Open the Doors
Rev. Grace H. Simons
Rev. Joe Cherry
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A liberal religious voice in the Central Valley since 1953.
Every theological house has its doorway - its point of entrance and departure. We now come ... to the doors of our theological house. Thresholds are sacred places symbolizing the permeable boundary between a community's inner circle and the wider world. They mark the importance of movement between shelter and adventure - of arriving home and setting our. They invite reflection on the relationship between those inside and those outside a given framework of meaning.
We go through doors all the time. Doors at home, here at church, at school and work. Doors to stores and businesses and theaters. Doors inside buildings. Old doors and new ones. Swinging doors and revolving doors; French doors, Dutch doors, paneled doors. Unless we're noticing the design or condition - or the door is sticky or locked - we don't think much about it. We just go through.
But there's always some reason for our coming or going. Only door installers and small children open and close doors for the sake of doing it.
This morning, I'm asking you to think about our church doors - both real and symbolic. Because the reasons we come in here and the reasons we go out speak of our theology. Whether or not we are intentional about that.
Doors mark thresholds - an old-fashioned term, I guess - entrances or crossing places from one area to another. They divide "inside" from "out." I'm sure I am not the only one here who has, at times, walked into a building or room and instantly felt ill at ease. Something tells me that I don't belong there. I say I feel "out of place." At other times - even though the place is completely new to me - I feel at home. Somehow I know that I can relax and will be welcomed. Sometimes, it's less clear. Maybe this will be safe, even comfortable, but maybe not.
This certainly happens in religious spaces. Any community, including religious communities, has markers that distinguish them; that indicate who "belongs." A UU building that's new to you will likely have familiar items - a chalice, the hymnbooks we use, perhaps a rainbow flag or hanging; posters and pamphlets you recognize. They help you feel connected, even on a first visit. These things won't be present in a synagogue or a different church, though you may recognize their symbols and features. Your personal history shapes the level of comfort you feel there. A Hindu or Buddhist temple will have entirely different traits and may seem quite exotic.
These feelings of recognition or wariness arise because the symbols speak about what happens in the space - what ideas and ideals are lifted up; what kinds of judgments are made; what kinds of lessons taught. And knowing those tells us the reasons people open those doors, why they come there and why they leave. Conservative Christians will tell you that they come into their churches hear the Word of God, to praise God and learn what He wants them to do. They believe the Bible contains everything they need to guide their lives and bring them to a good end. Their theology requires love of the Holy Trinity, belief in Bible stories and interpretations, and obedience to their admonitions. Believers go out to live Christian lives and spread the Gospel - or at least that's the way it's supposed to work.
And we UUs open these doors. We come here. Why do we do that? And what are we supposed to do when we go out into the wider world? In other words, what's the theological grounding of our being together, of belonging to a UU congregation? What difference is it supposed to make for us and for others?
This morning we talk about some of the reasons, the ways we see ourselves in relation to other faith communities and organizations, and what we hope to bring about in our larger communities. About our message - for us and for others. About ways that message might be delivered.
This is the last of my sermons based on the little book called A House for Hope, by John Buehrens and Rebecca Parker, both prominent UU ministers. I have built on their work and especially on the principle that hope and love are better foundations for living than fear. In earlier sermons I described ways liberal theology addresses the nature of being human and our relationship to Earth; ways we understand the limits and frailties, the promise and potential within us; our understandings of the nature and purpose of religious communities; ideas and images of God, divinity and the sacred; the ways we approach exploration and new knowledge and how we might further the common good. I am not going to repeat all that this morning. But those sermons are posted on our website, in case you want to get a closer look. [See below.] I believe that understanding liberal theology gives us tools for discerning choices that promote the common good and increases our confidence in our religious path. We are more than reactive objectors. We stand on principled ground.
But back to the reasons we come through these doors. What are they? Each of us has personal answers. Maybe it's the welcome and acceptance we find. Maybe that initial welcome has grown into a web of relationship that supports, challenges and sustains us. Maybe it's the only quiet, reflective time in our week and we need that. Maybe we come for the kids or our partner brings us.
Often we come here because it feels like a safe place to ask questions, to express our doubts, to own ideas different from those of most of our neighbors. More than one of our members has told me this is the only place that would have them! Maybe we come because we value acceptance of people commonly marginalized in our culture or because we think that there's room for more than one set of beliefs.
When we come through the doors here, we hope for some bit of inspiration and renewed energy. We hope for a calming of the spirit, a healing of wounds. We want a reminder of the power of Love, the touch of that Love, and help in meeting the challenges of the coming week.
We also share some broad reasons for being here, some commitments and understandings that really are theological. In this morning's chalice lighting words, Bill Schulz, a former UUA President and now head of our Service Committee, writes, "This is the mission of our faith: To teach the fragile art of hospitality; To revere both the critical mind and the generous heart; To prove that diversity need not mean divisiveness; And to witness to all that we must hold the whole world in our hands." Those words say a lot. They speak of welcome and graciousness, of honoring both intellect and emotion, of the riches to be found in variety and of our responsibility for the world and its creatures - human or otherwise. None of these things is easy. All are important. When we become members of a UU congregation, we affirm these aims and commit to work towards them. We claim the community as our own.
