Reverend Nicole Lamarche

Who is the Stranger?
Romans 12:9-12 and Excerpts from See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of
Revolutionary Love by Valarie Kaur
September 3 rd , 2023
By Rev. Nicole Lamarche

Thank you for being here on this beautiful day!

I invite you now to to take some deeper breaths, as we aim to arrive a bit more fully to tune into whatever word God has for each of us today.
And I offer this prayer from Psalm 19.
God may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
I sometimes have to let myself pause and step away and take some deeper breaths so I can show up the way the people need me to, the way I want to. Because if I don’t, I have found that I will end up serving tears with sandwiches. And I just really want to add kindness and love and to try and fill stomachs and try and quench some thirst. But that felt almost impossible this week for my route with the wagon. As you might remember Wednesday was so hot! And I couldn’t help but worry about serving my own sadness in that cold cup of water. We all stopped and listened.
As many of you know, a group of us from our church, Kathy and Carol gather each week to do outreach for those who are homeless and every year we do water bottle drives and sock drives. It’s been a real commitment of our church to show up for those on the margins. But man, sometimes it’s really hard.
So this week we all just stopped and listened to a loud lamentation from a man whose stuff had just been taken and he was left with nothing. And then a man whose age was hard to discern, came stumbling from behind tree begging for water. His face was covered with scabs and sores. Then a woman who had already received housing, but who still came to the park to see her friends and help whomever and however she could, she announced that someone had just had an overdose. Right then and there. 

And maybe you read about it in the paper yesterday. It wasn’t just one, it was two. I had to let myself stop and step away and breathe. I just felt terrible at this. Who wants tears with their sandwiches?

It does make me feel good to offer compassion in a plastic bag, but wow does it feel too small in the face of the need. I wonder what good it will do. Do these acts, will they ever end homelessness? And then I got to thinking about us building homes with Habitat for Humanity in two weeks. Will that end homelessness? And what about our planting seeds in our open space that won’t shift the dial for climate change. Or the garden we have out there producing tons of food for CU students that we don’t even really know.

Does that matter? Or Kevin going to Pine Ride to help. That won’t undo a history of genocide.

But do you know what? I am 100% sure that each and every one of our efforts, each and every act, each time we try, even when imperfectly, awkwardly, with tears, it matters. It matters because refusing to ignore what and who hasn’t belonged or what has been broken or broken off brings the pieces together again. It brings healing and hope not just for the one, but for the whole.

We are continuing to explore Paul’s letter to the community in Rome and as you know Paul he tries to get too much in. One commentator, David Bartlett wrote, “Paul may have been able to pack Christology, ecclesiology, soteriology, eschatology and ethics into one paragraph but woe to the preacher who tries to pack all of that into one sermon…”
Fear not, here Paul gives 23 imperatives in just one paragraph, I will give just a few. We are living in a time when there is so much fragmentation. And part of that is separating us, dividing us into groups, convincing us that someone or a group of people is the enemy, one week its trans people or people with mental illness, or immigrants or people who are living with addiction, we are told all of these are groups are not us, that they too worry about, that they are groups to fear. But what a gift that we get to gather each week to hear something else, to hear an entirely different message.
And here is one: What if there really is no stranger? What if we are but one body with many members? A whole big, connected thing with different parts? But sometimes those parts get separated or hurt or lost… And it takes our willingness to see beyond our own lives and to act. 
Valarie Kaur writes, “When we choose to wonder about people we don’t know, when we imagine their lives and listen for their stories, we begin to expand the circle of those we see as part of us. We prepare ourselves to love beyond what evolution requires.” I just dig that line.
Our small and big acts invite us beyond where we might be on our own. And what if this kind of love does takes intention and effort, like a spiritual discipline? Which means we will get it wrong sometimes. Which means we must keep on. But when we try for what we couldn’t do without practice or patience, when we find ways to cross the chasm that has kept us comfortable, we are part of the revolution of love, we are literally healing the wounds of the world!
So Beloved of God, your small acts matter! Even if imperfectly, awkwardly. Let our love be genuine; let us turn away from all that separates us from our Greater Love, let us hold fast to what is good; let us love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Let us rejoice in hope, be patient with what is hard and keep on with our prayers. Let us extend hospitality to strangers. Let us send blessings to those who don’t yet get it, while trying not to curse them. Let us rejoice when we need to and weep when we need to. And let us also breathe when we need to.
And knowing whatever we do, we will do it imperfectly, and still, we must extend hospitality to strangers. And in doing that we are ending fragmentation, we are mending and reconnecting, we are healing the whole world.
As we heard, “love is a form of sweet labor…” so we will refuse to ignore what has been broken or broken off. What if there really is no stranger? What if we are but one body?
May it be so. Amen!