Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas 2015 in the 74126: "They Made Known To Others What They Had Seen"

Christmas 2015 Common Meal and Candlelight Worship: Lessons and Carols and Communion
The Welcome Table: A Free Universalist Christian Missional Community

We eat our meal together, and worship together, around the same table

Today is the day which God has made: Let us rejoice and be glad therein. What is required of us? To live justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. This is our covenant as we walk together in life in the ways of God known and to be made known: In the light of truth, and the loving and liberating spirit of Jesus, we gather in freedom, to worship God, and serve others

from "Christmas Beatitudes" by David Rhys Williams
On this blessed day let us worship at the altar of joy, for to miss the joy of Christmas is to miss its holiest secret. Let us enter into the spiritual delights which are the natural heritage of child-like hearts. Let us withdraw from the cold and barren world of prosaic fact if only for a season. That we may warm ourselves by the fireside of fancy, and take counsel of the wisdom of poetry and legend.
Blessed are they who have vision enough to behold a guiding star in the dark mystery which girdles the earth; Blessed are they who have imagination enough to detect the music of celestial voices in the midnight hours of life. Blessed are they who have faith enough to contemplate a world of peace and justice in the midst of present wrongs and strife. Blessed are they who have greatness enough to become at times as a little child. Blessed are they who have zest enough to take delight in simple things; Blessed are they who have wisdom enough to know that the kingdom of heaven is very close at hand, and that all may enter in who have eyes to see and ears to hear and hearts to understand.


O Come, all ye faithful, Joyful and triumphant
O Come ye, O come ye, to Bethlehem,
Come and behold him, Born the King of angels
O Come, let us adore him, O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord.

Sing choirs of angels, Sing in exultation,
O Sing, all ye citizens, of heaven above
Glory to God, In the highest
O Come let us adore him, O come, let us adore him
O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord.

In Advent season each week we point the way to Christmas. Peace, Joy, Love, and Hope, these are the touchstones in our journey preparing our hearts for this holy day when we begin again in the spirit of the Child. And so we come to Christmas once again, as have those before us through the centuries, the mighty cloud of witnesses who have lighted our way with their lives of faith, hope and unconditional love.
May the lights we burn tonight warm us with memories of their inspiration and their aspirations.
In miracle and mystery, Jesus was born, light shining in the darkness. In miracle and mystery, all are born, new lights of life full of hope. May our lives be the Light of this Good News.
Peace and joy and hope and love---which never come easy and are easily lost—all come together in the liberating spirit of God.
May God’s light heal our lives and world.
And may this light, on this special day of birth, remind us that to be in the spirit of Christmas we must be where peace needs to be born, Where joy needs to be sung, Where hope needs to be found, And where love needs to be shared.
We light these candles once again in this Season which reminds us how to live most fully all our days. We light these candles to proclaim the coming of the light of God into the world.
With the coming of this light let there be peace. Blessed are the peacemakers.
With the coming of this light let there be joy. Blessed are those who mourn and who suffer in this special time, that their hearts be lifted.
With the coming of this light let there be love. Such great love helps us to love God and one another, especially our enemies.
With the coming of this light let there be hope, that goodness will prevail in our lives and world, that oppression will end, that what unites us is stronger than what divides us, that we will find our way in the light of God and fear not.
With the coming of this light let there be born once again the simple transforming freedom the Christ Child brings to the world, through which the light of God shines in all, that we may be God’s people every day, and care for one another and for all of God’s Creation, with our hearts, minds, souls, and our hands.
We light these candles to proclaim the coming of the light of the loving and liberating spirit of God into the world.


O God, who hast brought us again to the glad season when we remember the birth of Jesus, grant that his spirit may be born anew in us. Open our ears that we may hear the angel songs, open our lips that we may sing with hearts uplifted, Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace, goodwill toward all. Amen. (King's Chapel Book of Common Prayer)

FIRST LESSON: Luke 2:1-7
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Away in a manger, no crib for his bed,
The little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head;
The stars in the sky looked down where he lay,
The little Lord Jesus, asleep in the hay.
The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes
But little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes
I love thee, Lord Jesus! Look down from the sky,
And stay by my cradle, till morning is nigh

SECOND LESSON: Luke 2: 8-12
8In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

The first Nowell, the angels did say,
was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay
In fields where they lay keeping their sheep
On a cold winter's night that was so deep.
Nowell, nowell, nowell, nowell,
Born is the king of Israel.

Third Lesson: Luke 2: 13-20
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,14“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child;18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Angels we have heard on high sweetly singing o'er the plains
and the mountains in reply echoing their joyous strain
Gloria, In excelsis Deo; Gloria, In Excelsis Deo.
Shepherds why this jubilee? Why these songs of happy cheer?
What great brightness did you see? What glad tidings did you hear?
Gloria, In Excelsis Deo; Gloria, In Excelsis Deo.
Come to Bethlehem and see, Him whose birth the angels sing
Come adore on bended knee, Christ, the Lord, the newborn King.
Gloria, In Excelsis Deo. Gloria, In Excelsis Deo.

"The Work of Christmas" by Howard Thurman
When the star in the sky is gone, When the Kings and Princes are home, When the shepherds are back with their flocks, The work of Christmas begins. To find the lost, To heal the broken, To feed the hungry, To release the prisoner, To teach the nations, To bring Christ to all, to make music in the heart.

HOMILY: Far North Tulsa and The New Nazareth
"and when they had seen this, they made known to others....." each year my christmas homily takes off from one of the words or phrases in Luke's nativity of Jesus gospel. this year it will be this phrase.
So much of what Christmas is about is how to see, what to see, anew. So much of what we do here in the 74126 is help people, whether residents or from other parts, to see our place and people anew, deeper, as God sees us. For us to see ourselves anew too, full of possibilities. We are small, like Nazareth, like Bethlehem, but we have and are enough. And, just as with the Christmas lessons and story, at the same time as we are enough we know More is to come, more truth light love liberation, and that in living in our world of simple enough we ourselves are part of the More in the lives of our neighbors. Enough and More, the inhaling and exhaling of the Spirit of Life, the way God incarnates in and through us. 

For we are one of the "new Nazareths" where it is said nothing good will come, so no one invests, where all attention and power goes to the Sephorris of the world, those commercial cool places where money flows like the Empire built city of Sephorris of old just a few miles from Nazareth.
But because God with Christmas said Nazareth Lives Matter! Nazareth is known today and Sephorris is not.
Christmas is about seeing the Nazareths of the world right around us and within us, for that is where Incarnation happens.
God comes again and again as the candle of light where the powers keep extinquishing them.
Just as we have helped to narrow the life expectancy gap here from the outrageous 14 years we died earlier than those in south Tulsa to the still unjust 11 year difference, we are part of God's candlelighting here.

Finally Christmas reminds us that it is not our projects of food, art, justice, and parties that truly give birth to an emerging world of resistance and resiliency here; it is the way we as people of peace connect with other people, learn from our neighbors lives, and together love the hell out of this world.

