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Grappling With a Luminous Doom

ian07.jpgLike the title?  I think it might be just about the ideal UU sermon title.  The word “Grapple” is a strong word suggesting something is going to happen here.  It suggests a possible Biblical allusion to Jacob grappling with the angel at the river and receiving a blessing and a name.  The word “Luminous” suggests we are going to get something deeper than an update on the state legislative agenda.  And the nice pardox between the words “Luminious” and “Doom” promises some interesting twists before matters are resolved and the we sing the final hymn. 

Unfortunately, the title is not mine.  I stole it from Khleber Van Zandt’s sermon last week (http://www.firstuualton.org/Sermons_2008-2009.htm).  And, he stole it, or nearly so, from the favorite UU poet of the moment, Mary Oliver (1,780 google hits for “Mary Oliver,” “Unitarian” and “sermon” against 581 for the closest competitor, May Sarton).

Khleber’s point and I find the point of many of the sermons preached across this district in the last month is that the spiritual work that awaits us in the coming months or even years is going to be to unpack the luminous lessons from the seeming economic doom.   The sermons I am hearing preached across the district point to how there is underway a larger cultural shift that will place before our UU faith new demands and new opportunities.

The most interesting part of these sermons—something I doubt any of us yet see clearly—is that the spiritual challenge will be for us as a faith to be different not just to do different things.  There is one obvious dimension this.  It is suggested by the recent election of Obama.  Our congregations, like our country have been largely led by baby boomers for the last two decades.  We are going to need to figure out what it means to be led by a new generation of leaders.

Yet this shift, even when we achieve it, does not get to the substance of what we will be challenged to be or become.  What will this be?  I take one more hint from the sermons I have been scanning.  I have observed that our preaching on this has been oddly hopeful.  While there are economic changes occuring that may feel like doom, they are fundamentally a spiritual opportunity.  In his sermon Khleber arrives at this by an extended analogy to a family of hapless squirrels who have been devastating his tomato patch.  He is  trapping and relocating these squirrels to what he assures us will be a much nicer home in a nearby city park.  Though the squirrels may feel trapped—and doomed—they are actually on their way to “a better place.”

What immediately comes to mind are the dubious promises of a certain sort of minister that the deceased at the funeral is on to a better place.  Yet I do take the point and it is an important one.  We have the opportunity to read the challenges before us as a luminous opportunity. 

Ian
Congregational Services Director