© Rev. Amy Zucker Morgenstern 2006. All Rights Reserved.
given at the Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation
April 2, 2006

People whose names provoke word play are usually very unamused by that word play, especially when it is repeated by the ten-thousandth person they meet. Artists named Art and dancers named Grace must patiently endure the obvious comments upon their names. I recently heard a woman named Sunny call in to a radio game show, where one of the celebrity contestants immediately said, "Is it cloudy there, Sunny?" She said in a completely deadpan voice, "No one has ever said that to me before." A writer named Montré Bible reports that he is constantly told, "You must be a good person," and asked "Are you going to name your kids King James?" And now that he's written a book about angels, he's accused of having invented his name for marketing purposes. There are lots of ministers in his family, but he said he didn't go that route because "I just couldn't bare [sic] adding Reverend at the beginning of my name and enduring any more confused looks."

So I have to begin this address with an apology, because I cannot resist running with the name of your congregation. Mission Peak. What a great name for a church! I know that, like Mr. Bible, you come by your name by a mundane route, but it's still spiritually rich. I doubt there is another Unitarian Universalist church in existence with the word "mission" in its name - which is too bad, because we UUs are most definitely on a mission.

Mission means "sending," as in transmission. It has a long religious history, rooted in such teachings as the passage in Isaiah in which he heard God calling, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" and replies, "Here I am. Send me." (Isa. 6:8) With our love of tangling ourselves in traditional religious language and its implications, we can get stuck on the question, "Who sent us?" You can certainly believe that God sent you, and I for one will be cheering you on your way. But if you don't believe that, it doesn't mean you aren't on a mission. Oh no. We are all sent somewhere, to do something.

You can be sent by your conscience, which speaks with a still, small voice to say, "This is what you must do!"

You can be sent by the people who need you, their voices of suffering filling the wide sky and calling to you, "Leave that place where you stand and come to us, help us."

You can be sent by your own abilities and by your passions. The writer Flannery O'Connor, when asked why she wrote, answered, "Because I'm good at it." The singer's mission is to make music, because he can. The community organizer's mission is to empower people, because it's what she does well. The doctor's mission is to heal, the teacher's to teach, the friend's, to give comfort and companionship.

And often, we are sent both by what is within us and what is without. Frederick Buechner speaks of that place "where your deep gladness meets the world's deep need." If your world has people suffering from depression and schizophrenia (as mine does), and your passions include listening compassionately, then your deep gladness meets the world's deep need in the ministry to people with mental illness.

A Universalist was once asked what his church stood for, and he replied, "We do not stand - we move!" To find out what we stand for, one has only to ask what we move for. What sends us? What is our mission?

We are sent, urged into motion, by our faith, which tells us that people matter, every single one of them; that we are part of an interdependent web of being and must give it our care; that there are many paths to truth, and to travel any of them we must be free to think what we like, and responsible enough to question ourselves; that a world of peace, equality, and compassion is possible and we can and must work to bring it to birth. When you believe these things, and then you look around you at this beautiful, struggling world, you can't stand still. We Unitarian Universalists treasure our religious principles and believe that what we hear and say in church on Sunday is valid only when we follow it up by what we do in the world on Monday. Am I right? You believe that here at Mission Peak, just as we do in Palo Alto, isn't that right?

So we have to go where we are sent: to where our vision becomes reality.

And each of us does it, one at a time, in our most private moments: It may happen when we are gazing at our children while they sleep, feeling the need to turn from a job and enter a calling, awakening to love, encountering unexpected joy on a mountaintop or a city street. It happens to each of us in our own way. I would like to know what your mission is and how you know where you are sent.

I was so pleased when Chris told me that most of his sermons include a time for everyone to reflect on a question, and then for others to speak. This is very much that kind of sermon, because there is nothing more personal than a sense of mission. So I have two questions for our reflection:

  • What is your mission in life?
  • What is the mission of this church?
  • Let's take a little time of silence to hear the answers within. (silence)

    If you would like to share your answer to either of these questions, please do. What is your mission in life? What is your church's mission?

