John 13:31-35 and an Excerpt from See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love by Valarie Kaur

Youth Sunday-May 15th, 2022

By Nicole M. Lamarche

My plan for next year is to have one of you share a message, for Youth Sunday, so watch out for that! Thank you for coming together on this Youth Sunday! It feels so exciting to be gathered like this and thank you for all that you have put into it on our behalf.

In some ways today is just like any other Sunday, but that is only partially true. Today is the duck race at CUCC and this year it has been planned and is being run entirely by our youth. We are so honored to be along for your adventure!

As we get to this part, we take a deep breath each time, to breathe in peace and breathe out worry, let yourself arrive.

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.

Isn’t that beautiful? That’s so much of what we do together- to make a point of tuning in, of diving in, going a little bit deeper beyond the surface, which I feel is increasingly challenging in a culture and in contexts that tend to stay on the surface. But here, part of what we are about together is depth.

And yet sometimes depth is exhausting. It’s so much easier to just talk about the weather, to carry on with those surface conversations.

But most of us need something else.

In what is reported to have been said in the Gospel of John just prior to his death, Jesus offers this teaching, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this, everyone will know that you are my Disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Some refer to these kinds of writings as part of a farewell discourse. And Jesus is trying his best to get his followers to understand at least some part of his teachings. And this one in particular, is among the most important in all of Christian thought.

Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

Even the earliest theologians argued about whether this was really that different from Leviticus 19 where we read that God commands Israel to “love your neighbor as yourself.” And later theologians disagreed, according to Joseph Bessler, “over whether Christians should be concerned principally with loving one another or with loving the world.”

Was this a love about those “other people” or was it about us taking care of us? They were still in the mindset that love was a scarce resource, but Jesus was trying to expand their way of thinking.

It is noteworthy that Jesus said these words to his community after they had endured betrayal, loss, sadness. It might be easier to hang together without this, but then maybe that wouldn’t quite be love?

So I wonder if Jesus was reminding them that whatever they do after he is gone, they should keep loving outward and inward, keep showing up for one another, through ups and downs, frustrations and failures. I wonder if he is asking them to not forget that love is an action, that love asks them to go beyond the surface.

We tend to think of love as an emotion or as something distant and abstract, but I think maybe Jesus was telling them and us, that it is a verb, it is an ongoing promise to grow deeper in our kindness and caring, in our devotion to one another. I love what Valerie Kaur wrote when she said that, “Love” is more than a feeling. Love is a form of sweet labor: fierce, bloody, imperfect, and life-giving—a choice we make over and over again…”

Jesus loved the people of his time by healing and hoping a movement into being and he continued to be present even when they had let him down and thrown him off and when circumstances brought all of them pain. So I wonder if part of what he was saying to them was, now you see what I have done, show up like that for one another?

I often hear people say that we come to church, but that is only sort of true, we come to our church building and we come to worship, but the truth is the church is everywhere, the church is all that we do for love and in the name of love together and individually. Love is something we practice.

This week our community engaged in the sweet labor of love in so many forms- the sweet labor of love looks like giving hours to thoughtfully arranging flowers and banners and setting tables to remember a beloved. The sweet labor of love looks like visiting our elders and sending notes to those who are grieving. The sweet labor of love looks like a duck race- being planned for the whole community, helping all of us have fun.

Love is a form of sweet labor… part of the whole point of this is, co-laboring for love together. I think that is what it means to be the church, sharing outward and inward, choosing love, a choice we make over and over again…” Church is a verb! Are you with me?

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John 10:22-30 and “A Blessing for That Space of Yes/And” by Kate Bowler

Fourth Sunday of Easter

May 8th, 2022

By Nicole M. Lamarche

Thank you for being here today on this fourth Sunday of Easter. Each Sunday I ask for your prayers before I offer a word, but I need it especially today. Tune into our heartbeat, to the Great Spirit, to the birdsongs, and the sounds of being together like this…

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.

“Clearly something is going on. The question of course is what? And what does it all mean?” That is how Kai Ryssdal began Thursday’s segment of the public radio program called Marketplace. And I listen regularly tuning into whether the music is happy or sad. He was of course referring to the stock market but this sentiment and these questions felt relevant in other areas of human life and the life of our community right now too.

Clearly something is going on. The question of course is what?

He went on to speak to another so called expert who compared this moment to a hangover, saying it’s as if we are all “wasted, confused, stumbling”…he went on, “we are just going to go through these phases of ups and downs, intense volatility until everyone can figure out what is going on…”

These are the adults in charge? He ended with, “it’s a long painful hangover and that’s what it will feel like for a while…”

That sounds terrible to me. But I think it points to the truth that we are in a new era on planet earth, a new era in our country, a new era in our community and even in our church.

And right now it feels chaotic and sad, and it also feels unresolved.

It is an uncertain place, the in-between, the question mark space, the spot where we are in a sort of…suspense. And it is heavy. Because we were already in the between and then this week in the life of our church, we lost more of the ones we loved and I feel it deeply. In these weeks and months between the death of Anne and Erv and Bill and Robb, we have lost legacy builders, people who invested deeply in this, in us, in creating community in different ways. It just doesn’t feel right to have them gone.

