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First Parish Universalist Church
790 Washington Street, P. O. Box 284, Stoughton, Massachusetts 02072 
(781) 344-6800
Worship: 10:30 AM
Church School: 10:45 AM

Rev. Jeff’s 10 Commandments Suggestions for Spiritual Enlightenment

(a quick look back at what we talked about during the past year)

Rev. Jeffrey Symynkywicz, January 4, 2009

            One of the real rarities from our church’s archives may well be the order of service for the Sunday one year ago, January 6, 2008 . I wasn’t here that Sunday, though many of you were. I was scheduled to preach on “Waiting on Epiphany”, but I didn’t. Instead, as you were gathering for worship that morning, I was chomping at the bit, waiting to be released from the cardiac unit at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston .


            I came home later that day, and rejoined you in worship two weeks later, on January 20—when my sermon title was, appropriately perhaps, “Second Acts”.


            But even though I never got to preach on “Waiting on Epiphany”, I hope I was able, over the course of the next 49 weeks of 2008, to share at least a few epiphanies—a few “Ah-Ha!” moments with you.


            What now follows are my top ten semi-original ideas from the past year; maybe the ten best paragraphs from the previous year’s preaching (then again, maybe not); ten suggestions (never commandments), which, if we all followed (your truly most of all perhaps), this world of ours just might be a better place.


            So here, not from Sinai (or even from Beth Israel), but from the Rev.’s hyperactive word processor, are 2008’s “10 Suggestions for Spiritual Enlightenment”:



            Number One: we dance with one another on the branches on a Tree of Life which is eternal and immortal.


We are each like precious, fragile buds along different branches of the tree of life.

           We are joined, all of us, with all that come before, tied together through mystic chords of memory, from generation to generation. We are part of all that will come after, and even after we are gone, our lives will reverberate in the lives of others; our heart will yet sound in the beating heart of the universe.


We have been born into a never-ending dance of all souls, and sometimes it’s a danse macabre, and sometimes it’s a dance sublime—but either way, it is a dance of life upon life—dream upon dream—age after age—eternally.

Number Two:  To experience this life in all its fullness, we need to let go of our defenses—and suspend our need for judgment—and actually do something to tear down those “strange and foolish walls of separation that divide us.”


This can pretty frightening stuff. It’s demanding. It’s even dangerous. You never know what you’ll get when you open the door and let that other person inside. But we aren’t in charge of drawing up the guest list for this feast which is our lives.


Of course, it’s easier to like those who are like us. Indeed, to do otherwise—to decide to let the stranger in; to risk all in the encounter with the other—flies in the face of these uptight, fear-ridden times in which we now live.


But is a life based on fear any more than a living death? A life which refuses to open up new possibilities is stillborn: “He who’s not busy being born is busy dying,” as Dylan wrote. Being born into this world was probably the biggest risk any of us ever took—because, you know, none of us gets out of here alive. Or un-assaulted. Or unscathed. Or unharmed. Or unbroken. But that’s the price we pay for being alive. As Helen Keller wrote: “Life is either a daring adventure or it is nothing.”


But commandment (err… suggestion…) Number Three tells us that it can’t be all about giving, either. Sharing this life means be willing to receive from life, as well. We are meant to share our gifts, together. We who are called to prepare this feast and also called to partake from it.


And we each have different dishes to bring to this great feast—this extraordinary pot luck— which is life.


That means it’s all about joy. And enthusiasm. Enthusiasm in its original Greek root means “to bring forth the god that is within”). Sharing our joy enthusiastically brings us into the presence of the joyous face of God.

The simple sharing of our lives together in this little church of ours might seem at times like no great thing, no big deal. It is but a simple meal of bread and soup; a simple sharing of the most basic elements of who we are; a simple sharing of our most basic and fundamental aspirations of all that life can be.


But this is the kind of connectedness for which we all yearn. It is a holy act to share this spiritual feast together. It is also one worth supporting from the fullness of our beings.


           None of this means, of course, that any of this is easy. So, lesson Number Four reminds us that we’ll always have the dust and residue of the past—the “baggage”, maybe even the “garbage” of the past—there for us to deal with.


 Sometimes, we really have to work at it, and scrub the slate clean, to have any chance at all to move forward. It’s only if we do deal with it, somehow, that we’ll have any hope of inner peace, any hope of gaining that sense of harmony or balance with life; some sense of atonement with one another and with that greater Spirit of Life in whom we live and move and have our being.


 In our atonement (at-one-ment), we are invited to build together the bridge of our shared imperfection, over which we can meet one another and strive to walk forward into the future together. We are invited to re-weave the web of our deep and profound interconnections with one another.


  It is not an easy bridge to build. It is not an easy turn to make. 


 Sometimes (Number 5) we figure that if we just keep ignoring

 the signs, the problem will just go away. But it doesn’t.


If sometimes the voice of God is a still, small voice speaking to us in our souls, at other times, God not so much speaks to us as hits us over the head with a frying pan. The signs are all there, but we choose to ignore them, and go on driving down that ill-fated road we’ve chosen.


