The Hardest Thing To Say

June 4, 2006
Rev. Victoria Weinstein

READING "Acknowledgement: A Meditation" Kenneth Sawyer

And the most embarrassing statement, the hardest thing to say, is this: I love you.

I love you for who you are.

Perhaps you worry in the night because it comes to you that you are different: I love you because you are different,

and I love your differences.

Perhaps you have known yourself unworthy of love, a spotted, flawed creature;

I have, too, and yet have been loved. And I love you, spotted and flawed.

Perhaps there come voices, the callings of evil, the knowledge of an inner nature less noble than we would proclaim; Yet I proclaim you, waverings and all;

I know them, too,

and I love you.

A noble race, God' s very chosen,

Or pathetic, cruel, destructive, and hopeless?

Yes, you are both.

Yes, I am both.

Yes, we are both.

and I love you.

Perhaps you are less than you would have yourself

Perhaps the glory ends up inevitably mixed with shame

and the greatness with pettiness

Perhaps you feel at times unworthy of the blessing that is life.

Yes, so do I.

In the end it comes to this: you are human.

Yes, so am I.

And I love you for it.

And I love you for yourself.

SERMON "The Hardest Thing To Say" Rev. Victoria Weinstein

An author has written a book about how married men express their love. They don' t do it, says Neil Chethik, with a lot of flowery expressions of love, they express their love in actions. Making dinner. Leaving a chocolate on the pillow or planning a weekend trip. Getting the car washed and detailed, filling it with gas (a real expression of love in these times!). Going to a party they really, really don' t want to go to but their partner does. Doing the dishes without being asked.

It seems to me, having looked around at how people express love, that it' s mostly in the movies or in soap operas that people have the perfect words to express all the love in their hearts. In real life, it' s hard for many of us to say "I love you." I got a lot better at it after my father died because I had been so consoled by the fact that our last words to each other were "I love you." My family and I never hang up the phone to this day without saying "I love you" and making a kissing sound. It sounds like this, "' kay, love you, bye, mwah!" But we mean it.

I was very moved this past winter by a movie about love where the words "I love you" were never spoken between the two beloveds. The movie was "Brokeback Mountain," now famous as "the gay cowboy movie," but those of us who saw it know how powerful it was beyond any tag lines or jokes on the internet or the Oscars. To me, the tragedy of "Brokeback Mountain" wasn' t just that the two men could never be together, it was about the poverty that comes into a life when that life is denied the full expression of love. This can happen to anyone, no matter what their sexual orientation. It can happen because of racial segregation, or ignorance of another more generic kind that separates people. It can happen simply because someone was raised in an environment where verbal expressions of love were poo-poo' d as a romantic nonsense and physical affection brushed off as "spoiling a child" – and who therefore never learned how to express love to anyone. If no one teaches us how to freely express love from the authenticity of our being – if no one ever models that for us -- we' re not likely to ever feel quite right doing it.

In the film, one of the cowboys, Ennis Del Mar, fails at one life endeavor after another – and one relationship after another -- and moves into subsequently smaller and smaller, more impoverished and isolated places. By the end of the story, he lives in an unkempt trailer. It' s not that he' s embraced simplicity and downsized, it' s that his inability to live into the love he feels for Jack Twist has shriveled his very being. Everything about him is repression, regret, silent suffering. This isn' t a "gay" movie. This is a movie about what it costs us as humans to be denied the chance to live fully into love that comes upon us.

This is a loving congregation. It' s one of the most beautiful things about you; a quality I noticed right away. You are huggers. You are people who say "I love you." This is a rare quality, and I never stop appreciating you for it. I have told you before that I brag on you a lot, and I do. But it occurred to me recently that I ought to tell you quite specifically why I love this congregation because I' m not sure I do that very often, except in bits and pieces.

See, there' s an issue with showering too much love on a congregation. You know what that issue is? It' s … well, to be perfectly honest with you, it' s guilt. Or to be more specific, it' s our shared awareness that no matter how good a church we are, there' s a world of things we could be doing better, or doing more of. It' s our sense that we don' t want to stop and congratulate ourselves too much, because there' s a lot of improvement to be had there yet.

Today I want to say to you, Yes there is. There is always an ideal to live into and as I have said many times, if the church doesn' t break your heart on a regular basis because of its failure to live into its ideals, then you' re not paying attention. Today I want to say to you, Yes, I know that we have a lot more to do. I know we want to give more to the community, to expand our efforts in social outreach and justice work, in being a presence in the community, in abiding with each other in truly trusting and appreciative relationship.

But I want to also say that I love you.

