Is It Sunday Yet?

Presenter: 
Rev. Megan Foley
Sermon Date: 
Sun, 05/19/2013

A few weeks ago, I was driving to church on Route 270, which is not my favorite experience, since it ranges between being either boring or annoying, which is, as I’m sure you can agree, a tough range for an experience one has several times a week.  I’m always glad for a distraction on these rides, and I had one this particular morning, because a car drove by me with a bumper sticker that I liked and which gave me a lot of pause.  The bumper sticker had a cross on it, and it was gray with purple lettering, and the bumper sticker said, “Is It Sunday Yet?”

Is It Sunday Yet?  I love that.  I love it because that simple question, for me, captures everything that church is about, what church is really about.

Churches do so many things, even small ones like ours.  We clean bathrooms!  We worry about money!  We hire staff and services!  We carefully address interpersonal problems!  There’s always this or that, and if you have too much of the this and the that, it’s easy to forget why we’re doing this at all, especially when the this and the that gets as boring or annoying as driving on 270.

When church life is too much like driving on 270, we need that car that comes by us out of the blue and asks us “Is it Sunday yet?”  Because it is Sunday that is the root of the real reason why we do church, even when there are tons and tons of different reasons why Sunday might be important to each of us.  We bring all those reasons together to this one event, the thing I’m going to call….WORSHIP.
Quick aside – there is also RELIGIOUS EDUCATION happening every Sunday morning at church, and while sometimes that is worshipful, it’s also educational, formative.  Just wanted to mention that, but since we’ll be talking a lot about religious education on June 2nd, I’m going to stick with this building’s activities for today.  So, WORSHIP.

Now, for a word about the word “worship.”

This feels like the part of the essay where you might write, “Webster’s Dictionary defines worship as…” - but let’s start just a step before that part.  Let’s start here, with this object that may just be too tiny for you to see well [show figurine]…This is a little doodad that I picked up for my husband at a time when I was feeling particularly affectionate towards and grateful for him.  The figure is kneeling and has its little arms stretched out in front of him in this posture of devotion.  You sit it down like this and you can see the posture it’s in.  I’d venture to guess that if most people had to picture an image of a person worshipping, they might picture something that looks like this.

And for many UUs, for those who come from more strident traditions than ours, and for those who are just independently-minded folks, this position does not exactly appeal.  Too much supplication, too much submission, perhaps, with not enough explaining about what we’re even supposed to be submitting to.  UUs generally want to know what they are being asked to worship as a strong first step, and they are observant enough to guess that if they go ahead and choose to worship something, then that something may well be quite different from their worshipping neighbor.  As a result, many UUs don’t have much use for this version of the term “worship”.

In times like these, I always find it helpful to remember that the Anglo Saxon roots of the word worship – yes, here is the dictionary part that I promised – the Anglo Saxon roots tell us that the word worship actually means worth-shape.  To shape things of worth.  To make shapes out of the things that we find worthy, the things we value most. 

That’s what worship really means.  Not this figure and all its connotations.  Not supplication to something you don’t know about, although that’s fine work too, if you’ve got it.  But really what we’re talking about is shaping things of worth.

The 1983 UU Commission on Common Worship points out that “[worship] is to help us declare, celebrate, rejoice in those things we have discovered to be "of worth." The aim of common worship is to help us reorder, reopen, reshape, and reinterpret our experience and to help us find the power to reaffirm again and again in word and deed what is worthy of our ultimate commitment. "   [Learn more about the UU Commission on Common Worship at https://www.uua.org/worship/theory/leadingcongregations/index.shtml]

What is worthy of your ultimate commitment?  And when do you take the time to consider those things to which you have committed, those things that are most worthy to you?  In other words, using another quote from another SCUUer, don’t you need an hour every week where you take time to pay attention to what’s most important to you?

A charming quote from the Reverend Victoria Safford:
“In a cemetery once, an old one in New England, I found a strangely soothing epitaph.  The name of the deceased and her dates had been scoured away by wind and rain, but there was a carving of a tree with roots and branches…and among them the words, “She attended well and faithfully to a few worthy things.”  At first this seemed to me a little meager, a little stingy on the part of her survivors, but I wrote it down and have thought about it since, and now I can’t imagine a more proud or satisfying legacy.
 
“She attended well and faithfully to a few worthy things.”
 
Every day I stand in danger of being struck by lightning and having the obituary in the local paper say, for all the world to see, “She attended frantically and ineffectually to a great many unimportant, meaningless details.”
 
How do you want your obituary to read?”

And Rev. Safford offers several examples of less than stellar obituaries, my favorite being, ““She answered all her calls, all her e-mails, all her voice-mails, but along the way she forgot to answer the call to service, and compassion, and forgiveness, first and foremost of herself.” (  Safford, Victoria.  “Set In Stone,” in Walking Toward Morning: Meditations, Skinner House Books, 2003.)

When we find ourselves here on Sunday morning, we UUs, it is because we have acknowledged something in ourselves that human beings have acknowledged since the dawn of civilization.  There’s something inside of each of us that doesn’t want to forget to answer our calls to service or compassion or forgiveness.  We don’t want to forget to honor and celebrate the things that really matter to us, the things that give us lift…hope…peace…answers.  We don’t want to get lost in a maze of to-dos and traffic and bad news and overburdened schedules and difficult work and family situations that we can’t escape. 

“That should be the use of the Sabbath,” says our good friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson, “to check this head-long racing and put us in possession of ourselves once more.”  (  THE PREACHER. Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, vol. 10 (Lectures and Biographical Sketches) [1909])

19th century psychologist Guy Allan Tawney adds, “Worship is like a breathing spell in a long and arduous foot race, or the hour of roll call in a prolonged and hard- fought battle: ... it is altogether indispensable to sane and wholesome living.  It is important enough in life to warrant the erection of classical temples and Gothic cathedrals. It is indeed so important that one finds one's self sometimes wondering how any of us can afford to do anything but educate ourselves in this art.”

