We mark our lives on the calendar with anniversaries – day of birth, weddings, graduations, ordination, the deaths of loved ones. It helps us to remember, to be re-minded, to re-visit.
The fortieth anniversary of my first sermon is on February 8. I was in my first year of seminary at Boston University, and my mentor, Bill Rice, senior minister at the Wellesley Hills Unitarian Church invited me into his pulpit, which I accepted with some anxiety. My first sermon was titled, “What Are the Questions?”
For the previous seven years I had been a teacher at Wellesley High School and I was used to asking the class, “What are the questions?”
Bill had telephoned me in early December with the invitation. I spent the next two months nervously preparing for that momentous day. The title had come easily, if unconsciously, but the contents didn’t come easily.
About a thousand sermons and forty years later, I still wonder: What are the questions that need to be addressed from a Unitarian Universalist pulpit?
Part of the answer comes from the daily news – what’s going on in the world, what’s on people’s minds: wars, earthquakes, floods, economic crises, Supreme Court decisions – disasters that are natural or man-made, issues about freedom, peace and justice.
Another part of the answer comes from our culture’s sacred literature – the collected writings in the world’s religions, poetry and literature that touches the heart of the human spirit, including stories presented on the various screens we watch, films, biographies and documentaries.
What makes literature or film sacred? Some stories have been passed from generation to generation – stories our ancestors heard and pondered, are entitled respect.
In his wonderful poem, The Layers, Kunitz writes:“When I look behind, as I am compelled to look before I can gather strength to proceed on my journey, I see the milestones dwindling toward the horizon…Oh, I have made myself a tribe out of my true affections, and my tribe is scattered! How shall the heart be reconciled to its feast of losses?”
I don’t spend a lot of time looking back to sermons delivered from week to week – I’m too busy looking ahead to the next one, with some of the same trepidation I felt forty years ago today, and will feel as long as I keep asking ‘what are the questions?’.
I have no definitive answers, but I find myself looking back to the people whose influence was and is so important – people like Bill Rice who took me aside one day and said, “You should be a minister,” and who wouldn’t accept my initial no for an answer.
Since you are reading this, you are among the important people in my life – the people with whom I have shared, and continue to share my life.“I have walked through many lives, some of them my own…” There’s something sacred about that. Something precious.