It is always about people, about others, especially about loving our enemies, about "those people." In this time when much in the public life is about making enemies, maintaining enemies, being afraid of enemies, Christmas calls us to move in love toward our enemies; they are the world into which our Emmanuel will come, our salvation.

It is about people not projects because Christ came as a person and not as a project. As we near the beginning of Christmas time, remembering Christmastide begins not ends Dec. 25, this is our lesson to remember and share: Christ came/comes not as an Idea, as a philosophy or theology, not as a Principle, not as A Set Of Great Teachings, or Creed, not for God's sake as Bylaws, Buildings, Budgets and Bottom Lines, not as a Mission Vision Values Statement, not as a source of money or status (and so neither should the church). Christ came/comes as a defenseless living being, hungry, in a violent oppressed impoverished place, into a loving but out of the norm family, and into a community of resistance (and so should be the church's location and mission).

So it is how we dedicate ourselves to practice Christmas, incarnation, all year round: to keep moving into the neighborhood, as God did with the birth of Jesus and does still, waiting each day for us to go join in the party.


READING: “The Christmas We Are Waiting For” Sister Joan Chittister
The waiting time for Christmas is almost over. But so what? After all, there is nothing special about waiting. It's what we're waiting for that matters.
One of my favorite Christmas scripture readings takes place when John is in prison. It is a gospel that confronts us with the need to make a choice about what we are waiting for.
John is no small figure in scripture. He bellows to peasant and king alike across the land that the world cannot continue as it has been, that we have to learn to think differently, to live differently, to see life differently. And for those actions John paid the price. He is in prison in this scripture, for confronting the King.
John has unmasked the evil of the system, he has called both synagogue and empire to repent their abandonment of the Torah, their substitution of Roman law for Jewish law. John, in other words, is a strong and thunderous voice. He calls in no uncertain terms for repentance. He announces the coming of the Messiah who would -- like Moses -- free the Hebrew people again.
But in prison, John, weary from trying, disheartened by failure, surely depressed, maybe even struggling with his own faith, sends a messenger to ask Jesus what surely must be more than a rhetorical question: Are you the one who is to come or shall we wait for another?
Are you the one for whom I have spent my life preparing? Are you the one I gave up everything to announce? Are you the one who shall free Israel -- or have I wasted my time? Has it all been for nothing? "Are you the one?" John pleads.
But if John's question is bad, Jesus' answer is even worse. Tell John, who has lived to banish the empire, that the blind see, the lame walk and the poor have the gospel preached to them....
Not a single mention of an army to rout the garrisons, no talk of thunderbolts and falling thrones, no designation of the leader who would overthrow the emperor. No great religious crusade, even. No new outburst of religious enthusiasm, no embellishment of the temple, or the sacrifices, or the processions. No great blinding political or religious action at all. What John was waiting for, what John expected -- the rise of Judaism to new glory -- did not come.
The answer was searingly, astoundingly, clear. John had spent his life doing church, but Jesus did not come to do church; Jesus came to do justice. The Messiah was not about either destroying or renewing the old order. The Messiah was about building a new one where, as Isaiah said, the desert would bloom, the wilderness would rejoice, sorrow and sighing would flee away and the good news of creation would be for everyone.
On Christmas the question becomes ours to answer.
For what have we waited? For what have we given our lives? For religious symbolism or for gospel enlightenment? For the restoration of the old order or for the creation of the new?
Think carefully about the answer because on it may well depend the authenticity of our own lives and the happiness of many who are even now crippled by unjust systems, blinded by their untruths and fooled into believing that, for them, God wants it that way.
Merry Christmas to you all. And may, where you are, the desert be brought to bloom.

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven
No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin
Where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.

We lift up our hearts in God for the gifts of Life given for all.
Thanks be to God.
As Christmas reminds us of how the Divine came into the world in one so small, young, and fragile, so the Gifts of Life Abundant are in the ordinary made extraordinary, in the bread of the earth and the juice of the grape becoming food of the Spirit, incarnations of the Sacred.
Thanks be to God.
As Christmas calls us to be mindful of all those in need, all without a room, all with grief and fear, and to work for a world more just, so may this token of our daily bread, and this token of our cup of forgiveness which quenches the thirst of the soul, call us to go feed others.
Thanks be to God.
As Christmas offers us peace and light in times of darkness, may the sacred offering of this small meal, one to another, inspire us to acts of lovingkindness, all in the Spirit of the One born upon this night who showed us faithfulness without fear, preparing a welcome table for all.
Thanks be to God.
And so we join together in saying the prayer Jesus taught to those who would follow in his radically inclusive hospitable and justice-seeking way of the Spirit.
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, the power, and the glory, forever, and ever. Amen.


From the beginning of the community gathered around Jesus, it is a community at its truest when it is a community that goes to the manger instead of gathering people into the inn; it is a church that is where those are who have been left out; we become our community when we go to the mangers, and we can trust that the star of Christmas will shine over us there, a greater light than all inside the inn, that we will have a community that reflects the diversity of God's world just like the diversity that gathered around the manger. Our communion is where we re-enact the manger, week after week, Christmas after Christmas, letting Christ be born anew within us so we can be born anew for the world and help it be born anew.
All are worthy and all are welcome in this free and open communion. We follow the practice of intinction, or dipping of the bread into the cup before eating.
May we remember that in our times of hunger and brokenness, of sadness even in holiday season, that God provides wholeness and abundant gifts of Creation all around us, among us, and within us all, more than enough to share with others. There is always enough of what all need if we all share and take no more than we need. That is the way it is in God’s inn called the manger, God’s welcome table, open to all regardless of who they are, what they believed, especially for those who are suffering, and oppressed. Come let us celebrate at the table the birth of the one who would make table gatherings in the midst of strangers and enemies, in the abandoned places of the Empire, reminding all there of God‘s healing presence.
The gifts of bread and juice, of plate and cup passed one to the other, are Christmas gifts from God that remind us of the gift given to the world on that first Christmas morning, and remind us of the gifts we ourselves are as we too, as all are, children of God.   


Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and child, Holy infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night, holy night, shepherds quake at the sight
Glories stream from heaven afar, Heavenly hosts sing Al-le-lu-ia
Christ the Savior is born, Christ the Savior is born

Silent night, holy night, Son of God, love's pure light
Radiant beams from thy holy face, With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord at thy birth, Jesus Lord at thy birth.

Go now in peace, and may the peace of God go with you all the days of your life. Go now in joy, finding the deepest spirit in the simplest of things. Go now in love, dedicated to making it visible as justice for all. Go now in hope, the spirit of the Christ Child bringing light into your life and world.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Advent Is More Than Passive Waiting; Advent is Active "Hearing Others Into Speech" To Birth A More Peaceful World

Second Sunday of Advent Homily: The Candle of Peace, Yes Peace, More Peace, Especially Now

Rev. Ron Robinson

This Advent Season in particular it seems I feel closer to constant "fight or flight" responses than ever before. Maybe you do too. Maybe it is the merchants at the fear-mongering shop, or maybe it is the way evil is accentuated in a time of goodness (hope, peace, joy, love, and all that), the way the so-called culture wars and clashes of civilizations drumbeat seeps into our consciousness and drowns out the little drummer boy, or just social media culture I immerse myself in while doing good and trying out of necessity to raise money for good. 

