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.

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Mark 12:38-44, Excerpts from Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb and To Risk by William Arthur Ward

Sunday November 7th, 2021

By Nicole M. Lamarche

Good morning and welcome again from all of the places that you are experiencing this worship service today. Worship always has a life beyond the moment and now that is especially true since we can share the Good News by livestreaming now coming to you at

People tell me they listen to it later like a podcast or from a rehab facility and some even tell me they fast forward! Which you can’t actually do here in the room, but if you want to watch it later you can do that. So if you are watching this later and you have fast forwarded, don’t forget to pledge!

Thank you again for being here. And as you are comfortable, I invite you to take a deep breath 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.

Only a person who risks is free, that’s what we heard from the poet William Arthur Ward. And we are in the final Sunday of this sermon series on Help! We have all asked God for help in different ways, exploring how we can have help in hanging on when it’s hard, how we can have help in hearing and seeing from new places and faces, last week was how we can have help in grieving and mourning and last week thank you for your grace as I wept my way through the sermon, inviting all of you to do the same. Today we explore how we can have help in taking risks- risks for restoration, for healing, for a way forward. And not just for God’s sake or for creation’s sake, but for our sake, for the sake of each of our freedom, for the sake of each of us to live into something we might not yet be. Only a person who risks is free because risk asks us to move out of our comfort zone. Risks pull us out on a limb and demands that we build new capacities, that we cultivate new strengths, that we grow and activate different muscles. And in my experience it is often only when the Universe forces us. As Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote and put it another way, “…Difficulty is what wakes up the genius.”

But I am finding that many people avoid these things unless pushed or summoned. And our willingness to take risks changes as we age. Also some of us because of gender or race or access to education or circumstance or all of the above, haven’t had to take risks in life. And there is the group of us who have felt like risk is all we have, as if our whole existence feels risky.

I believe there is truth in the idea that with risk can come freedom, especially when it is about taking a risk for healing, for restoration. But I am discovering for my own self, that in order to be sustained in risks like this, to keep taking them, I need you all. Risks like that, to do again and again are too hard to do on our own. Because risks of the Gospel kind are risks that ask us to disrupt oppression, with our words and actions and this is too hard to do on our own.

I have often heard this story in the Gospel of Mark interpreted in a way that sort of idolizes the woman’s sacrifice. But when you put on your feminist lens what do you notice? Is there anything missing? Her name! How incredible that she gave all that she had, isn’t that so faithful of her, look at her over there, isn’t she a good person? She is impoverished, but look she still put something in the treasury! Sacrifice is so good isn’t? She took a pious risk to publicly show her sacrifice! But as scholar Emilie Townes points out, this reading of the text “is dangerous because we often ask those who are the most vulnerable to give the most.” She goes on, “In the United States, we ask those in the working class and those who are poor to bear the weight of tax cuts that benefit those who are wealthier. Often those who earn less pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes than those who are wealthier. This kind of sacrifice echoes Jesus’ warning in the passage for us to beware… Further, “at times it seems that sacrifice is best (only) when someone else is doing it…” and maybe that is true for risk too.

It is so much easier to idolize the risk takers later than to listen to what they are saying here and now. I learned only recently that the majority of Americans- seventy-five percent of Americans, disapproved of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when he was alive, because he was speaking out against the Vietnam War and economic disparity. It occurred to me how much easier it is for white Americans to push for a holiday for a dead black civil rights activist, than to listen to him while he is alive, than to risk friendships and success in social circles to activate others to make changes and to respond to what he was asking while he was still here.

It makes me think of those situations where people claim to be all about inclusion and welcoming a diverse array of voices and experiences, but then in practice, it’s clear that the plan is welcoming newcomers- so they can learn how it goes, so they can be told what should happen. I kind of felt that way as I watched the outcome of the Conference of the Parties, taking little action on actually reducing carbon emissions, doing hardly anything to change behavior and shift how we produce and what we emit, while telling those on their way in developing, don’t do it like us, you can’t have it, what we have, if you do the whole planet will be ruined. It felt like saying, We will go on doing what we do, but please don’t start doing what we do, that would be really bad. And out there was young Greta Thunberg telling us through tears what to do. And it made me wonder if we would be quick to memorialize her when she is gone, but not so quick to listen to her while she is here.

