A message shared with the beautiful people of the First Congregational Church of Sonoma on Sunday February 28th, 2016
55Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 3Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. 4See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. 5See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.
6Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; 7let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. 8For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. 9For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. – Isaiah 55:1-9
“Wanderer, your footsteps are the road, and nothing more; wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking. By walking one makes the road, and upon glancing behind one sees the path that never will be trod again. Wanderer, there is no road– Only wakes upon the sea.
Caminante, son tus huellas el camino, y nada más; caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar. Al andar se hace camino, y al volver la vista atrás se ve la senda que nunca se ha de volver a pisar. Caminante, no hay camino, sino estelas en la mar.”
― Antonio Machado, Campos de Castilla
I am grateful to be with you this morning. I met Alan at the Conference clergy retreat in the fall and he was extremely interested in my work as a church planter. He had these huge questions for me. He asked, “How do we articulate progressive Christianity in these times?
What does it look like? Sound like? In worship? In the community?” This guy gets right to the heart of things!
I am investing my life in these sorts of questions and many more. I typically end up with more expansive questions, rather than answers. I am a lifelong United Church of Christ church devotee. Unlike many of my peers, there has never been a time in my life where I haven’t been connected with a UCC church. I am not unfamiliar with church or mad at church or done with church. And I love serving and loving as a leader in churches. I guess as a church planter, I am all in on the whole idea. But I see things very differently than I did before setting out on this adventure. Being a spiritual entrepreneur and now the organizing pastor of an emerging church, Silicon Valley Progressive Faith Community, has forever changed the way I do ministry.
Because starting from scratch means no space and no endowments and no faithful pillars to call upon for casserole. At first, it was super lonely and I was frequently reduced to an anxious mess because I realized how different this was than serving an established church. What did I get myself into? But with prayer and effort and teachers and time, I began to see how amazing it is… I was free to be prophetic because there was yet to be a congregation so there was no one to disappoint or piss off. Wow! There was no excuse for me not to follow God into the streets with Occupy and the pipeline protests and later with the movement for Black Lives. And because from the outset the whole ethos was “out there,” there was no one saying, “You can’t try that or we don’t like that,” so we could bring our rituals outside and do workshops on spirituality and mortality. I could show up to the world and ask what is needed. When barriers are removed, there is just a world waiting to be loved.
Once I realized that however impossible or uncertain it seemed, it was a chance to take this ancient thing I love and so many of us love, and listen to the Spirit and the people about how to make it accessible. And because there is no (or at least not yet) “We have always done it this way” our emerging community has been radically open to experimentation. Our early adopters are flexible and our core leaders are strong. We don’t have the luxury of financial security or building, but the flip side of that is freedom.
I have always had a mixed relationship with Paul and many of the letters to the early church, but this experience gives me a bit of love. It reminds me where this all began and how little is actually needed to be faithful to our call. The newly forming Christian communities had a slowly growing tribe of people whose lives had been transformed by the teachings and stories of Jesus of Nazareth, a mystic who manifested the Force of love. They had no financial security or buildings or bylaws. So what if this new moment in time is an invitation to remember how this whole church thing began?
We are living in an era in which big questions cannot be avoided and in some ways it feels as if everything is changing faster than we can process. I sometimes find myself awake at 3 a.m. worrying about what kind of planet will be for my daughter and all of our daughters an whether our children will be safe from gun violence at school. But also alongside this reality, many spiritual leaders and philosophical thinkers believe that right now we are experiencing a global shift.
Richard Rohr, Catholic priest and modern mystical theologian calls it an “evolution of consciousness.” Rob Bell, a progressive evangelical Christian pastor described this time as a period of “massive rethink.” MIT scholar and best selling author Sherri Turkle describes this period in human history as a time of multiple emergences and great disruption.
Disrupt: to cause (something) to be unable to continue in the normal way : to interrupt the normal progress or activity of (something)
We could say that everything from transportation to healthcare and music, education and religion is being disrupted. And last week I opened my March issue of Vogue to discover that yes even the fashion industry is experiencing the Great Disruption.
