Kearsarge Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
Stone Chapel, Proctor Academy, Andover, NH
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Sermon given by Rev. Dick Dutton on 4/28/13

at Kearsarge Uniterian Universalist Fellowship

This is a morning for French soup.  I need five or six French expressions used frequently in English… but still French.

    • Esprit de corps
    • Savoir faire
    • Ménage á trois
    • Mon dieu
    • C’est la vie

Now let’s hear you all say the sermon title together… ‘joie de vivre.’  Merci.

What does it mean?  You’re so… trés smart!

Well, several weeks ago I heard someone say that he’d been to a worship service at a New Hampshire church, and that the service was without a feeling of joy… not merely serious, but somber and no fun.  The worst!  This is probably not the place to compete with the ‘cirque de soleil’… but when we’ve been down a little during the week, or worn out from the struggle, or simply carrying around a whole bunch of pain and anxiety and fear and discouragement and darkness and blah… would it be bad in the worship service to find a little joy?!

Even the Bible, that dark old somber book 2,000 years ago, says…

Psalm 47:  “Clap your hands, all people… shout to God with loud songs of joy.”

familiar 100th Psalm:  “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord all ye lands”… including New Hampshire… “Come unto his presence with singing.”

No more long faces… for one day, one day out of the week… can’t we live it up… can’t we celebrate our fellowship with joy?!

Well, of course, just talking about joy as a valid alternative doesn’t make it happen… we don’t want a colorful illusion, or some fake construction… give us a solid foundation for the experience of joy!

I think there are at least three truths that we can all count on for the experience of joy in worship… they result in feelings and emotions… but they are based on essential truths, or beliefs.

The first is a sense of the eternal.

Now this is absolutely amazing… but this is one place where Unitarians and Baptists come together… and Jews, and Buddhists, and Muslims, and agnostics, and non-believers… maybe even some from Texas… and I know it’s a stretch, but even, yes, Democrats and Republicans.  We all share a sense of the infinite divine.

We may name it… wisdom, or truth, or spirit, or nature, or the unknown, or the holy, or the uncaused cause, or even  God… but as part of the human DNA there appears to be in the brain or the heart, or the stomach, as the ancients believed, some innate sense of the infinite divine!  Some element beyond the human, greater than the human, a mystery to the human, counterpoint to the human, universal to the human experience… a sense of the eternal.

As some of you know, Nancy and I live on the side of Mount Kearsarge… with arguably the very best view in all of New England.  Since we live basically, with our windows facing west – south – west, the sunsets are really sensational.  One of us will be downstairs in the evening, and call out, ”Look at it now, look at the sunset now!!”  Our internal response… thank you, thank you nature, or thank you, infinite spirit God!  Everyone in New England and on the planet can come together with a common mind, with words of gratitude… thank you, thank you, thank you!  And that’s one of the components of worship… gratitude, thanks, praise, yes!

From the Calvary Messenger…

One night while deep in starlight still,
I dreamt that I received the bill,
5,000 breathless dawns, all new
5,000 flowers, fresh with dew
5,000 sunsets wrapped in gold
One million snowflakes served ice cold
100 music-haunted dreams of moon-drenched roads and hurrying streams, of prophesying winds and towering trees, of silent stars and browsing bees…
One June night in fragrant wood
One friend I loved and understood.
I wondered when I walked that day
How in the world I could ever pay.

A sense of the eternal in nature and gratitude…  maybe that’s what joy in worship is all about!

But there’s more…

A sense of the eternal… and a ‘binding to each other.’  One of the main reasons that most of us come to worship at KUUF… is the brilliant preaching, no?  My guess is that most of you come… because of who we will see here… there’s a whole lot of hugging going on!

Remember the classic story from Harry Golden… He lived in North Carolina and edited The Carolina Israelite and wrote the books Only in America and For Two Cents Plain about the miracle of growing up Jewish in the South.

One evening Golden, when he was a little boy, asked his father a very serious question… “Papa, you don’t believe in God… why do you go to synagogue?”  His father responded, “My friend Goldberg goes to the synagogue to talk with God… I go to synagogue to talk with Goldberg.”  So do many of us… it’s a binding!

