Luke 12:13-21 and The Seed Market by Jalal al-Din Rumi


July 31st, 2022


By: Amanda Shaw Newsome


If I were going to rename this sermon, I’d call it, “How do we marry the ocean?"


Good morning. Happy Sunday and thank you all for the warm welcome to church.

Church is something relatively new in my adult life and I must confess that I tend to fall

away attending in person in the summer. So thank you for inviting me into this space so

warmly.


I really appreciate preaching from the lectionary because it requires me to take a deeper

look at places I tend to skim over. Like today's reading. Ok, so the parable of the rich

fool. “Greed is bad, folks, don’t be greedy.” Got it. Done. Let’s all go have brunch.


Of course one way to read this parable is that we should not commit the sin of greed

here on earth because greed is a sin and we want to get to heaven. I’m not a real “pie in

the sky when you die” person, so that read feels a bit hierarchical for my faith.


And we can easily and perhaps righteously read it as an ancient warning against our

modern neo-liberal capitalism. Greed is bad because greed fuels empire. After all, we

live in a system that thrives on greed, on want, on the perception that there’s always a

bigger better version of life we can buy. I’ve got no problem with that critique…but then I

wonder where the promise is.


Funny thing: the Greek word we translate to “possessions” is “yparchonton” and rather

than meaning “stuff or things or wealth” it means “that which exists to them.”


So Jesus says, “Beware of that which exists to you.”


We read further into the chapter, in fact the very next lines of Luke, Jesus says,

““Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body,

what you will wear. For life is more than food and the body more than clothing. Consider

the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet

God feeds them.”


And there it is. God promises abundance. Free from worry.


I don’t know about you, but I am not experiencing a life free from worry these days.


So this word “possession” that appears in our translation made me think of

something I’ve read recently, by the Buddhist priest Pema Chodron.


Here in Boulder, you all are likely quite familiar with Pema, perhaps even more so than I

am. I lead a pandemic-inspired book group on Zoom with my home church in Aurora,

Parkview Congregational, and we’ve been reading Pema’s latest book called,

“Welcoming the unwelcome: Whole-hearted living in a broken-hearted world.”


In the book, Pema Chodron describes the Buddhist concept of “emptiness.”


Here’s what she says about emptiness, using a tree as an example: “The word “tree” is

just a convenient name for a collection of parts—trunk, limbs, leaves—that are always

changing, day by day, instant by instant. We label it all as a “tree,” but that label is just in

our minds. In reality, there’s nothing we can pin down with our limiting concepts. There’s

nothing permanent or solid we can hold on to. And this is true not only of trees, but of

everything in the universe…Everything is empty of fixed ideas and labels. But at the

same time, a tree doesn’t disappear when we recognize its emptiness. We just see it

more clearly as it really is: fluid, open-ended, and interconnected with everything around

it.”


Another Buddhist teacher, Ruth Ozeki, uses the metaphor of the ocean to illustrate this

concept of emptiness. She says that we take the shape of waves in the water, that we

rise up and out of the water and feel big and powerful and important, and then pretty

soon we just sink back into the ocean. As the poem says, “where you came you came

from.”


And when does this emptiness become truly apparent? Pema says, it is when our

bubble’s of perceived reality—that which we label wealth, or safety or comfort — when

our bubbles burst. When things fall apart.


That is when we are kicked into the emptiness.


And emptiness, she says, isn’t nothingness—it is reality. It is a place we should learn to

dwell, to abide. It is a new perspective where we should learn to rest.


A place free from worry.


————-


Early on I got some very good advice about preaching, and that is to preach from your

scars but not your wounds.


So it is with some trepidation that I tell you that my life is not going the way I wanted or

expected it to right now. I’ve experienced some major bubbles burst recently.


And I share this with you here because I suspect you can relate.


Fundamental elements of my life that I took for granted as solid aren’t really, as if I

opened my barn of grain to find it was filled with packing peanuts. Or as though I spent

years setting a beautiful dinner table with delicate glasses and gleaming china and fresh

flowers and exquisite food and some giant arm came by and cleared it of everything.


I think “emptiness” is a very good word for it. And I find myself reconsidering everything

I thought was real and important. And here’s the thing: I find this to be a holy place. Not

easy, not happy, certainly not comfortable. But holy.


