SERMON READING: “Moments” by Mary Oliver
There are moments that cry out to be fulfilled.
Like, telling someone you love them.
Or giving your money away, all of it.
Your heart is beating, isn't it?
You're not in chains, are you?
There is nothing more pathetic than caution
when headlong might save a life,
even, possibly, your own.
In 1995, activist and fundraiser Lynne Twist answered an invitation from the Achuar tribe in Ecuador. Along with 11 others, she traveled to the Amazon jungle, which she describes as “the heart of everywhere.” There in the remote and biodiverse rainforest, she met with the Achuar tribe. They had invited Twist because over-consumption was threatening the rainforest. (www.pachamama.org/lynne-twist)
The Achuar people were explicit in their invitation. If Twist’s reason for coming was to help them, then she shouldn’t bother. But if she recognized that her own liberation was bound up together with theirs, then she was welcome. She did. She believed her liberation and theirs were bound together. And so she went.
When it was time to leave, the Achuar people had something to ask of Twist. They asked her to return home and “change the dream of the modern world.” (“The Collective Dream,” Lynne Twist, Tedx, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bnbTa_seb3s)
There in a remote rainforest the Achuar people saw clearly the threat to existence. Not only was modern life threatening the existence of indigenous people and biodiverse eco-systems, but it was also a danger to all existence. Over-consumption threatens everyone’s opportunities for joyful, meaningful lives rooted in conscious choices and extravagant hearts. The indigenous tribe could see clearly what modern culture so often cannot. The modern world worships more, having and getting more, always more. Fulfilling needs is not enough. Wanting consumes us. To forge a new dream would be to awaken from the trance of such insatiable desire. Instead of being caught in the cycle of wanting more, our lives would be dedicated to something larger than ourselves, to a big and meaningful goal.
Lynne Twist explores this idea of being committed to a larger purpose and living a committed life. According to Twist, a fundamental attitude that informs such a life is “the exquisite experience of enough.” It is hard to devote ourselves fully to a large and glorious purpose as long as we experience ourselves as lacking. As long as we see ourselves and our lives as lacking or insufficient, the committed life remains elusive.
we live in the fulcrum, at the heart of a turning tide. It’s a thrill, a privilege. It’s such an honor to be alive at a time of such monumental crisis, such profound crisis, such earth-shaking crisis that shakes the very foundation of our thinking. And when the foundation of our thinking is shaken and questioned we actually then rather than looking at the unanswered questions have to look at the unquestioned answers of our time.
To give you a clear sense of context, she said this a decade ago in 2009. The sense that we are alive at a time of monumental crisis unfortunately still holds true, perhaps feels truer than ever. The monumental impact of climate change, the ongoing degradation of the environment, the threats to democracy, systemic oppression and racism, and xenophobia are among the crowd of crises looming today.
The idea of needing to be shaken so that we look at unconscious and unexamined assumptions also still holds true. Those assumptions hold us hostage. They hinder the experience of sufficiency, courage, and determination. They can hold us back as individuals and as a community from putting ourselves all in—all in to making a difference. These assumptions include thoughts like “having more is better,” “there’s not enough to go around,” “people are selfish and greedy,” and “money is the root of all evil.”
The sense of sufficiency and insufficiency runs deep in the human soul. Feelings of sufficiency and insufficiency impact how people relate to money and to their lives. While the experience of having or not having enough is often confused with how much money a person has, sufficiency is not about financial wealth. A soulful relationship with money liberates us from this confusion. The indigenous people of the rainforest were not wealthy by society’s standards. Yet they had the experience of sufficiency. They had lives of rich purpose and deep wisdom.
A new dream would challenge the ideas of not having enough, of deprivation, fear, avoidance, and stinginess. A new dream would challenge unhealthy relationships with money. The problem is those attitudes get in the way of living fully committed lives and honoring “moments that cry out to be fulfilled.” (reference to “Moments” by Mary Oliver) When those attitudes get questioned, a new spiritual relationship with money can flourish. The crises that call out to us in our time can be answered.
