Sermons: “Standing on the Side of Love”
Where is our holy church? We are standing on the side of love.
Many Unitarian Universalists suffer from a chronic identity crisis. People ask us, what do Unitarian Universalists believe? And—we freeze! We don’t know what to say, because Unitarian Unitarians believe so many things, so many different things. We are priests of paradox, apostles of ambiguity, nattering nabobs of nuance.
And so the Unitarian Universalist Association produces seven principles and six sources and countless pamphlets and little wallet cards all to remind us what we kinda sorta believe. We are exhorted to compose elevator speeches, summations of Unitarian Universalism so pithy they might be recited on an elevator in its fleeting passage between floors.
Do we believe in God? Question—simple. Answer—impossible.
Whatever God is or is not, I don’t think God cares what we believe. I don’t think Jesus cares what we believe. And I know the Buddha doesn’t care what we believe.
The important question is not what we believe, it’s where we stand.
I want to be standing on the side of love.
Of course when I say “standing” I’m not talking about a physical posture. Rosa Parks stood on the side of love by remaining seated.
I’m talking about a moral stance not just assumed privately in our hearts but witnessed boldly in our families and schools and workplaces and communities, at the State House, in the halls of Congress. I’m talking about faith in action.
I’m not talking about sanctimony. I’m talking about intentionality. Understanding that our practice will be imperfect as each of us is imperfect, what is our purpose? What is our aspiration? What is our commitment?
Standing on the side of love.
When Unitarian Lydia Maria Child defied the prohibition of her time against women speaking in public and demanded freedom for enslaved African-Americans and the vote for women, when she protested the Trail of Tears, the brutal removal of the Cherokee, she was standing on the side of love.
When Unitarian Universalist minister Jim Reeb heeded the call of Martin Luther King Jr. to Selma, AL, and was bludgeoned to death by racists, he was standing on the side of love.
When at the height of the debate over same-sex marriage in Massachusetts this congregation voted to hang a banner over the church door proclaiming to every passerby “Support Marriage Equality. We do.” we were standing on the side of love.
By the way, did you hear that Massachusetts now has the lowest divorce rate in the country?
In 2004, when same-sex marriage became legal here, the divorce rate was 2.2 per thousand. Since then it’s gone down to 2.0 per thousand—the lowest levels since before World War Two.
Rachel Maddow says “It turns out gay marriage is a Defense of Marriage Act.” Who knew?
Standing on the side of love doesn’t require power. It requires courage. Because courage is power.
When a child on a playground sticks up for another who is teased or bullied or left out because they’re different, that child is standing on the side of love.
My daughter Lucy just turned six years old. Adopted from China, Lucy loves swimming and crafts and Hannah Montana. “Everybody’s weird,” Lucy tells me. “If you’re not weird, you’re just air.” Just air.
Let’s be more than air.
The Unitarian Universalist Association has launched a Standing on the Side of Love campaign to confront exclusion and violence based on identity, be it sexual orientation, gender presentation, immigration status, race, class, religions, nationality, physical ability, or any other excuse for harassment.
One of the campaign’s first efforts is a national petition drive for full equality—across the board—for people of all gender identities and sexual orientations. Susan Leslie and Bruce Pritchard have copies for you to sign at the Mass Ave. entrance right after worship. They can tell you more about the Standing on the Side of Love campaign, or you can go to standingonthesideoflove.org.
Standing on the side of love affirms the full humanity of all people. It honors the inherent worth and dignity, the spark of the divine in each and every person.
Standing on the side of love means treating each other well, whether ally or adversary. “Love is patient;” wrote the Apostle Paul, “love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.”
Standing on the side of love means being more committed to being reconciled than to being right. Love “does not insist on its own way.... It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
A religious person, Rabbi Abraham Heschel taught us, is one “whose greatest passion is compassion, whose greatest strength is love and defiance of despair.”
His friend Martin Luther King Jr. added, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
So when someone asks us what Unitarian Universalists believe, or why we’re speaking out on gay rights or immigrant rights or disability rights or human rights, or why we bother to drag our sorry selves down to First Parish in Cambridge on a Sunday morning, let’s tell ‘em: We are standing on the side of love.
We are standing on the side of love.
Amen and Blessed Be.
Delivered at First Parish in Cambridge, MA, September 13, 2009.
Copyright: The author has given Unitarian Universalist Association member congregations permission to reprint this piece for use in public worship. Any reprints must acknowledge the name of the author.
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Last updated on Tuesday, February 26, 2013.
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