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John Murray Distinguished Lecture: Hospitality and Grace

General Assembly 2006 Event 2051

Unfortunately, this video becomes quite choppy at around ten minutes in. An audio CD of the event is available for purchase.

Sponsor: Murray Grove Association

Speaker: Rev. Robert M. Hardies, Senior Minister, All Souls, DC

An audience of 300 people welcomed Rev. Robert Hardies for the 20th annual John Murray Distinguished Lecture.

Hardies told us his heart has been heavy with thoughts of Iraq, Darfur, the devastation to the Gulf Coast by hurricanes, and the state of our nation and our leadership. At first he had been unsure how to deliver a gospel of hope and love in this emotional state. But then he remembered John Murray's emotional state, 235 years ago, when he delivered his first sermon in America. Murray's wife and son had died, his possessions had been taken, he had barely escaped debtors' prison, and the boat that brought him to America had been cast upon the shore; he arrived in utter despair. But then, he was welcomed by Thomas Potter, with arms wide open and a smile on his face. "Come, my friend," said Potter, "I have been expecting you for a long time."

Murray's despair was met by Potter's faith, a faith and love that is stronger than despair.

Each of us carries in our hearts John Murray's despair and Thomas Potter's faith. It was radical hospitality that lifted John Murray out of despair.

Consider Universalism's great miracle: Thomas Potter built a chapel for an unknown preacher; he welcomed John Murray and invited him to preach; and he invited all his friends and family to come and hear the good news.

One gracious act begets another, and there followed a sequence of Universalists: Hosea Ballou, Thomas Starr King, Clara Barton, Olympia Brown. In Universalism's generous economy of grace, the basic unit of currency is a single act of hospitality.

Hardies talked of his own journey as a new graduate at age 22, burdened with a new realization that he was gay. The journey took him from upstate New York to Portland, OR, where he walked into a voters' initiative to deny the inherent worth and dignity of gay people. In opposition to this initiative, there were "Hate-free Zones," marked with pink ribbons.

It was there in Portland that he came upon a church, proudly wrapped and festooned with pink ribbons, where the gospel of universal love was preached. This was the First Unitarian Church of Portland.

What is the depth and breadth of our hospitality? Our world is threatened by worship of a god of some souls, not all, a god who picks and chooses.

"How do you know when you have created a god in your own image?" Hardies asked. "When he hates the same people you do!"

Can God's love embrace all? Mae West said: "Too much of a good thing is—wonderful!"

Universalism is a faith that allows us to lay our burdens down. It is stronger than despair. Hardies urged us to recommit ourselves to the currency and saving grace of radical hospitality.

Hardies closed with John Murray's benediction. "Go out into the highways and byways of America. Give the people something of your vision. You may possess only a small light but uncover it, let it shine, use it in order to bring more light and understanding to the hearts and minds of men and women. Give them, not hell, but hope and courage."

Reported by Mike McNaughton; edited by Jone Johnson Lewis.