Sermons & Other Thoughts from Rev. Brian Chenowith

Committed to Full Inclusion

Our reading this morning was from Michael Daeschlein, titled, “UU Principles and Disability.

You know what I’m talking about, you’ve seen them in the downtown of any major city. Little booths often accompany them, sometimes there’s a milk crate and a megaphone involved, or they just plant themselves right in front of you and force you into a conversation.

I’m referring to street preachers. Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, a wide variety of other Christians, even Hare Krishna’s – yes, they’re still around, and every now and then they’ll represent a religious viewpoint you’ve never heard of. I always have my own responses.

I often eagerly want to talk to these missionaries of faiths that aren’t mine. I’ll even day dream of standing on my own milk crate one day near the busiest intersection in Chicago, New York, or Boston with a sign that simply says, well, I’m not quite sure what it would say. But these days I think it would say, “Just breathe.” Many of us have similar experiences. Read the rest of this entry »

The Larger Conversation

Our reading for this morning was from the poet, Denise Levertov, titled, “Goodbye to Tolerance.”  It was written as a protest against injustice and intolerance.  She writes:

Starting in March of last year, 2017, the Unitarian Universalist Association was in crisis.  It was a crisis that led to debate, confusion, anger, pain, and the resignations of three of our denominational leaders:  the Director of Congregational Life, the Chief Operating Officer, and the President of our Association.  The charge?  That the Unitarian Universalist Association was engaging in a culture of white supremacy through their hiring practices.

For those of you that are unfamiliar with this crisis that rocked our faith, let me back up here a bit.  There is a lot going on here.  I will not go to great lengths to explain our complicated polity and organizational structures.  But here it is as simply as possible:  Our congregation, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Lexington, is part of a national and worldwide movement of Unitarian Universalists, the Unitarian Universalist Association.

UUA for short.  The United States is divided into regions and districts.  Some parts of the country just have regions, some have districts, some have both – for the sake of our time together, let’s pretend regions and districts are nearly the same thing.  Each of these regions is overseen by a staff person at our headquarters in Boston.  The southern region, which we are not a part of interestingly enough, had an opening for that staff position. Read the rest of this entry »

Stayed on Freedom

Our reading came to us from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

If our religious tradition is anything, it is a vastly storied one. Though we are, by all accounts, a newer religion – with Unitarian Universalism being 57 years old and the parallel histories of our pre-merger ancestors, the Unitarians and Universalists, being as old as this country – we hold within our own volumes of history a great wealth of saints and sinners, wild religious experiments, growing pains, and sublime inspiration.

Today is one of those stories of the sublime. Because though our history on this continent is quite young, the core ideas of this faith are much older. Yesterday, the calendar landed on an remembrance that is central to the burning flame of Unitarian Universalism: the 450th anniversary of the Edict of Torda.

Now, if you remember my enthusiasm with the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, I assure you, I am equally enthusiastic about this weekend. The only difference is that, instead of creating t-shirts, coffee mugs, puzzles, lego sets, Christmas tree ornaments, and posters like the Lutherans did for the Reformation celebration, our own Unitarian Universalist association created a discussion guide to mark this occasion. That is so very UU. So while I have no swag for you today, I do have great enthusiasm. Read the rest of this entry »

May Nothing Evil Cross This Door: Part 2

Our reading this morning was the poem, The Finitudes, by Mark Nepo.

The first portion of this sermon was a retelling of the fable, The Friendly Forest, by Dr. Edwin Friedman, which can be found in his collection, Friedman’s Fables.

I wonder, how many of you were waiting for the tiger to eat the lamb. I know the first time I heard this fable of the friendly forest, I was waiting for the untimely demise of the lamb. It was almost certain. Instead, we are left wondering what the animals in the forest finally did and if the lamb survived – or any of them, for that matter.

But we are also left with questions about the ethics of this story. Like the story of God wearing a two-colored hat, we have to suspend our belief – the friendly forest is absurd. But it invites us to ask questions about the nature of evil, emotions, complicity, and nature itself.

We can reflect: Is the Tiger in the fable inherently evil or just doing what is in his nature? What if the lamb was eaten, who would be responsible? The tiger? The lambs’ friends who said to not worry? And we can broaden it to the greater questions of life and meaning. Read the rest of this entry »

May Nothing Evil Cross This Door: Part 1

Sometime in high school, I decided to take a philosophy class.  It had random little dips into various philosophies, and then a turn toward religion.  It was a great space to ask big questions during a time in life when often bigger questions are answered by who your friends are, what clothes you wear, or what you’ve decided to rebel against that particular week.

It was my favorite class in high school, and the teacher was wonderful.  Upon diving into religion and having a broad sweep of it, we were assigned a project many of you are familiar with – you’ve either done it yourself, known people that have, or witnessed it being done here when random groups visit us on Sunday morning.

We were tasked with exploring a religious tradition in depth and sharing it with the class.  The teacher gave us a week to select one and to let him know – we just couldn’t choose our own.  The next week we gave him our selections and proceeded with the class.  I think I chose the Hutterites. Let’s ignore the fact that there were no Hutterite communities in Illinois. Read the rest of this entry »

Few Persons of This Persuasion: Melbourne, Australia

This sermon was delivered to the Melbourne Unitarian Peace Memorial Church in Melbourne, Australia.  A podcast of the service can be found here.

