Matthew 5:1-12 and Excerpt from A Letter to My Daughter by Maya Angelou
Sunday January 29th, 2023
Rev. Nicole Lamarche
Good morning and welcome again everyone! It’s the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany and here at CUCC it’s Annual Meeting Sunday! We welcome you as you are. As is our practice, as we come to this time in our gathering, I invite you now to take some deeper breaths right now, to let yourself arrive a bit more fully, and our hope is that each of us hear, whatever word God has for us this day. 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.
What does it feel like to have a place? Not just any place, but a place where you belong, where you truly belong? As we heard from Maya Angelou, maybe one of the few places where that is really true, is inside ourselves, when we dare to know ourselves, when we love ourselves and can be alone just as we are? As we heard, she wrote, “We may act sophisticated and worldly but I believe we feel safest when we go inside ourselves and find home…”
It’s clear to me when I look around at most places in this country, that there are fewer and fewer spots where we human beings make a place and hold space for people of all kinds to belong. It’s increasingly rare for people of different ages and classes and cultural contexts to share space. And I think communities of faith, I believe church at its best should be and needs to be, just such a place.
We are four weeks into our series on A New Dream for An Old Faith and what a gift to have one another as conversation partners and companions. I have loved all that has come up for you.
Today we are exploring church as a place of bold belonging, as a people of radical and extravagant welcome. As you know, in many expressions of Christianity, church isn’t this, but rather a group of people who are bound by the conviction of being right and that some kinds of bodies and beliefs are wrong and simply unworthy and unwelcome.
But I think that bold belonging was a big part of what Jesus was getting at. Because as we heard from the scripture called the Beatitudes, in the Gospel of Matthew, the whole point was casting blessings, and for them listening then and maybe for us now- to be blessed is to belong.
According to scholar Ronald Allen, in the First Century context that’s basically what being blessed meant. He wrote, “To be blessed is(was) not simply to be happy, but to know that one is included in the coming realm.” Of God. To be blessed is to be included, to be able to belong as we are, in the realm of God that is both already here and not yet.
Many scholars point out that grammatically and theologically, the Beatitudes are not commands, but instead descriptive. Describing God showing up not in the mighty or the powerful or the tower-ful. But instead offering blessings even to the margins. Jesus describes what is happening, what should happen and what could happen, how the Spirit is and can be felt and made manifest among us, the power and magic that happens when we share life with a wild and wonderful mix.
Maybe Jesus is saying is something like, “Come, and live in this world with me….” Say yes to this, to these blessings, to be a community of radical welcome, of bold belonging and it will be something like heaven.
So I read this text from Matthew more as a description of what we should look like as a community of faith, of who should be in the circle, of what it means to be church.
So he is saying something more like:
The poor in spirit, belong. The depressed and down belong. Those who are mourning and are in need of comfort belong. Those who feel lowly belong and should feel so included. Those who don’t have enough to eat, belong and may we feed them and those who haven’t yet gotten justice belong…Those who will keep being peace and trying for peace in a world of anger and war belong…
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is this now great heaven, this moment.
And the other reality is that doing this with intention can also feel a bit like hell… It is hard.
What I mean is that if you have invested any amount of your heart and hopes, your time and treasure in this idea of church, you know it can feel nearly impossible at times, and over the course of our ministry together, as we celebrate all that we have done in Jesus’ name today at our Annual Meeting as we mark four years together, we have learned as a church that being a place of bold belonging, being a community of radical and extravagant welcome, being deeply committed to being a people of diversity and possibility, is extremely difficult.
It would be so much easier if we were more alike. And it would be so much easier if we all committed to finding God in the woods? Then finding God here with this group? But I think that is what Jesus wanted for us.
And even as it may be holy, we have learned that being a community of faith that includes people of many generations and of vastly different backgrounds is hard. It is frustrating and at times maddening. Because among us are different communication styles, different histories, different backgrounds, different ideas for how things should go.
And many of us have lived how painful and also how powerful it can be, how transformational it can be, to hold fast to being in relationship over being right. That is the key to it all. Staying connected, being in relationship, not caring about having the other person think like you do. That actually feels unchristian sadly, but I think that is what Jesus wanted for us. In order to be a place of bold belonging, a community of radical welcome, each of us must be allowed to have a place as we are, being bound by our covenants, looking forward from our separate spots, but together.
There is something special, an energy, a bond, a field of possibilities that are opened up, when lots of us, many of us, decide to continue, that it’s worth giving ourselves to mix. We are bound by love and we are blessed because we do this. To be blessed is to belong so to be a community of blessing is to be a community of bold belonging.
What does it feel like to have a place? Not just any place, but a place where you belong, truly as you are? I hope you feel that here. May you know there is a place for you here, whoever you are, a place for you in the family of things. That line comes from the poem Wild Geese by Mary Oliver, we couldn’t use it for reasons of copyright, but it is surely a sacred text this poem.
“You do not have to be good” and you do not have to walk on your knees or break yourself to have a place, whoever you are in creation, there is a place for you and the Universe beckons to you in myriad ways, in the form of sunny strolls and shootings stars and singing geese… and people you might not pick.
There is a place for you, whoever you are. If you are in mourning and in need of comfort, if you feel lonely and don’t have a place, may you know that you belong here.
So let us keep giving ourselves to this weird and wonderful mix of people, bound by a shared commitment to grow in love. We have seen the blessing from being committed to bold belonging. May this be so for this time and the time ahead. Amen.
Copyright: Rev. Nicole M. Lamarche