© DeAnna Alm, 2013. All Rights Reserved.
Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation
January 6, 2013

Listen to Audio Version of Whole Service (mp3)
Listen to Audio Version of Sermon (mp3)

Welcome back (or welcome to!) Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation on this first Sunday of 2013. At the beginning of the year, I usually place a bet with myself about how many weeks will take me to stop writing the previous year on my checks! It always seems to be about six.

The other thing that I like to do is to make a few New Year's resolutions. The beginning of the new year seems like a natural time to take stock of myself and look at what I might want to change. A few months ago, I listened to a sermon at my husband's Lutheran church that gave me an interesting way to take a step back and look at what in my life I might want to change, in order to lead the life I want to have led. In this service, the pastor had us close our eyes and imagine our own funeral.

This can possibly be a frightening thing to do, especially coming so close to the December tragedy in Connecticut. I do not wish to minimize the sadness and difficulty of anyone who has had to deal with the death of a loved one. I hope that you will regard this place as a safe space to use this tool as a method of introspection. If this exercise brings up difficult feelings for you, I encourage you to share those with Rev. Jeremy, Rev. Barbara Meyers, or any of our trained pastoral associates.

Before we begin, please close your eyes and take one or two deep breaths. You may wish to keep your eyes closed during the entire exercise, or you many need to open them and occasionally look around you in order to ground yourself in the present – please do whichever one works best for you.

Now, imagine that you walk into a room. There are many people there that you recognize, though none of them appear to see you. You see pictures of yourself at different ages on the walls. You listen in on a few conversations, and eventually realize that you are at your own funeral. Take a moment to get over the chill – none of us likes to imagine the end of our lives! But if we take the time to really imagine this, it can be a way to gain new insights.

Listen to the music. What is playing in the background? Imagine that someone has placed a program where you can see it – which music and songs will be a part of the service? Can you think of ones that you feel really express something important about who you are…or who you would like to be?

Look at the photographs on the walls. How are you being remembered there? Who is in the photos with you? What activity has been captured and put on display as a description of who you are? Who is attending this memorial service? Co-workers, fellow Mission Peak members, friends and family? Who has arrived in order to share memories of you and to bid you farewell? What memories are they sharing? Is there laughter mixed with the tears? Feel the warmth of people coming together to honor a life that touched them all. What are the memories of you that you would want them to tell each other? How will the story of your life be told here?

Take a moment to breathe deeply, and then come back here to the present in Cole Hall. Shift in your chair, stretch your body a little and open your eyes.

We began with listening to the music. What would you want to hear playing? Do you have any songs that you feel really express something important about who you are? Now, here's an important note – would the people in your life know what those songs are? Have you shared with them when a particular piece of music has become intensely important to you? I had us sing Warren Zevon's song, "Keep Me In Your Heart" together because it so perfectly expresses to me what I would want to say to my friends and family after I am gone. Think of me when you see a sunrise, or when you smile, and keep me in your heart even when I am no longer around. Talking about music can be a way to lead into talking about ourselves, and what we find we most value at our core. Discussing those deep, personal things, even with those we love, is not always easy. A conversation about music, and what we find meaningful in different pieces of music, can open the door to further, more difficult discussions about what in life is important to us.

For example, the hymn that will be closing our service, Just As Long As I Have Breath, is one I have loved from the first moment I heard it. It expresses the optimism that is a central part of my nature. Say yes to life, say yes to love. That seems like an excellent way to make your way through life. However, there are those who might describe my optimism as more of the cock-eyed type, or the "dance blindfolded along the edge of a cliff because someone will either pull me back or catch me" type. There is room for a very interesting discussion here - is it better to hope for the best or plan for the worst? What's the middle way between the two?

