Our Unitarian Universalist faith tradition assures us that we are not alone, that we are connected to everything that is, and that in this crazy life, there are no points of no return. You always get another chance to be in right relationship with yourself and others. We don’t promise you paradise. We don’t promise you eternal life, although some Unitarians Universalists believe in that. We don’t promise you a life free of suffering either, because even in suffering, sometimes especially in suffering, there is wisdom and truth. What we do offer, if you are open to it, is a life that is deeper and wider and filled with compassion and understanding, and that means being both very brave and very humble about our human fragility. In that kind of vulnerable honesty lies a great deal of power, power that we can use to make a real difference in our own lives, in the lives of our loved ones, and in the world.
This sermon was delivered to Emerson Unitarian Universalist Chapel on July 13th, the first Sunday that it met in its new worshipping space at 17815 Wild Horse Creek Rd. Chesterfield MO.
We live in a highly mobile society. Americans seem to move more than anyone else. When I moved here from Canada, it seemed like everyone I met had lived in 2,3, 4 or more different states. It amazed me, and I wondered, “What is that about?” Is it about the restless American culture? Is it about a frontier mentality? Is it just about the size of this country? Maybe it’s just about the economy. Probably. And much more.
1) How many of you have moved 1-5 times in your life?
2) How many of you have moved 6-10 times in your life?
3) How many of you have moved more than 10 times in your life?
I’ve moved 15 times as an adult and spent seven years living between two cities. When you have to be that mobile, you learn how to be ready. I knew how to descend on a new city with cash in my pocket and find a place to live in a day. I could pack everything I owned into a little compact car in 4 hours and be ready to go. Once I arrived, I’d roll out my bed, get out my blankets and pillows, and hang up my posters, the same posters I had taken down just the day before, and then I was home.
I’m glad I don’t live like that anymore. It became very exhausting. By now it would take me a month and a moving van! But, you learn something about the transitory nature of life, and you learn what stays the same, and what doesn’t, and you learn how to reinvent who you are and how to find your new people, because you always need to find your people. Living a life on the move means always looking past the horizon to where you hope to land.
Moving is much more than about packing things and unpacking them when you get there. Moving is a state of readiness, and it has its own wisdom that applies whether you’ve lived in the same place for 50 years, or if you’ve just recently unpacked the boxes.
I want to tell you a story about moving, and at first it might not feel like it’s about moving, but it really is about moving.
Back in 1992, Nick Hanauer’s family business sold pillows to retail stores across the country. And it was a pretty successful business. Nick was really good at selling pillows. But in 1992 he learned about something new that was coming over the horizon.
It was called the internet. In 1992 it was a slow and clunky thing, beloved by geeks, barely understood by anyone else. Nick could see that that once the internet worked out its kinks, and realized its potential, once an ordinary joe could use it and have confidence in it, the way he was running his pillow business would no longer work, because people were going to shop online like no one’ business. Nick has always been the kind of guy who can see just over the horizon, and he saw that companies like his would have to radically restructure to make it. He probably also saw that many other businessmen and women had their heads in the sand. They just couldn’t imagine doing business any other way than bricks and mortar. He didn’t want to be one of those businessmen who got caught behind the curve ball playing catch up. So, he kept his eye out for an opportunity to step into the game. He wanted to be there, ready to cash in, when things got going.
Then one day he met Jeff Bezos and Jeff Tauber, other businessmen like him that seemed to have the ability to see just over the horizon, and they saw the same thing he did. They were planning for the dot com boom. Nick told both Jeffs that he was ready to invest. Jeff Tauber never called him back. But Jeff Bezos, the Jeff Bezos who founded Amazon, did. Amazon started out selling half price books, and unlike to many other of the early dot com companies, it survived the dot com bust of 2000 and went on to become the online shopping giant that we know today.
Whatever you may think about the impact of Amazon on the book industry, or the bricks and mortar stores that have gone under because they can’t compete, you have to admit that Amazon has changed our lives. How many of us have purchased something on Amazon in the recent past? Because of us, Nick Hanauer no longer needs to be into pillows and Jeff Bezos no longer has to beg for investors.
Now, I don’t know Nick Hanauer personally. I don’t know how his mind works. I don’t know how fast his heart beats when faced with a challenge. But, I know that people like Nick Hanauer have dramatically shaped my life and yours, and not just because he invested in Amazon, but because he is the kind of person who looks over the horizon.
This is the thing about moving. We humans are creatures of habit. We like patterns and we like to know where we belong. This is why I hung up the same posters for ten years, because then I knew where I was. But we’re also creatures of invention. We’re restless, always yearning for just a bit more, for that place beyond the horizon where earth and sky meet. We are not made to stand still. If we were, Nick Hanauer would still be traipsing from store to store marketing his pillows.
