The Promise of Partnership – Sermon for Greeley Aug 16 2015

Story – “Partners” by Marc Gelman
Before there was anything, there was God, a few angels, and a huge swirling glob of rocks and water with no place to go. The angels asked God, “Why don’t you clean up this mess?”

So God collected rocks from the huge swirling glob and put them together in clumps and said, “Some of these clumps of rocks will be planets, and some will be stars and some of these rocks will be . . . just rocks.” Then God collected water from the huge swirling glob and put it together in pools of water and said,  “Some of these pools of water will be oceans, and some will be clouds, and some of this water will be . . . just water.”

Then the angels said, “Well God, it’s neater now, but is it finished?” And God answered, “Nope!!”

So, on some of the rocks God placed growing things, and creeping things, and things that only God knows what they are, and when God had done all this, the angels asked God, “Is the world finished now?” And God answered, “Nope!”

God made a man and a woman from some of the water and stardust and said to them, “I’m tired now. Please finish up the world for me . . . really it’s almost done.” But the man and woman said, “We can’t finish the world alone! You have the plans and we are too little.”

“You are big enough,” God answered them. “But I agree to this. If you keep trying to finish the world, I will be your partner.”  The man and the woman asked, “What is a partner?”
and God answered,  “A partner is someone you work with on a big thing that neither of you can do alone. If you have a partner, it means that you can never give up, because your partner is depending on you. On the days you think I am not doing enough and on the days I think you are not doing enough, even on those days we are still partners and we must not stop trying to finish the world. That’s the deal.” And they all agreed to that deal.

Then the angels asked God, “Is the world finished yet?” And God answered, “I don’t know. Go ask my partners.”

Homily #2 – “Promising Creatures” – Gretchen
It is good to be with you, and so good to begin our partnership.

Maybe you could tell from my telling it, but I love that story I told earlier. I love how God is kind of a messy God, and has to be told to clean stuff up. Because life is messy. And sometimes I feel like the angels wanting to tell God – or the Universe – get busy.

But I also love how along the way of trying to get life in order, God realizes God is going to need help – 
that Life is too big a project, even for God!

I find this to be such a relief!  Because life often feels too big and overwhelming to me – a lot of times, I think maybe I should just hit play on that next episode on my latest Netflix binge and pull up the covers and give up.  Broken relationships in my family, broken systems in my world, broken promises in my heart – how do I even begin? I’m too little!

But this story reminds me – reminds us – that even God couldn’t answer such a question without calling for help. Even God needs partners.

Friends, I am here this morning because this idea –  this idea that we all need partners in order to clean up –  or “repair the world” as the Jewish tradition would have it – Tikkun Olam – this idea that we all need partners as we seek to repair our world – this is the central organizing principle in my life – and the central organizing principle in our Unitarian Universalist faith.

And I am here because you are my partners. You who have been gathering here as Unitarian Universalists for many years – saying Love is the Spirit of this Church, you who are just arriving and still a little unsure, the you of the UU Church of Greeley of the past, and the you of this congregation in the future – decades down the road.

You all are my partners, and you are the partners of the congregation where I am the settled Associate minister – the other church I serve! – the Foothills Unitarian Church in Fort Collins.

Some of you might know that Foothills is in the middle of a ministerial transition. Up until June 2014, Foothills had been blessed with knowing absolutely nothing of ministerial transitions for 23 years. Can you imagine? I know you can’t – because you, on the other hand, have learned quite a bit about ministerial transitions in those same two decades. Here is just one example of where you can help Foothills – because you know first hand that it is not the minister – or ministers – that are the church – but rather the deep partnership amongst people and the Spirit of Life across all time that is the heart of the church – all of the beautiful and broken people who gather and promise and transform through that promise-making, promise-breaking and promise-renewing practice.

As a part of our transition at Foothills, we have been reviewing our history – we have been gathering on Sundays to say “Love is the Spirit of this Church” since 1898 so we have a lot of history to cover. Today, Foothills is a pretty big congregation – we have about 800 adults, and 300 children and youth – but it hasn’t always been that way. For a long time, we struggled, and we tried all kinds of things to keep our doors open. All kinds of things. Including, get this – we decided to share a minister with the Unitarian Church in Greeley. No kidding.

It wasn’t this exact church – as this congregation sprung up later after that iteration had closed – but we could call them your religious forebears here in Greeley. Foothills came and asked those Greeley Unitarians if they would like to partner – because Foothills couldn’t carry out their mission alone. They needed help. And the Unitarian Church of Greeley said yes! And for two years, we shared a minister. After two years, Foothills couldn’t afford its part anymore, and we had to back out…..but that’s another story.

And so here we are, nearly 100 years later, and we begin again. Or at least, we begin again an explicit practice of our partnership – our covenantal tradition affirms that we have always been partners this near-century – we just haven’t always been so visible or explicit in our practice.

Over this last year, I know Kelly spoke often about covenant. I loved her sermon from early June where she offered a model for how to have a covenantal conversation – so good!

Covenant is one of those words that can initially sound kind of religious lingo-y. But as I know some of you are realizing, when you unpack its meaning and its practices, covenant holds a whole vision for how to live in this complicated, beautiful and broken world. It is a vision that affirms that what it means to be human is to bind ourselves in relationship. But not just any relationship – but rather relationships of trust and mutual accountability.
Committed relationships.

This is not what our culture teaches us. Our culture teaches us that what it means to be human is to be an individual – self-defined, self-determined, separate even. But a covenantal theology affirms that being human comes down to the commitments we make to and with other humans – the relationships we keep. We become human through our promises to and with each other.

And even more than that: covenantal theology doesn’t just say that we become human through our promising, but also we become human when we break those promises, and yet somehow find ways to reconnect and begin again – when we repair the relationship because we know we need each other – even when we think the other isn’t doing enough – even when our partner is annoying us, or isn’t listening well, or isn’t doing things the way we want them done – even then – when we realize right then, that we are still partners, and we can’t give up – and so we return, and begin again – it is this beginning again that is what it means to be human.

Let me tell you right now, sometime in the next year – maybe in the next few minutes –
I am going to disappoint you. This church is going to disappoint you. Your congregational partners at Foothills are probably going to disappoint you. This world is surely going to disappoint you. Like, all the time. Surely we are all sitting here wounded and weary from the way this world can – does- break our hearts.

And what our faith asks of us, what our faith imagines for us, is that somehow – right at that moment when our hearts break, when we find our way to see through that heart break, and stay put – not close off, not run away, not hurt back – but keep on being partners, doing what we can to repair the world – right then, our covenantal faith says – we become more human.

In this coming year, through shared spiritual practices and pastoral care; prophetic witness and community leadership; through singing and worshipping together; through getting to know each other in small and big ways in this great experiment of explicit partnership, my hope is that we will all become a little more human together.

May it be so. Amen.

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About Rev. Gretchen Haley

Gretchen Haley serves as the Senior Minister of the Foothills Unitarian Church in Fort Collins, CO. She's relentlessly curious about most things, especially the big stuff of theology, the beauty of creation and poetry, the magic of collaboration, and the great joy and often-great-depth of popular (and less popular) television and music. She and her partner of 17 years, Carri, have 2 children, Gracie (10) and Josef (8).
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