Thursday, October 02, 2014

God's Starting Point: Today's Communion Service and Homily at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa

PTS Chapel Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014
coming World Communion Day

Leader: Rev. Ron Robinson

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes” (Psalm 118: 22-23)

In the light of truth, and the loving and liberating spirit of Jesus, we gather in freedom, to worship God and be strengthened in community for the work of justice in the world. 
Today is the hour which God has made; Let us rejoice and be glad therein
For what does the Eternal require of us?
To live justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.

Sung Response
Bless the Lord my soul, and bless God’s holy name.
 Bless the Lord my soul, who brings me into life.

Draw us into your love, Christ Jesus: and deliver us from fear.

Make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that I may not
so much seek to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Silence and Speaking Names For Prayer
(respond with "God of Mercy, hear our prayer")

Deepest Source of All, may our prayers be times of listening as well as speaking. May we be open to what Life yet speaks to us of truth, joy, and goodness. And as Jesus taught to all those who would follow in his radical, inclusive, compassionate and transforming way, we pray with him:

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

Make us worthy, Lord, to serve our brothers and sisters throughout the world, who live and die in poverty and pain. Give them today, through our hands, their daily bread and through our understanding love, give peace and joy. Amen

Through our lives and by our prayers: may your kingdom come!

(parts of the above come from Common Prayer for Ordinary Radicals)

Sung Response
Dona Nobis Pacem

from Matthew 21, and this week's selections from the Revised Common Lectionary
33“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country.34When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” 39So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.” 42Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’? 43Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. 44The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” (Matthew 21: 33-44, NRSV)

Sung Response
We’re gonna sit at the welcome table, we’re gonna sit at the welcome table one of these days halleluia, we’re gonna sit at the welcome table, gonna sit at the welcome table one of these.
All kinds of people around that table, all kinds of people round that table one of these days halleluia, all kinds of people around that table, gonna sit at the welcome table one of these days.

Words of Invitation:
“God’s Starting Point” 
Rev. Ron Robinson

I love the parables. Parables got me into seminary. When people ask me why I am a Christian, I tell them a parable to try to evoke how I am a Christian.  The parables have an abundance of meaning that just keeps on giving each time I return to them, much like the beloved community they point toward. But some of them….you have to drag me kicking and screaming….to enter into. This is one of those.

If nothing else, I suppose it is a reminder that the hardest conversations, the most complex and nuanced of experiences, oh the places we do not want to go, like into a minefield of mirrors of class and ethnicity and multitudes of perspectives and risk and triggers of many kinds, are the places we need to go, sometime in our life, if we are to seek to put ourselves where we will catch a glimpse of God as the White Rabbit dropping out of sight quickly down a hole daring us to follow.
The hole in this parable I want to take us down today—out of the numerous ones that might be calling to us—is the one with the sign that says: Check Your Baggage Here. Those bags of expectations we have inherited, those bags we have filled up from our own life’s lessons, those bags to which we have held on to the tightest, the bags of our notions of right and wrong and justice and success and honor, and safety, and shame too, and fear too.

Down that hole we see that:
There was a city that built parks and schools and businesses of many kinds and churches and civic associations and services like post offices and sidewalks and street lights and fire protection and water lines and built homes with gardens. It was like a vineyard. And then the city left for another country, another people. Some called it white flight. Some called it the American Dream. Some called it Market Forces. Soon the people who remained turned away from one another, or upon one another, as they had been turned away from, as the vineyard dried up…After a while, whenever the city would hear of some crime in the old vineyard, or whenever the city had a Good Idea for the old vineyard, from the other country where it had settled, the city would send a representative with a new program idea, but no money for the vineyard, and the people turned on the representatives of the city who came in from elsewhere to fix them, even though they were just doing their job, even though they had good intentions, even though they loved the people of the old vineyard but not enough to live with them. The city even eventually sent in from the other country its finest, bravest, smartest ones who would surely be able to get the most out of the old vineyard because, after all, weren’t the old vineyard and the other country really all one place together. But the people met these representatives as soon as they landed and made sure they never came back…And the city wondered: what would happen if it came back itself? And in the online comment sections of the city, and in its high private places, the city decided enough was enough and that the old vineyard was good for nothing but being levelled, incarcerate them all, and start over, or just use the land for all the waste of various kinds the city needed to get rid of. Time to move on. There was so much great stuff going on for the city in its new country.
Then Jesus said back: Don’t you remember how God is? The rejects are God’s fruit. God’s great stuff happens with them right there. I tell you what. Your Gathering Places, Your Rivers, Your Greens, Your Malls, Your Mega-Churches, Your Young Professionals will be taken from you and given to those who get God and where and who God starts with.

