Friday, March 09, 2012

An Epistle From Turley

Hi all. We are starting our Week of Serving, Mar. 12-16, see below if you want to skip to it, aided in our community projects with a group coming back to Turley and North Tulsa from Wildflower Church in Austin, Texas; come join with us and them and others in our community for many renewal transformations in our area. We will be hosting them in our community center Sunday night to Sat. morning. If you can help with food for potlucks or can make a donation for the week's work, let me know or contribute online at Thanks.

Before we get to the exciting week ahead of us here in the 74126 next week during our Week of Serving (see the schedule for the week at, let me begin with the amazing things we have been participating in during the past month. But be on the lookout for an article on our week ahead that may be published in the Saturday Tulsa World Religion Section. Next week we will feature a Tour, free meals, hands-on projects at the Center, partnering with a librarian, with crafts and sewing people, with carpenters and others, hands-on projects at the GardenPark to transform it and finish our work for which we received last summer a home loan bank grant, classic country music concert and classic Rock concert, parties, movie of The Way and discussion of it by one who recently walked the Camino de Santiago, projects in the community with our partners, and more in the week ahead. Come join us. See that link above for details. Share and come celebrate next week with us.

On Saturday, Feb. 18 we were part of a Board Retreat for McLain School Foundation and on Sunday, Feb. 19, we had the privilege to be one of the featured food justice groups at the Interfaith Trialogue Series Food For Thought sponsored by the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice; we introduced our work here in the 74126, our great needs, and the many opportunities people have for connecting with us especially in our community gardenpark and blight to beauty projects. We have been working clearing our park site and planting for the season ahead already. We are beginning to work with the local women's correctional facility on a gardening project too.

On Tuesday, Feb. 21, we showed the documentary and had a deep discussion of Dr. Cornel West and others in "Stubborn as a Mule" on the need for reparations and the history of injustices toward African Americans past and present, and about our calling for joining in the struggle in the ways small and large that the work still presents itself for us everyday here. On Wednesday, Feb. 22 we joined with Turley United Methodist Church for Ash Wednesday Service.

On Feb. 29, we were honored to travel to Houston to receive an Award from the Southwest Regional Network of the National Recreation and Parks Association for our work in creating our community garden park and supporting public parks in our area; this was after receiving the statewide parks award; we may be nominated for the award on the national level, so stay tuned. What I say in talking about our work particularly in food justice is that it illustrates the point Jim Wallis of Sojourners in D.C. and others make about the necessity of combining individual and private and non-profit and governmental funding and cooperation to attack the roots of poverty and hunger. Our park site is a prime example of how that is taking root here. And we hope to see it bear fruit not only at the park but also through our work at the community center and out in the community with partners. You can see the award citation information about us at this link: Plan now to join with us for our Park Dedication and Celebration Saturday, May 12, from 10 am to 2 pm, with ceremonies beginning at 11 am. and a party the whole time, especially for all of you who have helped in those hot summer days last year. It is great to see the beautiful blossoms on the trees of the orchard.
We also last month had the first of our two part volunteer training workshop; stay tuned for the scheduling of the next session this month; you don't have to take the sessions in order, but you do have to take both.

Recently we have begun work with local leaders in senior nutrition and senior living on revitalizing a foundation and the hopes of creating more free senior nutrition sites in our area; the only one is some five miles away and it has already reached its maximum capacity and can't take any more seniors. And we are trying to find a way, now that Cherokee School has been closed, to still provide the summer feeding program for all under 18 years old that we have been doing all summer long for the past three years, feeding more than at any other site in Tulsa; stay tuned as we hope we can actually work out a temporary lease to continue to use the closed school facility for all of our healthy food justice projects and more community renewal work. And our Food Pantry continues to serve more and more families; at the end of April we will again host the Mobile Food Van as we did in January when we gave out 11,000 pounds of food to those in our zips.

