First Congregational United Church of Christ
October 4, 2015
Acts 2:42-47 “The Table”
Rev. Diane K. Hooge
It was around noon on Thursday when the headline popped up on my computer informing me of the tragedy unfolding in Roseburg.
My first response was to email my son to make sure that Jill Michell, who is an English professor at the college was safe. The reply came back, “Yes, she is physically safe, but clearly overwhelmed.” She had been teaching in the building next door to the shooting.
I then turned my attention to the TV to try and catch up with the unfolding horror of the morning. The nightly news anchors had not yet stepped into place, and we were listening to local news reporter’s carrying the fresh responsibility of conveying the tragedy. As the key NBC reporters slipped into their familiar crises roles, I became so painfully aware of the references to Columbine, Sandy Hook, Springfield….all designed to walk the television audience through what’s familiar and what we have learned in the past. And, I am so aware of the thin scar tissue that must have been ripped open in all those former communities as they watched the Roseburg crises play out. I found myself reeling over the reality that this is so common now, that we deal with it like reflecting on Hurricane Mitch vs Hurricane Joaquin. We now are familiar with how the ugliness plays out…We watch as the first responders move in to seek to save as many people as they can. We listen to the terror in parent’s voices as they race to find their students. We hear the shock in the voices of the sheriff’s department letting the TV anchors know what they have just witnessed…it’s now so distressingly familiar. We just walked through this in June with the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.
And, on Friday we opened our newspapers to pictures of the Thursday night vigil. I could so empathize with President Obama’s words that “Our thoughts and prayers are not enough.” In December of 2012, I thought the Sandy Hook terror would change our course. I thought “How could it NOT bring about change?” We have had 142 school shootings since that infamous day when we viewed the pictures of the dead: 20 elementary students and six adults.
President Obama expressed what we all fear…has this become so familiar and routine that we have become numb?
Don’t our children deserve a ban on high capacity magazine clips? The media is so anxious to know the background of the shooter…but, as a country we are failing to come together to seek a commitment to stop the destruction. This morning on Meet The Press, the shooters father expressed his painful amazement that his soon had been able to gather up 13 weapons. As with the past, will the sale of guns and bullets escalate once again?
The Acts 2 text is a transition passage. A new and separate tradition was evolving. Peter had just preached his first sermon. The text tells about the coming of the Spirit. It is difficult for us to capture the radical nature of this event in the lives of those who practiced sharing meals together as well as breaking bread together which we call Communion. In a culture that was so segregated by class, this table was shockingly inclusive. At the table, barriers were broken down and unity was established. Writer Luke saw those folks as people of a new “way.” They paved the way by establishing new faith traditions and rituals. There was astonishingly high energy as they shared a common life together. The table was sacred.
I find it attractive, and yet, like every generation since that early church gathering, it always feels a bit beyond my reach. We catch glimpses or hints of it along our collective journey, and it is those sacred moments that offer us a taste of what Jesus taught us about the realm of God, or as we say in the Lord’s Prayer, the kin-dom of God. For me this is the heart of the Gospel.
Yesterday I met with a friend who told me about all the people in Roseburg and outlying areas who were bringing food to the families in grief. There has been an overwhelming out-pouring of care to bring comfort to people’s tables. That’s what the disciples lived out…that’s what the bread and the cup are about. They are the symbols of compassionate sustenance to carry us out the door and into service in our world.
On this World Communion Sunday, we will gather around our leaf of the table. And we gather knowing that countless brothers and sisters around the world will also be gathered around their leaf. We will be uniting ourselves in the power of the table where we are invited to share in the ritual of receiving the bread of belonging and the cup of blessing. And, what we know about following in the way of Jesus is that it can be costly. We’ve just heard the stories of those shot in the head for claiming to be followers of Christ.
What we know about those early disciples is that it took courage to be part of a new way of living out one’s faith. They took risks in following the guidance of the Spirit. It wasn’t politically safe to take the stands that they did. They gathered to support one another around the table and to carry out Jesus teaching about remembering to share the bread and the cup together.
