Kearsarge Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
Stone Chapel, Proctor Academy, Andover, NH
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Sermon given by Rev. Dick Dutton on 3/24/13

at Kearsarge Uniterian Universalist Fellowship

What do they represent?  How do we use crosses today?

    • Circles and crosses are the first symbols drawn by children of all cultures
    • Division of world into four elements – air, earth, water, fire
    • Concept of horizontal – world, mankind – and vertical – divine, heaven; North, South, East, and West
    • Numerous flags, banners
    • Dagger is a cross, sword
    • Check mark, cross-out, delete, wrong
    • Plus +, multiply x
    • Roman numeral, Latin, Chinese “10”
    • Crux (Latin), torture – crucifixion, old Irish, English was “rood”

This week, Holy Week, for 2.1 billion Christians around the world, 33 percent of the new total of 7 billion people… Holy Week centers on the cross and the resurrection… and I want to suggest that even Unitarians, atheists, and non-believers can focus this morning on the cross, as one of the most meaningful and powerful images in our lives… in fact, as improbable as it may seem,, Unitarians and Christians can agree… maybe Democrats and Republicans can agree, on some of the deeper meaning of the cross.  I want to suggest three…

  • Cross of humility
  • Cross of vulnerability
  • Cross of imperfection…

As crosses to bear, none of these concepts is really appealing!  Yet I believe each of them is a proven guidepost to life.

We often picture humility… as a bowl of water, a towel and getting on our knees, and washing another’s feet.  I want to go further than that… I think of true humility as being willing to be a student of another.  Can you imagine saying to someone else in the room, or in your family, or among your friends… imagine saying… “You know, I may be wrong here… and I’m going to do what you suggest!”  “I’m sorry for what I said, what I did… you were right.”  “We’ve got a lot at stake here and… I’m willing to compromise to get the best results for our group.  Tell me what you need… and I’ll try my best to respond!”  Wowee!

Anybody can wash feet.

Sure, the Congress needs this kind of humility… but I imagine you and I could use a sizable dose right here… within our own relationships.

I urge you sometime soon to read Sonia Sotomayor’s autobiography My Beloved World.  The story, from her earliest days in the South Bronx and a precarious childhood, daughter of Puerto Rican parents, to her nomination and appointment as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court in 2009.  It’s an incredible story of remarkable humility!  What sets her apart on her life journey was her search for mentors.

As a child of an alcoholic father and an overburdened, absent mother, she received her moral guidance and emotional support from her abuelita, her grandmother.

As an ‘equal opportunity’ student at Princeton, she found Peter Winn, Puerto Rican history professor, who challenged her to write seriously about her family history.

As she entered Yale Law School, she found the brilliance of a formidable group of women lawyers and judges.

As she moved on to the New York District Attorney’s Office as a rookie assistant, or ‘duckling,’ she sought wisdom from Bob Morgenthau and Legal Aid Society lawyer Dawn Cardi.

As beginning Associate at the law firm of Pavia and Harcourt, it was David Botwinik and Fran Bernstein as her close friends and guides.

The theme of Justice Sotomayor’s book is… “I did it... you can do it… but you can’t do it alone… we all need mentors.”

And that’s where true humility comes in… for Sonia Sotomayor… and for you and me.  “I am willing to listen and learn and change!”

Humility is a hard cross to bear… and now you want to suggest vulnerability?!  Maybe you’ve heard recently of ‘exceptionalism,’ American exceptionalism.

For 2,000 years the nation Israel, themselves considered the “chosen people”… many think that America, with its wealth, with its military power, with its intellectual superiority, with its moral high ground… is today’s ‘chosen people.’  We are and we deserve to be the world’s pure example of ‘exceptionalism’… speaking of humility and vulnerability.

Some of you remember when we talked about the ‘chosen people,’ the Children of Israel… they were chosen, not to be blessed of God as God’s favorites… but they were chosen to be God’s servants.  The chosen people, the exceptionalists in Israel’s day were God’s servants.  Maybe that’s what true exceptionalism is all about… not to be honored and singled out for special favor… but to be given a task, a responsibility… to be servant to the nations.  Where can we help you?  What do you need from us?  How can we work together?  Radical, sure!

