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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

The Ties That Bind

Rev. Jeffrey Symynkywicz, September 13, 2009

                 It's funny how these minds of ours work (when they do work). Our pasts-- both their blessings and their curses, too, of course-- never totally dessert us. The ties that bind us to the past are always there within us. While we might neglect them, or think we’ve moved beyond them, or forget about them for a while, or cover them up, or deny them, or lose track of them-- sometimes the least little spark can reenergize them and-- and bam-- there we are, back where we thought we'd never be again.


          Of course, for all of us, some of these ties to the past may well be bitter, painful, sad memories as well. While it very well may hurt us to recall them, they too need to be faced and lived through again if we're going to learn their lessons, and move beyond them. (Hug your demons, the therapist Pia Melody used to say, or they'll bite you where you least expect them.)


          But as for those blessed memories from our past-- what a gift of grace it is to be able to summon them up, and have them touch our lives so gently with their smile-- as though to remind us of just what a precious gift this life is. Of course, we can't live in the past. But we can live with the past. Or rather, the past lives inside of us still. And that can be a real blessing—and a real challenge.


          Life sure as heck doesn't go backwards, nor does it tarry for anything. The inevitable lesson of the fall (the fall of the year, the falls of our lives) is that we have to learn to let go of so many things as time passes. The art of letting go gracefully may be the most important thing we human ones need to learn. Life hurtles forward into the future, and it’s always as though the "fast-forward" button is being pushed.


          So the ties that bind don’t just go backwards; they go forward, too. We are all forging ties, right now, that will bind us to those who come after us.  How we care for our children-- or don't. How we care for one another-- or don't. How we care for the earth-- or don't. The decisions we make today determine the kind of place this world will be.


           That's what hope is about: Hope is our willingness to do our work well today, so that tomorrow will be good for those who come after us. Hope is about strengthening the ties that bind us to one another-- and beyond one another toward all others-- so that our ties to those who come after us will be firm and secure and life-supporting, and their memories will be sweet dreams of the past and not haunting nightmares.


          A much wiser person than I (of whom there are many) once said that being a part of a church is a lot like rowing a boat (something else of which I know almost nothing).  But I do know that generally speaking, when you row a boat, you don't face the direction in which you're going. No, you face backwards. You look back, but move forward.


          We look back toward where we've come: We behold and cherish and savor the wonderful stories of the dear souls who have worked hard through centuries now to keep this special church going. We have been blessed to know so many of them over the years. We love them still. But we abide not with them anymore. We move forward, relentlessly and fearlessly, toward the other shore; toward the future that our children (and our grandchildren) will inherit.


           We move forward, while looking backwards.


           We honor the past, while building a firm and secure future.


             This, very simply, is one of the important reasons we have churches and temples and other religious communities: to remind us of the ties that bind us with one another; and to strengthen the ties that connect us to the past and to the future; and to help us to reach out and make new ties, and reconnect those that have been severed, and, of course, to join us ever more firmly with that "common spirit of life which connects us all".


          It is dear little churches like ours, my friends, which make these kinds of connections possible. Strong, soul connections-- that neither differences in age or in lifestyle or circumstance-- or the passage of years, or the divide of miles, or even the passing away of dear, dear friends-- can ever erase.


          We can't forsake the ties that bind.


          And if we try to, we do so at our own peril.


          According to a recent study in Newsweek magazine:


          People who think of themselves as "lonely" are more than twice as likely to get sick as people who don't.


          The death rate among those with "few personal relationships" is three times that of those who have lots of friends and relatives close-by.


          People with numerous good friends report lower levels of stress, lower blood pressure, fewer heart attacks and strokes, and less anxiety in their lives.


          And that people who go to church (or temple) are happier. Live longer. Experience more contentment with their lives.


         So don’t come to church for me. Don’t do it for the cause of Unitarian Universalism. Do it for you. What better reasons do you need for showing up here on

Sunday than these? Coming to church is good for you! Do it, then!


          Friends refresh our spirits. They're good for us.


          Our church can be an incubator of friendships. It can be an incubator of our souls. As such, it strengthens our bodies, minds, and spirits as well.


          As another great old hymn puts it:


Tell me, in a world without pity,
Do you think what I'm asking's too much?
I just want something to hold on to,
And a little of that human touch...

          This is why we are back here again, for the 266th year of this church’s existence:

          Maybe a little bit because of the particular theology that is espoused here, and our sense of liberal religious witness.


          Maybe a little bit because we want to learn something about religion and spirituality, in order to stretch our minds.


          Maybe a little bit because we feel we have a debt to pay the world, and we want to find a way to serve and make the world better.


          Maybe a little bit because of a sense of obligation and duty, or a sense of family tradition.


          These are all good reasons to come to church.


          But I sense that the main reason we're here is to feel connected, to break out of our aloneness and our loneliness, and join with others—


          Because our young people need mentors and friends-- living, breathing, over-age-30 examples of what it means to be a functioning adult man or woman in a difficult world.


          Because our older folk need companionship and warmth and caring and an extra dose of youthful enthusiasm and energy from time to time.


          Because we all need a helping hand sometimes, or words of encouragement, or a shoulder to cry on, or someone to laugh at our jokes, or a push and a prod out of our seats, and back into the world where we can make a difference.


          What we are yearning for, I think, is this blessed community of memory and hope--  “that sings its songs, tells its thoughts, asks its questions, and searches together with courage and with faith."


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