16913 Germantown Road
Germantown, Maryland 20875-0320
Presenter:Rev. Megan Foley
Sermon Date:Sun, 03/04/2012
Two Tuesdays ago it was Mardi Gras, and two Wednesdays ago it was Ash Wednesday, which means that now, here on March 4th, we are in the middle of Lent, which ends on Easter Sunday, this year on April 8th.
Lent is going to be yet another one of those observances that Unitarian Universalists are either entirely too close to, or are completely removed from. So to start us off, can I just get a show of hands of who here grew up observing Lent or observes Lent now?
And can I now see who knows what Lent is but has never really observed it?
And how many of us haven’t really had anything to do with Lent at all?
A mix is typical for a UU congregation, because our membership is such a combination of folks coming from Christian traditions, and folks coming from other religious traditions, and those coming from no religious tradition at all. Unitarian Universalism’s Christian roots don’t help out with this particular time of year either, because Lent is observed in the 40 days leading up to Easter – Lent culminates in Easter, in fact - and Easter has always been the sticking point of Christianity for UUs.
We UUs love the baby Jesus, and we’re happy to get behind Jesus’ teachings. We’re pretty good at bringing them into reality, in fact. But when it comes to Jesus’ resurrection and sitting at the right hand of the Father and all that, UUs usually either flatly disagree or they aren’t sure or they don’t care. And that’s not just true now - we have disagreed or had trouble with that part of the Christian story for hundreds of years, and our theological ancestors disagreed for thousands of years before that. Jesus’ resurrection, and Jesus’ relationship to God, is traditionally where Unitarian Universalism departs from mainstream Christianity.
So it would be reasonable to assume that Lent is tricky for UUs because of Easter and the way in which we think about Jesus. But I think it more likely that Lent is tricky for UUs because of the way that those of us who were raised with Lenten observances were encouraged to think about God.
I was raised a sort of slacker-Christian, as in “we occasionally got it together enough to make it to church on a Sunday, which happened to be a Christian one.” As a result, I didn’t get a lot of direct information about Lent and what it was for, growing up. But my best friend was Catholic, and she went through CCD early in elementary school. CCD is the religious education program that the Catholic Church provides children prior to their receiving First Communion at age 7 or 8.
From my best friend, I “learned” what one does during Lent, and I suspect that this is the same lesson that many of you may have learned. In this child’s version of the purpose of Lent, I learned that one is supposed to be very sad that Jesus died, so sad that you’re sad for more than a month, which is a long time to be sad if you’re a kid. My friend and I understood that God sacrificed a lot by making Jesus die on the cross, and we were supposed to sacrifice something too, because that’s what God wants. Therefore, at the beginning of Lent we are to pick something we really, really love, and we are to give it up for 40 days. It would be better if we picked something that we aren’t sure we can live without – like maybe candy or ice cream, if you were us - because that would make God happier.
This is, of course, a second –grade version of how Lent is supposed to go, and we’ll be hearing a more mature version a little bit later. But I do think that this is the version that many Lenten-observers learn. And you can probably already see that Unitarian Universalism would have many, many problems with this depiction of what God is and what God wants us to do.
Already, UUs would typically be suspicious of the notion that God sent his one Son to his death to compensate for our earthly sins, after which he rose from the grave into heaven, redeeming us all. The hallmark of our religion, at least historically, is this original disagreement with Jesus’ resurrection. This is not to say that you can’t believe in the Resurrection and be a UU – of course you can. But historically, this was often the dividing line.
But more than that, a good UU of yesteryear or today would have a problem with the depiction of God in this second-grade-Lenten scenario. When we UUs believe in a personalized God at all, that God is certainly the God-of-Love that is sometimes overlooked in mainstream Christianity. UUs tend to believe in the all forgiving God that made us in God’s own image, hoping that we might grow into our full divine capacity.
Historical Unitarian Universalist theology would chafe at the notion of a vengeful God who demands sacrifice. And modern UUs don’t resonate with the vengeful God idea at all.
But, as I said, this is a child’s notion of Lent. Which is not to say that it isn’t preached and practiced this way by adults, because it is. But there is a deeper way to think about Lenten practices, the practices that might be called sacrifices. And those ways might be useful to us Unitarian Universalists, even when we aren’t terribly engaged with the Christian story at all.
The short way to define this new way of practicing Lent makes up the title of this sermon: Making Room. During the season of Lent – or really, for UUs, you can do this at any time, including at Ramadan or Yom Kippur, if that appeals to you – but for liberal Christians, during the season of Lent, you give up things in your regular life in order to make room for something bigger that would otherwise get pressed out.