We are looking for a commercial refrigerator to help us be able to offer a site for feeding the children and youth; and we are looking for donations for a new hot water heater, and plumbing assistance to install showers at the community center, and creating our own kitchen space at the Center.

We have been having meaningful weekly Thursday Lenten Vespers services at 6 pm incorporating reflections from Father John Dear's book The Questions of Jesus, and plan to see him when he speaks in Tulsa Wed. Mar. 28 at 7 pm at Fellowship Congregational Church. We traveled to Stillwater on Sunday, Mar. 4 to preach on how transforming the world requires us to transform our approach to faith itself; to adopt a new theology of the cross for progressives; the sermon "Bless This Mess" available at I am going to be travelling to Washington, D.C. later this month to coordinate the progressive Christian Revival, see and then will be in Midland, Texas Mar. 25 to preach the installation sermon "The Possible Church" for the Rev. Thomas Schmidt. Looking ahead, On May 5 I will be preaching the theme sermon in the Boston area for the Ballou-Channing District at Fairhaven, Mass. Title is "ReShaping The World: church in the likeness to a different God" and the subject is how the hurting world needs both missional church and progressive church to combine and be transformed by one another in order to be the kind of leaven in the world that the radically subversive God requires. We invite all to join with us in our small missional community worship services on Sundays between 9:30 am and 1 pm including common meal, and also check out our daily morning and evening prayer communities online at the Facebook site above.

We continue to host and coordinate the Future of Turley meetings, and held one recently where we advanced our plans to work on disaster response networking, incorporation, post office, school support for the new public charter school The LightHouse Academy going in where the Greeley School is now (we have been helping the new school spread the word and attract applicants and we will become a main community partner for their program which will eventually offer K-12 school nearby, even as we deepen our commitment to help the other public schools such as McLain). We have also been studying the new census and demographic and ethnographic material about our area which in the past decade has lost another almost 15 percent of its population (and that is just in the unincorporated side of our service area), the second highest percentage drop in the communities in the Tulsa area; while health data keeps getting worse for those who move here or remain.

Looking ahead to next month: We will be a part of an April 17 presentation and discussion on issues of homelessness and immigration sponsored by Phillips Theological Seminary and featuring the Rev. Lorenza Andrade Smith. More will be coming soon on this event.

In acts of one to one service, in working on larger justice issues, in connecting people who want to make a difference in this abandoned place of the American Marketplace Empire, in sowing seeds of hope, we live out our mission to grow healthy lives and neighborhoods by empowering residents, and in all we do to seek to make visible in the world the loving and liberating and radical hospitable to all presence of Jesus.

blessings, Ron
ps if you don't want to go to the link on next week's highlights, here they are:

Join In Our Week of Serving Turley & Area
Mon. Mar 12 – Fri. Mar. 16
10 am to 2 pm: Tour of Area and Discussion of Issues and Projects. Free Lunch included. Meet at the Welcome Table Community Center, 5920 N. Owasso Ave.
2-5 PM Service Projects at the Center and new Community KitchenGardenPark and Orchard, 6005 N. Johnstown Ave., and in the community
5:30 pm at the Center Free Dinner Movie and Discussion of “The Way” with presentation by the Rev. Jonalu Johnstone of First Unitarian Church in Oklahoma City who recently took the pilgrimmage.
9 am to 6 pm Various Community Projects for all ages; 3 to 6 pm Food Pantry; gather at 2:30 for a quick prayer and blessing service for the work of the food pantry and the lives touched through it.
9 am to 6 pm Community Projects; 11:30 am free lunch for helpers at Turley United Methodist Church, 6050 N. Johnstown Ave., 6 pm Classic Country Concert with Johnny and The Oklahomans, and 6:30 pm free dinner for helpers at the Welcome Table Center.
9 am to 6 pm Various Community Projects for all ages; Food Pantry 3 to 6 pm; gather at 2:30 pm for a quick prayer and blessing service for the work of the food pantry and the lives touched through it.
Lenten Prayer Service 6 to 6:30 pm, Welcome Table Missional Community
9 am to 6 pm Various Community Projects
3 to 7 pm Turley area Litter Pickup Event and Jupiter Jump and Party at The Welcome Table Community Center
7 to 9 pm Live Rock Music, featuring the band “Built For Comfort”
For more information, or to sign up to help, contact Ron Robinson, Executive Director, A Third Place Community Foundation at 918-691-3223, or see