So yesterday morning I gave a ride to a woman experiencing homelessness. And

before you say anything, I know, it doesn’t sound safe. She had tried to walk from a

hospital in Aurora to a big shelter in Denver—about nine miles (with an injured foot) and

she’d gotten almost half way before she fell asleep right at the entrance to The Urban

Farm. And Saturday morning, when I arrived at the farm, there she was, snoring with

her bum foot hanging right out into the driveway where folks come in.


Another farm volunteer approached this person with me and we determined she hadn’t

overdosed, so I woke her up as gently as I could because I was worried she was going

to be hit by a car.


And as she woke up, she stood up, and got her bearings a little bit and then looked at

me with big, green liquid eyes and said, “you’re not going to believe this, but my sister is

dead. And I am alone in this world.”


And as we stood there together, I felt my own raw wound burn.


And it was clear that this young woman’s bubble had burst long ago. If she ever had

one—if she’d ever had safety and comfort. It was long gone.


Just for a moment, under that warm sun, we grieved together.


So after a few minutes, I learned she was trying to get to the Smith Road shelter,

another four miles down the road. And I imagined her walking on her injured foot in the

heat for hours. So I offered her a ride over to the shelter. She also had a knife that I can

only describe as a small machete strapped to her hip. “but if you please put your

machete in your bag and your bag in the backseat we’ll be good.” Soon we were just

two people drive down the rode together on a short drive. And she mentioned she

wasn’t accustomed to traveling by car and how things looked different. And when an

ambulance sped by with its sirens on, she prayed out loud, immediately empathizing

with the people inside.


When we pulled up to the shelter, her friends—her chosen family—greeted her by

racing toward her with open arms.


————————-


“Beware of possessions. Beware of that which exists to you. Beware of that which you

perceive.”


These are bubble-bursting days. Days when the whispers and nudges of Spirit turn into

shouts and shoves. Days when things we thought we could count on—safe trips to the

store, basic rights over our own bodies, safely breathing in and out—are falling away.


These are days when worry is everywhere. You can see it on people’s faces, hear in

their strained voices. Where is the abundance? Where is God’s promise?


But I wonder if these are also sacred days. Days for us to work together to loose

ourselves from the confines of our comfort zones and prepare our ears for something

new, something shared and vast and more life-giving than any material riches, or

amount of power, or privilege or false security could ever offer.


“Beware of that which exists to you.”


We are not promised permanence. Only belonging. We are promised a place in

emptiness, in the truth of the world. A world you and I hardly know yet.


These times that call for mourning and wailing. These days call for lament from all our

corners of our shattered bubbles, all our cracked voices, our weak breaths in search of

divine wind.


How do we marry the ocean? How do we abide in the emptiness? In the vast

abundance of God’s love?


A dear friend and mentor reminded me of this translation of Psalm 137 this week by

Nan Merrill. Will you pray it with me?


Let us seek and await Jesus in the emptiness. Let us meet each other there, our spirits

poor, our egos fragmented and our imaginations open to the wide dream of God.

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Luke 10:38-42 and Excerpts from The Essential Rumi, New Expanded Edition

Sunday July 17th, 2022


By Rev. Nicole M. Lamarche



Good morning again! It is so good to be together like this and in all of the ways that we can on this glorious summer morning.


I really do find hope knowing I get to gather each week and hold certain intentions together and put them to our collective action. I also give thanks that we create space built in to tune into a deeper level to whatever word God has for us. So in that spirit, I invite you to join me as you are moved as we feel our heart beat…


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.


I don’t know what it is like to sit at the feet of Jesus exactly, but I do know what it is like to find myself in situations that challenge culturally prescribed roles and that is what Mary is doing right here in this story from the Gospel of Luke. Because here she is in the position of the student, in that role of the learner, which in her time, would have been only reserved for the men. As Matthew Skinner writes, “A woman sits and learns at Jesus feet possibly in the process transgressing cultural expectations and Jesus approves, implying that all dimensions of sharing in (his) ministry are open to all...”


And I don’t know what it is like to toil behind the scenes in the kitchen, because my man is the cook in our family, but I do know a whole lot about what it is like to be distracted by many things with all that I feel called to do and all that I must do and all that I need to and I know what it is like to feel angry at those who seem to be just sitting there… And that is what Martha is holding in this story from the Gospel of Luke because she comes to Jesus in protest and says, “But you do not care that my sister has left me to do all of the work by myself?


