A Matter of Love

October 1st, 2017

I did not grow up in a religious household, so I learnt about Christianity from Christmas tv shows like The Little Drummer Boy.

So it may not be surprising to you that my first introduction to the word covenant was watching Raiders of the Lost Ark.

In the Old Testament, the ark of the covenant is a gorgeous carved gold box created to hold the stone tablets of the ten commandments given to Moses by God.

The Ark was a sacred object for the early Jewish people.
Held in the temple at Jerusalem, it was a symbol of God’s promise to them.

When the temple was destroyed by Babylonian invaders, the ark was lost, either stolen or hidden away.

No one knows what happened to it.
But in the Raiders film, the ark is discovered by Indiana Jones. And then the Nazis.

In the film, the Nazis open the ark of the covenant and the stone tablets have turned to sand.
However, the ark is filled with the power of God, which now unleashed, destroys everyone in the area.

Except for Indiana Jones of course.
He takes the ark back to the United States where it is put into storage.

Raiders is the first time I really heard or had a sense of the word covenant.
And probably the only understanding I had for many years.

A word of awesome power.
Associated with gold and beauty and some scariness. And it makes me want to watch Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Covenant has an evocative feel, it has more emotional weight then just a contract or even a promise. At the same time, the idea of covenant seemed to belong to the realm of movies and ancient times.
Exciting but not especially relevant.

When I became a Unitarian Universalist, I was surprised at how often I heard the word covenant.
It is a defining concept for Unitarian Universalism, which is why it is our first monthly theme this year.
We’ll take some time to consider what covenant means to us as people of the chalice.

I like the clarity of Preston Moore from the reading:
A covenant is a matter of love.

Our historical roots are in Christianity, which over thousands of years, evolved into a creedal religion.

Since the 4th century, Christians recite creeds of belief as evidence of their status as Christians.
They believe in the father, the son and the holy ghost.
That Jesus died and was resurrected.

This is in contrast to the Jewish people, who see themselves as the chosen people, in a covenant with God.

Unitarians, by definition, struggle with Christian creeds. Early Unitarians did not profess a belief in the father, son and holy ghost – they believed in the unity of God. They were unsure about the divine nature of Jesus, sure only that he was a great moral teacher.
No wonder Unitarians were often labelled heretics.

Throughout the 19th century in New England, the emerging Unitarian community wrestled with how to proclaim their faith.

The Christian creed is the common ground of that religious community.
It is these core beliefs that define Christians.
Unitarians were free thinkers – they wanted to choose their beliefs.
They turned to covenant, a promise to be in relationship, as the common ground of their religious community.

Beliefs are less important than behaviour.

Covenant means that as Unitarians we chose to be together, to relate to one another in a particular way, to have a shared purpose.

An 1840 covenant says Unitarians freely associate together as seekers after Truth & Goodness. Capital T truth and capital G goodness, because we are ambitious folks.

In 1894, James Blake, a minister in Evanston, Illinois, created a covenant for his church:
Love is the spirit of this church, and service is its law;
this is our great covenant:
to dwell together in peace, to seek the truth in love, and to help one another.

Love is the spirit of this church, and service is its law;
this is our great covenant.
To dwell together in peace, to seek the truth in love and to help one another.

125 years later, UU churches across the continent say this covenant – or a variation – every Sunday.
Love, service and peace. These are essential to our religion.

To aspire to these ideals is a challenging way of being.
To love one another, to act in service, to make the world more just, to live with peace.
We are still ambitious folks.

I know I fail at all of these things pretty much daily.
And I also know that no other institution calls me me to consider my life in this way.

Media wants our time and attention. And money.
Government asks for citizens who pay their taxes.
Corporations want our money or our data to get more money.

It seems like we are only important for the balance in our bank account.
This is why religion matters, and why religion can seem as archaic as the term covenant.

To care about character instead of finances?
How very nineteenth century.

This religion reminds us that how we are, how we treat one another, is who we are.

So who do we want to be?
Do we want to act with love, do we want to help others, do we want a peaceful world?
Each day are we choosing love, are we choosing peace?
Not just here, but at work and at home?
Who do we want to be?


