Reverend Nicole Lamarche

We All Belong: Youth Sunday Mini-sermon

May 12th, 2024
By Rev. Nicole M. Lamarche

For the last few days I was doing a wedding in Seattle of a dear old friend. They finally got married after being together for 9 years! As we drove by a row of tents in downtown Seattle, the cab driver began a sort of sermon. “This is the richest country in the world,” he said. “And look at this.” He went on to lament about how much money we send oversees when our own aren’t cared for. “Veterans!” he cried out. “Even veterans aren’t cared for.” He seemed to think I didn’t know any of this, surprised even as he said it out loud, even as many of us know this truth already. Born in Egypt, he has called Washington home for the last 29 years and he was effusive with praise about what had been made possible by immigrating to the US.

He told me that he often has to work 12-hour shifts and he regularly works 7 days a week. I agreed that it was hard to live life fully with that much work. We talked about our kids, where we are from and over the course of the ride, we connected mostly around agreed upon concerns and shared hopes- overturning Citizen’s United, instituted term limits, fixing the problems at Boeing, (we both had a long list) we agreed that we all need the kind of healthcare that elected officials have and also the plan of being alive for the great turning, toward a different kind of way of being together.

I never would have guessed how much in common I had with an older Egyptian American man. And I never would have guessed how much such a connection lifted me up. It’s clear that part of how the current painful status quo is maintained is our disconnection, our sense of being separate or divided and different. We can easily feel as if many have given up and don’t care, or that we don’t all belong, when that just isn’t true.

I love this story that we heard from the Gospel of Luke where Jesus invites us to imagine a great banquet, a banquet that feels something like the realm of God. The host sends his helpers to announce to all who are invited that it is time to come eat, but the host begins to receive excuses about why they can’t attend. They are suspicious of the kind of banquet being planned perhaps. Maybe they weren’t convinced that everyone belonged at the table. So the host of the dinner party gets sassy and angry at all of these cancelations and he asks his helpers to go get everyone! Go find everyone, go to the streets and invite everyone. “Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full.”

Take that! Everyone, I mean everyone is invited, everyone is invited to come just as they are, to this full house and this crowded table. And I think maybe this invitation to the banquet is a lot like our invitation to the life of faith.

Jesus said to gather everyone. But while we are all invited, not everyone shows up, because some are afraid, because some aren’t sure they want to share life with people they don’t know or wouldn’t pick, because some aren’t convinced that everyone belongs. But what if that is part of the whole point? What if one of the main purposes of church, what if one of the main reasons we exist and one of the most important things we offer is simple but not easy: a place where everyone belongs! Being a place, with a table with a place for everyone.

Part of the reason I think our congregation isn’t dying, when many are shrinking and closing, is that we are truly, a crowded table, where we make space for all to belong as we are.

We are making space for the fullness of life, in all its color, diversity and beauty. Cameron Trimble, a minister in the United Church of Christ and a church consultant recently wrote that “Vibrant, wild, living churches are full of the healthy nutrients of trust, curiosity, and community. They feel like a wildflower garden with colorful people, lots of energy and a freedom to bring the fullness of yourself into the space.” She said, “There are also congregations that feel like the manicured lawn. You have a sense of suspicion of the outsiders, the expectation of behavior that feels performative, and an oppressive aura of control that reminds one of a funeral service more than a birthing room.”

At this banquet, here at our table, there is room for colorful people and the freedom to bring the fullness of who we are. As Rosario Butterfield wrote, “Radically ordinary hospitality characterizes those who don’t fuss over different worldviews represented at the table. The truly hospitable aren’t embarrassed to keep friendships with people who are different.”

Beloved of God, we are living in a time where we can easily feel as if many have given up and don’t care, or that we don’t all belong, but the truth is that there is a place for everyone here in this full house at this crowded table.

May we continue to be a space for new voices and new perspectives, a place for those who have been wounded or haven’t felt welcome, for what matters more than shared belief is a shared commitment to belonging, may we continue to live into that- the vision of a full house, with a crowded table. We all belong.

May it be so. Amen.