And I don’t know what it is like to be a prophet, whose very words create a movement, but I do know what it is like to be the one to share words that discomfort and challenge and that is what Jesus is doing in this story because he tells both of them what to focus on and even what that might be hard to hear.


Do you see yourself somewhere in this story too? We don’t see these sisters appear together like this in any other place in the Synoptic Gospels, but we do get a story later in the Gospel of John, but I think this story has something powerful for us.


And with all that we are holding right now, it feels quite useful to hear Jesus on something that we can take in, to give us some wisdom. Because part of this story is about how we are to show up and how we are to use our gifts, where we are to put our energy. And here Jesus kind of gives us an answer. He says to focus on the “better part.” Or put another way, I wonder if he is saying that the richest experience can be found when we are able to let ourselves be focused on this: “only one thing?” Our right now, our this moment, whether it be washing dishes or learning from a master teacher, what if some of how we will feel hopeful right now is being against multi-tasking and being about “one thing?” What if Jesus is inviting us to focus on. Just. One. Thing.


And here’s the second wondering I have right now from this story: What if our wholeness and happiness comes from tending to both our inner and outer lives? Again from scholar Matthew Skinner who wrote, “Neither the narrator in Luke, nor Jesus set’s Marth’s and Mary’s activities in opposition.” So what if they are meant to go together?


It could be easy to reduce this story in such a way that creates a mutually exclusive situation, and I have heard it interpreted that way, so Martha’s doing is pitted against Mary’s willingness to just sit, but if we are only doing, and never sitting to listen, our doing might then be coming from a shallow place, a place that isn’t centered away from ego and if we are only stopping so we can tune out the world, but never taking actions to ease the suffering of others, then our prayers might not make us kinder and it might not gift us with more peace. And our busyness might make us and the world worse off. I have learned that sometimes people mistake being busy for being effective. It seems Americans idolize a full calendar.


Just this morning in the NY times, Tim Kreider wrote, “Everyone is still busy, worse than busy-worse than busy, exhausted too wiped at the end of the day to do more than stress-eat, binge watch and doom scroll- but no one’s calling it anything other than what it is anymore: an endless, frantic hamster wheel of survival.” Yikes.


I confess I got quite far on my spiritual journey before taking the Mary part seriously. I am a Martha! The Martha part comes more naturally to me. There’s too much to do! Stopping to sit and ponder, to quiet my mind seemed like a waste of time. It wasn’t until I hit dead ends with certain dreams that I felt compelled to pause long enough to hear beyond busyness.


I have shared some before about the experience of being a part of a new church. It’s called Urban Sanctuary San Jose and it’s a beautiful church. There were times in that process that I was so frustrated and infused with worry that I needed to build a new kind relationship with myself and also with a chair in the garage that became a companion for a needed adventure into my inner life. I had thought things would go a certain way but they weren’t, but I was basically still just doing, doing, doing because I didn’t know what else to do. And then it was all so crushing, so maddening, so chaotic and uncertain that I had to do something else and here is what it was: I had to stop doing.

My old patterns weren’t working and I was forced to start sitting in silence, for just a minute or two and then two or three and then 10 and then longer… I set a timer and I sat there and slowly, one day at a time, it turned into another beginning, an awakening, and a deepening, that is of course ongoing. From that place, I began to feel this sense that some of the way religion is presented is performative and wide, but not very deep and I found that instead of liturgy I needed silence, I needed it. And it led me to such different places. I see now I was just getting going on what Jesus calls “the better part” or the ability to let myself be present with the now, and what Jesus calls “only one thing.”


Douglas John Hall writes that “… most liberal and moderate Protestants in the North American context need most to hear Jesus’ commendation of Mary, who did ”the one thing needful.” On the occasion at hand, she did not immerse herself in the activity but in the necessary business of listening to Jesus’ words.” He goes on, “Activism without contemplation ends in aimless doing that usually aggravates existing difficulties…”


How we show up and whether it’s rooted from a certain kind of place matters. And I have seen how different the results can be when faithful people are rooted in something other than just doing.


