Luke 9:1-6, Matthew 5:13-16 and Excerpts from Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church Is Transforming the Faith by Diana Butler Bass
Sunday November 14th, 2021
By Nicole M. Lamarche
Thank you again for being here and welcome to this sacred circle on what is Stewardship Sunday here in our congregation and also in all of the United Church of Christ. I invite you to take a deep breath and to let yourself arrive more fully as we all prepare our hearts and minds to 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, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
I have been pondering exactly what we will remember from this time, from this season, from 2021, from what for some of us, has been among the most difficult years of our lives? We have had deaths of close family and dear friends, beloved church members moving and moving on, the insurrection in our Nation’s Capital, the massacre right here that killed 10 people, people in our own community struggling with anxiety and depression and now an economy with 6% inflation and a COP 26 that seemed merely like a performative act, financial stress, and ongoing worry about both our elders and our kids in a pandemic that just won’t end.
What will we remember and what will be our symbols from this difficult and defining moment in this human project on planet earth?
Will it be masks, masks of all textures and colors? Masks stuffed in pockets and car doors and bike baskets? Masks that just get the job done and masks that send a message. Masks for when things were just a little bad and then masks for when they were really bad.
And what will be the symbols of this time in our church? Will it be things like the garden tool we have from Mike Martin of Raw Tools, a beautiful piece of art from the barrel of a gun from our Guns to Gardens event in June? Will it be a symbol like that? That now represents what a group of prayerful people can do to turn pain into possibility? Or will our symbol of this season be something like the square, knowing this is how many of us first learned to connect and to show up, to see one another’s faces safely in a pandemic?
One of the symbols that represents this year for me is less literal, but fitting and it is the magnifying glass. As you know, because of the convex lens, a magnifying glass can do two significant things. One, it can create a magnified image of what is already and the second thing is it can focus light so strongly, so specifically, that it can burn and even start a spark that becomes a flame.
And 2021 has been both the year of magnifying and revealing and for seeing spots that were made hot by the heat, by focused light has made it possible to see things as they are, uncovered and clear.
As Jonathan Freedland wrote, “A fitting symbol of this global pandemic would be a magnifying glass. For while the virus ended and upended so many lives, and spawned a whole new vocabulary ….it did not remake the global landscape so much as reveal what was already there, or what was taking shape, just below the surface.”
This year is magnifying the reality of unlivable wages and unjust working conditions- this has been called the year of the Great Resignation. And this year is shining a light on the intersection of climate inaction and foreign policy and mass migration, magnifying the truth that money is married to the fossil fuel industries and that we know what to do, we just don’t want to do it. This year also shined a light on us internally, showing where we are inclined to bend or break, how we give it our all and when we cut off, where we blame or blaze on, where we are strong and where our attention is needed. Whatever was there already has been magnified, uncovered out there with light on it and through it.
I have always been a bit enamored and perplexed by these words from Jesus in the Gospels about being light in the world. What does it really mean? It was presented to me with the assumption that it is about giving “out there,” about having something to offer others. I do think that is part of it, but maybe this year has shown us that our call as people of faith is also about being open when the light shines on us, when we are asked to have something magnified so we can see clearly. Maybe this year has shown us that being light for the world also means being willing to live in the light, to be willing to live in the magnified image of what is, to live with the truth, changing or deepening, shifting or shaping something else.
But that’s really hard. And this year has been a teacher. Showing us that it is quite difficult to live in the light, to be the light, to be open to having the light shine on any of us. This year on our planet, in our country and in our community has revealed that it is really hard for us to live who we say we are.
And that is true for our church too. This year put a magnifying glass on us just like everywhere else. And there are some places where some of us might feel a bit burned, but what is also true, is that now we can see what is real. We can see where we are strong and where love and light and prayer and toil are needed.
I take seriously that it is part of my role to hold the big picture here, to listen closely to what all of you are saying, to hear the needs of this extremely diverse church and, to reflect it all back so we can discern together where the Spirit is calling us. But I find in this time of disconnection, it is harder for some of us to see this bigger picture- to see the magnified whole of us, but I need you to.
Around this time last year, after thoughtful, prayerful discussion, we voted to borrow from our savings to be able to keep ourselves supported and connected in 2021. And while we felt this was important in a congregation that is both aging and growing, we are in a different time and ready to put ourselves on a sustainable, healthy path to not only get through this, but to thrive in the years and decades to come.
