The following sermon is from one presented to Davies Memorial Unitarian Universalist Church on 8/10/03.:
Saved by My Faith
by Joyce Dowling
To add context to this sermon, I will start with the introduction, but if you want, you can jump right to the story. I was one of three speakers; others may be read from the church site's lay sermons section.
For those of whom may be relatively new to Unitarian Universalism, I thought I'd start with a brief explanation about our theology and how it might relate to salvation.:
Universalist PT Barnum said, "To the Universalists, heaven in its essential nature is not a locality, but a moral and spiritual status, and salvation is not securing one place and avoiding another, but salvation is finding eternal life . . . Immortal life is existence regardless of quality. Eternal life is right life, here, there, everywhere."
Thomas Starr King, a mid-19th century Unitarian & Universalist minister said that, "The Universalists believe that God is too good to damn man, while the Unitarians believe that man is too good to be damned by God."
For several centuries Unitarians argued with Christians about whether God was one or three - Unitarian vs. Trinitarian. Later when Humanism took root, we said "Unitarians believe in One God - at Most". After the pagans arrived, reflected in our adding to our principles the sixth source - earth centered traditions - we say, "UU's believe in One God - more or less."
I heard that once a young Unitarian was visiting a Christian church when the pastor asked if she were saved. She whispered, "In my church, we aren't allowed to get lost."
Well, one way of feeling saved from our miseries in this world is to have a good sense of humor, though this IS a serious topic.
How are we defining Salvation? Well here is how Merriam Webster
deliverance from the power and effects of sin; the agent or means that effects salvation; (Christian Science) the realization of the supremacy of infinite Mind over all, bringing with it the destruction of the illusion of sin, sickness, and death; liberation from ignorance or illusion; preservation from destruction or failure; and deliverance from danger or difficulty
The word "salvation" comes from the root salvare which means to save but also means soothing, comforting, healing, bringing together of broken parts, and regaining of health.
(The song "Breaths" was played and the lyrics are significant to my story. See this YouTube video here; let me know if it is no longer there so that I can link to another page. You can purchase the album by the same title - see Sweet Honey in the Rock's site.)
I was dedicated a Unitarian as an infant, almost 10 years before the merger of Unitarians and Universalists. My grandfather had found the Unitarians just a few years before my birth because he was looking for a good choir to sing in. My father decided to try it because of the emphasis on the freedom of beliefs and critical thinking. He was a political conservative, though, and raised us rather traditionally. I had an older sister and 3 younger siblings. I thought we had a pretty normal life, as it was in rural New York state. I knew we were a little different since we traveled to the city to go to church, while attending the only church in town - a Presbytarian, I believe, only on special occasions. But we went to the 3-room school house, attended Girl Scouts with my mother leading, and knew most everyone in town.
Then when I was 9, my youngest sister barely 1 yr. old, my mother went into the hospital and never came home again. She didn't die; she was mentally ill. We weren't allowed to talk about it, so there was no mourning process. My aunts, who lived far away, offered to take one or two of us, but my father didn't want the family to be split up, so he decided to single-parent us. He didn't know much about the nurturing role, though, and thought it was, for the most part, unnecessary. His main role was still to earn money for the family, so he became what some call "a workaholic" and we saw little of him. We had housekeepers to take care of us when we could find them, otherwise the older children (my older sister and I) took care of the younger ones. The friends we once had were now being told not to play with the motherless children.
One Sat., when my father was home and he was busy reading, as he often did, I was looking for companionship. The house was full of people, but no one wanted to play with me. It wasn't long after my mother had left and I was feeling pretty miserable. So I did the only thing that might bring me comfort - I went for a walk in the woods, followed by my dog. I felt so bad that day that I started thinking about whether or not life was worth living. For a while I was thinking maybe it wasn't if I had to live it alone and I had a good cry, but then my dog cuddled next to me. I could hear the birds chirping and the leaves rustling. Life was all around me and I knew I wasn't really alone.
I thought about my beliefs about God and Heaven and I didn't know if I could believe those things or not. But I remembered my religious education as a Unitarian and the thing I remembered most was that I was allowed to choose my own beliefs. I didn't feel like I had much control over my life, but I had control over my thoughts and my beliefs and it was tremendously empowering. And I knew at that moment that I wasn't alone and never would be - I was part of nature and it was a part of me.
The song we heard, "Breaths" - the poem written by Birago Diop, expresses that feeling for me. I don't know if my ancestors are part of the nature around me, but it is easy to imagine that they are. The introduction to the song is: "In the African world view, the invisible world of spirit man and the visible world of nature exist along a continuum and form an organic reality. The same is true of relationship between the past, present and future." That is what I felt that day and I carry that with me wherever I go, no matter who is or isn't around me, and I feel that I can love life no matter what.
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