Today’s Water Communion Sermon
This summer, we found ourselves waiting for rain for a long time, didn’t we? Waiting to hear the rain beating on the roofs, hammering against the windows. Waiting to hear the skies open and lightning strike. How thirsty this part of the earth became this summer. Not a cloud in sight. Hundreds of miles of beautiful blue skies, but no rain. The stars were amazing because the humidity was so low, but no rain. And then, the heat started, heat like we aren’t used to, even here in Missouri. 104, 106, 108, even 110 degrees. Day after day after day. The experience of simply going outside was like walking into a blow dryer. And so, we crowded the city parks with our dogs and our exercise routines between the hours of 5:30 and 8, and then hunkered down in our air conditioned homes and air conditioned malls and air conditioned offices and air conditioned cars. This was the summer of air conditioned cabin fever.
I don’t know about you, but my partner Laurie and I spent most of the summer watering. We dragged hoses and set up sprinklers all summer long. I usually rolled out of bed around 5:30 so I could get the most out of the cool morning. I even developed a technique for my arborvitae trees that I thought would be helpful. I set my hose on gentle shower mode and aimed the water at the middle of the tree so the water streamed into its thick green branches, and then I’d count to 90. I love counting. It calmed me as a child and now as an adult it is a meditation for me. As I counted, the branches distributed the water onto the ground like rain. I counted to 90 for every tree and moved on to the next one. It was my morning meditation.
By mid-July, the drought reached epic proportions. Anyone notice how small and flavorless the watermelons were this year, and how tiny the ears of sweet corn were? For the farmers this drought has been devastating. First they gave up on the corn, and then the soya beans, and then my arborvitae started turning yellow. I worried I wasn’t giving them enough water so I went into overdrive. I counted to 120 and made sure every tree was watered at least every other day, sometimes more. I’d stand there with the hose, counting, spraying into the tree, hoping to save my beloved arborvitae. I imagined the water soaking into the soil, dripping down to the roots, bringing life and hope. But the yellow didn’t go away. It just got worse.
When my sister-in-law, who is a horticulturist, came to visit, I showed her my sad bushes. “What happened?” I asked. She checked the soil. No, they weren’t being overwatered. “How are you watering them?” she asked When I told her, she knew exactly what was wrong. My way of watering had coated the leaves with beads of water, and when the sun crested the hill behind our house, every bead turned into a magnifying glass, and that’s what was scorching my bushes. Here I thought I was helping my arborvitae by giving them a shower every morning, but the way I was watering them was doing as much harm as good. The very water that was keeping them alive was also doing serious damage!
Some of us find our way to Unitarian Universalism because we’ve been in a spiritual drought. We’re so thirsty for a religious value system that speaks to what we see as the most important things in life – equality, fairness, justice, open mindedness, hope compassion.
Some of us find our way to Unitarian Universalism because we’ve been scorched, perhaps by a political culture that is blood thirsty and divisive, or by a religious heritage that cut us off from our own hearts and minds, perhaps by a family that can’t see and affirm who we really are, perhaps by an economy that is radically separating the 1% from the 99%. This can be a place to heal, to gain perspective, to find hope, and to find a clearer direction for how you really want to live your life. This is a place to consider what’s really important, for you, perhaps for your children, so that you can live your life in a way that is grounded in the values that you believe nourish life itself.
As Unitarian Universalists we firmly believe in the goodness of humanity and in the goodness of our earth, but we also know that humanity can be deeply flawed and wounded. In so many ways we are the ones counting to 90, confident we’re doing the right thing, and we’re also the arborvitae that are being scorched with good intentions.
Unitarian Universalism is profoundly about having hope – hope in ourselves and hope in humanity – that despite all our failings, despite the ways that we transgress against each other and this world, we can change and transform. We can heal. We can forgive and be forgiven. We have a deep and abiding faith in the ability of ordinary people to find their way.
Our faith is about never giving up on any person, ever, even when it seems hopeless, even if we can’t afford to stick around and see if anything changes. Having hope in every person doesn’t mean making ourselves vulnerable to abusive people and it doesn’t mean over-functioning for those who can’t seem to make it themselves. But it does mean having a deep and abiding trust in the mysteries of the human heart. This is one reason that Unitarian Universalists are much more likely to be against the death penalty, because the death penalty means that you have given yourself the right to give up on a human being. We don’t have that right. What we do have is the responsibility stop scorching the tree, to slow that water down to a trickle and patiently wait as the water sinks deep into the ground, with not a drop squandered.
For the four centuries of their existence, Unitarianism, and Universalism, and since 1961 Unitarian Universalism, have held high this deep and abiding trust in the power and possibility of humanity itself. This is something we ask ourselves to have faith in, even when the evidence of humanity’s goodness seems lacking. We have faith that every individual has the ability to change, even when we can’t possibly see how. We are called to have a deep and abiding faith in the mysteries that we can’t hear or see or understand. This is what keeps us humble, what keeps us from thinking that we are the ones with all the answers, that we know what another individual needs to be transformed. It is our responsibility to trust in the mysterious processes that take place in every human being, most of which we will never see.
We also believe that whole systems have the ability to change, because the goodness and the evil that we see in this world isn’t just about individual choices, but about collective possibilities. We are not one of us our own. We didn’t build this. We didn’t create anything in this world on our own. We are inextricably linked to everything – to each other, to all living things, to the rivers and the oceans and the stars high above us and the earth beneath our feet. We are connected to every nation. We are connected by the stock market, by high birth rates in China and India and low birth rates in Germany and France and England, by interest rates that are fair and interest rates that were cooked. We are connected to the undocumented worker and the one with all his papers in order. We are connected to the glaciers that are melting into the oceans and to the Wall Street top executive who banked a few million this year and the worker in China who lost her job because North Americans can’t afford to consume like we used to. We are created by and for each other. Anyone who says otherwise just isn’t in reality. We are in this together, for better or worse. We are Unitarian Universalists because we choose the “for better” part and we decide to keep choosing it over and over, even when it seems ridiculous. You just don’t write off the transforming power of the spirit of life, because that means writing ourselves off.
So three weeks ago, I stopped scorching my trees. I turned down the water and let it trickle down through the parched soil as slowly as it needed to. And last week, the remnants of Hurricane Isaac hit the Midwest. Finally, the skies opened, the waters beat down on the roofs and hammered the windows. The same waters that devastated the southern Louisiana and Mississippi coasts have breathed new life into the place that we live. We are called to a bittersweet gratitude, for the rains that have given and the rains that have taken away. We are called to have faith in the mysterious ways of life and to trust in the transformations that we can see and those that we can’t.
Amen and blessed be.