Thursday, September 13, 2012

Missional Worship: A Homily

Missional Worship in the Abandoned Places of Empire
Rev. Ron Robinson, PTS Chapel Sept. 13, 2012

 See post below for the liturgy

"Floating along in the general noise" (from the Lesson by Thomas Merton) That sums up many lives and many churches….Still, As Shane Claiborne points out in the video prelude from the Book and DVD Economy of Love, there is a calling going out strongly anew these days, one always present in the church universal but often marginalized,

a calling to manifest church in ways that are fundamentally rooted in different sets of primary relationships than those in which many of us grew up;

church that is not so much about serving those of like minds or even like values, and not so much one which is primarily centered on the weekly worship service, but rather one that finds itself, finds God, in being with others we might not normally be with.

 So instead of devising our spiritual community as one in which we attract people to our location, we relocate to where the most vulnerable are, instead of working to get them to take advantage of what we offer, we work to redistribute goods and The Common Good, and instead of striving to have them become like us we look for opportunities to be reconciled to and with them.

Church, even as two or three gathered in his name, of the 3Rs of relocation, redistribution and reconciliation, using the model of civil rights leader and community organizer of the Christian Community Development Association John Perkins.

A new metaphor for church is not so much or only anymore one of a carefully constructed cruise ship that is built on shore with all its magnificent amenities advertised widely to draw in a full contingent of passengers in order to take them out for a safe consumerist experience visiting all too briefly this island and then that island and then returning to our homes, more stuffed ourselves and sunburnt and broke,

 but a new metaphor for what church can be in some of its manifestations is that it is created itself in the churning water of the stormy sea itself, in the wake of shipwrecks, as people shipwrecked begin to create diverse rafts out of whatever they find that can float, and they begin to bind together their rafts and to look out for one another and for others adrift and to trust the wind and waves will carry them to a distant shore they can not now see, pausing occasionally to marvel at each awesome sunrise sunset and starry sky, as if it were their first, or their last.

For the past nine years I have been evolving and practicing with a few others the phases of my own understanding of church, longer than that if you count as you should how my time as a PTS student set me on this path: First there was Growing Church, then Transforming Church, then Emergent Church, then Organic Church, then  Incarnational then External then Exponential then Missional and New Monastic.

 Whatever it is called, for the past five years in our area on the north edge of  Tulsa, We have been engaged in those 3Rs. And we have followed the recipe that if church is a people of God seeking to make Jesus, especially our understanding of the radically loving and liberating Jesus, visible in the world, then church should begin with Mission, should be a response to Mission, and that Mission is not made up by us but given to us in Luke 4 and Isaiah and also in Matthew 25.

Next, that to best carry out that mission we need to form Community,

and then next in order to grow and sustain healthy Community for the Mission we need to each grow as a Person in Discipleship, and finally to do that and to refresh and renew ourselves for Missional living we come together for Worship. This 4 Part Recipe for becoming church put Mission first and Worship last;

 if time talent and treasure had to be prioritized, as finite resources always do, then we would be sure that service to and with others came first; if we had to sacrifice or diminish resources for food pantry service or worship service, we would put pantry first. Partly because it seems what Jesus would do, and partly because it seems that so many others along the spectrum and big bandwidth called church would not do this, but operated under the idea that if we can just get enough people to the worship service and to be persuaded by the sermon they will see the light and go forth to do mission; but they are then doing mission, not being the mission. And often church ends with the worship.

Instead we operated, still do, as if every day the church is on a mission trip;  you know those transformative times where the service encounters get almost all the focus and resources, and worship during the trip is still extremely important, but it is often in a supportive thrown-together or catch as catch can role, but still made all the more powerful because of the context of where it takes place?

We do have communion and prayer worship and common meal whenever and wherever we gather, but we fight against that default mode that makes them church, and all else church outreach.

Still, lately, worship AS a missional practice, worship that has relocated itself too, as a presence not seen as separate or secondary to mission but as connected to it as inhaling and exhaling are connected and necessary to Breath, this embodiment of worship has become more and more vital.