Like the reading says, I love you for who you are. I hope you will love yourselves as you are, and each other as you are, and this church as it is. There is no good reason that we cannot fully love who we are and what we are as we are, while still maintaining the good tension between what is and what could be. Love is not something to be held out like a carrot, to be earned because you were a good boy or girl. No. Love is what keeps the vision of goodness before us in the first place. Love gives us the energy and ability to keep doing what we' re doing. Love leads us out of the woods when we get lost. Love is the first necessary condition for practicing the compassion and forbearance we are know we are called to practice.
In no particular order, I want to give you ten reasons I love this church. It' s not a complete list by any means. But it' s a start. You can add your own.

1. I love this congregation for its sense of humor, and its ability to laugh hard together. This is a rarer quality than you know. I well remember when I preached my very first sermon for you – one that I had already given in Wellesley Hills – and you let forth this whoop of raucous laughter at something I said. I knew then and there, "I am going to love these people." Laughter is cleansing. It breaks all kinds of tensions. Laughter helps us keep our perspective. I love your wonderful, free, big laughter.

2. I love that the lay leaders of this congregation – and that' s a whole lot of you – carry out their commitments to this congregation in exemplary fashion. You understand how churches work and you run a very tight ship, and have fun doing it. I love watching that. It is a thing of beauty. It is love in action.

3. I love this church because such a large number of you have found a ministry here – something that you claim as your own – and you do it with great love and reverence. That' s special. If you' re sitting there thinking, "How can I find my ministry in this congregation?" talk to me. I would love to help you figure out where to start. That' s how you find it, you know. You just jump in somewhere that feels right and start.

4. I love that this congregation loves and honors its history. Some contemporary congregations spend a lot of energy distancing themselves from their past, embarrassed by the past' s sins and foibles. In this congregation you have the wisdom to understand that, in words I remember but can' t quote exactly, "The past isn' t finished. It' s not even the past." We like to think we' re more enlightened than our forebears, and that may be true. However, they had wisdom in some areas that we don' t have. Whatever their shortcoming, they are our cloud of witnesses, and we honor them as such. We love them, and I love that.

5. I love that you' re such good busybodies, checking in on each other and caring for one another. Keep it up.
6. I love that you seem to genuinely delight in the great span of ages present here. It' s delightful to see 90-somethings chatting with kindergartners at coffee hour, and to hear how often the adults say, "How can we include children and youth in this?" Part of this happy intergenerational spirit must come from our elders, who NEVER resist change or say, "We can' t do this or such because we' ve always done it this way before!" I love that. I am so grateful for it. The most breathtaking theological conversation I had all year -- one that left my head bursting – was with the Alliance. There is nothing sedate about our elders. Barb Meacham went Cosmic Bowling last night with all the kids. After how many hip replacement surgeries over the past two years? Three? Love it!

7. I love your bright intellects, your passion for learning, your questioning, your seeking, the dozens of articles you send to me by e-mail and drop on my desk or slide under my door, your vibrancy, your calls at 9 pm telling me there' s a show on the History Channel I shouldn' t miss.

8. I love that this congregation is blessed with a very good sense of appropriate boundaries. No one takes the microphone at Joys and Concerns and gives us a ten minute précis of their last therapy session or spins into a six-minute stand-up routine about their son' s sex life. Nobody spits on my car because they don' t agree with something I did. People don' t show up at the parsonage at midnight, drunk and needing to talk. I don' t mean to laugh at these things, which have all happened in my experience elsewhere. There may come a time when we have a troubled or needy soul or souls join with us who will need a lot of help understanding what it means to live within our covenant in an appropriate way. Let me just say that when that happens, I trust that you will deal with it with grace and love. That' s the kind of congregational security a big endowment just can' t buy. Don' t ever underestimate the strength of a congregation that doesn' t attract chronically difficult people.

9. I love that this congregation is respectful and appreciative of our support staff, not to mention your professional religious leaders. In other settings I have refereed endless conflicts between congregants and support staff. This has never happened once in my four years here. Or are you just keeping secrets from me?

10. And finally, last but not least, I love you for being. Not for doing anything in particular, or for any of your talents and gifts, and good qualities. I love you for being here together, for deciding, in a society that absolutely doesn' t care anymore if you show up regularly at any house of worship, that belonging to a church is a worthy thing. I love you for being what I believe is a blessed generation of this institution. I love you simply because by some accident of fate or by some divine plan or some arrangement by the ancestor spirits – who knows? – we are here together, sharing our lives. For this time, at least, we are players in the same story and it is for that reason more than any other that we are called to love each other. Brothers and sisters, dearly beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God.

I love you.