There’s this great story from the early days of Unitarianism here in Australia. Some of you may know it. I believe it tells us of the power of freethinking souls who seek each other out in the unlikeliest of places. It concerns a man named William MacDonnell and his efforts to ascertain just how many Unitarians there were in the Colony at the time.

He understood that certainly there were people that believed as he did – in the Unitarian view of Christianity. He had arrived in Australia at a time when several opportunists were also arriving with hopes of industry and enterprise on their minds. Surely, Unitarians were amongst these people, MacDonnell thought.

But he was also aware that his fellow Unitarians were spread throughout the Colony, feeling lost and alone as he did. And so on May 18th, 1850, MacDonnell inserted an advertisement into the Sydney Herald. The way this account is worded,

I imagine Mr. MacDonnell sneaking into the press room late at night and inserting heretical Unitarian leaflets in the papers. I’m sure the actual unfolding of events was by the book and ordinary. Nonetheless, an advertisement appeared and read as follows:

A few persons of this persuasion, feeling the great want of a place of worship, where they could honour God according to their consciences, are anxious to meet and co-operate with brethren of similar views, that they might by mutual aid and counsel make a beginning in carrying out so desirable an object. For this purpose communications are solicited from Unitarians who reside in Sydney or are scattered throughout the Colony, with such suggestions as their wishes or experience may dictate; and, as this step is but preliminary, those who feel interested in advancing the great truth of the strict Unity of God, will please, for the present, address ‘Alpha’ at the office of the ‘Herald.’

Read the rest of this entry »

To The Old Churchyard

Symeon was your typical kid in the Eastern Roman Empire in the late 4th and early 5th century.  He was the son of shepherd.  He lived in what is now the Turkish town of Kozan, then called Sis.

If you’re familiar with that part of Turkey, it is a stone’s throw from both the Mediterranean and Syria – and it is full of lush mountains and plateaus, perfect for shepherding.  He surely tended the flocks with his father and brothers and other family members.

When he entered what was then considered early adulthood, that of being 13 years old, he developed a fascination with this fairly new, as far as world history is concerned, religious tradition sweeping the area.  Christianity.  His family was fairly lucky, being shepherds and mountain people in the 5th century.

He learned to read and came upon a curious piece of parchment from one of his teachers – a copy of the beatitudes.  If the name beatitudes doesn’t ring a bell, I merely need to say “the meek shall inherit the earth” and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Read the rest of this entry »

My Conscience is Captive

Our reading today is titled, “Cutting Away” by the poet, Patrick Cobello Hansel.

We begin on the road to Erfurt, located in the Landgravia of Thuringia in the Holy Roman Empire in the year 1505, 512 years ago.  A young man was celebrating the completion of his law degree at the University of Erfurt and was visiting his parents in Saxony.

On his way home, he was caught in a terrible lightning storm.  As the story goes, a lightning bolt struck the ground right next to the man and he was thrown to the ground.  He was stunned.

And from being stunned he regained awareness, suddenly began praying to St. Anne – the patron saint of equestrians, poverty, and teachers – among other things.  In his praying he declared, “I will become a monk!”

He would honor this promise to St. Anne fourteen days later on July 16th – making sure he had one last party with his University friends.  To the disgust of his parents, he entered the Black Monastery in Erfurt on July 17th and started on the path to become a monk. Read the rest of this entry »

With All Earnestness

I’m convinced being a Unitarian Universalist requires us to reconcile ourselves, as much as possible, to mortality – to the inevitability of death. For so many of our stories as a tradition begin with death or lead to it – they visit upon us in quiet reflective moments, come rushing to us in the martyr’s flames, or steer us to claiming fully our lives while we still have them.

It is true, death is a constant companion for most of the world’s religions – perhaps the companion that originated the impulse to be religious, but so much so for us – a religion whose focus is squarely on the here and now – anything beyond we leave to you to discern.

It is a challenge, in the modern world but especially as Americans, to even talk about so universal a condition – that of living and dying. But, still, we will venture there.

Our story begins, however, with life – stories tend to require the living to bring the alive. And we find ourselves in what should be a familiar place for Unitarian Universalists – New England – Boston – the mothership of our tradition. Read the rest of this entry »

On the Road to Geneva

Our story begins with a realization that we don’t know when the hero was born. It’s a peculiar start. But that is the start of our story. Miguel Serveto was born sometime during, before, or after the year 1511.

His life was one that necessitated him to lie about his place of origin and date of birth so he could survive another day. What we do know is that he was born in Spain, in the Kingdom of Aragon, under the reign of King Ferdinand II the Catholic – and he would become a great theologian and physician.

He was also a Unitarian. And we’ve come to know him not as Miguel Servto, but as Michael Servetus – one of our best known Unitarian martyrs. If the name is unfamiliar to you, you are not alone. He is often lumped into the expansive history of our faith tradition as a sidenote.

When the history of your heresy, ours in particular, goes back thousands of years, it really depends on who is telling the story and what parts they feel need to be emphasized. I commend to you the thousands of years of history our tradition holds within it. Michael Servetus is but one piece. Read the rest of this entry »