It feels like not just people we loved have died, but paradigms too, pillars for us, structures that held us. Just last Saturday Robb was leading us all in an important operational management team meeting. He was quite literally forging the new direction of part of our governance framework.

Bill was instrumental in creating the Friday morning Men’s Group, which is an important and powerful place for connection and community that will go on. Erv was a game changer for hospitality here and I have heard of so many occasions where he and Jo went out of their way to make others feel at home. Anne created many of the tapestries for this church, crafting art with fabric and love, a symbol of our stories and lives woven together in a way, forever. And Robb joyfully embraced not just the sausage making of church, but the vision casting. Even at his stage, at his age, he was willing to get in the ring and he would often ask us how what we were doing was helping us follow Jesus? It’s kind of an obvious question, but sometimes he was the only one asking. He was willing to have his heart broken for this thing we love, willing to give sacrificially of treasure and time.

So along with the grief, I honestly feel a bunch of question marks. How can we live in this new terrain of uncertainty and volatility, this place of in between with them?

It is confusing and it does feel as if we are stumbling, going through these phases of ups and downs, as if waiting for enough of us to figure out what is going on…

In this story in the Gospel of John, we encounter Jesus teaching in the context of another religious festival. And like often happens, a lot of the people around him, just don’t get it, they just don’t understand. What unfolds, shows the theological disagreements that had developed in that time over whether he was in fact so connected to God, that we can meet God’s character through him, that we can understand more about who God is by knowing him. But as Thomas Troeger wrote, “people who like black-and-white answers and who prefer plain meaning to subtlety and allusion may find the Gospel of John frustrating.”

And we can actually even hear the frustration among those around Jesus, when they ask him "How long will you keep us in suspense? Jesus answered, "I have told you, and you do not believe…” You don’t get it. You don’t believe it. You don’t see it.

When I read this story this week, it made me ponder all that we miss when we are stumbling around confused. What if Jesus is telling them that they have what they need? They have the answer they need, but they are just having trouble seeing it. I have told you, but you don’t believe…

As we have explored over these last two weeks here together, one of the invitations for us in this moment I think, is being willing to be uncertain, curiosity over certainty. Being willing to be in that yes/and, in between place. Being humbled by how little we really know. And also what if holding this space, being present in this in between, actually allows us to see what we need to, to know our answers and recognize them when they come.

Some scholars suggest that instead of “How long will you keep us in suspense?” a more accurate translation of the question to Jesus is something like “How long will you annoy us?” How long will we be in a place like this?

Because that’s the truth of how it feels sometimes to be where many of us are, to be in the uncertain middle place, the in-between, the question mark, the unknown, the suspense, the space what was and what is becoming, is annoying.

Which means here, some will try to resist, or try to bring back an old paradigm for the hope of some kind of certainty, even though it is false.

Because it’s challenging to have to keep showing up in this place, not knowing exactly what it will look like, with some of what and who we loved gone.

We think of evolution as that six-million year process that brought us from apelike creatures to this, but it is clearly happening, in us right here and now, prying us all open in a way.

And do you know what? I feel like this is a hard, but also a holy place to be.

Because this same place, this moment of suspense is actually someplace important too. It isn’t to be dismissed. It isn’t to be numbed or avoided. We must let ourselves grieve and then we notice what must remain from what they gave us. We see with clarity what must be preserved.

Doing this I think lets us see how to live out their legacies that long to have a life here beyond their bodies. How do we live out what these pillars left for us? How do we quiet ourselves to hear what they need us to hear?

I love what Kate Bowler writes in words to us today, she is a professor and writer living with stage 4 cancer. She says” blessed are you, settling yourself there

in the space of yes/and,

where all that is true can be welcomed

not because it is easier, but because it is real,”

That’s the thing about this in between time, it’s real and that feels holy.

I just expected Robb to walk in today and ask me why we still don’t have a better welcoming system for the 9 a.m. worship service or how I feel about his latest structure map and I confess his voice and questions won’t soon leave me and I honestly don’t want them to.

The presence of these absences do feel like something like Anne’s banners, fragments for us to hold, pieces to keep, to weave their lives and their hopes into ours now.

Clearly something is going on. A new thing is coming into being. How will we pick up the legacies gifted to us? How will we claim them, hold them, and promise to give them life here and now?

What if that question from Jesus to his crowd and to us was just as much about inviting those who were moved to shift from needing to believe in the movement, to needing to see it all and understand it, to being it? What would they do without him? How will they live his teachings without him? What of his legacy would they pick up, claim, hold and promise to give their lives to and pass on to those who come after?

We are in a hard, but holy place, suspended in the yes/and. And I know that there is a gift here too. Without their voices, their questions and love of this, of us, we are forced to now look forward, to use what they taught us, gave us, gifted us with. It’s a chance to do what they would have us do, to take what they loved and add to it, build on it, give to it what is needed so it has life for this generation and the next.