As we connect again and again to principles of worth in each person, of encouragement for exploration; to calls for care of our Earthly home and all the creatures and features of our planet, we find ourselves beginning to change. As we consider the problems that confront us and experience the deep connections among and between us, we grow in spirit. We become more aware, more compassionate, more able to somehow "reach around" both the brokenness and the beauty of our lives, our world. The words over our archway inspire us: "Love is the doctrine ... quest for truth ... service is our prayer ..."
Our responses to those around us and the larger world also begin to change. As Love becomes our foundation and doctrine, it grows within us. It enlivens our congregation, warms and supports us. And here I must differ with the final words of our hymn, even though it's one I like. I don't believe that any walls can - or should - "hold Love in." Love calls us to be more than a safe haven. Love reaches out. It says, "Open the doors!" It offers welcome to all who come, and it moves out in us, infusing our actions in our families, in our neighborhoods, with colleagues and in friendship groups. It reaches further, into our community relationships and into our social and political aims and policies. It prompts us to environmental responsibility. The foibles and frailties of being human mean we won't be perfect, but Love prompts us to ever be more kind and more committed to justice.
Rebecca Parker writes, "The mission of progressive faith is to embrace the beauty of diversity and the diversity of beauty; to resist the (destructive) powers by ministries of solidarity; to love one another and this earth as paradise, here and now ... This mission requires each of us to answer the questions, What will you do with your gifts? And it requires vibrant commitment to life together in community." What will you do with your gifts? What will you do with your gifts ?
Parker lifts up both beauty and brokenness, asking that the beauty be savored, promoted and protected, and the brokenness be resisted. She talks about an "ecumenics of resistance" to destructive powers. She notes that conservative Christians hope to convert others to their way, their belief system. We liberals, however, see ourselves as one option, one tradition among others. Our way, as valuable and life-sustaining as we find it, does not convince everyone. [Well, darn!] We know that good people, good hearts, are found in every faith.
So when we go out our doors, we don't try to convert everyone or insist that they be like us. Certainly, we speak of our faith - with or without words. But we look for partners in service and working for justice. We hope to increase our strength and effectiveness by working with others. We expect to learn from people and communities different from our own. Our theologies may differ, but that will not keep us from combined effort for the common good.
Our congregation offers some good examples of this kind of cooperation. We worked with Congregation Beth Shalom, the Church of the Brethren, College Ave. Congregational and First United Methodist in support of marriage equality. None of us could have managed "Seven Straight Nights" on our own. But together, we reached several hundred people and raised awareness of a variety of issues related to GLBT experience and equality. Our collaboration with the Salvation Army, certainly quite different theologically, provides an experience of abundance to people in conditions of scarcity during the cold and damp of winter. We support Interfaith Ministries and United Samaritans by collecting clothing and bedding for those in need throughout our area. We partnered with the NAACP to arrange a series of Circles on Race and Diversity. Our "Tithing the Plate" program supports a variety of local charitable efforts.
We can also be proud of our efforts with the UU Legislative Ministry in support of marriage equality, healthcare for all and rights to safe water supplies. (Letters on that last are available for your use this morning.)
In all these cases, our vision is widened and our strength and effectiveness are multiplied. We do good work and at the same time, we build bridges of understanding and cooperation.
We have good reasons to open our doors. We open them in welcome and acceptance. We open them with invitation to connection, inspiration and renewal. We open them in commitment to the doctrine of Love and the Spirit of Life. And we open them so that we can go out: to go out and put that Love to work, spreading from family to neighborhood and beyond. We go out to serve and to build bridges between different individuals and different communities. We go out to learn, to serve others, to work for justice. We have excellent reasons to open the doors of this "house of Hope". Open the doors!
April 10, 2011
This is the sixth in the "House for Hope" series.
The series, latest first:
Copyright by Rev. Grace Simons. If you enjoyed it or would like to use part of it, please contact our web wizard,
Rev. Grace Simons left us a
collection of her sermons
when she retired in October, 2011.
We have a brief biography
of Rev. Grace, and the last edition of
a column she wrote for our newsletter.
2172 Kiernan Avenue
Modesto, California See a map
We have no mail service on Kiernan;
PO Box 1000
Salida, CA 95368
We are a liberal church and the only UU congregation in Stanislaus county. We serve Ceres, Denair, Escalon, Hickman, Hughson, Keyes, Manteca, Modesto, Oakdale, Patterson, Ripon, Riverbank, Salida, Turlock and Waterford. We welcome Agnostics, Atheists, Buddhists, Christians, Deists, Free-thinkers, Humanists, Jews, Pagans, Theists, Wiccans, and those who seek their own spiritual path. We welcome people without regard to race, physical ability, ethnicity or sexual orientation.