So I wonder if this story in the Gospel of Mark isn’t all about how we should idolize those making huge sacrifices, but rather how we should join them. I also wonder if this story is about the fact that often those who have the least, are most willing to be wildly generous.

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of once again joining Carol, our wonderful justice activist on the streets. The little crew meets at the library and takes turns pulling the blue wagons filled with clear plastic bags of all shapes and sizes, stuffed with razors and packets of shaving cream, toothpaste and toothbrushes, feminine hygiene products, water bottles and hand warmers, hats and gloves, socks and small boxes of fruit snacks. Weird energy drinks. They just take whatever is donated. The bigger corporate donations in these times have been less reliable, more sporadic, and the offerings from local households seem to be more in the category of things people don’t want. What struck many of us on that beautiful Thursday afternoon was that almost every single person we encountered on the streets said something like, "I don't want to take more than I need. Are you sure?" Or "I already have that, have you gotten to the people under the bridge?” There was one woman who was clearly exhausted. She had a small bag and had part of a sleeping bag draped over her shoulder. She had what she had with her and there was clearly so much that she really needed, but before she took anything, she wanted to know if we had gotten to the people around us.

So I wonder if this story in the Gospel of Mark is also about how those who have little, really give more. And I wonder if it’s about how we should pay attention to actions over words, about how we are sometimes called to risk our position for the sake of our Greater Love? I wonder if this story is not about idolizing her sacrifice, but examining our participation in something that would leave her with nothing?

What if this story is about an invitation to each of us to disrupt oppression, to take risks to interrupt?

In my own life, I took very few risks for the first two decades. In my context, “playing it safe” seemed like the best way out- to an education and to a different kind of life. My biological father left our house and my everyday experience when I was 6 or 7. This huge rift compelled me to try and do whatever I could to keep things steady, peaceful, no risks. In my mind, taking risks meant the chance of ruining what was good. But later I learned that risk can also compel us literally to new heights, to new depths of experiences, new revealings that seem to shift entire worlds.

And as I have reflected on all of this, I realize it has been the Church, for me at least, the power of faith community that has supported my best risk taking. Whether it was joining the movement to resist the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, to being a part of OWS and or the movement for Black Lives. All of this was made possible because of support from Church, being willing to lose position or place or even friendships... And even in the new church start one of my oldest friends told me she couldn’t support me because I believe Jesus wasn’t the only way to God. And this year, just over six months ago, this community took a huge risk, a Gospel-sized risk and put ourselves out there, made new connections and relationships to remove unwanted firearms from homes and chopped up over 30 guns and inspired our sister church to do twice that. We got pushback and angry phone calls, hate mail, pushback and some relationships lost, but we also started a movement because we pointed out that we as a culture go right to the Boulder Strong with memorials and holidays and statues, we risked friendships and success to activate others to make changes and to respond to what this tragedy pointed out while some of us are still here.

I feel that right now we might be called to take Gospel-sized risks in our lives, because of where things are with life on planet earth and also because of who we are as a community of faith and truth, a place of compassion and action. Maybe instead of idolizing those out there giving it all they have, perhaps those of us who can, are called to join them?

Beloved of God, let us not forget that taking risks is part of our call as disciples. Let us take risks for difficult conversations; let us take risks to build new connections. Let us take risks in order to activate our individual and collective genius. Let us be willing to risk our position or place for the sake of justice, love and kindness. Let us risk to disrupt oppression. Let us not forget the person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing. We are going to pause just a moment, to ponder where we feel called to risk. Let us not just celebrate those out there giving it all they have, let us risk to join them. May it be so. Amen.