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Join Us For Lenten Vespers: F2F or Online

Each Thursday during Lent, we gather at 6 pm for this Vespers Service, at The Welcome Table Community Center, 5920 N. Owasso Ave.. You are welcome to join us, face to face, or if you are encountering this online, by participating and sharing prayers in the comment section and using the liturgy as a daily or weekly evening time of prayer and meditation and study.

The Welcome Table
A Free Universalist Christian Missional Community

Following the radical Jesus in deeds not creeds. Join us in service to our community throughout the week. Our Welcome Table of Worship is open to all who welcome all, regardless of belief or denomination, race, gender, sexual orientation, age, physical abilities, economic status, or political affiliations. We don’t think Jesus would have it any other way. Free because we are non-creedal. We don’t give theological tests for admission, but encourage you to test us and try us to see if this way is for you. Universalist because we believe God is Love and All who abide in Love abide in God for all time. Christian because the generous compassionate way and story of Jesus, while not exclusively so, is our primary pathway opening up to God. Missional because we are sent to serve others more than ourselves. Community because we are made not to be autonomous individuals but to be a people of God.

Lenten Vespers

Today is the day which God has made: Let us rejoice and be glad therein.
What does the Eternal require of us?
To live justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.

Chalice Lighting Covenant
This is our covenant as we walk together in life together or apart, in ways of God known or to be made known, as a people of God striving to make Jesus visible in the world: In the light of truth, and the loving and liberating spirit of Jesus, we gather in freedom, to worship God, and serve all.
Evening Response
Now as we come to the setting of the sun and our eyes behold the evening light, we sing your praises, O God, for the blessings of the day, and we seek your presence as we face the night, finding your spirit there, waiting.

Song #46, Singing The Living Tradition, first verse, followed by humming the tune: Now The Day Is Over, Night Is Drawing Nigh, Shadows of the Evening, Steal Across the Sky

Prayer of Confession:

Gracious and Loving God, we have erred and strayed from thy ways. We have followed too much the desires and devices of our own hearts. We have left undone those things we ought to have done, and done those things we ought not to have done. But, Thou, O God, have mercy upon us, You Restore Us with a pure heart and a gentle voice, and turn our lives to You, in service to others, especially those in affliction and oppression and those in need. Amen.

 Prayers interspersed with Silent Meditation

Embrace our darkness, we beg you, O Lord, and by your great mercy be with us in the midst of all perils and dangers. (You are invited to speak names of those for prayer each followed by unison response Hear our prayer. Please share your prayer requests, and blessings, in the comment section below. I lie down this night with God, gaelic night prayer meditation

The Lord's Prayer

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven, give us this day, our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever.Amen.

Reading and Conversation: We have been discussing selections from Father John Dear's book The Questions of Jesus.

Responsive Reading #637, A Litany of Atonement
For remaining silent when a single voice wold have made a difference

We forgive ourselves and each other, we begin again in love.
For each time our fears have made us rigid and inaccessible.

We forgive ourselves and each other, we begin again in love.
For each time that we have struck out in anger without just cause

We forgive ourselves and each other, we begin again in love.

For each time that our greed has blinded us to the needs of others

We forgive ourselves and each other, we begin again in love.

For falling short of the admonitions of the spirit

We forgive ourselves and each other, we begin again in love.
For losing sight of our unity

We forgive ourselves and each other, we begin again in love.
For those and for so many acts both evident and subtle which have
fueled the illusion of separateness

We forgive ourselves and each other, we begin again in love.
--Robert Eller-Isaacs
Hymn 101 Abide With Me

Responsive Reading 642, Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. 3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. 5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

May the peace of God go with you, wherever you are sent; may God guide you through the wilderness, protect you through the storm; may God bring you home rejoicing, at the wonders you have seen; may God bring you home rejoicing, once again into our doors.


Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Our Week of Mission Work Here, Welcome Wildflower UU Church of Austin, Texas. Come help, party, partner, worship, spread the word about our community


Join In Our Week of Serving Turley & Area

Mon. Mar 12 – Fri. Mar. 16

A Third Place Foundation: local grassroots group

Growing healthy lives and neighborhoods


10 am to 2 pm: Tour of Area and Discussion of Issues and Projects. Free Lunch included. Meet at the Welcome Table Community Center, 5920 N. Owasso Ave.

2-5 PM Service Projects at the Center and new Community  KitchenGardenPark and Orchard, 6005 N. Johnstown Ave., and in the community

5:30 pm at the Center Free Dinner Movie and Discussion of “The Way”


9 am to 6 pm Various Community Projects for all ages; 3 to 6 pm Food Pantry


9 am to 6 pm Community Projects; 11:30 am free lunch for helpers at Turley United Methodist Church, 6050 N. Johnstown Ave., 6 pm Classic Country Concert with Johnny and The Oklahomans, and 6:30 pm free dinner for helpers at the Welcome Table Center.


9 am to 6 pm Various Community Projects for all ages; Food Pantry 3 to 6 pm

Lenten Prayer Service 6 to 6:30 pm, Welcome Table Missional Community


9 am to 6 pm Various Community Projects

3 to 7 pm Turley area Litter Pickup Event and Jupiter Jump and Party at The Welcome Table Community Center

7 to 9 pm Live Rock Music, featuring the band “Built For Comfort”
For more information, or to sign up to help, contact Ron Robinson, Executive Director, A Third Place Community Foundation at 918-691-3223, or see


Sunday, March 04, 2012

Bless This Mess: Transforming Faith and Church and World

Bless This Mess: Transforming Faith/Transforming Church

Rev. Ron Robinson Stillwater UU Church, March 4, 2012

Hymns: Love Will Guide Us and Amazing Grace
Responsive Reading Psalm 23 from Singing The Living Tradition hymnalText: from Mark 8

34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?”

Reading: From Proverbs of Ashes: Violence, Redemptive Suffering, and the search for what saves us, by Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker

Rebecca Parker, UU seminary president, tells how she, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, stopped doing and going to communion because of how it had become only a story of suffering and acceptance of pain in order to draw close to God; in the book she goes on to say how she as a young minister preaching the same thing as part of communion liturgy had one of those come to Jesus moments when a victim of domestic violence sought her counsel and spoke of needing to accept her own situation, for didn’t Jesus accept his on the cross? It started her journey to a renewed understanding of suffering and God. One where she refused to be in worship services with communion when they preached Jesus as a sacrifice.

But then, she writes, she was in a recovery group for those struggling with the effects of alcohol on those they loved, and there was a fellow traveler who himself had once been the abuser of his children, and who was learning to live with all he’d done, without it spinning him into a shame cycle that would lead to more abuse, and there she began to experience a different kind of community, one that lifts up lamentation, solidarity, struggle, the telling of truth, accountability, and possibilities of new life. She experienced a new kind of people. It only happened because she was able, in this new setting, to sit close together with one whose experience reminded her, in ways, of her own abuser, and yet because of being a people together in a community of truth she began to see both him and herself differently.

“At first, I wanted to flee from the group. I was sitting knee to knee with a sexual abuser. But then I remembered that he and I were there for the same reason. We were trying to recover from living a lie, living under the weight of denials, splits, avoidance, absence. We were there for each other, all of us in the group, and we told the truth about our lives because telling the truth restored us to the human community. It brought us back from the dead. It was a way of showing up. Of coming back, alive. It made us free. “

And Soon after that she was at a worship service led by a woman she knew and trusted. Still, when it came time for communion, she thought of slipping out again. But this time instead she risked staying, and the service was more about being present with suffering, about being a feast amid famine and funeral, about life and finding food for the soul there, and all people being welcome at the table in peace. That night when, as a part of the small group, she received the plate and the cup from another, she had a liberating vision of receiving it from, and giving it to, the one who had abused and betrayed her.

