“A New Heart”
for the Unitarian Society of New Haven, CT
on the occasion of Megan Lloyd Joiner’s Installation
October 22, 2016
Please won’t you pray with me. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all of our hearts together find their way into the heart of God. Amen.
“A new heart I will give you,” our reading from Ezekiel says, “a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”
We are in constant need for Love to reach into our chests, pull out our hearts of stone and replace them with hearts of flesh. I think that’s why we come together in religious community:
We need a heart transplant.
And so it is an honor to be invited here on this most auspicious occasion…the installation of my friend the Reverend Megan Lloyd-Joiner to the Unitarian Society of New Haven. An installation of a new minister is one of life’s great heart transplants. It is making room in your chest for a new minister to love, and being bravely vulnerable enough to let her love you.
Megan, as you know, I was fairly recently installed myself--three years ago this week, in fact--at the First Church in Sterling, Massachusetts. I was totally creeped out when colleagues referred to the experience of search and call as like falling in love, and installation as like getting married. It was my first installation, and truthfully my first marriage to my first husband didn’t turn out so well.
So in addition to creeping me out, this metaphor had ominous connotations to me. And that happily ever after view of installation suggests a certain naïveté that comes along with romantic love, rather than an eyes-wide-open process that comes along with discernment and the sober determination to make this thing work despite the known realities of church life.
So I want to tell you today that installations are more like second marriages than first marriages. You’ve had a minister before, and you’ve had a congregation before, and you’ve already been together for a year so you already know that neither one of you is perfect. You’re not walking down the aisle moony—eyed like some 23-year-old couple who has no idea what’s awaiting them after the ceremony.
I guess not all ministers will tell you this, but I happen to love second weddings. I love second weddings because you get the feeling all parties know exactly what they are getting themselves into and they are doing it anyway. That’s brave to me.
A second wedding is a festival of audacious hope. It’s a celebration of resurrection. And on some level everyone is shocked--especially the couple themselves--that they are going to be doing this thing all over again. Their hearts are shocked back into beating. There is the collective feeling of love conquering cynicism and fear palpable in the gathered crowd. Everyone present knows that the couple are about to trust their newly transplanted, tender hearts to someone else, even though they know all too well how hard it is going to be, and how much it could hurt.
There is nothing “little” about walking gently on the war-torn pathways. But there is something brave and beautiful about it.
Megan and New Haven: this is a brave and beautiful day.
Most of life is like a second wedding if you and I are lucky—a life well lived provides multiple occasions for our hearts of stone stilled by the death that always comes along with change, to be replaced by beating hearts of flesh, re-started by love.
And man. You and I have been watching this presidential election unfold and we know that this whole nation needs a new heart right now, re-started by love. This nation needs God--or whatever your name is for the most holy thing--to reach into our chests, pull out our hearts of stone and replace them with hearts of flesh.
We need a national heart transplant.
And before we all start self-righteously nodding and pointing our fingers at the candidate and his or her supporters that we find to be the most hard-hearted, that goes for all of us. What is that saying…whenever you are pointing a finger, there are four pointing back at you?
When I was in college, I had bumper stickers. The kind you would imagine any lefty 19- year-old to have. I didn’t even have a car, but I had bumper stickers. I put them on my dorm fridge. They said things like “I’ll be post feminist in the post patriarchy” and “Coexist” and “My other car is a broomstick.”
The one that I’m most embarrassed about said this (and I humbly repent):
“The road to hell is paved with Republicans.”
I am embarrassed, because what a ridiculous thing to think, and how diametrically opposed to my universalist theology. My beloved grandparents were all Republicans, and many of my friends growing up in the great state of New Hampshire were, as well. At least half of the progressive Christian congregants at the UU/UCC church I serve currently are Republicans, too. I adore them. And they are all loving and generous people, who want the same things I do: happiness, freedom, a loving and healthy family, community. We are more alike than different.