Beloved of God, in this new terrain of uncertainty and volatility, in this time of in between, of confusion and stumbling, waiting for us to figure out what is going on… What if Jesus is telling us that we have the answers we need? What if this is a place to see truths we wouldn’t otherwise have seen? In our grief, we remember that we have each other, that with God, we are part of the answers to our own questions. We remember that in this place, all that is true can be welcomed, not because it is easier, but because it is real. What if Jesus is inviting us from that place of looking to others and needing to see something more so we can believe in the movement, to being it? Our saints now look to us and the holy hum of the Universe calls to us.

May this be so. Amen.

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By: Rev Jackie Hibbard

Certainty. Don’t we all want it? To know the “right” answer, the “right” path, the “right” thing to say, the “right” way to think or believe? We think certainty will make things easier, that there are certain ways to do things. It surely makes things easier … or so we think, or are taught to believe.

You might know that I am a fan of the work of Brene Brown and Franciscan Friar Father Richard Rohr. Maybe I’m a little obsessed with Brene Brown’s work and find it compelling, thought provoking and relatable. And Father Richard’s theology speaks to me and his work is equally as compelling and thought provoking and relatable. I follow both in social media and regular electronic communications as well as in books, articles and videos. I learn so much from both of them and find them to be quite important in my spiritual journey. Imagine my delight when Brene Brown interviewed Father Richard on her podcast Unlocking Us for the last 2 weeks. I was ecstatic, intrigued, and spellbound by their conversation.

Honestly, if I thought we could do it, I would simply play a snippet of the conversation and then have us reflect together about it. The whole conversation is just filled with so much for us to reflect about and dissect and wrestle with. It would be well worth your time and energy to listen to the full podcast interviews, there are 2 of them just over an hour total. You might tell from the bit that Laura read for us that there is much to reflect about. There were some aha moments and some head scratcher comments for me.

Their conversation coupled with the scripture today, I found myself really curious about certainty and when it’s important to me, to our culture, to us. And if God really “requires” us to have certainty all the time.

If I look at Saul in the story from the scripture today, I’m guessing that Saul was really certain about what he believed. He was certain that he was following God and the laws by persecuting those who were following the way of Jesus. He was certain he was right and they were wrong.

When we are certain about something, we are set. There is no room for changing our mind and we believe that whatever it is, it is true.

Whether we look at Saul in the scripture or at the culture war we are in the midst of in this country right now, it's all the same. We are all certain that we are right. There is little room for curiosity, for both-and, for paradox, for conversation. We are entrenched.

The scales in our eyes, in our ears and covering our hearts keep us in separate camps and groups. One is right, the other wrong. One is true, the other false. One is good, the other bad. You get the picture and probably are quite aware of it. Nicole shared about that last week in her sermon.

I think I have always struggled with the notion of certainty. When I was going through the ordination process, I kept hitting this wall as I worked on my ordination paper. It literally took me years to write the thing, Robb will confirm that since he was the chair of my in-discernment committee when we were both at Park Hill.

I had this belief that I had to know everything, to be certain and un-questioning about my faith, to know “the truth”, and what God was calling me to be and do. And it paralyzed me. Because I wasn’t certain, I didn’t have all the answers and I had some belief that everyone else did and that it was required of me. That belief that I had to be certain about everything kept me stuck for a long time. Sometimes it still does.

But at some point, I surrendered to the mystery of being called to ministry and trusted that I was really being called. I allowed myself to be vulnerable, as both Father Richard and Brene Brown tell us is an essential part of life and of faith. I wrote from my heart, rather than write what I thought other people in authority wanted to hear or what I thought they thought was “right.” I let my authentic voice at that moment speak. And the paper was done and submitted shortly thereafter, without a lot of certainty, but with heart and authenticity and filled with faith in an all-loving God.

All those years of struggle … clinging to some belief that there is a “right” way to present that paper in order to be accepted. Maybe you think I wasted a lot of time and energy & sometimes I think that too. And really I have come to accept it as part of my journey, a process I needed to go through. Most of the time, I don’t make it wrong or bad.

Perhaps you know this quote by Rainer Maria Rilke, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

Live the questions. Be patient with what is unsolved. Love the questions. Be curious. Be open to learning new things. Explore. Reflect. Go deep. Go shallow. Discover. Discard. Rest. Be ready to say, “I have learned something new” and let old things fall away. Let the mystery be.

All of this is what it means to have faith in a God who loves us deeply. All of this is what it means to be human.

Maybe, like Saul, we need to hear the call of Jesus, sit with the mystery, embrace the journey, accept that we might not be right all the time, and let the scales fall from our eyes. Maybe that is what faith is rather than having answers at our fingertips, wrapped up in a bow, making each of us right and others wrong. Maybe certainty isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.

Let the scales fall, let your heart, mind, eyes and ears open and may you cultivate curiosity next time you encounter someone or an idea you don’t agree with or understand. I wonder what might happen? May you keep exploring and may your faith thrive and grow as you learn new things and continue on the journey you are on.

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