Standing On The Side Of Love In Statesboro, Georgia

Tending the Flame

March 18

Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro

 

 

This past winter, it actually got cold enough in Statesboro to enjoy a fire in our fireplace at home.  My partner Greg teaches some nights – and during that cold snap, he would sometimes build a fire for me before he went back to Georgia Southern.  (He probably was hoping to warm up my mood before he got back home.)  Anyway – the first time he did that, he was looking forward to coming back home and sitting in front of those wonderful warm flames with me.  But alas, while he was gone, I ended up working on my computer and got “in the zone” while writing a sermon or something – and when he got home, the flame was gone – at least the one in the fireplace.  He did a good job starting the fire.  But the flame was not tended – and went out. 

 

Tending the Flame

I chose “Tending the Flame” for this sermon topic and recommended that phrase for our Canvass theme because I thought it would fit well with the other metaphors and symbols that we have here at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro.  Like most other UU churches, we’ve adopted the flaming chalice as our symbol and begin each service by lighting that chalice.  We also use “light” and “fire” as metaphors when we talk about our faith.  We hear words like “the light of truth” and “the fire of commitment” and “the warmth of community.”  And we are not alone.  Fire has been an important symbol of the sacred from time in memoriam.  Moses encountered God in a flaming bush and many religions use fire or light in their services.  Fire was so very important to primitive man and flame tending was often a holy position. Perhaps for all of these reasons, these words caught my attention.  Maybe I also chose this theme because of my own experiences with flame tending.

 

Now flame tending – whether talking of real flames or those metaphorical ones – requires much more than sitting and looking at it.  There are things you can do to make your flame burn brighter and keep in burning. 

 

So what’s the best way to tend a Flame!  I grew up here in South Georgia in a home with a non-functioning fire place – so it’s not something that I needed to learn to do to survive.  But I always ready to learn something new – so I went to what I hope is a trusted source for my information:  www.hearth.com

They offer some tips for those who tend the fires and those tips may have some truths for those of us who are tending our Fellowship Flame.

 

First, these experts say to make sure you have good wood to keep your fire going well.  And they advise that this wood be of mixed sizes and types.  Also they advise that you keep plenty of kindling and small chips on hand. 

 

So what can we learn about this.  The wood is the fuel for the fire.  And the fuel for our fire includes our own talents, skills, financial resources, and time.  Now just as the wood needs to be good seasoned wood, we need to use the best of our personal resources for our flame.  And we need diversity in our fuel.  I think we have a good deal of that already; but certainly we can be looking for new chips, and kindling, and logs to add.  Some of these can come from what we already have stored up somewhere – and just haven’t shared, and some can come from what new folks may bring.  So #1 is Good Wood! Let’s make sure we make that available.

 

Second.  – And this is a direct quote — “Fire needs a “critical mass” in order to burn well.”  Basically the experts say that one log sitting in a stove or fireplace won’t do it.  You have to establish a good bed of red-hot embers to achieve a good burn.  Folks – those of us sitting in this room today as well as our other regular folks need to produce that red hot passion.  And I think we can.

Third.  – The experts say that a good Flame means a good Fire – Quote – “Much of the heat from wood is in the form of the gases we know as smoke. If you burn your stove improperly, lots of unburnt smoke will escape up the chimney and cause excess creosote (tar) formation on your chimney and also pollute the great outdoors. A proper fire BURNS this smoke. In general you should always see a flame on your fire. This is a simple gauge of whether you are burning properly. A smoky fire is a dirty and inefficient one!  Now, sometimes we may feel like we are “working” and “giving” – but we may end up producing smoke rather than a good flame.  That’s why planning is so important – and yet being flexible and changing your plans when you see that your efforts end up being a lot of smoke with no fire. 

Now, how do we do that?  The fourth hint given by the flame experts is an important one.  Quote – “Leave some space between the wood.”  Yep – Our flame needs some fresh air, some good oxygen. When we get a little too cozy with our own little groups – and make no space for new folks – then we are likely to end up with a poor UU flame.  We need fresh air and we need to mix things up occasionally.  The experts say that “cris-crossing your wood or placing odd-shaped pieces in the fire help the airflow through your stove or fireplace.  We have a faith and a church that we consider to be “open” not closed; and hopefully that openness will keep new fresh ideas blowing through.

And Fifth – Fire Tenders need to make sure there is a Good Draft.  If you have poor chimney suction, or an improper installation, your efforts will be in vain.   Now, we all love the comfort and security we feel in this safe sanctuary.  But if we have no opening back out into the world for our faith, then our fire will smolder.  And I think this has been a major problem for our faith tradition. 

No one encouraged me to do a sermon related to our canvass efforts this year.  And in fact, perhaps you would have preferred not to have one.  But I felt a true sense of responsibility to do it anyway.  And yet, I’ve struggled with it.  Perhaps because I hated those “stewardship” sermons that the pastor provided each year in the Southern Baptist church where I spent most of my life.  They were usually pretty boring – or at least that’s the way I perceived them to be.  Maybe I just was not in a state of acceptance to what they were saying.  Perhaps I was having a difficult time with the idea of giving more to a religious organization where my ideas, beliefs, and even gender were rejected or diminished. 

 

And maybe that’s why I have wanted to give since I’ve been in this fellowship.  I wanted to share my time, my talents, and my financial resources with this welcoming group of folks.  Because I thought that this was not only a place that was nurturing to me personally – but this is a place where my efforts and resources can combine with others to make a difference – to make the world a better place.  Now that sounds kind of sappy, I know.  But I really believe it. 

 

One of the Bible readings that I used to hear on stewardship Sunday was from Matthew, Chapter 6.  In this passage, Jesus is teaching his followers about the giving of alms.  He says:

 

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal —  for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

 

Now, Jesus and his followers shared a theology regarding life after death that may be different from mine or yours.  But regardless of your views of the afterlife, there is something to be learned in this lesson from this revered rabbi.  Jesus said:  for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. 

 

This was Jesus’ way of saying – if you care about something, you’ll put your treasure there – your treasures of money and time and energy.  Certainly those of us that have close family members with needs know this – especially if these are children or old folks who have a hard time doing for themselves.  We care for them and we are committed to them – and our treasure will be there. 

 

If you look at my Credit Card Bill to see where my money goes, you may think I’m most committed to eating.  But you know – the joy I have in eating out is usually when I can eat out and enjoy the company of others – like when we were at the winery the other night.  If I were at home by myself, there’s no way that I would want to spend that on some fruit and cheese and wine.  But in that setting – with you folks – and that glorious sunset, well, as the credit card commercial says – that’s priceless. 

 

And indeed, what we have here in this fellowship is priceless too!  And this is the time of year that we seriously consider our own commitment to this priceless community. 

 

Now, like many churches, we tend to have a central core of folks here who are tending the fire.  And we praise and honor those folks because they are doing a wonderful job with their contributions of time, energy, talents, and financial resources.  But like the chickens in our children’s story*, for them to retain their enthusiasm, they need others to pitch in and tend this wonderful flame of love as well.  And that core group also has to realize that other flame tenders may use different tools or different methods – and be okay with that.  The diverse wood in the fire makes it better.  And the breath of fresh air generates a brighter flame. 

 

Our special canvass day is not until April 1 and you’ll be hearing more about that.  Marky will be sending a special edition newsletter to you and I encourage you to read it.  It not only shares with you about this special event, there is an explanation of our proposed budget and our needs for your time, energy, and talents as well.  You will also be receiving at the April 1 event a brochure with UUA’s suggested giving guide.  This is simply for your own purposes.  But I think it’s helpful.  There is no pressure on anyone to give at any particular level.  Only you know your own circumstances.  But – for example, someone like me should be giving at least the proportion of my income indicated for the Visionary level.  Now, for me to do that, I’m going to need to make a bigger commitment.  I can do that and I want to do that.  We are also going to be canvassing you to find out where your interests and talents are – because folks – we can use them – and believe me, if we all do this together, we’ll be like that barnyard in the children’s story—full of the good bread of life and sharing with others.

 

I’m feeling a little like that Southern evangelist who said to his flock:

‘Brothers and sisters, there’s work to be done. Great good to be got. But first we got to take that first little step. And then the second. Then we got to walk together, and not grow weary.’
‘Amen,’ said the congregation. “ Now
, every time the congregation says, ‘Amen’ in this story, it would help if you all would offer an ‘Amen.’
‘We got to run together, and not grow faint.’
‘Amen.
’ (The congregation responds, ‘Amen.’)
‘We got to spread our wings like eagles and fly!’
‘Amen.’ (
The congregation responds, ‘Amen.’)
‘But’
, said the preacher, ‘we all know today it takes money to fly!’
There were a few scattered ‘Amens’, but mostly silence. And then a voice piped up from the back, ‘Then let’s just walk, preacher!’

I hope that’s not the reaction here.  We may not be ready to fly either – but we can certainly step up the pace and walk or run or dance deliberately together.

As Rev. Hilary Landau Krivchenia told her UU congregation:

We, at this church do not need to sally forth. 

 

(The following has been paraphrased and modified from a sermon by Krivchenia)

 

We are bearers of a free religious voice in a time of the narrowing of minds, we are faithful to diversity in a time of growing intolerance, we reason despite reaction and panic, we honor the inherent worth and dignity of every person when that might be too easily sacrificed.  And we cherish the wonderful web of life!