“Somewhere deep inside me a noise that had been roaring for years became silent. An old ache, like a stone, began to fall. I returned to normal consciousness. Around me were the quiet voices of familiar friends. I knew that in the end all there is, is mercy. The promise was true. Weeping may endure for the night, buy joy comes in the morning.”

A people, not ashamed of their pain, able to see it in others; and, being seen, becoming more than they had been.


The world is undergoing some revolutionary, not evolutionary, transformations, again, as it did after the invention of the print culture. That’s a sermon in itself. The church, IF it wants to be an agent for change in its transforming world, must also become transformed and transforming (though not always changed in the same manner as the world, of course, for often the way to transform the world is to go against its grain). And That too is a sermon in itself. When I was here this past August, I preached about the ways the church as church is changing in order to be a force for hope and justice in the world. But still left is the sermon on what change has to happen in us for the church, which is made up of us, to change so the world will be changed. That’s today’s sermon.

I believe the change is not in what votes we take on what decisions, or what programs we start, or what we say from the pulpit or teach in the class; I believe it is not in what money we raise or buildings we build or maintain; or what bylaws or mission and vision statements we write. All of that will come, or not, as needed, when we focus on why we are here, what calls us together and sends us out together.

I believe in order to transform the church so it can engage in the transforming of the world, even and especially the world right around us, with our values and beliefs, we must first transform our own personal understandings and commitments of what it means to be a faithful people, a people full of ultimate trust, and what is required to create a community of such faithfulness, trustworthiness, and transformation.

When Ghandi said be the change you seek in the world, when Jesus said God’s kind of upside down inside out transforming Empire, not Caeser’s status quo power Empire, is already within you, they are showing us where all change begins. People who change our neighborhoods into places of abundant life and justice usually have experienced or are experiencing a change in where they find meaning in life; they are not saints, fully arrived non anxious holy ones; they can be pained and a pain, and are always in process, but they have a longing and hunger for change within and without. This is why we are now finding such depth in partnering personal spiritual direction with community missional ministry, going inward and outward at the same time, letting each part of our life transform the other. Imagine a church where that is the rhythm.

And one of the things I think needs to be changed about us is that we don’t often think we need to be changed; when that is the case we can’t do much about real change in the world, I believe. Of course, we come by this almost inherently. We have historically what you call a high anthropology, or estimation of human nature, at least out of our Unitarian side of the heritage. Remember that saying that the Unitarians thought people were too good to be damned, and the Universalists thought God was too good to damn anyone? A lot of truth in it. Many of the early Universalists actually became Universalists out of a strong conviction in original sin coupled with their notion of God’s even stronger Love; they thought wow if God has saved us, even us, then it is true everyone will be saved. But mostly we came to stake our theology on having a high opinion of human nature, and that got morphed into creating church communities where we focused on how good we were, how we don’t need saving, or changing, and it is the world out there that needs changing, not us, thank you, we are fine, everything’s fine, and we tell each other how fine our lives are.

I was at a conference recently where the Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber was telling her life and faith journey. She had been quite an angry rebellious self-destructive youth who had been active in church as a child but grew into a life of drugs and alcohol and the punk culture; her eventual recovery took her to the support groups in basement of churches where she said she learned more about God than in the sanctuaries. For about ten years she was unchurched. During this time she discovered a truth that she had both a capacity for hurting herself and others and a capacity for compassion. Part of her journey during this time she tried to be a Unitarian; she worked for five years as a counselor at Unitarian youth camp; but she says she didn’t find it a fit because she felt the Unitarians had too high an opinion of humanity so that it didn’t square with her reality; she said it was as if we don’t read the newspaper. There was no room in our churches of light for the darkness she knew was part of her and she didn’t believe she could by herself live out an all goodness within her. She ended up getting married, going to seminary, and becoming an author and prominent emergent church leader in the progressive Evangelical Lutheran Church of America in Denver where she founded a church called House For All Sinners and Saints which was started in and for the punk and queer inclusive culture but now includes members from all walks of life.

