This Reflection was shared at our gathering on October 15th, 2107 based on Matthew 22:1-14 and the new collaboration of Urban Sanctuary.
Our world is burning with flames of climate change and injustice and still Puerto Rico is without power. One of my prayers this week was about the struggle to breathe, for real and also in a spiritual sense, like we are living in a time where it is hard to breathe easily and deeply, it’s hard to rest, it’s hard to know where to put our energy. It feels hard to have hope, like Love and the Earth all of the rest of us lost a place at the Table. And yet, even when it feels difficult to breathe, we come here to a Wider Table and remember that God’s very name in ancient time was breath, ruah, wind, spirit. One of the gifts of church is the chance to come back to the heart of what matters each week. Ruah. Breath. Life. Community. The Table.
Today we are talking about the art of creating a community together and how to do that well. What is the MAIN THING a spiritual community in our setting should do? Are we moving toward that in some way? Or not? Do we have a sense that we are responding to the lure or a call of the Holy Mystery by what we are doing and how we are doing it?
We began this collaboration without knowing very much about all of the variety of places and spiritual traditions from which we each come and the beliefs we hold and the different religious experiences we have had. We agreed that we had enough in common to start to experiment. And this far in, we have already something about what matters to each of us.
It has been a true blessing to learn this as we go and to hear the stories of so many of you. Part of what I bring to this work as a spiritual leader in this time and to this collaboration, is the belief that whatever name we give God, It is active in the world, it is a real presence, sometimes more palpable than others.
In my congregational tradition of Christianity, it is a core practice to discern the will of the Sacred, both as an individual and as a group. Some of the Christian texts talk about fruits of the Spirit, so part of how we know we are on track is when we notice growth of fruit: the fruit is more love, more joy, more peace, etc.
Another way we can discern the will of God is when we gather as group and hold a particular intention and make room for a variety of voices, moved to share out loud prayerfully and with compassion. I hope that today after our gathering will be like this. What is special about how we do this as people of faith and conscience, is that we ask not what we individually prefer, but instead we seek to discern what is the will of God for this us, for this expression of humanity right here, right now?
It feels important to share that I believe this because the work before us as two congregations is just as much about what we are doing as how we go about doing it. How do we live out what we seek right now, already, while we are on our way to somewhere new? Do we believe that a Higher Power is guiding us?
The scripture that you heard already is true to Jesus’ form, offering an exaggerated, dramatic account of a wedding banquet that feels more like a horror story. Lest we reduce it to a comfortable affair about who God is, one commentator encourages us to see it more as a story about painful ways in which we exclude and divide up God’s world.
As Debie Thomas writes, “Is it possible Jesus is offering us a critical description of how God’s kingdom is often depicted by God’s own followers?…Do we consciously or not present to the world a God who is easily offended, easily displeased, easily dishonored? A God whose holiness rests on the foundation of a righteous or violent anger? A God whose need to save face finally trumps his own graciousness and hospitality? A God whose invitation to salvation has strings attached?”
The parable points to how we can often live as if our limitations are Gods’- as if the Force of the Universe fails in all the same ways we do. We create our religious frameworks and life choices around a God that is only as wide as our own narrow view.
Debie Thomas also poses these questions, “Are our tables open to all who come, and does our love extend to those who refuse our invitation? Are we wiling to extend a welcome to those who come unprepared, unwashed, and unkempt? Do we have a secret stake in seeing some people end up in the “outer darkness”?
How far does our love extend? Does it pull us out beyond what we have known? Does it summon us to transcend personal preference? Does it invite us to grow? It’s easy to feel as if we need to generate a new program or a grand scheme as an emerging church and a historic one doing something innovative together, but in some ways I believe our guide is simple, is there more love, more peace, more joy, not just for us individually, but for the whole?
I think that when you spend generations in a place, our sense of what is possible can be determined by what we have experienced already. I have shared with many of you that I believe what we have here with our coming together is a treasure that is hidden. We are truly a lifespan congregation, bridging age, economic and cultural gaps. I have never had the privilege of serving such a beautiful expression of God’s people. The question it seems to me then is not whether we have something valuable, but what we do with it. Do we share it, do we care for it, do we hide it, and so it can’t be ruined? Do we risk sharing these beautiful ancient stories in fresh ways? Do we dare believe that it is worthwhile to reach those who have yet to know the power of church? The most important lesson I have learned as a religious innovator is to let go of our need to be right, our need to be certain, our need to avoid failure, our need to figure it all out in order to move forward and learn. Without letting go of all of these, we will be in danger of creating a community around a God that is only as wide as our own narrow view. Are our tables open to all who come?