Pro and con and making points, garnering likes?, seem the air we breathe in. Guns, of course. But now prayer. Happy Holidays, of course. Blacklives/alllives. Free speech/hate speech. Your "timeline" your "daily feed" will fill in others. 

For me it is often, on the surface, over words. Words are our lands, providing our refuge as connecting us to the stories and people that have nurtured us. But not everyone experiences our words, our worlds, the way we do. Putting up a wall between our words can seem like an insult, like an invasion taking away our land, our words, when it is really just a way to say your words are not my words. Ideally, any walls between our wordworlds might be more like those windows you can see out of but others can't see in. And much of this, of course, has to do with the history of the owners of the words; which ones have always had protected status, were seen as normal or the right words for all (so much so I might add that this very given status for the words and symbols back-fires and takes away the power of them). 

Here are some examples on smaller more personal scales than the above, but in some ways have been just or more challenging for me because they are personal, and as i believe theologian James Luther Adams said in something of this way, what gets under your skin is your God; what gets you to react is what you treat as Ultimate. 

So you probably know I am a deep dweller in the world of the "missional church" (redundancy though I see and wish that phrase was, and oxymoron as i too often experience it). I remember bristling, though, when someone else bristled and offered up the critique of the word missional and how they could not use it, and didn't like to hear it, because of the connections with missionaries and missionary culture and violence of many kinds. And, at least in my religious association (but like most things I wouldn't be surprised if it was found in other denominations too, though perhaps for varying reasons) there is also the bristling at the word "church" for much the same reason, either its connection being "too Christian" for those of other faiths among us, or for its semantic baggage (too institutional in an anti-institutional age, etc). I bristle, and am quick to jump into defensive posture, at such things. Taking away my land where missional is the very opposite of the missionary stereotype/reality? Where the Greek word missio meaning Sent is at the very heart of my experience of God? Or trying to take away my literal "church" which forms the visible real embodiment of what I find sacred and is where i find "my people" and my history/identity? Lately, it is over they hymn I love and constantly use, for missional church reasons besides its beauty, "We'll build a land" by Carolyn McDade, critiqued for creating images and evoking realities of colonizing, taking away lands and cultures. All of which is ironic because that is what I feel happens in taking away my sacred texts and scriptures that are in the hymn, reflecting not colonizers but an oppressed people seeking liberation and committing to co-creating with God a place among the ruins of Empire where another world of love and justice is possible. For some of us the scriptures, the hymns, the traditions of this and other church seasons are not places we "liturgically visit" but live in. 

And so I bristle, when I get defensive and see the critiques. I bristle. I am human. It is okay. But if I turn bristling into debate, or blocking and turning away from the other, then we don't have the chance to create the real sacred edge between our wordworlds where God really is incarnated and dwells and is born. And when I jump to debate mode, or block mode, which is fight or flight, then i am missing out on the real opportunity to go even deeper into my own words I am so bristly about. It is because of the critiques others give based on their own wordworlds of the word missional, the word church, the hymn (and there are soooo many hymns critiqued; I just chose one that recently has me bristling the most) that I learn and grow more in my understandings. With the hymn, for example, the critique helps me to see the realities of different contexts, reminds me that not everyone shares my scriptural waters I swim in, that in some congregations in some locales among some peoples singing the hymn might not only evoke colonizing but in the way the scriptures are sung, used, but not understood in their own life and context, might be more appropriating of cultures in the moment itself. I will still love, still sing the hymn, as still using and promoting "missional church" but I do it all in a deeper, more generous way for having dwelled in the edge place between the wordworlds and affirming others in their different decisions just as heartfelt, mindful and sacred. And my perspective is enriched by having let others know I have been enriched by theirs. (As biology shows us, it is the "edge effect", the spots between diverse eco-regions, the disturbed places, where the most growth occurs. It is the same thing sociologically as what is referred to, and what our local foundation here is named, "a third place." 

Advent, then, this very time when the edges in our cultures seem more with us, and when depression and sadness dwell with us more deeply too, Advent gives us the opportunity, the mandate even, to experience the edge effect. For Advent is the season when we should shut up and ride along with Miriam and Joseph on the road to Bethlehem, and be a quiet presence, attentive to the needs of the most vulnerable right around us, within us. Advent, and Christmas, is the season when we are reminded that life is not about us, at least not about us as individuals with personal likes and dislikes, but about getting over ourselves, our bristles, our own skins, for good. Christmas, as author and pastor Michael Slaughter titles his book, is not about our birthday, what we are given, but about Jesus and giving to the world. 

And what we can give to the world this particular Advent is to recast Advent time, these weeks intentionally marking the time up to Christmas, from a stereotype of just waiting for something big to happen, from a sense of retreat even where we block off all others for a time and dwell within our wordworld, and make Advent instead into a time of active listening and learning, quiet engaging with others, in order to "hear into speech" as feminists taught us. Hear into Speech is a way to bring about new worlds, incarnations of God. This is the life of Advent. The angelic presence leads Miriam into her Magnificat speech of liberation and praise. Zacharias literally goes speechless then to speech with the pregnancy of Elizabeth and the birth of John the Baptist. Miriam's pregnancy presence leads Elizabeth from her seclusion into speech, and even her son John in the womb expresses himself with his leap of joy. 

The angels in Advent remind us this is not easy work. Angels it is said were of such a frightful countenance as understood in the ancient times of the stories (not the "angelic" presences depicted in so much art) that it prompted the storytellers to introduce them with the familiar speech first from their lips: Be Not Afraid. So we shouldn't be afraid, though we will be, to go into edges of the wordworlds that divide us, and there to hold up our mirrors to ourselves and with others to see things more clearly. To do so takes generosity, but it builds up our resources of generosity too. And if we are not growing in generosity, then what are we doing anyway, particularly this Advent season. 

All one more way we conspire against the Empire this Season with the meaning of Advent itself. The movement focuses on spending less on things, worshipping and loving more, being more generous with our presence and support for the common good. We can add to that the conspiracy of acting as if there really is more room in the inn for another person and their experience, particularly for those who have been historically silenced. Like the ancient stories, it might catch on. 

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Advent and The Story of My Faith

I love Advent for many reasons but the biggest is because each year it begins replanting me in the Story of my faith. For me everything begins with Story. What story is my story a part of? Each day that answer provides my mission for the day.

(As a member and minister in the Unitarian Universalist tradition, that denominational part of the story is only part of the story of my faith, for my faith is rooted deeper than the beginnings of the associations in 1793 and 1825, deeper than the start of the very first churches that led up to those associations, back before 1648 Cambridge Platform and back before 1620 in Plymouth and 1606 in Scrooby, back before the Protestant Reformation that gave rise to the movements that would lead to the start of those churches, back through the years and communities both triumphant and heretical and martyred, back to before it was an Empire, back before it was named, a Story with even more ancient roots but planted in the hopes of a few people on the margins of the Roman Empire who still experienced the love of one killed by the Empire. That is why all of the Christian tradition, the scriptures that comfort and discomfort, the hymns based on those scriptures that comfort and discomfort, speak to me and is my struggle, and blessing.)