But in order for that to happen we have to be vulnerable.  With all of the vast and deep problems the Catholic Church faces, and now a new Pope… the most encouraging words from Pope Francisco is that the church must be “a poor church for the poor.”  In other words the Church must identify not with the halls of grandeur, and the citadel of power, and the realms of wealth… but the Church must identify with the poorest among us… the Church must also be a ‘vulnerable’ people!

And if you and I are to survive in our marriages… and our churches… and our lasting friendships… and our deliberation as a nation, we must learn to be vulnerable!  Do you believe that?

From my own experience and a few years of observation, the two ugliest and most painful phrases in the English language are…  First, ‘I don’t love you!’  Second, ‘I don’t need you!’

I am totally self-sufficient and never vulnerable… then in truth, I don’t need you, and no relationship is possible.

I have a close friend who destroyed three relationships and two marriages… because he was so strong and independent in everything… and therefore no woman could give him anything.

I have told you how my sister, Loy, and I had a very distant and uncomfortable relationship for many years… but when I had back surgery and really needed her… we reconnected and shared a mutual love these last eight years… she realized I was vulnerable… and she was needed.

I have good news for us… being vulnerable is not a sign of weakness.  Brené Brown, a researcher, TV personality, and storyteller… says that she has discovered that vulnerability means… being ‘whole-hearted,’ a sense of worthiness, and courage… from the Latin ‘cour’ meaning heart… telling the story of who you are with your whole heart… that’s courage, and that’s ‘being who you are’… and letting go of who you are trying to be.  That’s the solid part of being vulnerable… a second cross.

Humility… vulnerability… imperfection… maybe the scariest of all.

According to Japanese legend, a young man named Sen no Rikyu sought to learn the elaborate set of customs known as the Way of Tea.  He went to tea-master Takeeno Joo, who tested the younger man by asking him to tend the beautiful ornamental garden.  Rikyu cleaned up debris and raked the ground until it was perfect, then scattered the immaculate garden with white stones, streams, and trees.  Before presenting his work to the master, he shook a cherry tree, causing a few flowers to spill randomly onto the ground.

To this day, the Japanese revere Rikyu as one who understood to his very core a deep cultural thread known as wabi-sabi.  Emerging in the 15th century as a reaction to the prevailing aesthetic of ornamentation and rich materials, wabi-sabi is the art of finding beauty in imperfection and of revering what is authentic.

To discover wabi-sabi is to see the singular beauty in something that may first look worn or plain or broken.  Most of us will have to admit that there is some of the wabi-sabi in each of our lives… and it just may be that nothing is as beautiful to others and to ourselves as that particular area of imperfection.

First we carry the cross of humility, and after a while we pick up along with our brothers and sisters… the cross of vulnerability… and as we near the end of our journey we realize that along the entire way we have been carrying the cross of imperfection.

There were times when that cross made us feel different and despised…

There were times when we felt alone and abandoned…

There were times when we felt angry at our creator…

There were times when we felt the world was so unfair…

There were times when we were ready to ‘pack it in’… all because of this heavy cross of imperfection… until, until we began to notice that everyone around us… was carrying that cross too!

Marcia Tyson Kalb lives in Wilmington, North Carolina.  She writes:  “Simply put, I am lopsided.  In 1995 I was stricken with the worst case of Bell’s palsy that three different doctors had ever seen.  I had medical care, holistic care, massage, and acupuncture; took a motherload of supplements; and changed my diet.  I did it all, but for several months I looked and felt like the Phantom of the Opera.  I got up every morning and looked in the mirror and cried.

I was catawampus, peculiar, weird.  My once-lovely smile was gone for good.  I recovered gradually over a year until I looked like I do now.  My left eye still droops; I have trouble chewing; I only smile on one side.  In other words… I am wabi-sabi!

During my recovery I began to learn what wabi-sabi truly means, and to live and study it in earnest.  Later I found myself running a shelter for a hundred disabled parrots.  They were all lopsided like I was, but they were so sweet, and I saw such tender beauty in them that I began to have compassion for myself.  Then I looked around at the world and saw the same thing all around me.  The lopsided of the world, those who are not “normal,” those who have been hurt, dis-abled in the world’s terms, scarred by life, are some of the sweetest, kindest, deepest, tenderest human beings I have had the privilege to know.”

So this Holy Week… we have these crosses… humility… vulnerability… imperfection.

But here’s the really good news… in the new Testament, in the Christmas story… the cross gives way to a resurrection; a resurrection… to new life… new hope… new joy! 

It’s the same for us, isn’t it?!


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