If you are with us for the first time today, what you couldn’t possibly know is that there is something very important missing from this sanctuary. There are two quilts that hung in our old sanctuary, the one we just sold. Two beautiful quilts. They were made by members of the congregation, so many people, young and old, each making a block of the quilt, and then sewn together into two beautiful quilts – one with spring colors, the other with fall colors to symbolize the constant turning of the seasons and the circle of life. They hung in our old sanctuary for 12 years. Last month, in anticipation of the move, they were carefully taken down and are now in the process of being cleaned and framed so that we can bring them here. There are many wonderful people sitting here this morning that will be so pleased when those quilts will hang once again, because it will be a symbol that we’re home. Just like me hanging my beloved posters in my new bedroom.
However, if all we needed is to be home, we wouldn’t be sitting in this sanctuary today. None of us would be, even those of you who are with us for the first time. Every one of us is here because part of our human nature is to always be looking over the horizon and searching for the place where sky and land become one. That’s why we are here. We want more out of life than selling pillows.
I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but for me, the decision to sell our old property and move into this space is because I had a vision of what lay beyond the horizon.
I know that Unitarian Universalism saves lives. This is a religion that asks us to think for ourselves, to ask questions, to open our eyes to the injustices right in front us and to see our part in the problem and commit to being part of the solution. Unitarian Universalism asks us to walk with open eyes into the complexity of life and let it teach us everything it can. It asks us to trust our intuitions while being humble about our ability to deceive ourselves through pride and ignorance and fear. Our progressive faith tradition assures us that we are not alone, that we are connected to everything that is, and that in this crazy life, there are no points of no return. You always get another chance to be in right relationship with yourself and others. We don’t promise you paradise. We don’t promise you eternal life, although some Unitarians Universalists believe in that. We don’t promise you a life free of suffering either, because even in suffering, sometimes especially in suffering, there is wisdom and truth. What we do offer, if you are open to it, is a life that is deeper and wider and filled with compassion and understanding, and that means being both very brave and very humble about our human fragility. In that kind of vulnerable honesty lies a great deal of power, power that we can use to make a real difference in our own lives, in the lives of our loved ones, and in the world.
So what does this have to do with moving here, to Chesterfield, and meeting for worship in this private Catholic high school that has been so generous in hosting us? It’s about looking over the horizon, like Nick Hanauer did when he knew that his pillow business was going to need to change, and being willing to take advantage of an opportunity when it presented itself. In my opinion, and it is only my opinion, the opportunity to sell our former property and move here was like Nick Hanauer meeting Jeff Bezos and saying, “I want to invest in you.” We are no longer located on a quiet residential street far from the interstates. We have so much room now for our children’s programs. We aren’t asking our kids to tuck themselves away into small musty cramped rooms. We have lots of room now for coffee hour, which is pretty much like communion for Unitarian Universalists! Our beloved St. Charles County members and friends can now get here easily. And, all of this means that we can better fulfill the calling of our progressive religious tradition, which is to share the blessing of what we have received from it, share the blessing of how it has transformed us.
This doesn’t mean that we don’t value the 24 years we spent in Ellisville. This doesn’t mean that we aren’t deeply appreciative of those of us who dedicated time and money and vision to the building and property we used to own. In fact, that blessing brought us to where we are today, and we as a covenantal community need to carry with us what that home and the people who loved it gave us. That’s what it means to live truthfully and faithfully within the interdependent web of all existence, of which we are a part.
And that’s why this sanctuary will not be complete until those quilts hang on both sides of the chancel, just like my move was never complete until the bed was made and the posters hung on the walls. Just like Nick Hanauer got where he did because of his family’s pillow business.
I want you to think of all the places you have lived in your life. You may have lived here in St. Louis your whole life, maybe even in the same house. Or, you’ve come from somewhere else, maybe many somewhere elses. Whenever we arrive somewhere new, it’s never completely a new beginning. We always carry with us the legacies that make us who we are, just like I carried those posters from city to city, and that becomes the blessing that we use to continue the journey of transformation, transformation of ourselves, our community and our world.
Think of all the ways the places you’ve lived have shaped you. I’m sure you have your own posters and your own quilts, those things unique to you that tell you’re home, that tell you who you are. They may even simply rest in your heart. And when you have that, and can trust in that foundation, what horizon is out of reach? Once you have that, there is no turning back. You have exactly what you need to keep on moving forward.
So in the weeks and months to come, we’ll put up our posters, and hang our quilts, and we’ll make adjustments and figure things out and find our way in this new reality. So have faith, have patience in yourself and in others, let’s embody the spirit of Unitarian Universalism, which is mutuality and trust and compassion, a deep willingness to learn from each other, to live in gratitude for what we have been given, and for the opportunity to see over the horizon to that fine line where heaven meets earth. May the spirit be with you and yours, amen and blessed be.
N.B. – These sermons are made available with a request: that the reader appreciate that, ideally, a sermon is an oral/aural experience that takes place in the context of worship – supported and reinforced by readings, contemplative music, rousing hymns, silence, and prayer – and that it is but one part of an extended
conversation that occurs over time between a minister and a covenanted congregation. This sermon may be freely shared and reproduced, provided that credit is given to the author.