    (After sharing)

    Now, today is the day when you make your pledges to the congregation, so you may be wondering, what does this all have to do with pledging? What does it have to do with money?

    Love, and reason, and justice, and free thought, and compassion, may not cost money - but taking them out into the world does. Teaching them does. Sustaining a church that promotes them does.

    Pledge time is like alchemy. You take your sense of mission - your dreams for the world, your vision of what it can be and what you must do to make it so - and you turn them into gold. And then, through salaries and books and rent and ooh, a mortgage, and all the things that gold can buy, you turn the gold into ministry - into the embodiment, the accomplishment, of the mission of this church. Chris gives sermons to inspire and challenge and guide you; he comes to your hospital room when you're sick, and eulogizes the people you love when they die. Barbara leads you in reaching out with your pioneering mental health ministry. Sally leads you in teaching the next generation our history and values (and let me tell you, we're very jealous of you back in her home church of Palo Alto). Within these walls, dozens of volunteers teach and inspire and sing and protest and raise the spirit.

    We gather here this morning because not long ago, some people had a mission to begin a UU congregation in Fremont. My congregation was one of the ones that felt sent, that felt its mission required it to support new churches. The district also saw it as its mission to call together a liberal religious community in this place. Most of all, it was the mission of a small number of tireless, visionary people: people who took the risk and set out on the journey whose end they could not see, but which they envisioned and longed for. I know some of you are here. Do you remember the vision? Do you recall the mission, why you couldn't stay where you were, without a church to call your own, but were sent to a better place, a place you would build yourselves and with others? I think I know what it was, not only because I'm on the same mission, but because I see it here in this community and hear it in the stories you have told me, in the pride and joy of your voices when you talk about Mission Peak.

    The mission was, and is, to be a place where you, and everyone who wants to enter these doors, can bring your whole selves: your reason as well as your feelings, your body as well as your spirit, your doubts and questions as well as your faith.

    The mission was, and is, to live religion, not just preach it: to practice the compassion of the Buddha and to burn for justice for the downtrodden like Jesus, to insist upon freedom like the Israelites leaving Egypt, to carry out the vision of Emerson and Thoreau and Parker and Brown and all our prophets. To heed the cry of the earth by planting 150 trees at Quarry Lakes. To enact justice by insisting upon the right of all of us to love whomever we will and marry whomever we love.

    The mission was, and is, to build a better world, to make the future better than the world we were born into. This church was founded out of a playgroup! Couples who wanted to create a spiritual home for their children to grow up in set out on a mission to make it so. And now you not only have two youth groups, but a whole congregation, twelve years old, almost to adulthood in the Jewish faith in which I was raised, with a full time minister and a cutting-edge community ministry and almost ready for its own home. Mission Peak was born looking to the future, and that's exactly where every Unitarian Universalist congregation needs to be pointed. You have put your commitment to children and their families on top of your priorities, and it will keep you moving forward.

    It's a well-known, if ironic, fact that the people who give the most time to their church also give the most money. From my own experience as a church leader and pledger, I think I know why: the ones who are most involved day-to-day are the clearest on the mission. When you spend a morning leading religious education, you know what the mission is. When you engage in one of those mind-boggling, life-changing discussions in an Adult Religious Education class or in a post-service conversation over lunch, you know what the mission is. It's right before your eyes; the voice is calling right in your ears, saying, "Go, go toward it, don't stop, because a free and loving spiritual community is one of the most precious, important things in the whole precious, important world." So I ask you, before you fill out your pledge card, to recall those moments. Recall the times when your deep gladness has met the world's deep need.

    You and I are fortunate: our congregations ask so much of us, and yet what they ask is very simple: that we give our whole selves to what we know is important, that when the call goes out, "Whom shall I send," we answer, "Send me!"

    Our mission asks for our heart and soul, for our time and money, for our work and our joy. In return it gives us meaning, purpose - in fact, everything that makes us know why we are alive and know we are alive.

    Upon the mission on which you have been sent, I wish you all blessings.

    Back to Top