidence that we are not like the barn lit like a sanctuary of that person we met in Arizona. We are real and this stewardship time is the way that we re-commit ourselves to building our sanctuary—for that ephemeral refuge is created year after year, Sunday after Sunday.

Today, I have a special guest, Samira Harnish, the founder of “Women of the World” an organization that helps refugee women and their families. She is impassioned with providing practical resources and help and our choir will be donating the proceeds of our concerts of “Women of Courage” to Women of the World. Come to those on the 17th and 18th of March and be generous. We are giving of Time and Talents to bring Treasure to her great work. This morning, Samira is going to speak for a couple of minutes on the immeasurable of her work.

Samira Harnish speaks for two minutes.

Thank you, Samira. Your presence here is a gift to us. This is another aspect of the immeasurable abundance in this world: when you give you receive something that you cannot buy—that feeling in your heart that you are fulfilling your own gifts in helping others.

May this be the way of our stewardship campaign—this forging of stars from the immeasurable and the practical. That is how we will keep becoming a real sanctuary that calls to people in need of refuge and gives us refuge in our times of need.

As Etty Hillesum, may we notice the points of daffodils and tulips emerging from the snow, the kindness that is around us, the love that has brought us so far.

May it be so.

To honor the multiplicity of belief in this community, please join me in the spirit of prayer and reflection this morning with the words of Mel Welliver, a chaplain and long time member of this community:
You who have no name, but Mystery. I don’t know who you are, I don’t know what you are, in fact, I don’t experience you as anyone or anything; only as all there is, including the space between, the connectivity. Oh Mysterious Life, with no comprehension of words, only understanding of my gratitude and inspiration to accept what is, now. Eternal Life, living through me, through all who are in this room, through all existence from plant to animal to rock, which I am truly grateful to be part of, I am aware of the peace that is all around, and I accept that anxiety, anger, sickness, grief and sometimes even overwhelming depression… happen. I am grateful that in this moment, I can embrace the peace, even in sorrow and though at times I am burdened by the fact that consumption of other mortal lives is the only way to sustain my own, I am grateful for each form that has given its mortal life for me, from animal to mineral to plant. As I consider the awe of each interaction I experience with our UU Community, as well as the interactions I have with each individual here and the experience I get to share with each visitor I meet, I don’t know who to thank for it. I do know I am grateful for each eternal now I have, until the day I return to the beautiful earth and universe from which I came. I am truly grateful for the discovery of science, and how it enhances the awe I experience when I am in nature, especially from trees, and birds, and crickets, and now even horses, which all seem to have connectivity with the beginning of Eternal Life’s sentient expressions. I ask nothing, and know that my hope is in my acceptance of what is. May whatever comes my way be accepted, whether it is health or sickness or end and may whoever comes my way be accepted with kindness, whether their intention is compassion, indifference or animosity. For all these things which are Eternal Life’s mortal expressions, I am truly grateful. In the name of all we are, and the Mystery that is within all that is and the Eternal Life we experience Now.

Amen and May it be so.

I now invite you into a time of sacred silence during which we are able to listen to what is in each of our hearts. By our listening, we weave the fabric of the Beloved Community. May we feel the loving support of this congregation, our dearest loved ones and the Spirit of Life that holds and sustains us through our times of joy and sorrow together. Let us enter a time of silence so that we can hear the words our hearts need to speak to us. Amen. Blessed be.
SACRED SILENCE (2 minutes)

BENEDICTION Rev. Patty Willis
May we have eyes to see and ears to hear the immeasurable and may we value these gifts as our treasure. May we find the blue of the lupines blooming in a muddy field and may we encourage the blooming of people around us. May we go against the ways of the world and make a practice of valuing the immeasurable. And in this moment here together may we feel the connection of our shared journey, the ways that we love alike in all our differences. And, in Mel’s words: Let us be grateful for each eternal now that we have, until the day we return to the beautiful earth and universe from which we came. Amen