Consider how you have chosen love this week.
Or to help others. Or chosen peace.
How have you been a Unitarian this week?


Now I hope some of you were able to think of an episode or two where you chose love.
I suspect some of you may have struggled. And that is normal.

As I said, I fail at these activities most of the time.
I chose irritation instead of kindness.
I chose myself instead of making an effort to help others.
And I pretend passive non-action is being peaceful.

None of the ideals of our Unitarian covenant are easy to reach.
They all take practice and we will fail as much as we succeed.

Part of being in covenant is learning how to accept our own and other’s people’s failures.
Because we will fail and disappoint and hurt one another.
This chalice community will disappoint you.

What matters is that we go forward together.
We struggle, we mess up, we apologize, we forgive.
And we begin again.

It’s an on-going process.

In the reading Kathy shared earlier, covenant means that you and I will do whatever is needed to achieve our shared purpose.

I know that I tend to feel that if people were truly in covenant,
we would continually accomplish graceful acts of love and service.

if we were all behaving just as we should as perfectly loving, helping, peaceful beings,
we would soar together like a flock of birds – swirling and swooping in perfect formation, beautiful as a whole, breathtaking and glorious.

And while I wish that being in covenant looked that graceful and glorious,
I suspect it is more like my animals at dinner time.

I have one dog, Tikko, and two cats. Blaze is the orange older one, Tempest is the younger tabby.

It should not be that difficult to feed three animals.
Our shared purpose is for all of them to eat dinner.

But they like to eat in their own way.
Tempest was found feral and abandoned by her mother.
She believes every meal is her last and tries to eat the food off the fork before it is even in her dish.
She is usually finished before I have the bowls ready for the other two.

Blaze was happy being an only cat and does not like Tempest the new cat.
She refuses to eat up on the counter where Tempest is, which is where I feed the cats so the dog – Tikko – doesn’t eat the cat food, which is bad for him.

There is a sliding door to the patio in the kitchen and Blaze has decided she likes to eat outside.
So her food goes out on the patio.
Blaze eats slowly and will often wander away after a few bites.

Tikko gets fed last and stays in the living room and waits for a personal invitation.
He often won’t come eat until I also put his food on the patio.

So Blaze eats a few bites, and wanders away.
Tikko immediately leaves his bowl and eats Blaze’s food.
Tempest who already finished her bowl, runs outside and eats Tikko’s food.

Shared purpose. We all agree its dinner time.
They all eat, eventually.

But it is not an event of graceful beauty.
It’s a bit of a mess.

I think living in covenant looks like this most of the time.
We have a shared purpose, and we get there eventually, but it’s messy, confusing, and rarely goes according to plan.

We each come with our own histories and attitudes.
We want the same thing in different ways.
My personal bundle of wants and needs and moods will clash with your personal bundle of wants and needs and moods.

And that’s okay.
Covenant means we are willing to work through all the clashes and confusion and get to our shared purpose in the end.

I love my animals and I’m happy to go through this awkwardness every morning and night.
And once in awhile, they all end up eating their own food all at the same time.
And it feels good.

And it feels good the other nights too.
We clash, but as long as we hold onto our shared purpose, it will all work out.

Covenant is a matter of love, not contractual obligation.

Church is not a service to be purchased.
It isn’t an achievement to be unlocked.
We aren’t here to be entertained.
We aren’t taxpayers or consumers or vaults of data.

Here we are human beings.
Our purpose is to ask the big questions, to connect to something beyond ourselves, to be a healthy part of the whole.
Love, service, peace.

Do we live our values? Are we living lives worth living? Are we true to ourselves?
Are we helping – not harming – others?

These are questions worth asking each other.

Covenant is powerful, powerful enough to be kept in a carved golden box.
But without an ark, our hearts will have to do.

Love is the spirit of this church, and service is its law;
this is our great covenant:
to dwell together in peace, to seek the truth in love, and to help one another.

And when things get messy and chaotic, and they will,
may we remember the love, and keep on going forward together.

So Say We All.


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