When life feels complicated or overwhelming, can you stay connected to love? When you’re out doing chores, can you remember that everyone you meet is worthy of love? Love isn’t all you need, but it’s a good place to start. I love you.
Listen to the sermon here or the complete sermon can be read below:
Today’s meditation reading is an old saying, slightly modified:
Love, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, with all your strength. Love your neighbour as you love yourself.
This is a time to go inwards now, and make space for love, and welcome love.
When I first spoke with James about speaking here, I imagined that I would do a sermon on the topic of stage fright. How I overcame stage fright, and learned to find my voice. I’ve given that talk before, and it’s a meaningful talk for me. But I decided not to talk about finding my voice, because I didn’t know if it would be a meaningful topic for you.
I played with the idea of coming here to visit, to find out where you folks were at, to find out what a meaningful topic would be, here at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Durham. But my schedule didn’t comfortably allow for a visit.
So I asked myself, what common ground do we have, when you and I have never met? What is there, when there is nothing else?
I decided to do a sermon on love.
And I decided to make it personal. Not just to talk about the idea of love. Not just to offer a discourse on the notion of universal love. I decided that I would come out of the closet and say it:
I love you.
For me, this is a big step. I didn’t grow up saying “I love you.” My mom once told me that my dad expresses his love by cooking for us, not by saying out loud the word love. We only use the word love in emails and christmas cards. Love is in the air, but it’s not in our mouths.
I grew up in a Unitarian congregation that was rather intellectual. We met in the philosophy department at the local university, in a lecture room. We weren’t a gushingly affectionate congregation, but we were full of love. The adults expressed their love by bringing food to our once-a-month potlucks after service. We kids expressed our love by gratefully eating the food at our once-a-month potlucks.
More seriously, we expressed our love by doing social justice work. We fought for nuclear disarmament; we fought for an end to poverty. We fought for universal respect for humanity, regardless of sex, gender, color or creed.
We were a loving group, but I don’t recall us talking about love.
I guessed that it would be the same here. I guessed that the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Durham was not talking about love. I was wrong.
Every week at the beginning of service, you affirm that “Love is the spirit of this community.”
When you sing the children out, you say to them, “As you leave this friendly place, love give light to every face.” “Love give light to every face.”
I thought I was being cheeky calling my sermon “I love you,” but I found out that UU’s are already talking about love. We are fully and enthusiastically talking about love.
A quick google search came up with a few slogans:
“Love reaches out.” Are you familiar with that one? It can mean to remember to go beyond the walls of the congregation, and love the larger world.
Or how about this one: “Standing on the side of love.” “Standing on the side of love” is a UU social justice slogan.
Have you seen those nifty UU t-shirts, those bright orange t-shirts, which say ‘Love’ in big letters? They show up in photos at political rallies.
There’s a religious education curriculum called “Love Surrounds Us.”
There’s another slogan, “Building beloved community.”
In a YouTube video, Aaron White of the First Unitarian Church of Dallas says that “Unitarian Universalists believe that...All human beings deserve love.”
Also online are sermons from UU minister Marlin Lavanhar. He likes to end sermons by saying “I love you. Amen.”
So we’re a loving bunch. And it’s clear that you already know this. The way you greet people at the door radiates love. The way you hold the space radiates love.
I did ask Norah if her last name was a chosen name or her birth name. I was delighted to find out that today’s service leader has the last name Love.
At moments like this, it can be easy to feel the love. But there are days when i’m -not- feeling the love. There are days when my inner monologue is focussed more on criticism than on love. Am I the only one who’s like that? Maybe it’s just me.
If you’re grumpy, or in pain, or you are experiencing loss, you can lose connection to love. I woke up on Thursday morning...and this might be too much information...Tanya knows where this is going...I woke up Thursday morning with very runny bowels. A headache. Too much work to do. I was not feeling the love. For the sake of this sermon, I tried meditating on the theme of love, and I couldn’t do it. I was disconnected from love.
So if you’re feeling disconnected from love, I hear you. If you’re in pain, or are experiencing loss, I love you. And many other people here love you too. If you need love, you’ll get it here. Let’s take a moment to let that sink in. You are loved here.
We’re here to comfort the afflicted. And we’re also here to afflict the comfortable. Did it make you uncomfortable to read the sermon title this week: I love you. Sure, you might say, I believe in loving my neighbour, but please. Do we need to talk about it?
I’m here to ask, do you actually love your neighbour? Do you -actively- love your neighbour. Your neighbour next door, or on the other side of the tracks, or in a slum halfway around the world. How would it feel to actually tell them that you love them, and then live up to that standard that you’re setting for yourself?