Advent is the opening chapter of that Story for me; the songs of this season, and the great Christmas hymns plant this story in me again each year too just like the stories in the Bible do that are told this time of year, and just like the stories of the lives of the great, known and unknown, ancestors who also were a part of the Story and have carried it and shaped it down the centuries for me. 

A story of liberation and resistance in a place of oppression, of hope that comes on the margins of society's power, of the Ultimate in the Intimate, God in the most vulnerable. Advent reminds me where to incarnate my life each day. It reminds me why, though God knows there are so many reasons not to be, I am a Christian.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving 2015: A holy day for Grace's Vision of Another World Possible, Here, Now, Coming

Words from our Thanksgiving Service at The Welcome Table: Community In Mission To Show God's Love...​:
Rev. Ron Robinson

We are inheritors, for good and ill, of the very 1620 religious community who fled Empire but brought it with them, survived, celebrated thanks in New England, but we also know the evil that comes from thinking we are doing good without mutual community, and so Thanksgiving is now for us mostly a holiday of celebrating Grace. 

Grace, that abundance and the sacred are found where and when we least expect it. Grace, which traces its word history back to the Greek charis, used in Homer's Odyssey for that moment when Ulysses shipwrecked washes up naked and helpless on the island's shore but in his vulnerability receives a gift from the Gods of a covering over his body so at his weakest he is at his strongest. 

Thanksgiving reminds us that Grace comes from anywhere, anytime, through anyone, particularly the ones without power and privilege. In the book of Genesis, Jacob discovers this when alone, exiled, weakened, sleeping on a stone and yet it is right then that he has his dream of God's vision and wakes to realize the sacredness was right there all along and he did not know it, as a place like ours abandoned is also the place of sacredness.

As Kathleen Norris writes, about Grace through the eyes of a baby:
"One morning this past spring I noticed a young couple with an infant at an airport departure gate.  The baby was staring intently at other people, and as soon as he recognized a human face, no matter whose it was, no matte if it was young or old, pretty or ugly, bored or happy or worried-looking he would respond with absolute delight.  It was beautiful to see. Our drab departure gate had become the gate to heaven.
"And as I watrched the baby play with any adult who would allow it, I felt as awe-struck as Jacob because I realized that this is how God looks at us, staring into our faces in order to be delighted, to see the creature he made and called good, along with the rest of creation. And as Psalm 139 puts it, darkness is as nothing to God.who can look right through whatever evil we've done in our lives to the creature made in the divine image.
"...And maybe that's one reason we worship--to respond to grace. We praise God not to celebrate our own faith but to give thanks for the faith God has in us."

We see grace in the story from the bible that is being read all over the world by churches today, of when Jesus is arrested by the Roman Empire; at that moment of helplessness and vulnerability, his response is one of grace, to embody the God who reacts not in fear and violence and retribution, even in and out of his innocence, but responds by reminding all that his power was not like the Empire's power, and that it might be able to control his body but not his soul, and when Peter responds as the Empire would respond, striking out in violence against violence, Jesus bestows the gift of grace upon his captor and restores the severed ear, a moment of grace embodying the kind of real power that changes the world and captures our hearts still, an important moment in how one who follows him is to live and respond--as if another world is possible, is here right now, and is coming, and calling us to participate in it. A world of grace. 

Even centuries later, communities who follow Jesus are continuing to be guided by his Gethsamane Garden vision. We lift up this week the community of resistance to the Nazis, the Bruderhof, the radical reformers, who refused to blend church and state together and were persecuted and in November of 1933 were virtually destroyed by the Nazis and their leader Eberhard Arnold died soon after. Before he died, he wrote: "Life in community is no less necessary for us--it is an inescapable must that determines everything we do and think...We must live in community because all life created by God exists in a communal order and works toward community." Grace continues to lift up the truth of those who were silenced in their time by Empire. In community we experience such Grace. 

Our final word before communion, before eucharist, that Greek word for thanksgiving that we participate in each time we gather, comes from Frederick Buechner on Grace. Our Thanksgiving benediction:

"Grace is something you can never get but only be given. The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you. There’s only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach and take it is a gift too." 

And now for the gift we pass to one another, the gift of the bread of life, broken as all is broken, and the cup of hope which makes all whole. 

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Trading Places--From Host To Guest: Radical Hospitality Is About More Than Welcome, or How Jesus Was Reminded What God's Love Looks Like

In a time, again, of broken communities and lives creating widespread refugees and those without houses or places of their own, when great gaps of inequality are growing wider, when mercy is seen as weakness, we need reminded, as Jesus did once, that offering radical hospitality is more than having a big fancy welcome mat and sign out front of your church, your home, your country. It is about more than providing for strangers. More than what the photo above, as nice as it is, says. It is, at heart, about what God is about---trading places, moving from places of privilege to oppression, becoming a guest in your own world, the way in the biblical story God becomes a refugee from Heaven and becomes a poor helpless infant without a home whose family is forced to leave their country to go to another one. 

When our small church decided in 2007 to move across the street into a vacant space three times as big, and when in 2011 to move again a half mile away into another space three times bigger again, and also at the same time to transform a block of rundown properties into a community garden, we did it so we could become more hospitable to the community around us and so we could help our community become more hospitable itself. We didn’t do it so we could become bigger; in fact we became smaller. But we did it so the heart of the community could grow bigger, and to save lives. (speaking of which, It is wonderful to celebrate this week the news that in the 8 years since we made that missional move that the life expectancy gap in our zip code has been reduced from almost 14 years to 10.7 years, between us and the highest life expectancy zipcode on the other side of Tulsa; still outrageous, but shows that radical hospitality and partnerships can indeed save lives.)

We did it in a radical hospitable way, by becoming a guest in our own place. We took down the signs that we used to have up that labeled our space as a church. This leads many of those who then come into the community center or gardens we created---to use the health clinic or get food, clothes, to use the computers they don’t have at home, to get free books, to watch television, to get cool in the summer or warm in the winter, to make art, to attend a community meeting, to party---to often not know that a church worships at times in that space too, or that a church started it all. That is fine with us.

We connect with people first, and as our relationship grows, so does our knowledge about one another; then, if one is needed, an invitation grows from that to serve with us, to party with us, to learn with us, and to worship with us, right around the same tables or on the same sofas, or at the same garden deck and tables, as we use for all our other gatherings.

Becoming a guest in our own place. This mantra grew for us from two related sources.

One is the powerful spiritual connection to place, to the scandal of the particular, to an ecological truth that we are all guests of this place we call our home. Others prepared our place for us; others will tend it after us. We do not so much own what the law says we own as we are owned by this place that calls us into being and puts us into mission to make it a more loving just hospitable place in our time.

