From Gratitude to Generosity

What does it mean to be of a generous spirit? Where has generosity enriched your life? At this special service with Rev. Sue Browning and others we’ll consider the many ways this congregation rests on the generosity of those who have come before, and ways to express our gratitude for our community through our commitments going forward.

“Spirit of Life” #123

Welcome Rev. Sue Browning

Prelude “Kind and Generous” by Natalie Merchant Arr. Bryan Sharpe

Chalice Lighting Stewardship Team

Opening Hymn “For All That Is Our Life” #128

Covenant of Our Fellowship (in unison)

“At the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Easton, we seek to nurture spiritual and intellectual growth for all ages, and to be actively involved in community outreach and service. Cherishing diversity, and celebrating our oneness with all humanity, we covenant to support each other in the spirit of compassion, respect, and love.”

Thoughts for All Ages

UUFE Testimonial Jean Kader

Meditation

Joys and Sorrows

Offertory

Reading “Nourished” by Jay Wolin

Anthem “Let All the Beauty We Have Known” Words by Dana McLean Greeley, tune DANBY, arr. Thomas Keesecker

Sermon “From Gratitude to Generosity” Rev. Browning

Board Announcements Jane Terebey

Closing Hymn “The Fire of Commitment” #1028

Closing Words and Extinguishing Our Chalice

Postlude

PLEASE JOIN US AFTER SERVICE FOR COFFEE AND FELLOWSHIP

Headphones are available for persons with hearing impairments. Large print hymnals are also available. Please ask the usher for assistance. Note: Please silence your cell phone for the service.

Music: Ellen Barry Grunden and Choir

Sound: Jim Richardson

Greeters: Paula Wilhelm and Martha Hamlyn

(The service was in person and online. The text of the sermon is below.)

From Gratitude to Generosity” (Rev. Sue Browning, February 25, 2024)

When I was in seminary learning about pastoral care, my professor lifted up the importance of always remembering joy as a part of doing the work of care. As we learned to offer spiritual support to someone experiencing sickness, loneliness, or who were caregivers themselves, she reminded us not to forget the joy.

Joy was not a distraction from their challenges (often grief), but an essential component in the full experience of life and faith. She reminded us that joy was still a part of the suffering person’s life.

This professor, Rev. Mary Moschella, was recruited from my seminary to Yale Divinity School specifically to study joy. She writes,

“Creating space for joy is not a secondary matter or a frill, but a central pastoral practice, right at the heart of faithful and committed ministries…It’s possible to establish more life-giving thoughts and make them habitual so that we don’t carry around extra burdens we don’t need…”

She considers joy as life-giving and affirming thoughts. She found that the capacity for joy can be nurtured and enlarged and she charged us to help in that role. (Yale Divinity School article, March 9, 2021, “Mary Clark Moschella: Surprised by Joy”)

This is a key part of what we do together here at UUFE. We work stretch our capacity for joy; we remind one another of our humanity. And we never know what might ripple out.

There is a quote, I picked up years ago at the Kennedy Space Center in a display about one of the astronauts that has stuck with me:

‘May my light burn brightly in my sphere of influence.’

Maybe the light burning is art you created that was sold years ago that now lives in a house of a stranger, a CD of music created that is still played, or a time you modeled kindness to a student or calmed a nervous patient.

‘Burn brightly’ is a reminder to use our gifts well and develop in our vocations and avocations and use our skills in the world. Maybe the use of markers to draw comic strips. (Our Thoughts for All Ages story was a story about a set of markers given to a poor child that ended up having a profound impact on his life. Though not known at the time of the small gift, the markers had a ripple effect and became an investment in the child’s future.)

‘Burn brightly’ also offers an image of bringing a lightness to the world, of spreading joy. Merriment type joy at times, but also a deeper sense of joy that helps us not lose sight of the big picture. Joy that is a life affirming sense of connection.

What if we adapt the quote a bit…and center UUFE’s role …

‘May our light burn brightly in our sphere of influence.’

‘May we spread joy in our sphere of influence’

As a congregation we are a launchpad for spreading light… we are a center of connection … we feel joy together as well as challenges. 

“We” are not here just those present this morning, or even just those of us on the UUFE list of members and friends. “We” is wider. “We” reminds us our sphere of influence stretches beyond our doors. UUFE serves the purpose of ‘connection center’ in our communities.