The stones that the Empire rejects are the stones that God wants us to build our homes with. And the Empire rejects these stones for a lot of sensible good reasons. They are broken stones. They are mix matched. They have been in toxic places. They force us to rethink our very homes themselves and how we have built them in the past. They are the foundation then for a new kind of home, city, for God’s dream.  

And so it is with the Christ table. This is God’s starting point, more departure point than destination point; our destinations should be wherever we can go create tables with and for others without them. And it is good that we celebrate the table for what it is come each year at World Communion Day. For here we check our baggage, even especially our theological spiritual religious baggage and whatever names and addresses we have attached to our baggage. Here we come rejected and rejecting both, eating a meal that reminds us we are fed by One who sees us as more than what we have done and more than we see of ourselves and one another. Here we come from the vineyard and from the city and from another country all. For here at the table, the hardest table to sit at, the one you really don’t have to have an invitation to, we can begin again in love. I come to the table today and I have with me on one side the spirit of that grandfather of mine who settled in North Tulsa at the time of the first world war and became a member of the Ku Klux Klan, and with him are the spirits of those who used him and poor whites like him for their own gain, and I have on my other side the spirits of all those neighbors who suffered, and suffer still, and rage against still, the world created by those on my other side. This is the table even for those, local and global today, who can’t physically yet come to the table with one another, for all kinds of reasons not for me to judge but to make space for. This is the “as if” table.

Words of Institution:
Jesus said: I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you clothed me. I was sick and you visited me. I was in prison and you came to me. And his disciples asked him:
When did we do this?
And he said, you did this for me when you did it to the least of these.
Here is the bread of life, food for the spirit. Let all who hunger come and eat. Here is the fruit of the vine, pressed and poured out for us. Let all who thirst now come and drink.
We come to break bread. We come to drink of the fruit of the vine. We come to make peace. May we never praise God with our mouths while denying in our hearts or by our acts the love that is our common speech. We come to be restored in the love of God. All are worthy. All are welcome.
(Robert Eller-Isaacs, based on Matthew 25, alt. Singing the Living Tradition hymnal)

 Receiving From the Plate and Cup While Singing
Let us break bread together on our knees. Let us break bread together on our knees. When I fall on my knees with my face to the rising sun, o lord have mercy on me
Let us drink wine together on our knees. Let us drink wine together on our knees. When I fall on my knees with my face to the rising sun, O Lord have mercy on me.
Let us praise God together on our knees. Let us praise God together on our knees. When I fall on my knees with my face to the rising sun O lord have mercy on me.

Prayers for the Coming Hours: Sext

The sun is overhead. The traveler reaches a crossroad.
Give me courage for this hour.

The hour when the fruit of the forbidden tree is eaten. The hour Jesus hangs upon the cross. The dull center of ordinary time. The mid-life crisis of our day. Tempted to lethargy and apathy and despair. Hard to hold on. We can’t look at the sun directly. We can’t look directly at this hour. Half of life is spent and night is coming. Still God prepares the way, and opens the door. God works to unseal the heavy doors that we have built around our hearts. News from God comes rushing through dark alleys into your heart (Rilke).

O Merciful One, may we know You more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, day by day.

Hour by Hour, God heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds, lifts up the downtrodden. You shall go out in joy and be led back in peace. The mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
 Give me courage for this hour.

Draw us ever closer into your community, O God, that we might love one another and work with one another in ways that mirror your care and unending love.

Let us go out into the highways and byways.
Let us give the people something of our new vision.
We may possess a small light, but may we uncover it, and let it shine.
May we use it to bring more light and understanding
to the hearts and minds of men and women.
May we give them not hell, but hope and courage.
May we preach the kindness and everlasting love of God.
(attributed to the Rev. John Murray, an early British and American Universalist)

Going in Song
Go now in peace, go now in peace, may the love of God be with you, everywhere, everywhere you may go.

Rev. Ron Robinson is the Executive Director of the national Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship, is an adjunct faculty in practical theology and director of ministerial formation for Unitarian Universalists at PTS, is a church planter with The Welcome Table missional community in far north Tulsa and is Executive Director of A Third Place Community Foundation begun by the church.