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Revelation 21:1-6a and Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye

Sunday October 31st, 2021

By Rev. Nicole Lamarche

Welcome again from all of the places you are experiencing this worship service today. I give thanks that this technology has allowed us to stay connected. Being able to share worship and our message of radical love more widely is part of our digital ministry and it is a pandemic silver-lining that we can greet you and worship God together while keeping you safe in Frasier Meadows and Sunrise and beyond and also right here. So welcome from wherever you are, to this time where we get the chance to be filled and renewed for all of the ways we live and love and give back in the world.

To prepare my spirit and all of ours to be open to God in new ways, I offer this prayer and you are invited to join in silence or in word. 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.

Grief does not change you, it reveals you, that’s what author John Green wrote. And I don’t know if I agree with it entirely because while grief does seem to pull back layers to tell our hearts and bodies and minds how much we loved, what we really felt, I think maybe grief does change us. And it has changed us. I am seeing that grief can soften us or harden us. It can open us or close us. The good side of grief to me is something like what you heard from the poet Naomi Shihab Nye “Before you know what kindness really is, you must lose things, feel the future dissolve in a moment like salt in a weakened broth…” Grief can make us meaner or it can make us kinder because it forces us to remember how fleeting all of this is, how quickly things can change, which can invite us to either hold on tighter or draw the circle wider as we are forced to live with the reality of this pandemic moment, which has indeed felt like some of our ideas of the future have dissolved in a moment, like salt in a weakened broth. It feels even more precious now, living with this truth. I suspect that is the gift of grief.

We are in week three of our series on help and today we are exploring how we can have help in grieving and mourning. Not all of us find grieving a comfortable task, but it is an essential part of our tradition and I believe right now it is ritual we so desperately need. I didn’t realize how significant doing this fully and intentionally might be- until this year, when the losses have been ongoing and some of them deep. Not only has our community continued to endure an ongoing pandemic, carrying on with whoever was willing- calling and caring and creatively connecting, learning new things, adding small groups and a worship service, growing in our commitments to one another, sharing generously beyond us to support our community in an economic crisis, we have survived a gun violence massacre at our grocery store, a wound that is still present, but now in the form of construction equipment and new siding showing signs more change is on the way, we have survived a loss of hope. We have survived the loss of beloved members, the loss of certain ways of worshiping, the loss of rituals we loved so much- rituals that lifted us up, like singing in the choir and sharing coffee and cookies and being close in and we have lost being squished into this sanctuary with our precious and powerful band of diverse and wonderful humans on a shared spiritual journey.

And now we are surviving the loss of bandwidth and patience, we are surviving a reality that I confess took me a while to accept. This message took me longer than usual to write because I sobbed so hard, I couldn’t see my computer screen. And here is the truth that I think we all need to accept: some things won’t ever be like they were before. I struggle with this daily now and I think we need to start to let ourselves say it out loud, so we can hold one another up and so we can cry and love what is. Enough time has passed that some business have already closed and some organizations won’t be able to pivot fast enough. Some ways of being together simply won’t be like they were, at least for a long while. I am sad about this, living in it, not on the other side of it. Disappointment and tears and honestly grief. Denial can work for a while, until we keep running into walls, expecting something or someone or some familiar experience to be there, some moment to return, but it doesn’t and it won’t and in some parts it is clear to me that it isn’t good for any of us to simply live with disappointment as the default forever.

I guess for a while we can carry on and just do and do and do and I have noticed some people are doing this or compartmentalizing so we don’t really feel it. I see some people trying to squish “life as it was” back into now, but then things just feel off, because we can’t return to the there, because there is no there, there in the same way. Or there is the group that seems to be getting the fact that some things won’t ever be like they were before, that some trends were just sped up, that some of the unveilings mean we can’t unsee what we saw and for some people this means anger and looking for people and places to blame. And then there is the group of us that seems to be waiting. And I have heard many people in our own community say this and I have to admit it breaks my heart. Waiting for things to be normal before they reconnect, waiting for things to be normal before they volunteer. Waiting for things to go back before they will come to worship in person or on Zoom. Waiting…