But I grew up Unitarian Universalist with lefty parents during the Reagan years. I believed that Republicans didn’t care about the poor, didn’t care about justice for the oppressed, didn’t care about my rights as a woman.
Conservatives are taught similar stereotypes about liberals like me, as well. Liberals are lazy, they want “free stuff”, they want to police all of our words for political correctness so that we can no longer have free speech, they want to punish people for being rich.
And so on.
Well, what a bunch of bologna sauce that all is. We can’t even hear each other over the din of the echo chambers we have created.
My seminary professor, Dr. Wesley Wildman, said to us once that "If your concept of love serves only to re-enforce your own political ideologies in your church than you might as well go bowling."
We need to expand our concept of Love to include not only the least, the last, the lost, but the Republican, the conservative Evangelical, the gun-enthusiast, the Trump-supporter, or whomever we are currently referring to as “nasty” or “deplorable” instead of God’s name for us all, which is “Beloved.”
You and I are in need of a heart transplant.
Unitarian Universalists tend to envision religious and political change as something that needs to happen “out there” in the world. We rarely consider that perhaps the deepest change needs to occur within ourselves.
I don’t know how many of you are parents, and just had this experience this fall, but if there is anything that strikes fear in my heart, it is parent night at my kid’s elementary school.
I walk in to that crowded gym filled with parents of kids my kids’ age, and immediately freeze, and my heart turns to stone.
The internal monologue in my head sounds something like this: “There are so many people. I have no one to sit with. They all know each other. They don’t like me. Maybe they think I’m a freak because I’m the town pastor. Maybe I am a freak because I’m the town pastor. Oh, man, here comes the PTO. They are not going to even bother asking me to volunteer this year because I’m such a deadbeat parent. Why do they hate me? They must be Republicans, that’s why. God Robin, get your stuff together. Look down at your phone, and maybe no one will notice you. Or if they do, at least you’ll look like you’re busy with more important things to do.”
I wonder if this is something like the internal monologue of the folks who walk through the doors of our congregations. I wonder who retreats into their smartphone or their knitting or their book or puts on some other armor. Fear keeps us so small and numb and guarded and alone.
We need a heart transplant because Love is the only antidote to fear.
Have you all heard of the elementary school buddy bench? This was a simple idea someone had to eliminate loneliness and foster friendship on the playground at recess. A school builds a bench, and labels it the “buddy bench.” If a kid is feeling lonely and has no one to play with, she can sit on the buddy bench. If another kid sees her there, he comes over and sits down next to her, and keeps her company, maybe even asks her to play.
My kid’s elementary school installed a buddy bench on the playground two years ago and unveiled it during their annual peace pole celebration I attended. I looked up from my phone long enough to cry, my heart shocked back into beating.
[I wish they had brought the buddy bench into the gymnasium on parent night, but they left it outside trusting the adults didn’t need it. But man, do we need it more than the kids or WHAT.]
Sometimes, when I pray, I pray for the kids on the buddy bench. I pray for the kids that go to sit there…the vulnerability it takes to be that brave, trusting their tender hearts to someone else to take care of. And I pray for the kind kids who go and sit with them, leaving their other friends behind to care for someone who needs them. And I pray for the kids who don’t have the guts to sit there, too.
I pray that all of us can be like those kids that sit on the buddy bench. They are brave and kind in a way that you and I are often too scared to be.
We need a heart transplant.
Beloved, we need a heart transplant so that we might notice signs and foretastes of the reign of Love on this earth. The reign of Love looks like audacious hope despite cynicism. The reign of love looks like the courage to admit that your enemy is your kin. The reign of love looks like seeing—really seeing-- everyone we encounter as beloved, especially the stranger. The reign of love looks like these vulnerable souls sitting here in these pews, trusting each other and your new minister with your tender hearts.
Unitarian Society of New Haven: you have been given a new heart today. May it beat for each other, and for an aching world that needs your love.
Rev. Robin Bartlett is the Senior Pastor at the First Church in Sterling, Massachusetts. www.fcsterling.org