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.