And while all of these responses are completely understandable, what if part of what it means to be the church right now, is to be willing to be the church, right now…with things as they are, with us as we are, with life as it is? What if part of what we need to be about right now is creating spaces and places for all of us to be honest, to live with the truth of what is, when the whole world is in denial in some ways? What if we could be the place where you don’t have to hide our sadness and disappointment? What if our people and our community and our country needs places to be able to grieve right now, to be honest about what we have lost? And what if doing this can make us kinder because it forces us to remember how fleeting all of this really is, how quickly things can change, how precious what we are about is here and now.

This text from the book of Revelation is in the category of apocalyptic writings and gives us a window into the persecution of the early Church, of what they were longing for amid all of their struggles and loss and pain. As you heard, they were longing for literally, a “new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more…” As the scripture said, “the first things have passed away…” and today I wonder if that is kind of where we are too. In many ways, our first things have passed away. Our first idea of how things would go, our beloveds and beloved ways of being human together have passed away… Our idea of what we would be doing with our friends and our faith community in the fall of 2021 has passed away.

And I think we need to not have to hide the ugly cries and the disappointments we feel. We need not have to polish our pain. I think we need to be able to grieve and mourn at all of the ways the first things, our plan A has passed away. And I think it is urgent because if we don’t, I fear we will miss all of the spectacular, beautiful things that are happening right here and now, , all of the depth and new connection, all of the good that is finding its way to us. If we don’t grieve the truth, I fear life will go by and more of what we love will die and we will have missed what God is asking to do, how God is calling us to be the church for one another right here and now. What if part of what it means to be the church right now, is to be willing to be the church, right now…with things as they are, with us as we are, with life as it is?

Some of you know that a few weeks ago, our family lost our beloved dog Stella who was my boo for 14 years. Even though her death was not much of a surprise, the grief I have felt has taken me by surprise, coming in big hits and more subtle tugs at my heart, washing over me or finding me as I expect her to come around the corner of the hallway or to be there waiting when I come in the front door, but then what is left is just feeling of the presence of her absence. The Sunday immediately after she died, our daughter came to the 9 a.m. worship and spread her body out over the chairs and just wept. She let her tears flow like a river because this place was safe and sacred. She knew it would be okay. And I wonder if this is what all of us need right now? I give you permission to spread your body out over these chairs and weep, to let your tears come.

Our bodies and our spirits need to be able to see things rightly, that is part of the Christian tradition that we are about the truth; the truth will set us free. I don’t want us to become cynical and hopeless, less patient. I pray that all of this loss, will in fact invite us to live more fully into who we are called to be. I do believe that whatever name we have for God It is ahead of us and with us.

I don’t want us to be sunk in sorrow, stuck in sadness, lost in worry, mad at the madness because we aren’t a part of pointing out the goodness.

So today, I pray, that if you haven’t already, I invite you let yourself start to grieve. Give yourself space to feel what you really feel. Let your heart mourn a hope, a plan, a possibility, a person that might not be able to manifest the way it did or would have before… Let your mind welcome the gifts that came, the gratitude with what was. And when we do this, it’s as if there is more room, as if we have more capability of noticing the glory and God moments, right here and now. When we give thanks that we have made it and let ourselves grieve, maybe that allows our hearts, our eyes, our ears to be more open. And then when we are ready, we can start to ask ourselves this: who do we want to be now? What do we want our lives together to look like? When we stop thinking we are waiting for what was, a new invitation arrives in our lap: who are you called to be now?

Grief can be like a detour, except you can’t turn around. What is certain is the previous route isn’t possible. So Beloved of God, may our grief make us kinder, more open to new paths and new people because we remember how precious and fleeting all of this is. Our first things have passed away. Our first idea of how things would go are gone, but God is with us and there are good things right here. Let us be the church for one another with things as they are, with us as we are, with life as it is. The first things have passed away, but we are still here and so is Love, let us see what we can be… May it be so. Amen.

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