Wednesday, October 07, 2015

"Journeys With Jesus": A Goodbye Homily As Executive Director of the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship

“A Journey With Jesus” Homily

Saying Goodbye as the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship Executive Director

Rev. Ron Robinson
Oct. 8, 2015
Turley, Oklahoma

Once again I start with scripture, and a selection from this coming Sunday’s Revised Common Lectionary readings, originated by the Consultation on Common Texts, of which the UUCF was a founding member.

From Mark 10: 17-22 (NRSV):

“As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”18Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” 20He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.”


Today will be my last day, after 12 years and three months, as the sixth Executive Director of the UUCF which was itself 58 years old when I started and is now in its 70th year, a good year to make changes. Back on April 22 of this year, I announced that the Board and I were starting transitions, and why it was the right time for me, and including for the Board a search process for a new Executive Director. You can read that note here

I am excited, as my last official act besides this message, to announce that the Board and the new Executive Director will make their public announcement tomorrow welcoming in the new Executive Director and relationship. We are already hard at work in making the transition as healthy and productive as possible. It has been energizing for me and I know it will be for the UUCF. On leaving, I think it is natural to think about all the “should haves” and “could haves” and “wish I’d done this or not done that” and be filled with the visions again of what is left to do. I am heartened instead by the knowledge that if a measure of one’s accomplishment is in what happens in a position afterwards, and who takes over, then it has been a great comfort and witness to the continuing potential and need for the UUCF that everyone who was interested or pursued this part-time position was extremely well qualified far exceeding my own abilities when I began not long out of seminary. “Leaving it in good hands” is, as you will see, an understatement.

As part of our collegial ministerial covenant and good practices, I will back out of all, or most things, officially UUCF unless asked otherwise or by permission. But If I could sneak in one last “ask” here, it would be to welcome in the new Executive Director with financial gifts and end-of-the-year donations worthy of the vision of the generous and liberating God we follow, and our mission, and so the UUCF would have the capacity to act boldly in our new era under this new capable, learned, and spirited leadership. It is easy to make gifts online at the donate button at


It is a strange thing to leave a ministry of this sort that is national and global, and so much online, and part-time in a culture that keeps requiring it to be full-time. It is hard not to have the chance to be together in person to meet and celebrate and remember and forgive and, ultimately, to bless. But I believe that even given that opportunity, it would, of course, not be enough; and yet it would be enough, and so it is here too. I started a process of saying goodbye and thank you to folks last April, and I know I will be continuing to do so as I encounter you all face to face and online in months and years to come.

So many images come to mind, though: holding forth in loving, always loving, graceful for the most part conversation with whomever came up to us for hours on end at the UUCF booth in the agora of the General Assembly of the UUA; worshipping in body, yea in body with hands upraised, in spirit, chanting Taize and holding one another in prayer circles, and in mind with some of the most cutting edge religious thinkers in our midst both within our historic and continuing association with the UUism and without as we made league with those in other Christian traditions and beyond at our Revivals and General Assembly. Even more so, the one on ones and small groups and late-night dreams and connections, and the stream of phone calls and emails with those who were just finding out about us and our tradition and our reality, that we exist, but not nearly as present as we wished and as we are needed; praying and counseling and learning from both laity and clergy struggling to come into our progressive Christian faith, to remain in it with us and the UUA, or how to leave it and remain with us in the beloved community of the Body of Christ. Meeting people throughout the nation, travelling twice to the Philippines to our strong church there which taught me so much, so many faces come to mind as I think back.  I thought I would be here for a year, maybe a little longer, and it has been a blessing to have been able to remain for these dozen years. 