To me this budget is about the longer term vision of this church and living who we say we are, which means it is partly about getting to right relationship. In 2019, not only was the pastoral associate position 6 hours a week, without other benefits or support but still lots in the way of expectation and expertise, but the position that Kamilla now has, was a volunteer job, asking hours and hours and hours from someone who already gave a lot. Neither of these situations was just. The 2022 budget will continue to support the 2021 improvements in these areas on a sustainable basis and strive to bring us closer to who we say we are.
When I look at this budget, I see faces. I see the faces of the 7 women I have the privilege of meeting with monthly and the faces of the people that are in small groups with Kathy and Jackie and the faces of the two other groups beginning, bringing us to 5 groups. I see the faces of our LGTBQ members and all who we hope feel more love and welcome and growth from us, as we begin another layer of our process of being and becoming an Open and Affirming church. I see the faces of our confirmands who are showing up to explore their own spirituality in a really hard time. When I look at our budget, I see an incredible group of lay leaders who have been willing to grow and learn and take on new capacities.
I see the squares and faces holding space for the 8 a.m. contemplative worship service in this time of transition. I see Jackie who has joined me in visiting our people in all kinds of circumstances and is co-creating so many beautiful things to life along with Heather and Alissa and Alaina, Rod and Bill, I see Truitt!- You have an incredible team that has worked hard to add skills, another worship service, add new groups, new levels of patience, to be creative in wild and rapidly changing circumstances and to respond to what you have needed in this time where change happened so quickly.
When I look at our budget, I see the 7 families who made it to La Foret this summer, I see the women’s retreat in September, I see Breathing Space and Spiritual Hikes and a growing Caring Ministry Committee and culture of caring. I see an active Dismantling Racism Committee that read books and also moved beyond them! By working with First Congregational Church to host a successful forum for City Council candidates focused on racial justice. I see the faces of our kids who have lost so much normal, but who still get the normal of coming here and playing tetherball and dancing in the creek. I see two newly renovated bathrooms, our Inspiration Rock Garden, our donation food garden, our Chop Saw (gun violence prevention ministry) Team that is actively involved in saving lives. I see our engaging new Adult Exploration Committee, the faces of our Community Compassion Corps. building houses with Habitat, packing hygiene bags for Bridge House and more. I see the faces of you who come to Office Hours, of you who are coming to our new Bible study, of you who come to weed the labyrinth or inventory the books in our library. I see the faces of Joyce, Donna and Whit and Phil and Becki and all who gave their time and treasure so we can be here now.
While some of how we worship has had to change so we can include our whole community, so much of who we are, some of the best of who we are, has not just remained, but grown and deepened and widened.
Robb picked some of our readings today and this one from the Gospel of Luke is core to our Christian faith. The pandemic has invited us to remember and rediscover some of the foundational tenets of our life together and Jesus gathering his core crew right there here is that for me. He asks them to go out beyond what they know and to care about the healing of the world, whatever that means. And then tells them not to worry about anything, not what they have or what they should bring, but to instead focus on the Good News and telling anyone you encounter and to support their healing. Focus on telling people they are loved, they belong, come along. Be a light.
Our family can’t give much more than we did last year and I feel proud of what we contribute, on two non-profit salaries in an expensive town, with a mortgage, student loans and lots of uncertainty, but I want you to know that I continue to be invested here along with you. This year has asked more of me professionally than any other year and you have seen that I am imperfect like you and also willing to keep trying, to keep showing up, to keep investing in this precious thing we have, with all of us. I am with you who are willing to be open to the light, even when it shines on us, so we dare to live into who we say we are.
This year, giving to this place, to us is about being light and living in the light of the truth. So be light for the world, be willing to live in the light, be willing to see the magnified image of what is so we can live in light of that truth. As Diana Butler Bass wrote, “The whole message of the Christian scripture is based in the idea of metanoia, the change of heart that happens when we meet God face-to-face.” And often when we meet God face to face in the faces of one another and we are called to step further, deeper into who we say we are. So beloved of God, let us be and live the light, the changing, deepening, shifting, shaping light. It’s all been magnified. Now is the time. Come live in the light! May it be so. Amen.