We are, in fact, taking some time right now to educate ourselves in the art of worship, the art of the very thing that has consistently brought people together no matter what the epoch or what the culture, the thing that has inspired people to erect cathedrals and also stone circles and so many other tributes lost to time. 

What makes a worship space or a worship place, or a worship time?  What makes it possible for you to immerse yourself in and experience more of the thing that brings you to our doors each Sunday?

Is it the visual beauty, the tangible peace of this place?  Someone found this land, someone bought this land, someone built and renovated these buildings according to the laws of this county, someone mowed the grass recently and weeded the garden, someone paid the mortgage.  You know those people and you are those people. Close your eyes for a moment and hold those people, yourself, in your heart with gratitude.  They have made a worship space for you today, so that you could come and be with the ideas and things and people that matter most to you.  We are grateful for them.

What else makes it worthwhile to come here on Sunday?  Is it the warm welcome, the friendly people that you strongly suspect are also here to try to find their best way forward?  Did you come in part for the chance to head over to our Sugarloaf House afterwards, have a bit of yummy sustenance and talk to someone that you like?  Someone greeted you when you came into this room, most likely, and handed you the things you’ll need to experience this hour.  If you’re new, they may have recorded your name so that you can be contacted and know that you are welcome to find a home here, not just stop by and move on.  Someone washed the cups you’ll be drinking from later, and made the coffee with their own two hands, and brought some food to share with you.  You know who does this work, and maybe it is you.  Let’s take a moment to close our eyes and hold those welcoming people, ourselves, in our hearts.  We are grateful for you.

Why else do we come together on Sundays?  Is it because there are more methods for finding meaning here than there are in the regular world?  Words, words, and more words assail us every day.  To be around people, it seems, means to be awash in a world of words.  Do you come here because sometimes you need music to make meaning of your world?  Do you need to sing, and read the poems that form our lyrics, and sit quietly and hear the music made especially for you to hear?  Someone put together that hymnal and those poems.  More importantly, someone plays for you, every week, some instrument not of their own making but one that they have become skilled at playing and wish to offer to you.  You know who does this, and maybe it is you.  Let us take a moment to close our eyes, and hold the music-bringers, the music-makers, in our hearts.  We are grateful for you.

And there are, of course, the ideas and impulses and holy drives that are shaped into themes each week for your contemplation, your digestion.  This world of ours, as troubled as it can be, is also fueled by sacred goodness, especially so when we choose to see it, describe it, and revel in it.  Coming here each week to do so, to revel in the Sacred Good of the world, is something we’re able to do both because that Good is there and also because there are people willing to describe it and condense it into something you can take away and reflect upon.  For the Holy that exists among us always, and for the people who are able to reveal it in church, we are grateful.

Do you know what else makes it worthwhile to come and do your checking in, your moment of pause for things of ultimate value, here in this community?  Imagine for a minute that you’re throwing a fairly large party, for about 50 people.  You get all the food and you put up the decorations.  You picked music to play and you created a welcoming atmosphere, a pretty place.  You invited everyone to come.  Are you then done, do you then have a party, just because you did all this preparation?

No.  It isn’t a party until the guests arrive.  It is the guests that make it a party – not the hosts, not the workers.  It’s the guests.

And so it is the congregation, the participants, who come with their hearts open and their hopes for new meaning apparent, that makes worship happen, too.  Just like a party, the preparation is necessary, but not sufficient, to make worship be.  It is the congregation, you all sitting there, that makes worship happen.

As your primary worship leader, I cannot tell you how often the real meaning of a worship service did not become apparent to me until the middle of the service itself, when I sensed the changes in energy in the room and I worked with you to learn something, to grow in some way I was not expecting. 

I cannot tell you how many times I have worked with others to create a worship service in a pretty loose way, only to have every piece of the service come together on Sunday morning in a fashion that we couldn’t have made better if we had planned it out that way.

And I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve written something far in advance that still fit in with the changed circumstance in which I preached it, because the people within that changed circumstance, in the world or in the church, came in the door in hopes of making meaning of what they find here.  Their hope for meaning is what made what they heard meaningful. 

Worship is like the stone soup of the old story.  We always have the water and the stones here on Sunday mornings – literally, in Sugarloaf’s case.  And you guys come in with your beef and your potatoes and your carrots.  You come through the door with your truths and your hopes and your questions and your faith.  All that gets thrown into the mix.  Even your hurts and your doubts, they go in there too.  And we make the soup, a different one each Sunday, but always the one that we need.  We make it all together, and all of us eat.  We eat all in the same canoe, surviving the same flood, whether we are getting along with each other or not. 

And maybe what we really come to learn, no matter what we think we’re here on Sunday for, is the same lesson that we learned from old grandmother Turtle in our story this morning.  “We’re all in this canoe together,” she told everyone during the flood.  “We’re gonna have ta work together to paddle back ta ar homes.  An when we get thar we’re gonna be in this world all tagether an that’s just the way it’s meant ta be.”

A beautiful place and a friendly face.  Messages to inspire and instruct, and music to soothe and penetrate.  A group of people with whom to pause in the midst of all that there is out there to battle, a people with whom we can ask, “What is most important in this world?  What do we most want to remember?  How can we celebrate it?  How can it nourish us, so that we are living lives filled with meaning and power?”

It’s enough to make you ask, “Is it Sunday yet?”

Amen.