We in the UUCF have seen much continuing change, I believe, in these past 12 years, sometimes in conflicting directions. Within our historic home, the UUA, we have seen a progressive non-creedal Christian witness rising up in many places and ways envisioned by us at the very first Revival in New Orleans in 1999 which inspired me as a seminary student to write a UUCF circular letter about this new spirit. It is wonderful to see the diverse embodiments of this not only as the fruits of the UUCF’s presence and ministry, but in people and places beyond any direct influence by us, reminding us that we in our own institutionally small group are not by any stretch the sole seeders of Jesus’ leaven within the UUA.  At the same time, there seems something of a backlash to this, and an attempt it strikes me, intentionally or not, to seek to “brand” us out of Unitarian Universalism (akin to what one of my mentors and predecessors in the UUCF, the Rev. Carl Scovel, once said about those who claimed they would “yawn” Christianity out of UUism), to make UUism “other than” rather than “more than” Christian, to turn words like “church” and “worship” and, still, “God” into terms of inhospitality instead of the radical hospitality they contain, and to “tame” (or make an historical asterisk) of the wild upsetting world-and-life-overturning Jesus AND the traditions that sprang up, for all the flaws, from Jesus and his first century followers, of which we, today, are still within. We have much to celebrate and connect and commit to within UUism, and much to challenge.

And yet we in the UUCF particular during the past 70 years have emerged a response to an emerging spiritual and cultural landscape, one that propels us to tap into our non-sectarian roots, our ecumenical roots, inheritors of that spirit that motivated William Ellery Channing, and to branch out among the many branches of the wider Christian life today—be it progressive, neo-evangelical, missional, neo-monastic, emergent, and also with the social movements of justice that will carry us even further into living out the communion, the crucifixion, the resurrection of Christ in ways and with people beyond church and faith traditions. This is the ministry (my other hats as we say)  to which I have been turning and will seek with God’s grace to grow, always knowing that what I have been a part of locally in my church and mission plant has benefited from and is due to the support and spirit and teachings I have received in the UUCF.


In closing, I turn back to Mark’s account of the gospel to be lifted up around the world this week. There is a journey before us, even as we leave wherever we have been. We will be tempted on this journey with Jesus, as was the man who came up to Jesus on his journey in the story, to believe that “freely following Jesus”, as our motto of the UUCF proclaims, is in fact free, and can just happen, by what someone else does, or without giving up all that seeks to define us which we hold most dear, or that it is just about the capacity to think freely about Jesus and spiritual issues and have the right answers.

But eternal life is more than that, more than we can grasp in any answer or mental understanding, even one that Jesus, as he seems to know, might give. So Jesus points him to the familiar path, as if to say: “your future in God, your place in God’s kind of Empire, lies in taking the steps you already know and have been taught. You have all you need right around you in and through them, the commandments.” They may sound simple, but they are no small thing to actually do, particularly inasmuch as they are directed toward others and not toward just our own self and self-enlightenment.

So the UUCF is there for you in all the ways easily known but too often not taken: pray for and support one another, come together and share struggles and insights and stories via online and face to face, join or start a small gathering where you are, serve, share with others the paths and resources for growing love and justice that we offer. Whatever you do, is enough. And the sustenance of the UUCF lies all around it too.

Like the man, though, we are often tempted to dismiss the ordinary radical acts and still search for the Big Truth (or Project or Dream of Church) that will save us. And so Jesus, in love the story says and in looking right into the man, gives him what he wants by casting another equally valid option for the man’s future. He shows him an unfamiliar path: “risk all that separates you from the poor, from me. Do this and you will really come alive!” [Likewise, there is so much waiting to bring the UUCF alive as it continues committing and risking to bring the life and spirit of Jesus to all in search and suffering.]

The man and Jesus part ways, at least for the time being, with grief in both I imagine. The story ends like the parable of the prodigal family ends, with a separation and a question: will the elder brother risk joining the party God is throwing for all and everyone, or stay standing outside in all he knows to be true and right? Will the man remain with all he possesses, letting them prevent him from possessing so much more, grieving and questioning what might have been, or will he take that “faith of leap” into the unfamiliar, and as Jesus said to all, and to us, then “come follow me”?

Here’s to the risk ahead.

May we both in our journeys, in the familiar and unfamiliar paths we take ahead, continue to walk together as we walk with Jesus.  

Thank you. Blessings. And More To Come.



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