And then I see KUUF in these marvelous words from Jürgen Moltmann about true community…

“There… no one has to conceal his problems.  No one has to conceal his disabilities… It is never that some have the say and others say nothing… Neither the old nor the little is isolated… One bears the other even when there is no agreement… One can leave the other in peace when she needs it.”

Our Candles of Joys and Concern every Sunday are one of the highlights of our ‘binding,’ but there is so much more… hospital visits, home and meals brought in, personal task service, prayer and meditation support, mutual group studies, and incomparable social events… and much more.

I think what I really like about ‘us’ Unitarians… maybe the most… is that when we are at our best… we are totally inclusive!  No one is excluded… because of race, religion, politics, economics, nationality, gender, disability, education… ‘You are welcome,’ whoever, wherever you are on your journey!  Say Amen!!

Remember the lines your teacher made you memorize… savvy and succinct by Edwin Markham:

Heretic, rebel, a think to flout
He drew a circle that shut me out
Love and I had the wit to win
We drew a circle that took him in

That’s who we are, KUUF, at our best!

William Sloane Coffin said, “By joining a church you declare your individuality in the most radical way, in order to affirm community on the widest possible scale.”

We do go to synagogue ‘to talk to Goldberg,’ and bind ourselves to each other.

Joie de vivre in worship… of all places… through a sense of the divine… a binding to each other… and a commitment to the needs of the world, at our doorstep.

And we are out there… the KUUF troops… the Food Pantry through First Baptist and Andover, the collections for KREM, the involvement with the annual Crop Walk, ‘with T-shirts,’ and as elves in the VNA Christmas gift program, and the backpacks filled with school supplies for Andover… and all the outreach and mission projects you as individuals are involved with in this area and often around the world.

What does it really mean to be one of the committed ones?  Remember this…

It happened in an African American church in the South.  The preacher began:  ‘Sisters and brothers, this church needs to go forward and upward… this church has gotten weak’… and the congregation responded, ‘Let ‘er walk!’

‘Brethren, in this church we are feeling a new sense of hope and power… this church has gotta move’… the congregation, ‘Let ‘her move!’

‘And beloved, this church knows God is with us and leading us, but what we do now is gonna take a lot of money… so we gotta let ‘er fly’… and the congregation responded, ‘Let ‘er walk!’

What happened to our feelings of ‘joie de vivre’?!  This is really not a sermon on stewardship… but on our personal commitment… of time, of particular skills, abilities, and energy… this is what I mean… even taking some risks.

This is Sam Keen’s story…

“I didn’t begin practicing the Flying Trapeze until two months before my 62nd birthday… but I always dreamed of flying, so I joined a trapeze training program at the San Francisco School of Circus Arts… and learned to fly.

After several weeks of climbing and swinging, midway in one class the catcher showed up.  One look was enough to give me confidence that if we could make hand contact he would not drop me.  He looked like Superman without a shirt.  He climbed hand over hand up the rope without using his feet, perched on the catcher’s trapeze, and began to build up his swing.  He dropped to his knees and pulled himself over into the catcher’s lock with his legs entwined in the ropes and shouted, ‘Ready!’  When he reached the apex of his arc he yelled, ‘Hip!’

I lifted the trapeze and took off from the platform, but I got into the knee-hang too late to meet him at the midpoint.  No catch.  The second time I folded myself as tightly and quickly as possible, locked my knees around the bar, took my hands off, and reached for the catcher.

It happened.

Suddenly out of nowhere, out of the kingdom of the flying man, the catcher appeared.  As he grasped my wrists I released my knees from the bar, and we flew out over the apron, over the crowd, over the years, and swung back again.  He released me, and I fell into the net and into my future.”

New projects, new outreach, new missions as a church… Risk for sure… real commitment… learning to fly… free to engage the world at the places of its needs.

A sense of the eternal…

A binding to each other…

A commitment to the needs of the world… right at the KUUF doorstep.

Those three together… a wonderful spirit of ‘joie de vivre’ right here in worship!!

Now I have a crazy way of affirming that joy right here, right now.

Would you stand… take hands as a sign of community… and sing with me…

‘Amen, Amen, Amen.’


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