Can I Give a Witness? YES!

This is the short witness talk I gave at the opening worship service of the UU Christian Fellowship Revival on Thursday, October 14, 2010.

When I was a little boy, my parents tell me, they would bring me to church – I was raised Catholic, and my father would hold  me, I was no more than two or three, and I would point at the statues and call out at the statues, “There’s Mary and Joseph… … and baby Jeez!”

I knew I would end up here. doing this, but I didn’t see it.

When I was in college, the priest at the campus ministry where I went to school submitted my name to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Worcester’s priest recruitment program – Called by Name…and when they called me up, by name – I responded.

I knew, ever since I was boy, this mystery I can’t explain that transforms me has had a claim on me and when I got a letter from the Roman Catholic Bishop inviting me to a dinner to explore becoming a priest I had to admit that I was seriously considering it.

I was also seriously dating a young woman at the time, not my wife now as it turns out, but knowing that if I responded to being called by name,

Being the conscientious type, figured that since I was seriously considering being a priest thought I should bring her along – that she should be in on this conversation.  I expressed this thought to the nun – at least I imagined it was nun – who took my RSVP phone call, and she told me to stop joking; that this was a very serious matter – and then she hung up on me.

Well, that settled that.  I went off to Harvard Divinity School.

I was the only one in my family who was surprised that I went off to Harvard Divinity School, that I had been Called by Name.  When I told my parents and my friends that I was going to Divinity School they all said, Oh yeah, we figured on that.

When I met with the Ministerial Fellowship Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Association, no less a distinguished colleague than Carolyn Owen-Towle told me, “I’m so happy that person hung up on you.”

I am here because Jesus called me to here, because Jesus is important to me. And yet Jesus is problematic for Unitarian Universalists. Unitarian Universalists are great when it comes to the search for the historical Jesus.  UU’s will tell you all about Marcus Borg’s “Spirit Person.”  UU’s will tell you all about the Jesus Seminar. UU’s will tell you all about John Shelby Spong and how Christianity must change or die. BUT Unitarian Universalists are not so good at answering a very simple question. A very simple question about Jesus, a question Jesus asks about himself, a question Jesus posed to his friend and disciple Peter:

Who do YOU say that I am?

Not who do the Bible Scholars say that I am?
Not who does Marcus Borg say that I am?
Not who does John Shelby Spong say that I am?
But Who do YOU say that I am?

I am here at the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship Revival because after growing up Catholic, it became clear to me that it was only as a UU minister I could live out my calling-a calling I heard from loud and clear from Jesus when he read the scroll in the temple (Luke 4:18-20):

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’

I’m here at the UUCF Revival because it is as a UU I can heed the call of Jesus to pray to God in spirit and truth and cling to Jesus’ advice about how to pray, and it’s pretty simple really:

God you are holy.
Forgive me what I’ve done wrong.
Help me forgive others for what they’ve done wrong and how they’ve wronged me, because it’s hard for me to this.
Give me what I need to get through this day.
Keep me from evil.
May the kingdom, the commonwealth, the community of God come, and may I do my part to ….
make it so….

4 thoughts on “Can I Give a Witness? YES!

  1. Ah, yes, Tony, and I too say to myself at times “know ye not that I must be about my father’s business?” Ministry had me by the throat from early days too, though I didn’t know it. And it’s only as a UU minister, not as an American Baptist preacher’s grown up kid, that I can proclaim the good news as I see it through this welcoming lens.

    Thanks for the post.

  2. Perhaps I’m unusual for a UU, having spent a 30-page paper examining the question “Who do you say that I am?” and “Who do UUs say that I am?” But as part of that, I also asked a lot of UUs who they say that Jesus is, and what I found wasn’t people just regurgitating Jesus Seminar information, although sometimes a study of the historical Jesus was part of their path. What I found was a lot of thoughtful, reasoned, deeply personal answers. Sometimes it included that Jesus was a savior, or was Christ. Sometimes that was not part of the answer. Sometimes it was that Jesus was a teacher two thousand years ago who has had great societal importance, but little personal relevance to that individual.

    Our church recently hosted the Jesus Seminar, along with three other local churches of different denominations, and I saw a number of members attending because they want to explore the question, not because they were in some way avoiding it.

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