Then I came of age in the late 60s and early 70s, with the assassination of MLK and RFK, with the Watergate scandal, President Nixon's impeachment, in the what I called the age of cynicism. I lost faith in the structures of society. And due to that, I cut myself off from the structures of society and in so doing I fragmented my self. And in doing so, I cut myself off from my dreams, cut myself off from my inner calling, cut myself off from the interconnectedness of all that is. I followed a plan, I was a man with a plan. I was searching for the American Dream. Not my dream, but the American Dream
A house in the suburbs, 2.3 kids, a dog and a cat (well I didn’t really care about the cat, that was part of my wife’s dream), a nice career that would allow me to travel the world and send my children to private school, and eat out at the finest restaurants. I had no idea how this would happen. I didn’t even really care how it would happen. I just sort of imagined it would happen. But a funny thing happened on the way to my plan. My heart wasn’t in it. I was often unsettled in my profession, I look back on my old journals, and I see a yearning for more meaning in my life. In truth, I was not very successful in business when my goal was just to make money for myself.
In this as in so many ways this religion saved me. I fully engaged our third and fourth principle which includes spiritual growth in our congregation and a free and responsible search for truth and meaning. Just as I tried a number of professions and jobs, I explored many different paths to finding meaning within my congregation. The most powerful areas that provided me growth were teaching children’s religious education, connection circles and being a worship associate. I would highly recommend each of those!! And then I had what I would call a Damascus Rd. experience. For those not familiar, the Apostle Paul, before he became a Christian persecuted Christians mercilessly. In the Book of Acts, it states “Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly around him there shined a light, and heh heard a voice…” Now a light shone in me, I will call it an inner light and it happened when I led my first service. Somewhere towards the end of my service, suddenly all of my angst, all of my searching, all of my uncertainty came to an end. I felt an inner peace that I had never felt before. (I would wish that for all of you) And I knew then and there, even though I would not admit it to myself at the time, that I would pursue ministry. I do not believe that this event could have happened without all of the work leading up to it, but it was a trigger.
Then a while later, when I was having lunch with a friend I was complaining about my job and he asked me if money were not an issue, what would you do for a living. That is a good question. And because he was a trusted friend, I automatically said it. Without thinking, without making calculations, without worrying about the ramifications to the next seven generations, I said if money wasn’t an issue I would be a minister. We were both silent for a long time. Once I said it out loud I could not take it back. I had named my intention out loud. I have said it before from the pulpit, it is important to name your intentions. It makes it more real, more tangible.
So I did the normal thing I would do when I have a decision to make. I took a pad, and I made two columns, one for pros of becoming a minister and one for negatives of becoming a minister and ranked each item on a scale of 1-10. At the end of this long list (I must have had 20 items on each side of the ledger, of course it came out tied . Kind of funny how it works out that way. Then in the pro column I put “just because” and gave it a score of 100 to tip the scales. And then I did what any right minded person would do. I called a therapist and made an appointment. I am serious. This choice made no cognitive, rational or logical sense even to me.
All I knew and still know is that when I am involved in Ministry, my life feels right. And prior to that, my life did not seem in balance. It is in this intuitive knowing that I realized my call. And in doing so, in pursuing what was my call, my life came into balance. Interestingly at this same point, my business career took off. Now there were some who saw my career success was just coincidental timing of having worked hard all those years. In my how shall I call it, my called state of mind I looked at it as the universe opening up and providing for me what I needed to achieve my true inner call.
And looking back on it, what I believe really happened was once I found my path, once I found my purpose, once I found meaning in my life, I found no need to compartmentalize my life into different segments. Work Jay, Parent Jay, Husband Jay, Church Jay, and I was able to
de-compartmentalize my life and be just Jay. As Henri Nouwen a Catholic spiritualist said “What is required, is to become the Beloved in the common places of our daily existence and, bit by bit, to close the gap that exists between what I know myself to be and the countless specific realities of everyday life.” And in doing so, by integrating who I was with how I acted in the world, I became more authentic in all my interactions. And I believe that in that knowing, in that understanding of who I was, that acting with authenticity, allowed other people to recognize and respond authentically.
So what is my call to ministry. It is about building the beloved community. It is about empowering others on their religious journey. It is about deepening people’s relationship and connection with the congregation and the world around them. My call is about transformation. Transformation of individuals by encouraging their embracing searches for meaning in their lives. Transformation of our community through the transformation of individuals. Transformation of the larger community through transformation of our community. One never knows where the future leads, but we need to take the first step and see where it takes us. I continue to walk daunted with the ambiguities of life, yes I said daunted because this is important stuff, daunted knowing that there are people out there yearning for meaning and yearning for connection to something greater then themselves.