I actually don’t feel love for my neighbour. I barely know my neighbours. Life is too complicated. Boundaries are too important. The time when I feel the strongest love for someone I don’t know - I laugh when they laugh, I cry when they cry - I can easily feel love for a stranger when I’m at the movies. Life is simple at the movies. You fall in love with the characters, drop all boundaries, and enter their world; laugh with them, cry with them, and then the credits roll and you can safely walk away.
Imagine if you could feel that strongly for people you don’t know, in real life. Imagine walking down the street, feeling love for everyone you see. Is anyone like that? Anyone here that full of empathy? I’m not.
I’ve had 1 experience of fully loving everyone I walked by on the street. My first time in New York City, I was living their slogan, I love New York. It was my mantra for the day, and people could tell. Strangers would connect with me. A man in a business suit stopped to ask if I needed help finding my way. At a restaurant with a friend, the couple at the next table struck up a conversation with us. I felt like I was cracked open and people could feel the love. My next visit to New York, it was gone. The love was gone.
How can we maintain the love for our fellow humans, when it’s so easy to develop a thick skin in this world? I’ve been trying a new practice this year, and it’s working for me. Maybe it’ll work for you. Here’s what I do: Often when I’m walking down the street, everyone I see, I think to myself, “I love you.” When I’m waiting at a check-out counter, I repeat in my head, “I love you.” I don’t know if people can tell, but it changes how I feel about them. When I’m processing with my partner, or if there’s a bit of tension with a friend, I repeat my inner mantra, “I love you.”
Has anyone done this? It’s actually a technique used in improv theatre. Anyone here ever do improv? The technique is that you have 1 actor repeating in her head “I love you,” and another actor repeating in her head, “I hate you.” It influences how they behave on stage! At the end of the scene, people in the audience can guess who was saying “I love you” in their head, and who was saying the opposite.
I read a book this summer called The Purpose-Driven Church. The author helps people take their congregation to the next level. The book has tips on making your mission come alive. And one of the tips is to feel love, and give love, to everyone you meet. It takes being a welcoming congregation to a whole new level. One particular tip was for people with stage fright: Before standing up to speak, remind yourself that you love each and every person. This is not an audience to be feared, but a family to be loved.
I’m still working on that.
Is anyone here the type of person who would go downtown and hold up a sign that said “Free hugs!”? There’s a wonderful video online of someone doing that, and people loved it. They wanted to feel the love. There is a world full of people craving love.
And unfortunately, there are people who take advantage of that. Love is a tool that can be used for both good and bad. 10 years ago, a computer virus went viral all around the world because 10s of millions of people opened up an email they received that had the subject line “I love you.” The email contained a file called “I love you”, so people opened that too, and the file was a computer virus. It spread because it took advantage of people’s need for love.
Love is a powerful force, and with great power comes great responsibility. Love is a skill. Emotional intimacy is a skill. When you decide to open your heart to love, you’ve got a lot to learn.
The Jewish Rabbi Hillel said, and I’m paraphrasing, he said “Love your neighbor as yourself. The rest is just details. Be sure to study the details.”
We need to take care when we love, we need to study how to love. Yes, love can be used as a tool to help our congregation fulfill its mission, but I think it’s safer to not use love as a tool. I prefer to think of love as an end in itself. I love you, and I have no agenda.
This helps love stay authentic. When I began preparing this sermon, I was talking with my partner Tanya about love. She knows that I like to say “I love you” in my head, when I’m at a check-out counter. She asked me, how can you love authentically? That’s a good question, and I think that the way to love authentically is to not have an agenda. Simply love.
When you don’t have an agenda, and simply love, the world shifts. As my minister Shawn Newton put it, “in a blink, the faceless crowd becomes a sea of fellow travelers.”
And in that communion comes vulnerability. C.S. Lewis said, and I got this quote from my home congregation’s newsletter, he said that “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.”
A friend of mine has decided to help people share their knowledge and experience around love. She’s Jewish, and she’s trying to revive an old Jewish love festival called Tu B’Av. She brings people together to share personal stories of love: Both the good and the bad. She invites people to bring food that they associate with love. I could imagine bringing homemade soup and bread.
Another friend told me that he loves his brother, and is trying to help him overcome an addiction. My friend said that the love doesn’t seem to be working: His brother hasn’t changed. But my friend has changed: His love is transforming his own life.
Love isn’t a cure-all for life’s challenges. Love is a beginning, and love is an end in itself.
When you love, it’s easier to see the humanity in the person walking past you on the street, and it’s easier to see the humanity in yourself.
I love you.
Love, with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, all your strength.
When you’re mad at someone, or they’re mad at you, choose love.
When you’re walking down the street, choose love.
When you’re waiting in line, choose love.
When you’re looking in the mirror, choose love.
Love, love, love, love, love.
Read sermons by: