Sermons & Other Thoughts from Rev. Brian Chenowith

Month: September, 2015

Are You Invited?

Our reading today is adapted from the words of Kenneth Untener, the former Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Saginaw, Michigan.

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view. The Beloved Community is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is work we are called to. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Beloved Community always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said. No covenant fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the congregation’s mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way…. We may never see the end results…. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.

This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

One of the things I loved most about living in New England for a year is that it became immediately clear that Massachusetts was a place that prized its history. It held dear its many stories, it cherished the artifacts of the past, it saw itself as a cradle of American history, and of particular note to me, it treasured the conflicts and disputes of the past as well.

It was often joked at the church in Concord that while the church itself was over 375 years old, it’s conflicts did not need to last that long. It certainly felt like some of them did. I do not share this as if it was a bad thing — it was all charming, it was all part of my personal and ministerial growth, and while I am a lifelong Chicagoan —

I know that a part of my heart carried away some New England Yankee. Having only lived there a year, I feel that it was never truly home, but its uniqueness and the many stories I was witness to will be with me for some time. Many of those stories are things we still deal with in some way today. Read the rest of this entry »

Giving Yourself Another Glance

Our reading today comes to us from Brené Brown, titled “Manifesto of the Brave and Broken Hearted” from her book Rising Strong.

There is no greater threat to the critics and cynics
and fearmongers
than those of us who are willing to fall
because we’ve learned how to rise.

With skinned knees and bruised hearts
we choose owning our stories of struggle
over hiding, over hustling, over pretending.

When we deny our stories, they define us.
When we run from struggle, we are never free.
So we turn toward truth, and look it in the eye.

We will not be characters in our stories
not villains, not victims, not even heroes.

We are the authors of our lives.
We write our own daring endings.

We craft love from heartbreak,
compassion from shame,
grace form disappointment,
courage from failure.

Showing up is our power,
story is our way home,
truth is our song.
We are the brave and brokenhearted.
We are rising strong.

I remember the moment when church first disappointed me and I burned myself out. It was during my undergraduate years and I was one of those people in college — involved in pretty much any progressive student organization on campus — interfaith, multicultural, LGBT, student government.

I led worship services on campus for the progressive people of faith with a team of other likeminded leaders, and I still participated in the life of my home church, maintained a job, and so on. There is the saying about burning the candle at both ends, but really I just threw the whole candle into the fire. The eventual burnout should have been as clear as day. Read the rest of this entry »

Near and Far

Our reading today comes to us from the Jamaican-American poet, Claude McKay, in his poem titled, “Thirst.” McKay was an instrumental figure and contributor during the Harlem Renaissance.

My spirit wails for water, water now!
My tongue is aching dry, my throat is hot
For water, fresh rain shaken from a bough,
Or dawn dews heavy in some leafy spot.
My hungry body’s burning for a swim
In sunlit water where the air is cool,
As in Trout Valley where upon a limb
The golden finch sings sweetly to the pool.
Oh water, water, when the night is done,
When day steals gray-white through the windowpane,
Clear silver water when I wake, alone,
All impotent of parts, of fevered brain;
Pure water from a forest fountain first,
To wash me, cleanse me, and to quench my thirst!

This past Friday I made my way down to Rowan county for a second time. The news had come in Thursday afternoon that Kim Davis, the clerk for Rowan county, was being held in contempt and the majority of her deputy clerks would agree to issue licenses.

Having seen what the protesters faced in Ashland on Thursday, I knew it would be no different on Friday. I wondered who would be there to support the couples – who would be there to represent progressive religion – who would be there to tell people that they were on the right side of history.

The drive to Morehead was new to me. Rolling hills, fog hanging heavy over the Appalachian plateau, and small towns dotting the landscape – it became blazingly clear to me through the fog and hills that in this drive to Morehead, I was the only settled Unitarian Universalist minister between Lexington and Charleston, West Virginia. Read the rest of this entry »