It is my call/it is our call to build a beloved community that answers that yearning for meaning and connection. So just like Moses, I said “here I am.” I answered the call of my true self. There was a famous Hasidic Rabbi, Rabbi Zusyua who said “in the coming world they will not ask: Why were you not Moses, They will ask me Why were you not Zusya. And that is the crux of it. How do we realize who we are. How do we realize our call? Do we use Reason or Intuition or both. How do we discern what is right. Some would say that intuition is the Holy Spirit working through us. I cannot confirm or deny that and so it gives me pause and hope.
Others might say that Intuition may be the lifetime of memories and experiences trapped within our subconscious trying to come to the forward. That as well should give us both pause and hope. Much of our subconscious may be the memories of hundreds of generations of evolution telling us to fear or seek something, something that may not even be relevant anymore. We never really know. So when you are faced with such a choice, when that little voice in your mind tells you to do something that seems to go against logic, think, is what I am going to do make my life better? Is what I am doing going to make the world a better place?
Not am I going to make more money, for our lives are valued higher than just the level of our bank account. We should value our lives based on the level of heart account. How have I helped another, how have I cared for another, how have I loved another. Ultimately when we look back on our life, we will determine who we were by our actions in the world, by the relationships we have made, and by the love we have given, WE DuBois wrote, "The prayer of our souls is a petition for persistence; not for the one good deed, or one single thought, but deed upon deed, and thought upon thought, until day calling unto day shall make a life worth living."
As we gather on this Sunday I ask you to consider what actions are we taking that can make our lives worth living. What choices could we make that will make the world a better place. Someone recently asked me, do I have a current theme that runs through my sermons, and I answered that my theme often is “it’s the choices we make in life that determine the life that we live and so we should make those choices consciously and I believe that. But after thinking about today’s topic, I would also have to say that a common theme is the questions we ask ourselves guide our choices. If we ask the wrong questions we will get the wrong answers
Remember our principles say don’t say the search for truth and meaning, they say the responsible search for truth and meaning. We have to ask the right questions to lead us to the right choices. So I encourage you to ask yourself. What is your true best self or what do you want your true best self to be. When you are at your best, what are you doing? What brings balance to your life? What brings peace to your life? What brings passion to your life.. But we cant leave it at that, Then we have to ask, where does our great passion meet a great need in the world. It is at the intersection of these two answers where you will find your call.
This takes courage to really think about. Because with every choice we make we sacrifice something. But to be whole, we sometimes have to sacrifice the status quo. Climbing mountains is hard work, from the bottom of the mountain, you cant imagine how you can do it, but when you are on top, looking back from whence you came, not only is the view beautiful, but the sense of accomplishment is real. It is never too late. It is never too late but now is the time. No matter how young or how old you are, Now is the time as the song said Climb every mountain for as long as you live. Now is the time, with an ailing world in need of healing, now is the time with a fractured society in need of wholeness, now is the time more than ever to find or create healing and wholeness not only in our lives but in our larger communities. As Martin Luther King Jr. said “No person has learned to live until they can rise above the narrow confines of their individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity. Length without breadth is like a self-contained tributary having no outward flow to the ocean. Stagnant, still and stale, it lacks both life and freshness. In order to live creatively and meaningfully, our self-concern must be wedded to other concerns.”
And that is the secret…and it is not secret that by helping others you help yourself. By giving of yourself you gain for yourself. By loving others, you experience what love is. And we try to live this out through our life in this congregation. So I ask you what is our call as a congregation. I do not have to go far to answer that question. It is in your order of service, it is on our website and let it be on our minds and in our hearts when we wake up in the morning and when we go to sleep at night. Our mission statement is our call. And it is worth naming it out loud. To create a vibrant, welcoming, diverse church family which embraces individual searches for meaning and devotes itself to community good. That is our Mission, That is our Call.
Creating, Engaging, Devoting These are strong words, Good words But they need to be more than just words on a piece of paper. They should be at the core of every one of our actions. Creating Engaging Devoting. Let us reclaim our dreams, let us climb every mountain, let us follow the paths both known and unknown, let us live out our call in the world and let us find the wholeness that we seek. May it be so.