She admits her experience with us was limited and she is making general conclusions, but it is a critique many have made, both those who have grown up among us and left, and those who have come in and then left, and those who have come and stayed. Each religious tradition has its shadow side, and ours might be to know there is a shadow side. Each tradition’s strength, taken to an extreme, becomes perverted into an idol and can threaten to undo the strength it offers to the world. We are no exception. Former UUA President John Buehrens has written about a common experience he encountered during his travels and preaching; that when some people found out that he was married to an Episcopalian priest, they would say something like, “It must be nice to have a religion as a crutch” to which he learned to respond: “well, at least some people know they are limping.”

Maybe it is in part because we have such a high opinion of human nature that we have made church membership so easy and painless, and that seems to carry over into having so little demands or expectations about growing our spiritual life . We aren’t alone in this, however, but, it is very different from how our founding church ancestors treated the matter. Those early Puritans had to be able to show how their spirit had been regenerated, their life changed, in order for them to get the full benefits of membership and to be a part of that movement that journeyed to a new land and sought to create a “city upon a hill.” Their own failings and hubris and cultural near-sightedness often betrayed them and their God of love, but they were a changed people who changed the world and left us a legacy for good and bad with which we are still entrusted.

They themselves found this a hard path to hand down to others, though, and so 350 years ago this very year they approved what is known as the Half Way Covenant to allow children to be baptized even if their parents weren’t full members of the church because they hadn’t been able to express publicly that they had been changed spiritually. This goes to show though the strong faith our ancestors did have in the church covenants because they weren’t willing to lie about an inward experience just to fit in with others. And before too long the sacraments of baptism and communion were opened up to all in the Puritan based churches for the very purpose of helping people to be changed.

Fast forward though to the North American church that came out of The Great Depression and World War Two. It was like the dominant culture that came out of that experience. There was a desire to be settled, there was an emphasis on domesticity, fueled societally by the rise of Madison Avenue advertising and new television technology, and even government funding. The path became: Find a job for life, find a spouse for life, find a house and home for life, and find a church for life, most probably one you inherited and was nearby. That was the American Dream; if there was change it was supposed to be upwards in mobility, upwards and onwards for ever, to a bigger company, bigger house, bigger car, where you would feel even more settled and secure. Change in degree but not in kind. Church in what was called the dominant mainstream church was a reflection that you had made it in the American Dream.

The faithfulness of someone in this particular church default mode, one that cut across denominations, was a faith ultimately in the institutions supporting us and keeping us settled. If you were unsettled, despite it all, maybe because of it all, you kept it to yourself because that was the ultimate heresy, an excommunication for not being good enough, saved enough, to keep job, home, community, spouse, children all in line and settled.

We Baby Boomers, the children of these Settlers, then came into our own and had our own kind of Half Way Covenant with society and its institutions. We unsettled society, but settled into our perpetual rebellion; where we kept our attachment to the cultural institutions, and we have been more attached than our own children have been to them, we still kept these institutions---job, family, church, civic group---unsettled, neither rejecting them totally or committing to them totally. We made society and church about us, in our image, rather than making ourselves into the image of the institutions as those original builders and settlers of the church had done. We created or made over communities of faith that enshrined our own rebellion, our own individualism; our main needs. Where the earlier generations needs were to be settled; ours was to remain on that adolescent cusp where we couldn’t leave but we wanted to, couldn’t wait to leave but couldn’t support ourselves, where everything was about us and our wants and feelings.