It is around the intimacy of our home tables where we often learn things about one another that we would never know from just being in worship together or sitting side by side in a classroom. We’re invited through our text to practice hospitality at the table which then invites us to carry that same hospitality into the daily-ness of our lives. It demands by its very nature that we change our patterns of behavior. The table is a place where we are invited to dump our old ideas in order to create space for the Spirit’s guidance for the new that hasn’t yet formed. It often demands that we step out in faith –even when we are not yet sure of where we are being invited to take a stand and make a difference.
It is in the transforming power of singing, laughing, listening, confessing, grieving and praying together that the Spirit of God transforms our lives. Sometimes it happens in great leaps, but for most of us, it is a step by step by step process.
One of our early feminist theologians, Letty Russell, used the term Kitchen Table Theology which she utilized to refer to women’s faith stories which had historically been left out. Each generation has had to struggle with who has been left out at the table. With every generation comes the need to be listening for the movement of the Spirit as to what our work is to be about. We have taken stands as a church community to support the work in Honduras of those who risk their lives speaking truth to power. Perhaps in the aftermath of the horror of the Roseburg shootings, we need to look at how to be involved in creating stronger stands for safety in our town as well as our state. Do we have a role to play? It’s been heartbreaking to witness the parents who have cried out to the press, city council meetings, and school boards pleading “for not one more death” from gun violence.
What I believe our transitional community can relate to is the new practices that brought wonder and awe with the faith community of scripture. You have heard me talk about the pieces of this church that I believe fit more with a new church start than a 127 year old church. So, here are the rituals that I have celebrated that have been uniquely your rituals and patterns.
-The ritual of children lighting candles each Sunday morning and having a prayer before heading for Downstairs Church
-The ritual of adults coming forward to light candles during the singing of hymns representing the prayers that are on your hearts.
-the gift of a homemade loaf of bread provided each month for each communion table…provided for us by L. Citizen.
-the commitment to climate change work that goes on each week
The commitment to Mental Health Work—the gift of David King Gabriel who has written the music and lyrics for Divine Lunacy which will be put on at Temple Emek Shalom.
The unique Welcome Back Sunday and the up-coming Art Sunday
-The Life Stories that are told in the Common Room.
And, you are the only church I know where the Music Director or Cantor calls out “2” and everyone starts singing “Glory, Glory Hallelujah” without cracking open the hymnal.
And this week, I so appreciated this community’s willingness to give blood, and donate to a funeral fund for the victim’s families in Roseburg.
These are our rituals. These our signs and symbols representing moments where we often feel the sacredness as we walk with each other. These are the events and rituals that bind us together and create glue within our community.
On this World Communion Sunday, we have a lot to learn from other nations who do not have the death by guns statistics that we have.
Part of our sacred gathering today is not only sharing communion, but also sharing and acknowledging the ten lives that were lost in the shooting on Thursday. Saturday’s paper gave us the names and some details around their lives, and the distraught of their families and friends.
So let us pause to acknowledge their lives. And we hold their families who are reeling.
Lucero Alcaraz 19
Trevern Taylor Anspach 20
Rebecka Ann Carnes 18
Quinn Glen Cooper 18
Kim Saltmarsh Dietz 59
Lucas Eibel 18
Jason Dale Johnson 33
Lawrence Levine 67
Sarena Dawn Moore 44
Christopher Harper Mercer 26
What the table symbolizes is God with us. The table is a welcoming place where we are invited to bring our gratitude, our grief, our confessions, our loneliness, our hopes and dreams and we’re invited to experience healing. We’re invited to learn that wounds and pains can become openings for a new vision. The gift of community is having a safe place where the sharing of pain is valued along with the sharing of hopes and dreams. All of it demands a leap of faith — A trust in the God who has promised to never leave us or forsake us. Amen.
“We save the world by being alive ourselves.” Joseph Campbell
May we continue to find within ourselves the will to reach out to those in need. And, in the love of others, may we know the blessing of community and the blessing of renewed faith.
Abigail Rian Evans
Let us pass the peace of Christ to one another.