Isaiah 65:17-25 and Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans
November 13th 2022 10:30 a.m.
Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost
By Rev. Nicole M. Lamarche
Good morning again on the Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost in our expression of the Christian tradition and what is for us and many in the United Church of Christ, Stewardship Sunday.
Thank you for being here. And for allowing space for each of us to come here with whatever we are holding inside and to manifest in all different kinds of different ways. What a gift to be a part of a community like this. Thank you for joining me now for a time of deeper breathing, letting ourselves arrive a bit more fully, so we can hear whatever word God has for us today.
Gracious 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.
What difference would it make if this place, this site were to become something else? Like a park or cute condos?
Would the neighborhood notice? And would Boulder County notice if we were gone or would it even matter in the scheme of time if we no longer existed as a church?
What difference does this church make for real and why bother with church in general? In a period where lots of people seem less patient and angrier in our society in general, why bother to keep coming to a place that is about compassion and having a conscience regardless of what others are doing, why keep giving our gifts of time and money here knowing our returns won’t be in the way of dividends for retirement?
In a culture that tells us that what matters is beautiful things, why put our lives in the hands of a teacher who spends his time with the ones the world casts aside and tells us to forgive and give enough away so that everyone has enough? Why bother with all this complicated thing called church?
It was a question posed to me not quite like that, but sort of in that way, at a party recently by a mom of a friend of our kid. She had no idea what a church does or what the people who show up on Sunday do inside. What is church and why have your kid be a part of it? And basically, without saying it like that, she was asking me: why church?
It reminded me how countercultural we are, those of us who are still a part of religious community. In many parts of American life, people really don’t have an idea what we do. I tried and I have been thinking about how to answer succinctly, to satisfy her, but I couldn’t really, not in just a few sentences at least.
How do we sum up why in the world a person would possibly give ideas and hope and time and money to such an outdated, out of fashion, out of step concept, as showing up for people whom you might not necessarily select? Why bother with this, even now?
It just sounds too hard?
And clearly for many it is.
Some you know that I grew up in the church and that I am a lifelong member of the United Church of Christ. I have seen both what is incredible about church and what is heartbreaking and I am guessing that over the next decade the churches that are unhealthy and exclusive or really don’t matter to neighborhoods- they will die and they will die fast. I don’t have to tell you of the trends. They are quite dire. But I wonder of all those places, when the buildings go away, will the people there miss them? Will they notice?
As we have said here before, if the answer is no, perhaps some of those churches should die? I think maybe they should close anyway if they are no longer about living out what Jesus imagined. They should cease to call themselves churches if they are only about delivering content and services to the satisfaction of those who come.
Sometimes I feel like people have the idea that church exists to meet the personal preferences of each individual, that we exist as a system to provide just what is wanted, just the way it is wanted. But I fear this is a false Christianity distorted by transactional consumerist ideas and if allowed to be the dominant culture in the Church Universal, it won’t, and this church won’t survive.
But the churches who dare to be not a delivery system of inspiration and certainty or comfort, but rather places of radical welcome and powerful prayer and prophetic collective action, the churches who have the courage to do this, the places and people who in the words of Rachel Held Evans are “The church is God saying: ‘I’m throwing a banquet, and all these mismatched, messed-up people are invited”…I think we should fight like hell to keep communities like those, churches like ours.
To me the church is precious and important and the stakes are very high. And if you know me well, you know sometimes I take it too seriously because to me it is literally an invitation to be a part of and to experience what God imagines, we don’t have good words so we call it heaven here on earth and I think that means we literally create these pockets of heaven for one another with our rituals, with our caring, with our showing up for one another. And also beyond this place, we bring heaven to the hells of the world- which is why we are supporting the Almas family who fled Afghanistan and is making their way here in Boulder, which is why we invested so much time and love in updating our Open and Affirming Statement to save lives, it is why we care for the homeless each week and we stuff socks before Christmas and we collect water bottles more, which is why we visit our shut-ins and pray for those who are sick and why we are part of reducing gun violence by continuing to grow the movement to chop up unwanted firearms, it is why we grow garden on our site, all of this is to me answers that question: why church?
But the truth is, our church has given and given and given, to support all of the needs in the pandemic and just like many of our households, in order to get through, our church has had to pivot and pray and experiment and try things that didn’t work and to get to things that did, and take on news ways of doing and being and also we have had to go into spiritual and financial reserves in order to continue to do what we feel called to do.
And now it is time to tend to her, to the church. Now is the time to begin to shift to not just surviving but thriving and this means if you love this church, now is the time to let her know. Your gifts of creativity and openness, of talent and treasure, of service and ideas are needed now.
I knew when God brought us together to begin ministry in 2019 that part of our work together would be this transition to Church 3.0 or whatever you want to call it but it is responding to the changing demographics in America and the trends away from religious community. I thought we would be dealing with this around year 7 together but the pandemic sped it all up and here we are in year 4 and God is doing a new thing faster than we might have thought and God is asking us to come along and I believe we are uniquely positioned to respond to this and to do what we are called to do. What this means is a more intergenerational community and we are so wonderfully on our way to that and what this means is more smaller ways to connect so people have a place to belong even as we evolve, what this means is inspiring new generosity from the community beyond these walls and exploring different ways of using our amazing space. We give thanks to those before us who ensured we have this in order to carry on with our mission!
Why put our lives in the hands of this Palestinian activist religious teacher who told us to give it all away? Why invest our lives in loving God and one another?
I think the answer is no less than because we are an embodiment of the cosmic Christ here and now and our role is to add places at the table, adding a bit of heaven to the hell, having fun and having faith in a love that holds us all. What a privilege and a responsibility to tend to this gift given to us. Why church? Because we are called to be a part of death and resurrection, the messy, inconvenient, gut-wrenching, never-ending work of healing and reconciliation, offering grace and love. What a gift. What a call. May it be so. Amen.