You could be making room for the values that sustain you, the ones that keep you going through busy times and through hard times.
You could be making room for that which is most important to you, the foundational, defining things in your life that you may have overlooked the rest of the year.
You could be making room just for honesty, honesty about who and what you are, and who and what you owe your allegiance to.
You could be making room for possibility, so that the things outside of your regular purview can find a way to enter your life.
And – and this is what I most recommend – you could be making room for divine love to enter into your presence, and do its magic work of transforming you and healing you. You could make room for God. In fact, in my theology, making room for God, and making room for love, and making room for that which is most important, and making room for those things of most value, and making room for possibility, and honesty – these are all making room for the same thing. And making room for this conglomerate of things, which seem like they could be separate but really are the same, is the purpose of Lent. It isn’t really your job to figure out what you’re making room for. It is more your job to just make the room and see what happens.
As I said, there’s no particular reason for UUs to do this room-making during the Lenten season. You could do it when a variety of non-Christian religions do it, or you could do it at some other time. But making room is important, for all of us. And when you think of Lent as a time of making room, rather than a time of sacrifice, then the thing you choose to give up might change rather dramatically.
You might ask yourself how your daily routine would have to change to make space for those things that are the most important. You might actually choose to limit your ice cream intake, if you determined that you needed to see that your life was fueled by love and sustained by the unknowable grace of creation, and not fueled by sweets.
But, perhaps more likely, you’ll think of something else. A friend of a friend of mine gave up hurrying for Lent last year. Hurrying. It seems like sort of a funny thing to give up, until you consider what must have gone into that particular decision. What does it mean when one is hurrying much of the time?
Hurrying could mean that you have too much on your plate, which suggests that not all of your tasks are getting your full attention or talents. You may have taken on too much because you feel you need to prove yourself, or because you don’t believe others can do things the way you can. You might not be sure who you are, come to think of it, if you aren’t full of activity, in the same way the author of our reading this morning felt chased by the failure chipping away at each success. So you can see how giving up hurrying, just whisking it away from your life for 40 days, might give you the room to consider other ways to orient your life. Giving up hurrying could make room for concentration, for fuller relationships, for a deeper understanding of your own value to others and to life itself. You could make room for something holy, something holy that you never knew you were lacking, with all that rushing around.
Which brings me to an important point about making room. It takes courage. It’s very possible, in fact almost certain, that for the first-timer, the notion of making room comes with apprehension. What will fill that space that you make? What if it is fear, or crippling insecurity, or self-doubt, or rage, or memories you don’t want to face, or reality that you don’t want to face? What if your life hasn’t been or isn’t all that good, all that real, and you’ve been covering up pain with busy-ness or sweets or drugs or being controlling or whatever it is? This is a very real possibility.
And to this possibility, I say yes, this could happen, will likely happen. If there is something that you need to face, then making room in your life will cause you to face it. Be patient and be brave and ask for help if you need it. You don’t need to face anything all by yourself and you don’t need to face it all at once.
But imagine your life free of this thing you don’t want to face. That’s what making room does. You make room to examine and interact even with the things you hate about your life, in order to transform them into something new and something better. You don’t have to do it alone, because the world’s religious traditions of thousands of years have said that when you do this clarifying work, bravely and steadfastly, then you are met more than halfway by God’s grace and the Loving Presence that creates our world, that creates you, too. And we’re here for you too, your church community.
You don’t want to be the person always running through the woods, being stalked by an unseen Something that never tires and never leaves you alone. You don’t want your life to be a stock car race where the things you truly love fall by the wayside. The more you run, the more that unseen Something in the woods can chase you, because that unseen Something is nothing but your own fear.
Lent says stop running. Stop running, turn around, take a deep breath, and see what happens. Hit the brakes of the stock car. That cathedral you’re building can wait for someone else. Take a breath, and see.
I won’t tell you what will happen to you if you do this good work of making room during Lent, because I don’t know what will happen. You don’t know either, so don’t bother trying to predict. Just do it. Take the time to make room in your life for what matters most to you. Prioritize that which is fundamental, and don’t worry about the rest. And see what happens. The possibilities are vast and I promise they will surprise you. We’ll be here for you when you’re ready to talk about what you’ve learned.
 CCD stands for the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, the association established in 1562 in Rome for the purpose of providing religious education. In its more modern usage, CCD is the religious teaching program of the Catholic Church. These classes are taught to school age children to learn the basic doctrines of their faith. (www.wikianswers.com)