We first understood this in our own yards and homes. When we have a healthy place, the soil, the insects, the birds, the animals that come and go through our places, all remind us that fences and buildings and lot lines do not define our place. What we set down amidst the place is what is transient. We are the guests. Nature’s corridor for all that is seen, and most often unseen, is the permanent. Our church’s mission is to create and protect and make visible such corridors for the healing of the land, the people, and the community---all of which here in the 74126 has been damaged by the intersections themselves of racism, environmental neglect, classism, greed and fear.

It is no wonder, in an acknowledgment of this source of our radical hospitality, that our very first act of transformation when we bought an abandoned church  building for the latest incarnation of the community center was to have a community art day and to paint over boarded up windows with a part of a Wendell Berry poem used as a reading in the Singing the Living Tradition hymnal: “the abundance of this place” is painted on one board; “the songs of its people and its birds, will be health and wisdom and indwelling light” is painted on another.

The other source is connected to the two main names we are known by: A Third Place, and The Welcome Table. Booth are grounded in our mission of radical hospitality.

Our community center was first known as A Third Place, and the foundation we created is now called that. It comes from the global movement to reclaim free common spaces where people who are different can meet to make a difference. The first place is your home; the second place is your work or church or friends or affinity group where you are with people who share common values or experiences with you. But we need the “third places/spaces” where, as the bumper sticker on our front door says, “the most radical thing we can do is to introduce people to one another.” Our mission is to create such third places, especially in the places and with the people where others do not wish to go, or to hang out with, and where there has been a decimation of gathering places.

We now call our community center, our gardenpark and orchard, and our church The Welcome Table. We commission people to go create welcome tables in their lives and neighborhoods. The other boarded up windows in front of our building are now painted with signs that also come from our hymnal, that say “We’re gonna sit at the welcome table” and “All kinds of people”. Our source for this is the radical hospitable way of Jesus, who time and time again creates in a variety of ways welcome where welcome has been denied. From birth to death, from manger to cross, with the despised, the sick, the powerful, the oppressed, making a welcome space and offering all the bread of life and the spirit of the Beloved. Whether in a home, on the road, by the sea, in synagogue, making visible what the Empire sought to hide: God’s radical love for all.

Jesus himself will fail at hospitality. He forgets he is a guest too. The power of the Empire’s way of hospitality based on influence and honor is ever-present and corruptive. In the biblical reading for today in the revised common lectionary used by many churches like ours, we encounter this story, which is itself like Jesus encountering the woman; we often try to turn away from the story and what it means. 

While travelling as a guest himself in her land, with the Syro-Phoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30), he acts more like a racist, sexist bouncer outside a nightclub than the one who turned toward all those whom others would not touch. But though we fail at hospitality, we are still welcomed back by the hospitality of others, even especially those we have turned away. So it was with that desperate mother seeking healing for her daughter. She did not take her emotional slap in the face and turn away, but became the true teacher and the healer, the true host,  and reminded Jesus in word and deed of the kind of God of radical abundance he himself made room for within himself and sought to share with others.

The purpose of hospitality is for the mutual transformation of ourselves, for the transformation of the world into one Welcome Table. We can only do so by turning toward and responding to the inhospitable within ourselves and within our communities. Wherever we do not wish to go we need to go. Whomever we do not wish to hang out with we need to hang out with. Only by becoming guests, do we discover our true place, and from it our true mission. 

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Risking Theology

Weaving together the web and issues of theological touchstones; each is embedded in one another. Imagine it as a sphere not a chart. Imagine these as points of departure, as collections of questions more than, or not only, of responses and answers. They help us to see and frame life. They are not the only lens. 
theology=study of God, and the Image of God
cosmology=study of Creation/Universe/Nature
theological anthropology: study of humanity
hamartiology: study of evil, suffering
soteriology: study of healing, salvation
Christology: study of a particular form of soteriology, views of Jesus as/and The Christ
missiology: study of the mission of lives and communities growing from soteriology
ecclesiology: study of the church, a product of missiology
eschatology: the vision of the ends, be it of beloved community, of death and life eternal in God. 
This is my beginning lecture to supervised ministry students in first semester of their field work. It is about applying "the theological map" to the practice of ministry. Our text for these beginning semesters is Laurie Green's Let's Do Theology, so there is some reference to that, and in subsequent lectures I bounce off of Green's work. But here it is about how constructive theology illuminates the practices of ministry, and vice versa. 
As a foundation for ways that I will be helping you "connect the dots" of your theological reflection on your ministry this year is to refer back often to the "theological map" of constructive or systematic theology which you got a glimpse into during your first theological courses. It is a way of reading the world and particular conflicts. It seeks to lift up and make visible the theological default modes we operate with, and which others are often operating out of, or in rejection to. So it is good to take an early break to refresh about the map and how it shows theology at work in the small and large ways.
Supervised ministry is a course that will enable you to put into practice and further reflection the theological learnings from your introduction to theological work from the first year of seminary, and any other theological courses since then. Among the many lens we will look at, and look through, this semester, this one lens of "the map" is one of the ones that will grow and develop your ministerial skills and will be revisited often during your theological education. 
Professor Joe Bessler of Phillips Seminary is of course noted for the use of the map and its language to illuminate various ways theology is used. I was fortunate in my studies to have 27 credit hours studying with Prof. Bessler, and so whatever shortcomings there are in this synopsis they are mine, and whatever is useful in it is credited to his thought. 
In short, specific particular issues in church and world and within ourselves, and tension points and questions that come up in ministerial settings can be “diagnosed” by thinking about them as points on the theological “roadmap” and considering ways they are connected to other points on the map. 
How people in a given situation may differ or employ the imago Dei will affect how they “read” and “interpret” and “respond” differently in the same situations. It is good at this point in the semester to remember the learnings you have gleaned up to this point in seminary education and how to use them, rethink them, when brought to bear in practice so reflect back to your entry level theological. By the way, the way the map works, is that the imago Dei is also a part of this web of touchstones, and so issues and reflections of any of the map sites, such as evil and suffering, or human nature, nature itself, of the church responding to suffering, or of ethical issues, or conflicts over church and its mission and what it should focus on, or issues of the ends and the end, of heaven and hell, all the eschatological issues, all of these as we work in them will also often affect and change ours and others Imago Dei. 
The issues of church life that we focus on particularly in this course, and there are legion of them, fall under the point on the map called ecclesiology and missiology (the being and the mission of the church; or the mission that calls the church into being) and they are often connected back to what we find salvific, to soteriology and Christology views. When there are differences of soteriology (what brings healing) between people, for example, there will often be differences in how churches are seen by different people. Same for how they view Jesus as the Christ.  
And so dealing with ecclesial issues this semester, what the church should be doing and how, what ministry is, and how we are as ministers, on a variety of issues, is often more about other theological issues than just the issue at hand. As many of you have noted already, you understand that there are systems at work. 
Keep in mind that what some find salvific is connected to what they often see as the "major wrong” in the world, especially in what they see as where suffering is, to how we view evil and sin, and "what needs saving." Classic case is those who see sin mostly as a personal issue, or those who see it mostly as a social issue. But our understandings then of that point on the map called hamartiology, of sin and suffering and evil, and what we find amiss and in need of salvation, is itself connected to our views of human nature and its essence and goals, to what is called theological anthropology; this in turn is connected to our view of Nature and Creation itself, out of which humanity comes and is connected, and how humanity is seen as part of the universe and life itself, which of course is connected with our images and ways of describing and understanding God. Which brings us back to the Imago Dei. 
And on the other side of the ecclesial point on the theological map, the issues of how we see and do and be the church affect and are connected to outcomes of lives of faithfulness and grace and praxis and ethics, all of which contributes to one's overall eschatological understanding, to what we picture as beloved ultimate community, toward the ends or aims or end of life in God. 
So there you have the sphere of the theological map (more sphere than linear).
All questions, conflicts, issues on any of the theological map points, or stations or doctrinal points, are shaped by how we view and see and experience the other points, and how we respond to the issues at any one constructive theological point will have a bearing on the others in the web or weave of the fabric of our theological world. 
When there is a specific issue "within" the church it often has its deeper roots "without" with how different understandings of salvation, christology, or missiology are viewed; often differences "within" church mask differences of other theological stations and responses. Conversely, how we resolve issues within the church and in the church's relationship with the world has effects in other theological ways. Be attuned, again, as you encounter questions, issues, conflicts (healthy or not) to how the theological map might be running throughout even though it is not at all part of the explicit issue at hand. In this way this year can be seen as another continuous step in connecting the dots of theology and of your own ministerial formation and theological reflection.
And as we will be seeing throughout the semester by reflecting out of Green's text, Let's Do Theology, and out of our practices of ministry, there are many other models and ways of engaging in this important work of reflection. Reflection itself is often a word that can come with baggage, I might add; it has a passive air about it, as something that comes received if we just still our minds and meditate on it; there is some truth to this of course, and mindfulness is key in discernment. But I will end by saying that doing theology, applying different lens and being conversant in their use, is also about risk. It is, as Greene says, an activity. I would say in this age it is a risky activity, and one we should take and help others risk taking too. ype your summary here Type rest of the post here

