2013-11-20

Sweet Sorrow

A farewell sermon to the wonderful Unitarian Universalists of Gainesville, Florida
Delivered 2013 June 30

"In Blackwater Woods"
by
Mary Oliver
Look, the trees are turning their own bodies into pillars of light,
are giving off the rich fragrance of cinnamon and fulfillment,
the long tapers of cattails are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders of the ponds, and every pond,
no matter what its name is, is nameless now.
Every year everything I have ever learned in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires and the black river of loss
whose other side is salvation,
whose meaning none of us will ever know.
To live in this world you must be able
to do three things: to love what is mortal;
to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
Love and letting go are opposite sides of the same coin.

Shakespeare’s best known, best loved scene is Act 2, scene 2 of "Romeo and Juliet" – the balcony scene. The lovers discover each other, reveal themselves, make known their love.
“But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the East, and Juliet the sun
Arise fair sun and kill the envious moon...”
And so on. The two exchange vows of love; promise to meet “on the morrow.” As they prepare to separate, Juliet says, “parting is such sweet sorrow.” The sorrow is that they are separating. The sweet is that they have found love with each other.

From the very beginning of their relationship, the play shows us, they are separating even as they come together. Loving what is mortal, holding it against their bones knowing their lives depend upon it, and letting it go. Their time runs out because they have so filled it.

Time always runs out. That’s what time does. The sweetness of this moment and also its sorrow is the love we make of fleeting lives. Right where we are.

There were sermons that I thought I would preach to you that somehow kept getting pushed back. Now time runs out.

One of them would have been called: “Kick the Bucket List.” (CLICK HERE)

Love opens the door of awe and wonder – and that, too, is always right here. Another sermon that I meant to give one day would have been on the Biblical book of Job. (CLICK HERE)

Let the love we share be always with us – and so it is, truly. And that leads to the third sermon idea I have had in the back of my mind for years: Prayer. (CLICK HERE)

So there you have three sermon abstracts. But they are one sermon, after all, about how good this life is, how wonderful right here. Look, and see. Time runs out, and that sorrow is also the sweetness -- for it has been the greatest privilege of my life to have served as your minister for seven years.

I believe that this Fellowship is now poised to become more vibrant, engaged and committed – and larger – than it has ever been. It falls now to my colleagues – an interim minister, Rev. Benjamin Maucere – and then your next settled minister -- to minister this Fellowship through that next stage. I believe that is best. Even so, I grieve the loss of this ministry that has sustained and nourished me these seven years.

You welcomed LoraKim and me into your lives, supported us in times of need, celebrated with us, became a part of our lives. We have been blessed to belong among you. I have loved you and love you still, holding you against my bones knowing my life depends on it, and have felt your love – when you meant to be showing it, and when you didn’t.

Parting is such sweet sorrow. You taught me most of what I now know about how to be a minister. I am proud and joyful for what we have accomplished together. I think I have sometimes been a slow learner, yet with you I learned so much. The Unitarian Universalists of White Plains, New York are getting a very different minister from the one who first stood at this pulpit a septade ago – and that is also both a sweetness and a sorrow. Thank you, thank you. How wonderful indeed it is and has been, right here.

Help: you have been.

Thanks: you have my fullest measure of.

Wow: you are so awesome and powerful.

The sweetness of this moment and also its sorrow is the love we make of fleeting lives.
“Look, the trees are turning their own bodies into pillars of light,
are giving off the rich fragrance of cinnamon and fulfillment,…
To live in this world you must be able
to do three things: to love what is mortal;
to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.”
And so it is.