During that same season of all kinds of new beginnings and of old patterns dying, I was desperate to meet people trying new things and living into the new paradigm and over that time I got to meet and learn from Episcopal priest, Becca Stevens. She lives and works in Nashville, but she came to Berkeley in 2012 to teach a small group of us. After experiencing the death of her father and subsequent child abuse when she was 5, Becca longed to open a sanctuary for survivors and to offer a safe and loving community for women who had been victimized. So in 1997, Becca opened the first home that was to serve as a sanctuary for 5 women survivors. When we met with her, she told us that they made sure the beds had high quality sheets and nothing that was hand me downs. She wanted the women to feel seen and deserving of beauty. Four years later, the women were making huge strides in recovery, but struggling to become financially self-sufficient. And as Becca watched this, she along with residents and other volunteers began making candles in a church basement. Then in 2001, a new social enterprise designed and driven by these women was born and it is called Thistle Farms. Thistle Farms is about healing and housing women. The women make candles and oils, jewelry and more and the items are sold online and at Thistle Farms café that serves up delicious food in Nashville, TN. Instead of replicating what was, Becca tuned in and dared to taste a new thing.


In her new book Practically Divine, Becca writes, “Now, I can see that one loving gesture is practically divine. We have to do small things and believe a big difference is coming. It’s like the miraculous drops of water that seep through mountain limestone. They gather themselves into springs that flow into creeks that merge into rivers that find their way to oceans. Our work is to envision the drops as oceans. We do our small parts and know a powerful ocean of love and compassion is downstream. Each small gesture can lead to liberation. The bravest thing we can do in this world is not cling to old ideas or fear of judgment, but step out and just do something for love’s sake. . .”


Maybe our one thing is simple but not easy? We need to tune into our “powerful ocean of love and compassion” so our decisions and our doing add goodness, not less. And in doing our inner work we are able to as Becca says, not cling to old ideas, which allows us to be unattached, and makes space for new ways of being.


Beloved of God, if you are doing, doing, doing and not happy and wondering what else to try, maybe stop? Take it from me! Maybe it’s time to sit in silence, literally and see what happens, I guarantee you will have different results. And if you are checked out and in a silo privileged to avoid all that is wrong, maybe your silence needs to be transformed to do one thing that eases the pain of the whole and shifts us toward what is right, you will have different results. If you are a Mary, look to Martha’s and if you are a Martha, look to Mary’s here!

We can’t be everything and we can’t do all the things and never stop and neither can we be about tuning it all out and turning in. It is both/and, inner and outer, daring to stop and listen and daring to keep on when people need to be fed, it’s all of it, but not at the same time. Jesus invites us to focus on the “better part” which is to let ourselves be focused on “only one thing.” Let us be about just one thing. That’s how we will keep going in hope and joy. May it be so. Amen.




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Colossians 1:1-14 and To Live in the Mercy of God by Denise Levertov


Sunday July 10th, 2022


By Rev. Nicole M. Lamarche



Good morning again! I missed you last Sunday and thank you Tim for sharing a word with the church!


I am finding that in this time, it makes a big difference to start with gratitude and all that is good, to take even just a few moments to notice the beauty that abounds and the kind people all around. We give thanks for our heartbeat and our breath, letting ourselves arrive here a bit more fully. And as you are moved, I invite you to hold a space of prayer with me. 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.


For the first time in my life I woke up on the Fourth of July and felt sad, heavy, a feeling that was new to me, like it had freshly landed in my heart showing up as an unwelcome guest.


I realize it is grief, a grief that was and is coming from the loss of a sense of where I fit, as a woman, as a religious person in the United States of America.


I am grieving the fact that bodily autonomy of women is up for debate in the year 2022, I am grieving that some educated, well respected people really do believe that old, so called “original” ideas are the better ideas, even when that means not everyone was counted as fully human then, and I am grieving that some really do believe that what matters more than justice and speaking the truth is maintaining positions of influence and holding onto places of power.


It's hard to hear what some people really think about what the rest of us should be entitled to, should have a right to…or not.


I have found myself wondering what we are called to do when we are living in a time like this, a time when other people’s religious concepts are imposed on all of us collectively in ways that are actively causing harm? Whether it’s about guns or clean air or women’s bodies…


What can and should we do?


One of my answers to this question recently and over this season has been to look back, to remember that those who came before us struggled too and they have wisdom to share with us. And this week this led me back to an essay I read long ago from a book called Sister Outsider, written by Audre Lorde in 1984, where she wrote this, “… survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with those others identified as outside the structures in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change...”