Most of us do not welcome disruption. We want it how we want it. We want what we have known. I know how much I am thrown off when I can’t find my smart phone, let alone the Great Disruption!
And of course as church people we can honestly say that many expressions of American Christianity are being disrupted in this process too. Most of us do not welcome disruption. We want the way forward to be stable and obvious and clear with few changes. We want the details so we can make the plans. And yet being disrupted means that what worked before no longer works, so we have to do things we have never done before.
But disruption can also free us. We can let go of thinking we are supposed to have it all figured out. It’s obvious we don’t. In part of the passage we heard from the poetry of Isaiah in the Hebrew scriptures, God is shown to be present and personal. We are dropped into the deep pain of a community disrupted physically and spiritually. This is a “story “of the prophet’s appraisal of the neglect and injustice endured by a community of exiles in Babylon…” They had no financial security or buildings or bylaws. They had to let go of thinking they could figure it out. They likely yearned for God to make a way.
And it is worth nothing that “Isaiah insists that mystery, not intellectual comprehension, reflects the divine life.” Mystery, not intellectual comprehension, let me say that again, mystery, not intellectual comprehension reflects the divine life, so what if making a way in this time of great disruption is letting go of the need to figure it out before we try?
Perhaps we have forgotten that the earliest followers of Jesus were called the people of the Way. Not the people of right belief, or right thinking, or right plans- the people of the Way. It is an unsettling path because the Way is full of Mystery and wandering. Doing what we have never done before and making a way for the world God imagines requires a steadfast commitment to keep going, especially when the road with familiar answers becomes a dead end.
As Poet Antonio Machado writes, “Wanderer, your footsteps are the road, and nothing more; wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking.”
Since the new church began emerging, we have gathered in parks and at the Pride Festival and the Pumpkin Festival. We have worshiped in a theater, in my living room, in sanctuaries of congregations and sanctuaries of birds. We have prayed outside while we hiked and contemplated in silence in a public space. We have come to life with what has felt like a million little experiments. We learned a while ago our footsteps were the road.
I have read many books and listened to experts. I have taken classes and heard from coaches and consultants and there is no superhero to save us from spiritual disruption. There is no one program that will go about making a way forward for us. But I can say with certainty that I hope this disruption can free us all- free us from thinking that making a way is about financial security or buildings or bylaws or knowing how. We need not wait until we have it all figured out. Let this disruption free us to reclaim the truth that if we are to live our heritage as people of the Way, we must fall in love again with Mystery over comprehension. We must fail and learn and risk looking foolish to tell the next generations that they matter, that God is love and that our planet is worth saving. We must wander beyond our walls to where there is neglect and injustice and listen. Our footsteps are the road.
I feel a sense of urgency that is often lacking from progressive Christians. We aren’t about rescuing people from the fiery pit, but what we do is life saving. I believe in church, in who we are and why we matter. I believe it is worth preserving. For me, being a part of a religious community, being the church with people I did not and in some cases would not choose, taught me to love more fully. Being a part of communities grounded in faith where we are encouraged to practice forgiveness and to learn patience has changed everything. Being on a journey where part of the program is showing up for others guarantees to transform us all. I believe God is already making a way, even amid rapid change. So, how do we articulate progressive Christianity in these times? We remember this whole church thing began. We remember that we don’t need financial security or buildings or bylaws. We need not wait until we have it all figured out before we step out beyond our walls. Maybe Anna Wintour editor of Vogue says it best, If we don’t disrupt ourselves a little, then what would be the point?
“Wanderer, your footsteps are the road, and nothing more; wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking.” May it be so. Amen.
 Kenyatta R. Gilbert in the Homiletical Perspective on Isaiah 55: 1-9 for the Third Sunday in Lent in Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 2 Lent through Eastertide
 Anna Wintour in Letter from the Editor Vogue March 2016