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Rome Built in a Day

by the Rev. Elizabeth A. Lerner
Service at UUCSS on March 17, 2002

My sermon today is not long. Really, the sermon today was the reading. I heard our reading the first day of Convocation, the first of 20 addresses by Unitarian Universalist ministers over the week. I came home from there wondering how soon I would be able to share my experiences there with you. And then I realized that Rev. Parker's words to all of us, her colleagues could, maybe on some extraordinarily inspired day, have been my words to you. And it is in that spirit that I read them to you today.

It is not the excellence of her vision nor her exposition that make them worth your listening, it is her message itself. Just as she spoke to a group of hundreds who share in the vocation of ministry, so too do we in this church all share in the vocation of ministry. I've said that to you before, but I realize now I've never said it in enough depth, and I need to say it now to you, in depth, because our shared ministry is what will keep this congregation on the remarkable, vital path we have found together. It will keep us together, strongly united and mutually committed across all the differences we have in this congregation. It will keep us knowing each other, and known, the way we all want to be with each other. ..... And it will keep us strong in our growth, able to welcome among us new people who need us as individuals and as a faith, and who we need as individuals and for their gifts and wisdom.

When I've said I'm not the only minister in this congregation, I've really meant it. I mean it now. I know you have been fired for love of the world madly. I know you too have seen the miracle connection of the curling fern frond like the spine of a seahorse like the curling back of a fetus like the spiral nebula - and perhaps like me you've let those moments go, exhilarating, recognizing, brief as a breath - and gone, and then forgotten the next day in all its detail and significance until the next time, a different time but the same feeling, revelation.

And boy do I know you know what it is like when the ministry of our church slogs through the dullest day when ministry is just a chain of tasks and people, maybe ourselves, are petty and the copy machine has broken down and it is commitment and not fulfillment that makes us bite our tongue, try again to be understood or to understand, makes us call the copier service guys and not just leave the machine blinking for help, that keeps you, me, any of us in this work, this work of ministry, of religious community, of faith.

I hope you know that in the ministry of this church none of us, not me, not you, is alone. In your work, your preaching in lay services, your teaching, your advocacy for justice your watch at the bedside of a friend and fellow congregant, your witness in the struggle, your prayer, you join hands with me and each other, with people like Alice Louise Miller, our last founder whose memorial service was here yesterday, with someone we do not know yet who is coming here next Sunday for the first time and a year from now will be working with you on a church project, making you laugh, teaching you something you never knew, making your life and our church better with their presence, their essence.

Rev. Parker's address is wonderful because it not only lifts us up, and speaks generally of the work of ministry, she speaks in specifics and offers tasks, questions, issues, work to be done. Did something she say strike your soul - is it work for you? Have we not yet done it here, this work that needs to be done? Do it. Follow this call you feel to ministry and do it here and ask me or others here for help to do your ministry. Is there something she missed, that you know in your heart or soul and debate in your mind? Do it. Follow this call you feel to ministry and do it here and ask me or others here for help to do your ministry.

Is your ministry to care for others in need in this congregation, in this area, in the world? Do it and let this church help you. Find out what we are already doing here to care for others, to achieve social justice, and join us, or expand our opportunities to include what you know we should do. Is your ministry to show up on Sundays, to hear me and each other - to worship and listen and speak and deepen in religious community? Do it - it means so much to me to have you here, to each of us to have you here, to be here together for precious opportunities to seek and share truths that challenge and enlighten. Is your ministry to help us find the way to be the good employer we must be, knowing well how to structure our jobs and our staff so that our employees are paid for all the time they work so well for us, and have time to do all the work we need of them? Do it - we are making great strides and with your help we will very soon be what we wish to be. I can't list all the opportunities for ministry that exist at this church - help us make our worship better and more varied, our organization clearer and more expeditious, our spaces welcoming and pleasant and varied.

Josiah Bartlett, the minister who wrote on his deathbed that "Ministry is the best seat in the theatre of life" - his name sounds like he must be from UU'ism's ancient history - the 1800's perhaps? He wasn't, he just died recently. He was a powerful, wise, irreverent reverend, and he was right. Ministry is the best seat in the theatre of life - and I know I am not the only one who sees from that seat the beauty that shines in each of you. Indeed I know that there are beauties you have revealed to each other when I wasn't there, before I arrived, even, some of you, before I was born. But I know those beauties I haven't seen exist; their light shines, refracted like starlight from across the galaxy, from those constellations of your relations, across time, even now.

This beautiful congregation is growing into its maturity, this wonderful, quixotic 50-year-old of which we are all a part, and this unique faith of ours is a faith of love in place of judgement, and connection, not rejection. I came back this week from the mountaintop to the siren song of Silver Spring and I tell you it calls us not to waste, and not to endings on a rocky shore but to the shared journey of a faithful band and there is a grail, flaming, that we find at the end of our journey. I'll pack in every mythological and religious metaphor, nothing is too much, nothing is enough because anything is possible for me, for you, for all of us.

I have been amazed at our growth, our changing, our health, our commitment in just the past two years I have been here, but I am stopping being amazed and beginning to accept it - the sky is the limit for this church and for our ministry together. I offer you my scholarship, my heritage, my life experiences, my studies, my training, my compassion, my commitment - and it is not enough for this church - for all of you with your gifts and needs and knowledge and challenges. Thank god, thank goodness, I am not the only minister here - what do you offer, what will you offer to help me meet your needs, our needs, my needs, fellow pilgrim?

We have so much to do. Don't look at me. In case you didn't notice, from up here, I'm looking at you. Feel free to try to talk me down, but really, why not just join me here, truly, madly, deeply. Here we go.