Saturday, July 18, 2015

What Feeds Us: Miracles in the 74126, Meditation on The Loaves and Fishes, The Parables of the Whole Wheat Rotini, The Stevia and the Strawberries, The Halloween Nachoes and the 80 Year Old Woman, Sermon July 19, 2015 Unitarian Universalist Church of Bartlesville

What Feeds Us
Rev. Ron Robinson, Unitarian Universalist Church of Bartlesville, Sunday, July 19
If we will have the wisdom to survive,
to stand like slow growing trees
on a ruined place, renewing, enriching it...
If we will make our seasons welcome here,
asking not too much of earth or heaven,
then a long time after we are dead
the lives our lives prepare will live
here, their houses strongly placed
upon the valley sides...
Fields and gardens rich in the windows.
The river will run
clear, as we will never know it...
And over it, birdsong like a canopy.
On the levels of the hills will be green meadows,
Stock bells in noon shade.
On the steeps where greed and ignorance cut down
the old forest, an old forest will stand,
its rich leaf-fall drifting on its roots.
The veins of forgotten springs will have opened.
Families will be singing in the fields...
In the voices they will hear a music risen out of the ground.
They will take nothing from the ground they will not return
Whatever he grief at parting.
native to this valley, will spread over it
like a grove, and memory will grow
into legend, legend into song, song
into sacrament. The abundance of this place,
the songs of its people and its birds,
will be health and wisdom and indwelling
light. This is no paradisal dream.
Its hardship is its possibility.
- Wendell Berry
Today we will be off for the annual church camp east of Tulsa called the Southwest UU Summer Institute. I first heard about it at a person’s house for a newcomers party when I started attending my first UU church in 1977 in Oklahoma City. Except for one or two years, I have been going to SWUUSI ever since. This year’s theme is Food and Justice and Faith, something dear to our hearts in our church, or missional community, in far north Tulsa. My wife Bonnie will be doing a workshop on planting a garden and harvesting community; I will be doing a workshop on church as a garden, as a meal, as a store, and as a shelter. This sermon grows out of preparing for the workshop.
First, a few facts, then a few parables, or miracle stories, on what really feeds us.
In 2009, the University of Oklahoma did a nutrition study with us that found in our area of far north Tulsa 60 percent can't afford healthy food even if there was access to it; 55 percent worry about the amount of food they have; 29 percent skip meals. In 2013 we did another study with OU of those who came to our free cornerstore pantry. It showed that 52.6 percent of those who come to us have high food insecurity; and 42.1 percent have very high food insecurity, experiencing hunger symptoms when surveyed; 68.4 percent of households have at least one member with a nutrition-related chronic disease; 53 percent suffer depression and admit it; 47 percent with anxiety; 53 percent have high blood pressure; 32 percent high cholesterol; 47 percent obese. 63 percent have under $10,000 annual household income, meaning they are part of the couple hundred thousand Oklahomans who are too poor for Obamacare because our state didn’t expand Medicaid.
Getting people food then is just a small part of what is needed, but for many it is what is needed right at that moment they come; it takes a little bit of the hunger and anxiety edge off that makes it just a little bit easier to make better daily life choices and responses, to move, if just for a little while, from deep to light survival mode. In our zipcode that dies 14 years sooner than those on the other side of town, the matter of food is a matter of physical and mental health, and from those, a matter of civic health, the ability to participate in society, which itself feeds back to better overall physical and mental health.
Food is part of the social determinants of health that along with genetics accounts for 80 percent of that life expectancy, and yet as a society we only spend 20 percent of health dollars on those social determinants, like food projects and neighborhood environments, which contribute to 80 percent of health outcomes. Our zipcode has the worst health care access of any zipcode in Tulsa, but as important as that is to life expectancy, and we need better access, we need even more the shift to resourcing the social determinants.  Community matters, above all. It is why we repeat, and repeat, that we do not aim to give out food, as much as we strive to give out community opportunities. It is funny though that so many people want to fund food; they believe helping us give food, which is vitally needed, will affect those statistics; but what doesn’t get funded, and what would really affect those statistics, is to fund community opportunities, increasing portals of relationships.
Now for the parables and miracles.
First, The parable of the Whole Wheat Rotini. In ordering food from the Food Bank for our free grocery store, we had a chance to order boxes of whole wheat rotini pasta without having to pay a shared fee for them; we thought, pretty healthy, pretty easy to cook, win win. Now, our store is like a store by design—people shop in it for what they want; we don’t just hand out bags of groceries (we do that a few times a year as we did this past Thursday when we give out four or five tons in one hour, but that is an outside event and not in the store). And week after week the rotini sat virtually untouched. We kept upping how many bags they could to count as one item; kept getting untouched.
So we started carefully asking how come—the first response was often that it being whole wheat, looking brown, was just too different from the noodles they were used to and their family wouldn’t eat it and so they didn’t want to waste one of their precious number of allowed items for something that wouldn’t be eaten by their family. Well, that’s why we do the store the way it is; people’s choices empower them which creates capacity within them which brings hope which brings change. That was a good familiar lesson to be reminded of—how to work in relationship as an ally, and not as “a provider”. Allies “don’t know best”. End of parable, I thought. But the good parables, like good relationships, keep opening up more truth.
As we were asking and prompting about the Rotini, a few brave souls opened up to us that it would do no good to take the pasta home because they didn’t have water turned on in their home. Once we started asking about that, more and more said the same. Choosing between electricity and food and medicine and water, water usually was the first to go. The Rotini sitting on the shelves then led us into a more intense water ministry; we were able to get a lot of tornado leftover bottled water from Oklahoma City, giving out double cases to those without water at home, and we got other donations of water in bigger jugs, and told people to keep the jugs and come back and use our hydrant out back of the community center, or the hydrant at our gardenpark and orchard. This summer the water donations have dried up, the tornado water all gone, and it is one of the most requested items. And now, thanks to a failure of being able to give away whole wheat Rotini, we are tracking the prevalence of a lack of water in homes, which is allowing us to get a better understanding of what home consists of in our neighborhoods, where campers, RVs, shipping crates, tents, cars that don’t run, abandoned houses, abandoned trailers, someone’s garage, campsites and more are homes; and we have learned more about what it takes for someone to be fed, which is more than food. As always, we, who live in the neighborhoods too, are taught by our neighbors, and in return we can be a more effective partner shining a light on realities and walking toward the suffering. The parable also teaches me that we should have a right to at least a base amount of water in the home for free; over a certain amount, charge; but allow a set amount for free.