The Master’s Tools seem to be things like being nice and being civil, following the rules, ensuring that any solutions don’t upset the status quo too much, but these tactics haven’t worked and I am not sure we can vote our way out of this.

What should we do?


More specifically where can we put our energy in terms of where it will be useful? In biblical terms, the question is: What will bear fruit? What can we do that will genuinely bear fruit?


That is the phrase we hear in the letter to the Colossians. In this pericope that Karen read, the word fruit appears three times. In the writer’s framework, there is a way to live that creates goodness, abundance, faithfulness -fruit. The author says that the Gospel lived out properly will in fact produce fruit, “Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves...”


What does fruit look like for us?


What can we do that will genuinely bear fruit?


Yesterday 16 of us gathered here for half of the day to listen to the trends in the wider church and to explore together how these trends are impacting us here at CUCC. We learned that for the first time in American life, less than half of people identify as being affiliated with religious institutions and in this year alone 22,000 churches will close. The pandemic delivered a convergence of challenges that sped up what was already happening and I believe in some places it actually has revealed the shallowness of Christian community and the inability of the church to produce people willing to evolve and grow, to be inclusive and to be actively engaged in making the world better. Maybe those churches should die? And here is another question we explored: what if in some places Jesus has already left the building? If we understand the church to be an organism that is alive and moving, what if Jesus leaves the building when there is no fruit?


Because it’s clear to me that in some corners, there is more love and acceptance outside the church than in it. And like the poet Denise Levertov says, perhaps right now the mercy of God can be felt more easily in the multiple silences of trees instead of among people.


And yet I know and I am hearing how much people need fruit! The fruit of kindness and radical love from showing up for one another and tuning into the Spirit. We need the taste of justice from collective action and that cannot be found in the woods, rather this comes from “where two or three or gathered in my name, there I am…”


We all need fruit like this and I want to make sure you see the fruit that is already here! There is fruit here! I know that with conviction! I have heard what is happening in our sister churches in this region and around the country. Things are shifting rapidly and I think we should celebrate! Over this time we have grown our Small Group Ministry, grown a nationwide Guns to Gardens movement, grown our garden to feed those who are hungry here in Boulder County, grown our expressions in worship, grown in our presence outside these walls, trying harder to share our message of radical love. I have watched you be open to growing and learning from the frustrations of ongoing experimentation that has demanded us to be agile and flexible. I think this will serve us beautifully! I am seeing fruit among us and it is spectacular to see and I want to make sure you see it too.


So what can we do that will genuinely bear fruit? I think part of the answer is to keep on doing the things that we are doing that Jesus modeled for us, even when the world is doing something else. I believe that us living the Kin-dom of God right here on earth scaled up, is what is needed.


Recently, New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez shared an exchange she had with a hopeless constituent who was reaching out wondering what we could possibly do with all that is wrong. She said, “the world we are fighting for is already here. It exists in small spaces, places and communities. We don’t have to deal with the insurmountable burden of coming up with novel solutions to all of the world’s problems. Much of our work is about scaling existing solutions, many created by small, committed groups of people, that others haven’t seen or don’t even know are around the corner. So while we can’t change the world in a day, we CAN and do have the power to make our own world within our four walls, or our own blocks. We can from there with the faith that somewhere out there, everywhere, others are doing the same…”


What if us living the Kin-dom of God right here like this does matter to the whole wide world? What if what we are modeling is exactly what needs to be scaled up? What if the fruit from our work can be shared in such a way that inspires others to begin to plant their own orchard? And what if the fruit from the work of others can inspire and nourish us?


Beloved of God, know that God’s love for the world is vast and a flood of mercy is already here, remember the the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house, so let us keep standing even when it seems like we are standing alone, let us keep on planting seeds for trees whose fruit we might not get to taste, let us learn to make common cause with others outside the structures; let us keep learning how to take our differences and make them strengths, because there is already fruit… we can’t change the world in a day, but we CAN and do have the power to make our own world, our own heaven and taste our own fruit right here. You are bearing fruit among yourselves and it is delicious and delightful and others need to be fed like this too. Carry on in hope! Scale up in justice and love! May it be so. Amen.










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