And, just like those adolescents, we wanted to make what was wrong with the world, and oh there was always so much wrong with the world, we wanted to make it not really about us, not about our own problems and consumptions: Who, me? As one of our favorite icons had it? What, me worry? Let’s go consume more. And we wrote the book, literally, on burnout, on narcissism. If we did look inward, we got lost there, and not in facing our struggles of soul but in assuring ourselves that we would never have to face them, embrace them, transform them, if we just thought and felt the right way and surrounded ourselves with an echo chamber of people who would help us do that. Theology of prosperity mega-churches have been the landmark for this kind of faithful discipleship to self and culture. But it has infected churches of all sizes and theologies. Perhaps it is both a blessing and a scary thing, as we look around our churches and institutions, that they aren’t making anymore of us, Baby Boomers.

In our new hinge of history, what it means to be faithful is like everything else being transformed. No more the Church of the Divine Settled Ones. No more the Church of The Perpetual Rebellion. No More the Church of the Self Messiah. Now to find faith is to unsettle yourself, to go on an adventure, a quest, with others for others, and while doing so facing your fears, voicing your vulnerability, relinquishing all the material and emotional possessions that possess you, seeking to be changed, holding together our original blessedness and our original brokenness, letting both bleed together you might say as we seek out the bleeding and broken and blessed places and people of our world, because that is where and how we will be transformed into a people and a Spirit capable of amazing acts of love and justice.

Jedis and Hobbits are stories of this new kind of faithfulness and spiritual community and so are the reclaimed stories of Disciples of a State Executed Rabbi from 2000 years ago who found themselves, having lost themselves, changed into a people, found themselves a changed people, found themselves on missions of changing the world.

Before the cross became a symbol of the Emperor’s sword, before it became a strategy to keep those in power through violence in power through violence, before it became a means to silence the sufferers, the cross had been a sign of this kind of faith journey, a resistance to the Empire and a sign of solidarity with those most threatened and vulnerable, and a sign that if you were a follower of that sign you yourself would be threatened and vulnerable, but never ultimately alone. Sociologist of Religion Rodney Starks writes that the early Jesus followers from their outcast marginal space grew in great numbers over the first three hundred years after Jesus’ life, his death on the cross, and after the belief took hold that the cross did not hold the last truth but in fact love and justice held the last truth, they grew all because in order to fully experience and live in that truth themselves they were to re-enact it and re-embody it by nursing the sick and dying during plagues when others fled, by including women when others did not, by honoring children when others treated them as slaves, by including slaves and people of all ethnicities when others ate only with their own kind, by refusing to serve in the Emperor’s military and to kill others, by staying in and with the urban poor in the worst conditions possible.

That is what it meant once upon a time, and can mean again today, regardless of your faith label, to pick up your cross, deny your selfishness, and gain real life, true self, and grow the soul of the world. To be clear about this: it is not good that Jesus was killed by the Empire; violence and suffering is not something to be willed, and I don’t believe God willed it then or now; it is to be resisted against. When the early followers of Jesus transformed the symbol of the cross by owning it instead of being shamed by it, by making it a sign of faith in something more powerful than the cross itself and what it represented to so many then, they were using it as a liberative symbol, as a story, as a counter reality against the world’s oppressive use of it. Evil is not good; good can emerge in the response to the aftermath of Evil. One way that happens is by not trying to pretend there are no crosses still lining the roads of our lives, our churches, our world, the crosses that seek to convince us that change is not possible, but trusting good can emerge by facing the crosses, emptying them of what Empire has claimed them to be, and embracing them not as a sign of that past but as a sign of a different future.

The church that is dawning, or returning to us, is one where part of our reason for being is the sharing of such stories, about ours and our community’s crosses, and joining in the struggles of transformation of them. We do so then not to root ourselves in the cross, in suffering, in that which calls out to us from the deepest part of us to be changed, but root ourselves in the trust, the faithfulness that it will happen, is happening, even when we can’t see it, or feel it, and believe it never will. Root ourselves in that spirit which has been called sacred Presence, grace, even called resurrection, a spirit of change which forms us into agents of change. Which faces us forward. We can then come as persons seeking to be changed, come into communities full of blessed and broken people who will break our hearts as we will break theirs, and go out a little more healed and whole into wider community of broken and blessed hearts waiting for our presence.