 It began to dawn on me the more I experienced and witnessed the constant anxiety and constant addiction to drama of the people in our area, and the inability to find quiet and restorative stillness (and not just in them, but in me too). And so centering and contemplative prayer worship  began to call out to come to life amongst us; not just a kind of worship that might mimic the drama and anxiety causing people to suffer.

After all, Mission without Sabbath can become itself the kind of idolatry of the land of never-ending projects that puts us right back in the Empire of different kinds of quotas but brick-making nevertheless. However, seen as a mirror image of Mission, Sabbath as a Creative Restoring Sustaining Worship couldn’t then be relegated to a separate sphere of reality,one day a week, instead it would be woven into the fabric of the missional work and life each day, to be truly the sabbath mission requires. Which seemed to call forth not only contemplative acts but an understanding of contemplative time as well, and so we are beginning to envision and move and find our way toward the daily office, the octave of prayer, as a parallel presence with all the missional entities. Practiced by a few in person, and shared realtime by a few more companions online through video and by more by social media and websites. 

Praying the Hours also coincides with our vision of common practice we try to call one another in our community toward: daily prayer or meditation, weekly worship, monthly accountability or spiritual check-in, annual retreat, liftetime pilgrimage, and daily random acts of kindness and beauty.

 Praying throughout the day isn’t anything new, which is one of the reasons to do it, and entwining it with missional relationships isn’t all that radical either but This will be a constant reminder to us that we are there not to fix people, things, issues, but we are there because it is how we love God with all our heart and all our might and all our mind and all our soul and how we love our neighbor as ourself.

Taking stock of the hour, knowing and discerning as Ecclesiastes phrases it, what time, what season it is, or as the Markan gospel puts it even more starkly in this week’s lectionary readings, living and dying in the constant shadow of the Empire’s Cross,  helps us remember not only who Jesus is but whose we are and that we are not there to give out food and services, etc.  but to co-create beloved community. And just as one of our mottos is that we do not do things perfectly, in fact we are not afraid to do things poorly---which is good because that is often the only way we get anything done--- so it is if we are not going to make a big fuss about creating a single high quality high impact worship event, then maybe we should make up for it by doing a whole lot of what prayerful worship we can do.

That’s the vision anyway now as we both individually and as a small community of people seek to begin finding ways to pray the hours in and for an abandoned place of Empire as act of mission, of healing, of re-orienting us to Love. Stay tuned to see how and where it goes from here.

One of my favorite visual depictions of this inward/outward movement, this turning from try to fix others to living in deeper mutuality, this prayer with abandoned people and places comes from the movie The Soloist about the relationship between a Los Angeles newspaper columnist played by Robert Downey Jr. and the subject of one of his columns, a man played by Jamie Foxx who was a young musical prodigy but whose mental illness led him to living on the streets. While our physical environment is not quite like that depicted, the emotional field echoes true.
(The video clip shows Downey trying to find Foxx, and trying to get the director of the homeless shelter to help him get Foxx help and to be diagnosed and medicated as his fix, but the director says that the last thing Foxx needs is one more person telling him what he needs to do to be fixed; Downey then leaves, frustrated, sits in his car and is about to leave but sees commotion in an alley ahead full of the chaos of the street life; instead of driving off, he gets out of the car and begins walking into the alley, becoming surrounded by others trying to intimidate him; but he keeps walking to where a circle of people are looking down at a body of an overdose victiim; while he is in the circle, Foxx comes up behind him and runs his stream of consciousness soliloquy about music, Beethoven, life and about death; together they walk back to the spot Foxx has created against a wall for sleep; he prepares his space, they sit down together, and Foxx talks about music and the people on the street while Downey has started his tape recorder; soon Foxx begins to pray the Lord's Prayer as the camera pans up and down the drama-filled street, and Foxx ends with a blessing, while Downey narrates his questions about whether he should try to force Foxx to seek help, or respect his choices and relate to him as a friend. )


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