There come those times in these lives we lead when the choice we face is stark, and the wise decision seems obvious. For whatever reasons (and they’re usually a complicated lot for any of us), the choices we have made have pushed us into a corner.  So, what do we do then? Keep on down the road, like that unsuspecting driver, till the precipice comes and we find ourselves drowned by our decision? Or do we “let silence in,” as May Sarton has put it: stop the car; evaluate the situation; get some clearer idea of the other possible pathways; and then slowly but surely—mustering all the internal fortitude and strength we can find—turn the car around; relying on those we love to comfort us, and buffet us, and help keep us on track; relying on our faith and the hope to which it gives birth and the overriding grace of God, which, as Martin Luther King preached, always finds a way where there is no way; always watches over us and holds us in those never-ending arms, whatever life may bring.


Then our perspective on life has to change sometimes (that’s Number Six).


“When half gods go, the gods arrive,” Emerson reminds us. When the false idols of the past lie smashed and broken, we might feel bereft, even despairing. But so often out of despair, there comes hope. A resilient, audacious hope. Freed of the weight of the myths of our past, we are free to fashion our own journey in life. The truth about our past—as gritty and stark and unhappy as that truth can be in many of its particulars—can set us free to become the men and women he needed to become.


We all have dreams of our fathers and mothers—memories of them, reminiscences, lessons learned, pitfalls to be avoided—that dwell deep within our minds and souls.


These are the strands from which the fabric of our lives is woven. May we honor our forebears for the dreams they have given us; and may their dreams mix with our own, and may we pass those on to our own children, as together we weave a garment of life strong enough to withstand all that life can offer.


            Seven: Our ideas have to change as well.


Sometimes, the ideas of the past, as they’ve been passed down to us, have not always been used as helpful tools along the way of our common religious journey. All too often, they have been used as weapons, as cudgels—forcing people onto a particular religious road. They’ve been used to limit discussion, and cut off inquiry, to keep those out of power down and out; to keep them as bathmats, in service to the high and mighty.


We need to weigh any religious doctrine or idea (even those I’m presenting to you this morning) in the light of our own experience, before the tribunals of our own consciences. Sometimes, too, “new occasions teach new duties,” and lists written in one age need to be updated. Whatever list of sins—or commandments—or suggestions for spiritual living—we use, it has to be written ultimately on our hearts if it’s going to do any good. Ultimately, it is within each individual human heart that the world will be transformed.


            But the tribunal of our individual heart and conscience needs the input of others if it is to remain honest. So (# 8): We need to stay humble.


Not everyone sees the world the same way any of us does; that is such an important perspective to remember: whether we’re peddling a book, or preaching a sermon, or watching the nightly news.  We all think that different things are important; we all bring different experiences to the table. Trying to inch just a little closer to understanding one another is a big part of the reason of why we’re here—why we’re here in this church, and why we’re here, on this Earth.


We also need to remember how fragile and fleeting are the forces that exalt one person—or one book—or one candidate—or one party—or one season’s passing fancy—over any other. And how it is the ebb and flow of life that, truly, makes it so wondrous.


          (Ninth) Maybe that deep sense of humility can help to bring to birth the culture of service for which this society of ours yearns.


 Maybe the age of “me—me—me” is finally over, and we’re taking the first tentative steps into the age of “we”.


            Maybe in this age of ecological challenge, and limited physical resources, and immense disparities between haves and have-nots—in this age where vast fortunes and mighty corporations are being exposed as the chimeras they truly are—maybe we are coming to grasp the truth in those ancient words that whoever clings to his life for himself will lose it, and whoever gives up his life for something greater will, indeed, find it. 


            There is a bridge beckoning us into the future. That is the bridge of service.


Finally-- #10 at last—there’s always hope.


While we breathe, we hope. And while we hope, all things are possible.


This hope of ours is inside of us, within us; in our heart and nerve and sinew; in our minds and in our souls. Our hope, too, must be made flesh if it is to come alive in this world.


            Hope is always borne by men and women—and children, too—like us. Human beings, no more than that. But mark this, too: no less than that. No less than fully human, which means we have that spark of divinity in our souls. No less than fully human, fully open to the potentialities of the Spirit working, moving, transforming each and every moment of human history and our personal histories; transforming the often dull and turgid prose of human existence into the vibrant, dancing, singing poetry of hope.


            Yea, though we walk through the darkest valleys, hope abides.


            In the bleakest midwinter, hope abides. In the bleakest, gray years, hope abides. Amid our deepest disappointments, hope abides.


            Deep in our souls, the lamp of hope shines; kindled by faith; kept burning through the oils of love.


            Through our love, in all of its wondrous forms, hope is kept burning. Through our caring and compassion; through our sacrifice and effort; through our sharing the gifts of love as widely as we may.


            Hope is a gift from God. But it is a divine gift which bears a human face. Like ours.


            It is a divine gift passed down by fragile human hands. Like ours.


            Hope is a gift from God. But it only comes alive if it is made flesh and blood within the living of our days.


 May that song of hope—that endless alleluia sounding endlessly down through the ages-- continue to sing in your souls, as well. And may all your new years be blessed with the sacred gift of hope.



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