 

When you commit your time and money, this is what you commit to – this harbor of peace and freedom, of spirit and reason, of knowledge and wisdom.

 

These are the treasures, which we hold in trust for a world limited in vision.  This is our fire – inherited from many generations and places.  This chalice is a symbol of the illumination we find and create here.  But how committed to this are we to this faith?

 

In proportion with our means, we should invest in the world we hope to see – for we can build it together – as long as we make a good place for this voice, as long as we spread our inclusive vision, and teach our reasoning word.  We can make a difference.

 

As Unitarian Universalists, we are the rich inheritors of generations of free thought – we are the ancestors of the future.  Our flame is precious beyond count.  Therefore give your time and resources in generous faith to the tending of this flame – to these principles – to this congregation – to this community – and this world which so truly needs your gifts.

 

May It Be So!

(pause)

Now, who will give serious consideration to their commitment of time and money to this wonderful congregation?  (Hold up sign “I Will” – connects to previous Children’s Story – see below)

 

*Accompanying Story for All Ages:  The Little Red Hen and Her Friends (A modification of the traditional “Little Red Hen” story).  See Below.

 

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 The Little Red Hen and Her Friends

Note:  Children and adults will respond as ducks, cats, and dogs with “Not I” or “I Will” cards when they are held up by the reader.  The “Not I” card includes a frown face to help non-readers while the “I Will” card includes a smiley face.

One day as the Little Red Hen, the medium sized White Hen, and the Big Brown Rooster were scratching in the field, they found some grains of wheat.

“This wheat should be planted,” the Little Red Hen said. And the other chickens agreed.  “Let’s see who will help,” she said.  And they went to the barnyard with the wheat.

 

The Little Red Hen (who was the talkative one) said: “Who will help plant this wheat?”

The ducks all said, “Not I.”

The cats all said, “Not I.”

And the dogs all said, “Not I.”

“Then we will,” said the Little Red Hen. And she and the Medium sized white hen and the big brown rooster planted the wheat.

Soon the wheat grew to be tall and yellow.

“The wheat is ripe,” said the Little Red Hen. “Who will help cut the wheat?”

The Ducks all said, “Not I.”

The cats all said, “Not I.”

The dogs all said, “Not I.”

“Then we will,” said the Little Red Hen. And she and the white hen and the brown rooster cut the wheat.

When the wheat was cut, the Little Red Hen said, “Who will help thresh the wheat?”

The Ducks all said, “Not I.”

The Cats all said, “Not I.”

And the Dogs all said, “Not I.”

“Then we will,” said the Little Red Hen. And she and the white hen and the brown rooster threshed the wheat.

When the wheat was threshed, the Little Red Hen said, “Who will help take this wheat to the mill?”

The Ducks all said, “Not I.”

The Cats all said, “Not I.”

And the Dogs all said, “Not I.”

“Then we will,” said the Little Red Hen. And she and the white hen and the brown rooster took the wheat to the meal.

They took the wheat to the mill and had it ground into flour. Then the Little Red Hen said, “Who will help make this flour into bread?”

The Ducks all said, “Not I.”

The Cats all said, “Not I.”

And the Dogs all said, “Not I.”

“Then I guess we will,” said the Little Red Hen. And she and the white hen and the brown rooster made the bread and baked the bread.  Then the Little Red Hen said, “Now – who will eat this bread?”

The Ducks all said, “I will.”

The Cats all said, “I will.”

And the Dogs all said, “I will.”

“Hmm” said the Little Red Hen. “You did not help us plant the wheat or cut the wheat or thresh it or take it to the mill or make the bread.  Perhaps we should not share with you.”  But she talked it over with the white hen and brown rooster and said.  We are very tired from all of this work we have done – and perhaps that is why we did not feel like sharing.  But we will share with you this time.  And she cut the break into little pieces so that everyone had some.  And it was SO good.  And they all said it was good and wanted more.  The Little Red Hen said, “We have no more bread – but we saved some of the grains of wheat when we threshed it so that we could plant more!  But we chickens are rather tired – so I’m not sure who will help plant the wheat and cut it and thresh it and take it to the mill to be ground into flour and bake the bread.

Then, the Ducks all said, “I will.”

The Cats all said, “I will.”

And the Dogs all said, “I will.”

And all of the animals helped out with all of the work.  And they found out that the Ducks were very good at planting because they could use their flat web feet to pat the grain into the ground.  And they were all good at cutting – and the cats were especially good at threshing with their claws so they did most of that – and the dogs carried it to the mill – and of course the chickens were the experienced bakers and did most of that.  And they had a great abundance of bread – so much that they shared it with the goats and the turkeys.  And they all were proud of their good work – and full – and happy!

May it be so with us all!

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