Let's go back to the room filled with music and photos and beloved friends and family. Who were in the photographs posted on the walls? How difficult was it for people to find photos of you? I know I tend to shy away from having pictures taken of myself out of fear of what the final result will look like. That self-consciousness can spread through more than photo sessions. It's easy to avoid all kinds of activities due to fear of looking foolish. But for us to fully participate in each other's lives, we need to take the chance of looking, or being, foolish. I know that I would rather be remembered as someone who threw myself into new experiences, rather than as someone who constantly held back, through fear or self-consciousness.

Who were the people you imagined seeing at your funeral? I know I pictured many of my fellow MPUUC members there. Mission Peak has been my religious and spiritual home for over 14 years now, and it feels like an integral part of my being. This exercise did make me think about what I am able to give back to this loving community, and whether I am giving as much as I could or should. (And yes, I did end up joining just one more committee after making this consideration.)

However, I want to assure you that this sermon is NOT a stealth committee recruiting tool. I encourage those of you who are wearing too many hats and risking (or experiencing!) burnout to consider the life you want to have led. Maybe you need your worship space to be a place where you can just BE instead of doing for a while. After all, are the attendees at your hypothetical funeral going to remember you as someone who found MPUUC as a source of strength and community, or as someone who was overburdened with duties and projects, with Sunday morning being just another thing to schedule in and around? Thinking about the life we want to have led should include not only what we would like to give, but also what we need to be receiving.

Finally, friends and family. In this technological age, it can be easy to lose touch without intending to, almost without realizing it. For those of you, like me, who have been sucked into Facebook, it can sometimes feel like a friendship is being maintained even when it isn't. The occasional Facebook wall post, or a quick text message, or a two-line email - I could argue that this is better than nothing, but in most cases it is not enough to nourish my deepest relationships. I find that I needed this reminder to reach out to the important people in my life, even, or especially, when the scheduling of everyday life makes it difficult.

It's not just distant friends and family for whom we need to make the effort to connect - it can be easy to overlook those we see often, too. I can catch myself settling for the surface conversations and the quick and easy shortcuts with those I spend most time with. But when I look back over my life, it is those deeper, harder to forge and maintain connections that I want to have had. Laughter is important with those I love, but so are tears, and even anger. When I come to the end of the life I want to have led, I want to have shared all of those and more.

I'm going to end this morning's message by having us take about 5 minutes to do one more small exercise -- writing two obituaries for ourselves. This is only for you to see, you won't be asked to share the results aloud. You should all have had a piece of paper and a pen or pencil on your chair. I'd like you to fold your paper in half. For the first half, write an obituary for yourself as if your funeral were taking place today. How would you describe yourself up to this point? What are you most proud of? What things have been most important to you, and who are the people you most value who will be left behind to read this? You don't have to write in full sentences if you don't want to, just jot down some notes. We'll just take 2 to 2-1/2 minutes to do this.

Now, on the other half of your paper, please take another two minutes to write the obituary for your future self, perhaps 20 years from now. What do you really want to be able to say about yourself? Which goals do you want to have reached? What will have been your most important accomplishments and ideals? When the people in your life think of you, when they keep you in their hearts, what do you want them to remember? Who will you be at the end of this life you would like to have lived?

For me, the exercise of imagining my own funeral, and seeing the difference between the two obituaries, provided some clarity about what is important in my life. Or rather, some clarity as to what I am letting be important, which is not always the same as what I feel should be important. There are friendships I have neglected tending, and amorphous goals that need more thought, and decidedly more work. Having visualized the end, I feel like I can lay out some more stepping stones to take me in that direction.

Life is uncertain. None of us can know exactly when our end will come. This can be a frightening thought, or, in some ways, a freeing one. Author Mark Batterson urges us to "Embrace relational uncertainty. It's called romance. Embrace spiritual uncertainty. It's called mystery. Embrace occupational uncertainty. It's called destiny. Embrace emotional uncertainty. It's called joy. Embrace intellectual uncertainty. It's called revelation." We can't know that someone will be reading that second obituary for us, with all those influences given, goals achieved and experiences gained. We can't know whether we will have the time, the chance, or even the ability to do and be all that we wish. But without an attempt, we definitely won't even come close to living the life we want to have led.

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