Importantly, we do this work as an institution. ‘Institution’ is a name we give to the ‘structure’ that helps us keep human connection in the forefront. Our universities and schools are institutions. Our libraries. Our hospitals. Our museums. Our non-profits in so many forms – all institutions.

There is something special about an institution – a structured group which has a mission and finds the needed resources to live out the group’s mission. We keep these doors open not just for those there at this moment, but for those who might need an open door and place to land in the days, weeks or years to come.

UUFE rests upon those who have come before and created this launchpad where we nurture and expand our capacity for joy; our capacity for fully living life.

Today is stewardship Sunday, the day we talk frankly about the financial resources needed to sustain the basics so we can be a vibrant congregation bringing our light and joy into the world. It’s a reminder day that all institutions, including UUFE, need care to go forward in this role.

How would you like to invest in the work of this caring community? How would you like to invest in a community with open doors that serves as launchpad for living out your values? To be sure, we are a launchpad with mortgage payments, where we appreciate heat in the building, and a minister and staff to help make connections possible.

Maybe your decision on pledging this year starts with honoring your sense of gratitude. Maybe you pledged last night. Thank you!

On gratitude, Tara Brach, a meditation teacher in the DC area notes,

“Gratitude is like breathing in – letting ourselves be touched by the goodness in others and in our world.”

Take and moment and sense your gratitude for this place and community; the connections built week-to-week, year to year. There are personal connections to be sure. Yet the connections are to something beyond the personal – to something greater than ourselves.

“If gratitude is what we breath in,” Brach shares, “Generosity is like breathing out – sensing our mutual belonging and offering our care. When we are awake and whole, breathing in and out happens naturally.”

How generous would you like to be this year to sustain this congregation? It will of course vary for each of us; our financial capabilities vary. That is a practical reality. We all need all of us to make it, and we share what we can, and what we choose to share.

There is a leap of faith in financial generosity. The breathing out means parting with money.

Maybe the thought is – If I give/spend for one thing, I will have to sacrifice using it for something else. I don’t like that feeling. Even if I don’t know what the other thing is yet, well, I like the security of holding tight to what I have.

Maybe that fits for you when you think of sharing what you can with UUFE. Pledging is not a ‘spread joy time’ – more a reluctant parting with your financial resources. 

Let’s try on another perspective on generosity. How do you feel when you give a gift to a family member? Have you ever boldly given a bigger gift than someone expected? Picked up a tab at a meal? Given a car to a grandchild?

How did that ‘giving’ feel? Joyful? Satisfying? In those moments, you gave a part of yourself to another and could feel the connection? You were spreading joy by letting your light shine through a gift.

What if you see your stewardship pledge is that type of gift to the community? A way that you help bring the joy of connection into the world? To invest. Like the markers given to the child in our story.

The reality is it does cost a bit more year-to-year to sustain UUFE. Not tons more, but more. Social security cost of living increases total 18% (in very rough math) over 3 years. Such increases are a contrast to very, very small increases over the 10 years prior.

For those that are able, an increase to your pledge would be lovely. A joyful increase. A $50 increase, $100? What you might you joyfully pledge this year? For those new, what would help you sense engagement here? For all, how might we invest through our pledges to feel we are breathing out generosity?

To live joyfully – to live generously –  is a way of living boldly. In part, it is about timing. It’s about living now. It’s about not living life in a waiting pattern or in a guarded stance. Living joyfully is often about the courage to live connected lives – to step into the risks of relationship and a promise to show up for another, and to do so with a generous spirit.

It takes courage to join and then to stay in a community. We give up some certainty and control when we commit with our hearts and heads. We do so for the chance to belong, to create and participate with others, and to walk through joys and through the hard stuff together. 

When we live with joy we take risks. We have less predictability in some ways, and more in others. We live boldly to feel whole and vital in a world that needs us to shine every bit of light we can for ourselves and for one another.

Today is your chance to live joyfully as you make your pledge to UUFE to nourish this home. (Reading: “Nourished” by Rev. Jay Wolin.)

May you each find a path to giving joyfully to sustain and enrich this community of joy and connection. 

May It Be So

Closing Words

May we leave this place and share our light; may we trust that it is in sharing our gifts we live from joy and not fear; that we trust in building a world centered around love and the ways it will ripple out in ways we don’t know. Go in peace, go in love, go knowing love surrounds you wherever you may go.


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