Next, the parable of the Stevia and the Strawberry.
So five summers ago we were busy at this time trying and trying to raise the funds to buy a block of abandoned houses and trashed out properties up on a hill in our area in order to turn it into a gardenpark and orchard. We did it. Four years ago this summer we planted the orchard. For three years after that we had the spiritual lesson of having, in our healthy food desert, to pick off the fruit as it was coming on in order for the energy of the trees to go into the roots and help establish the tree for its future yield. It is actually a law from Leviticus that we like. And at the garden we have planted successful herb beds full of basils, rosemary, lavender, fennel, dill, several mints, and stevia. It is the bed that we use to show how you can eat right from the beds, while you are working on other beds or just to feed yourself while enjoying the park and the view of downtown Tulsa or Turley Hill or the Bird Creek bottomland.
Stevia is a sweet tasting plant. When the neighborhood kids come into the garden, tentatively, we always try to get them to eat straight from the garden beds. We follow a recipe of Taste, Learn to Cook, then grow. We learned early on that some community gardens in some places may grow out of community first; it seems to be the original typical way, for an urban apartment complex or neighborhood for example where people already know they want to grow their own food for taste and health and pockebook, and have the skills, and all they need is land and organization. But in many places, like ours, there is no community first, the social capital is gone, and there isn’t much experience with tasting or much knowledge about cooking, let alone growing. The garden has to come first, we have learned, and community is one of the things it grows; sometimes there is drought and little harvest of community; sometimes the yield is amazing.
We get a few schools that bring their young people out to see and help in the gardenpark; usually these are from across town and not from our own area, and part of that is because for more than a few years more than a few of our school buildings were closed because of education cuts. Their visits to us are fund, a little chaotic of course, sometimes the work that gets done is not too proportional to the time organizing and helping them, but they are always worth it because we tell them that a little bit goes a long way in a poverty area, but even moreso that they are now the storytellers and ambassadors for us, and what they learn they can teach others about us and places like ours. But there is always some heartbreak when these students travel from across town to be with us; first, it is because for most of them it is the first time they have been north or into north neighborhoods and not just travelling through on a highway; the stories they tell of what people say to them before they come north, about watching out, being scared, is sad. It is even more heartbreaking, though, when the students run straight to the garden bed full of the mints and stevia and start in eating them; they recognize them, they have them in their beds at home.
Heartbreaking because the very same day we might have youth from our neighborhood come by and not only can we not get them to try eating out of the bed with the stevia, we sometimes can’t get them to pick and eat the strawberries. They may not be safe or taste good because they haven’t come from the store, from 1500 miles away. They often do not know what cucumbers are, where pickles come from. The executive director of the Food Bank says that more and more students are growing up without ever having experienced a sit-down family meal around a table with food cooked at home; at school, at home, meals come in a box. This parable teaches me that a 21st century home economics course for all students should be required. And it has motivated us more to create a future greenhouse at the park for teaching as well as growing year round, and to use the park as a social place, as an outside cafĂ©; feeding people from the garden so they will see not only how the food tastes better than anything you can buy at a store, but as gardening social activist Ron Finley says, Growing your own food is like printing your own money. And it has spurred us on to create five gallon buckets full of tomato and pepper plants from the garden to get to people from our free grocery store who want practice growing food at home. We know that the vision isn’t to get people to come and use our community garden, even to come and find community with us, but the vision for deeper health is to go to them and get them growing at home, across different yards, developing the free food movement where they have their vegetables out front by the curb along with other neighbors growing other vegetables out by their curbs, where people know they can walk from house to house sampling. Food as portal to relationships in an era when the old front porch or stoop has often been lost.