In her poem, “Moments,” Mary Oliver writes,
To respond to the moments that cry out to be fulfilled is to throw caution to the wind. Throwing ourselves headlong into what we value most might save a life, even our own. Some moments cry out for us to share our love and to give our money away—all of it.
This religious community doesn’t ask you to give all of your money away. I actually think Mary Oliver was using a bit of hyperbole here as poets do as a way to capture our attention. She did know what it meant to give her money away. In her own life, she gave up opportunities to earn more money in favor of having more time to write poetry. That choice paid off for everyone.
Instead we are asked to learn to live from that sense of sufficiency and commitment to a larger purpose. This community asks you to make the choice to give of yourself and to give your financial resources in service of love and justice. We ask you to give generously in support of the collective dream of our liberal religion.
That collective dream is expressed through our Unitarian Universalist values. Our principles point to commitments to something greater than ourselves. These commitments include promoting the worth and dignity of all people, working for equity and justice for all, cultivating world peace, and respecting the interdependence of all creation. These values are expressed through volunteer service, compassionate interactions, social justice efforts, acts of kindness, an embrace of beauty and creativity, and generosity. We make these commitments because we know that our UU values save lives, save the planet, and save us.
This morning we kick off our annual pledge drive. The theme is “The Challenge of the Chalice.” The chalice represents the history, values, and dreams of our faith. What does the chalice inspire in you? What moments does it cry out to you to fulfill? Our annual pledge drive gives us an opportunity to reflect individually and together on these questions.
The money that is pledged in our annual campaign will determine our budget for the coming church year. Our new budget year begins on July 1. You are asked to make your pledge now so that we can build a realistic, balanced budget based on the actual resources available to us as a community. The pledges guide decisions about programs, activities, priorities, and staffing.
You will be receiving a mailing in the next few days describing this year’s pledge drive. There are a few things I ask of you. Please read those materials that are sent to you. Take time to reflect on how this faith and this community promotes and supports the values and vision you have for our world.
Then consult the giving chart that is included in the brochure. That chart is a useful guide that provides insight into how to decide on the amount you will pledge. The recommended giving amounts are based on percentages of family income, which increase as income increases. None of us is expected to give the same amount that others are giving. We are asked to give based on our circumstances, determining what constitutes a generous gift to this religious community for you and your family.
The last thing I ask of you is this. There is a team of church members who are dedicating time and talent to leading this effort. They are preparing materials, organizing the overall program, sharing reflections, contacting people, and doing follow up as needed. I ask you to honor their commitment and effort by being responsive and completing your pledge by the end of March.
I grew up in a family without any extras. My parents were always saving and scrimping to make ends meet. When I wanted to have things other kids had, my dad didn’t say, “we can’t afford that.” He said, “why do you want to be like all the other kids?” Well, as young people that urge to fit in is real. It’s real when we’re not so young too. But I still carry my father’s words around with me. I’m not as good at not wanting what others have as he was. When I find myself getting caught up in wanting things because everyone else seems to have them, I can hear him say, “why do you want to be like everyone else?” It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I realized that I was asking for things my parents could ill afford. I wasn’t lacking in my childhood. I had food, shelter, a public education, and love. My parents focused on living a good life based on their core values. They focused on what it means to be a good person. For them that meant honesty, learning, generosity, beauty, simplicity, family, being informed and engaged citizens, and religious belief.
I’m grateful for those early lessons. I learned what it means to value “the exquisite experience of enough.” I learned to measure my life not by my bank account but by my hopes and dreams for what the world might be and my commitment to throwing myself headlong to save lives. This is why I was called to be a poet, why I was called to be a Unitarian Universalist, why I was called to be a minister, and why I am called to give generously to our UU community.
George Bernard Shaw says,
May we each embrace the power to be a force of nature. May we give our lives and our financial resources to a mighty purpose. May we live so that our lives will be splendid torches that ensure a bright and blessed legacy for this religious community and this world of ours. For truly, our liberation is linked to the liberation of all life.
Amen. Blessed be.