There is a theological word for change; it is called Repentance. It comes from the Greek word metanoia, to literally go beyond in one’s understanding, to have a change of heart and insight. It gets emphasized a lot during this season of Lent. We think of our past struggles and we commit to living in the present as if we were already living in a future without them. I wonder what our churches would be like if we took this season seriously all year long and got beyond our own understandings of ourselves and others and the world and came to church not to celebrate our having arrived at mutual understandings and what we know, but came because we experienced ourselves to be people who are in need of being changed, and that we can’t do it alone, in need of what others know, especially those who will never come to us on their own.

Maybe we need to repent of our not being repentance people. I like what author Frederich Buechner says about Repentance when he writes; To repent is to come to your senses. It is not so much something you do as something that happens. True repentance spends less time looking at the past and saying “I’m sorry” then to the future and saying “Wow.”” That Wow opens up a future we thought the past had closed, and the more we practice it the more it guides us through our hard nights.

The Psalms, like the famous one we recited earlier, have traditionally been a source for strength during times of stress because they are little nuggets of repentance and change and transformation even within themselves. They have a three-fold movement from expressions of orientation, praise for the order of things, to expressions of dis-orientation, lament, anger, fear and loss for the ways things are, to finally expressions of re-orientation, praise for the hope of how they will be. Past present and future folded in together.

Poet and Author Kathleen Norris in her book Amazing Grace uses a contemporary story of contemporary psalm writing that is an example I think of what contemporary faithfulness might mean again in our lives, and communities, if we start out together from a place of pain and power and potential. She wrote:

“When I’m working as an artist in residence at parochial schools, I like to read the psalms out loud to inspire the students, who are usually not aware tht the snippets they sing at mass are among the greatest poems in the world. But I have found that when I have asked children to write their own psalms, their poems often have an emotional directness that is similar to that of the biblical psalter. They know what it’s like to be small in a world designed for big people, to feel lost and abandoned. Children are frequently astonished to discover that the psalmists so freely express the more unacceptable emotions, sadness and even anger, even anger at God, and that all of this is in the Bible that they have read in church on Sunday mornings…..Children who are picked on by their big brothers and sisters can be remarkably adept when it comes to writing cursing psalms, and I believe that the writing process offers them a safe haven in which to work through the desires for vengeance in a healthy way. Once a little boy wrote a poem called The Monster Who Was Sorry. He began by admitting that he hates it when his father yells at him; his response in the poem is to throw his sister down the stairs, and then to wreck his room, and finally to wreck the whole town. The poem concludes: “Then I sit in my messy house and say to myself, “I shouldn’t have done that.” My messy house says it all, with more honesty than most adults could have mustered, the boy made a metaphor for himself that admitted the depth of his rage and also gave him a way out. If that boy had been a novice in the fourth century monastic desert, his elders might have told him that he was well on the way toward repentance, not such a monster after all, but only human. If the house is messy, they might have said, why not clean it up, why not make it into a place where God might wish to dwell?”

I know you are about to launch a campaign to gather commitments for the life and future of this church. Normally kick off sermons for such drives are full of great vision and memories of all that has been accomplished and optimistic calls for being all you can be. This sermon about messy houses probably doesn’t follow that model. But I hope you have caught glimmers of a vision of a Possible Church for a new era, one that is truly worthy of our deepest giving, of our grandest adventures in life, because here we have been touched by that Spirit that allows us to bless this mess, even this mess, to embrace our suckiness, to risk and fail our way all the way to great change, deep mercy, new life. We have nothing to lose that won’t be lost anyway, and the faith, hope and love we have to gain is indeed Eternal.