We are speaking of what the bumper sticker says: The most radical thing we can do is introduce people to one another. Especially people who don’t look, act, think alike. One way we do that in our place where there are no venues for entertainment, no movie houses, is to put on community festivals, and usually we do that at holiday times. This leads me to the miracle of the Halloween Nachos and the 80 Year Old Woman.
Once we made our missional church transformation and moved on faith into a rented commercial space twice as big as our original rented space, we held our second annual Halloween festival for the community and whereas before when we invited people to our Halloween party inside the space we called church we had about 20 people who all looked and thought pretty much like us, now in our new space, not knowing who all would show up, we had more than 200. And they showed up not just to have fun in costumes and get prizes and treats, but to eat. We had prepared food in special scary presentation styles, but we also had just chips and nacho sauce. After the special food was gone in a few minutes, the chips and nachos were too. Bonnie went to the store and got more and came back and they were gone. She went to the store and got even more and came back and they were gone. Our party only was to last two hours too. She went to the store again and got even more and came back and it was gone too. That was three trips she had made to the store getting more each time and it was all gone and the party was half over and people were still coming in for the first time. Back she went. Three more times each time getting more than before and it was still all gone by the end of the two hour event. And of the 200 or so people who came, at least half were of different ethnicities than the majority of us anyway who were putting on the party for the community.
One of those who came, though, was an 80 year old white woman, who had lived in the community all her life. She sat and watched the party, and the people feeding on the Halloween nachos, and she was amazed. Those she saw were her neighbors, living on the street she had literally lived on for 80 years, all her life; these neighbors had lived around her for probably five to ten to twenty years, and she was seeing them for real for the first time. She kept saying afterwards: they were hungry; they were hungry. I didn’t know we had so many hungry people in our town. She is herself an amazing person; she is now 88 years old and is still working in child care at her home. But she is a different person ever since that night. And she talks about when she does retire how she is going to come volunteer at our free grocery store to help the neighbors she really met for the first time that Halloween night in our community center. In fact, this past Thursday at the Grocery Giveaway Event, in the 100 plus degree heat, she was there, handing out sacks of tomatoes.
She had not seen the reality of the world around her, and how her world had changed right around her, as the neighborhood went from the employed working poor to the unemployed self-working poorer, sicker, and less resourced people. So, who was fed that night, really?
I close with the ancient miracle story, parable of sorts, one that is being read and studied in churches all over the world on this day. The loaves and fishes, or as it is called in The Message version, Supper For Five Thousand. Interestingly, in the Gospel of Mark, the oldest gospel, the story of this feeding comes right after a story of the feeding of what today we might call the One Percent. Herod’s kind of party that was all about the wants and desires of those few powerful ones who were there in the palace and ended with the execution of John the Baptist. Right after that, Mark tells the story of Jesus’ party, his kind of feeding.
The story says:
“The apostles then rendezvoused with Jesus and reported on all that they had done and taught. Jesus said, “Come off by yourselves; let’s take a break and get a little rest.” For there was constant coming and going. They didn’t even have time to eat.
[We know that feeling; often we set the worst examples for those we wish to serve; we need to remind one another, as Jesus did and as we try to do, that what we really are feeding one another with is not food and water, etc., but it is presence of one another which is blessedness enough and from which all else can grow and flow. We need, as here, to first feed ourselves with rest and renewal and reflection.]
32-34 So they got in the boat and went off to a remote place by themselves (the story continues; in most translations it says they go to a deserted place, an abandoned place of Empire as we might say; not to the coolest part of town, not to the overserved.] Someone saw them going and the word got around. [Oh man! There goes the rest. Everytime, it seems, we try to step away for a day, a week, there is a crisis that seeks to pull us back; we know that so well.] And yes, From the surrounding towns people went out on foot, running, and got there ahead of them. When Jesus arrived, he saw this huge crowd. At the sight of them, his heart broke—like sheep with no shepherd they were. He went right to work teaching them. [one of the key questions of the missional church is for whom does your heart break, or for whom would it break except our society keeps from focusing on them as it should? And let church be grown in response to that question.]
35-36 When his disciples thought this had gone on long enough—it was now quite late in the day—they interrupted: “We are a long way out in the country, and it’s very late. Pronounce a benediction and send these folks off so they can get some supper.” [probably more concerned about their own supper, though, their own interruption in their plans, their jealousy that Jesus wasn’t spending enough time caring about their needs; after all they were the leaders, the insiders?]
37 Jesus said, “You do it. Fix supper for them.” [There is the big difference. To the disciples, the crowd was not a community; they were not neighbors, but needs; the disciples saw them as individuals who should go eat by themselves, in their own homes. Reminds me, of what another 80 year old long time member of our community once said about all the meals we held, all the community connections we sought to create: What’s with them? She said, of the people coming; Don’t they have homes of their own?” Jesus sees them as one people, as part of the group, not as us and them. We feed our own because they are our own.]
The disciples replied, “Are you serious? You want us to go spend a fortune on food for their supper?” [It is always about what it will cost us; and the disciples are thinking they have to do a feeding more like in the mode of Herod than Jesus, to spend a fortune; there is only way to feed that many, they think; and there is if you keep within the same framework, same default mode, as the Empire, that it has to be big and impressive, well done, orderly. To do less might be to shame Jesus, they’d be thinking.]
38 But he was quite serious. “How many loaves of bread do you have? Take an inventory.” [See, he says, you don’t have to look elsewhere for your food, your resources; don’t have to bring in food from a thousand miles away; feeding, church, relationships are really simpler than all that. There is always Enough. The theology of Enough. The church of the Enough, we say. For our needs, not our greeds.]
That didn’t take long, they discovered. “Five,” they said, “plus two fish.”
 Jesus got them all to sit down in groups of fifty or a hundred—they looked like a patchwork quilt of wildflowers spread out on the green grass! [And here we see the power of growing smaller to do bigger things; the power of connecting people with one another, in groups they are connecting not with him as the sole teacher and leader and provider; just re-orienting the space changes things, makes the miracle possible. Reminds me of the church of 80 that was struggling to survive to pay a full time minister and pay for its building and programs, and the minister comes in one day, tells the people to get in eight groups of ten based on who lived closest to whom, and he says this is your new church; these are who you will meet with weekly and where you will serve the neighborhoods, and we will get together as a group once a month to share and celebrate; and what was a very vulnerable situation became a vanguard church; the minister also took a part time job in a poorer part of town where his less money could go further, and after awhile more and more of his members were moving to do the same, resourcing and sustaining both their lives and the struggling community.]
Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, lifted his face to heaven in prayer, blessed, broke, and gave the bread to the disciples, and the disciples in turn gave it to the people. He did the same with the fish. They all ate their fill. [Community, as the theologian Jorgen Moltmann writes, is the opposite of both poverty and wealth; Jesus had helped to create community, how they saw themselves as one, empowering one another; that filled much of their need that so often without it fuels our greed; some think maybe in the more connectioal groups formed they discovered more food among themselves; some think it was a physical miracle of multiplication, making more of what hadn’t been there before. Both those standard approaches to the miracle of the loaves and fishes focuses on the wrong thing; like the disciples, the interpreters are focusing on the physical manifestation, the bread and fish, when we should be focusing on what has been changed in and among the people.]
The story concludes, driving home this point: The disciples gathered twelve baskets of leftovers. More than five thousand were at the supper. [Some might I am sure, and I am naming no party affiliations, today read this and think see all we have to do is cut back to five loaves and two fishes, or the equivalency in the food programs for the poor, because the poor don’t really need more, they just need to be more grateful for what little has been given to them and see how that will miraculously make them feel better? But Mark ends it, with Mark’s great irony: After all that, there were twelve baskets of leftovers. Jesus’ way was to result with more than is needed for those in need, not less and less. The leftovers are gathered together and will be used to feed the community at large, those not there, just as the 99 percent put more proportional resources into the community today than the 1 percent.].
So, in the end, who is fed in the story of the loaves and fishes? Not only those in need and hungry there, and not only the disciples who were fed the truth of growing relationships of love and justice, but the whole community, including those who might have been on the sidelines mocking those who had gone to such extremes in hopes and trust of being fed both by spirit and by body.

What feeds us, nourishes us, helps us grow in service with others and roots our lives in the Ground of Being itself? Love that reveals how we ourselves are foods of the Spirit for another and for those who follow us. Love that, as our reading from Wendell Berry said this morning, in words we have painted outside our community center, reveals the abundance of this place which will be the health and wisdom and indwelling Light. The very hardship, he reminds us, the very audacity of our vision to save lives and the life of the spirit of our community, is its possibility.