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John 17:20-26 and an Excerpt from Killing Rage: Ending Racism by bell hooks

Sunday May 29th, 2022

By Rev. Nicole M. Lamarche


Thank you for being here on this beautiful Memorial Day weekend. As I was crying in the shower this morning getting ready, I wondered who else would come today. It’s beautiful to see you here today and it feels important to be able to show up for one another especially on another week like this.


So I invite you now to let your hearts be in a spirit of openness as we all tune into whatever word God has for us this day.

May all of us be more receptive to Spirit in this time and as you are moved, I invite you to take a deep breath and hear this prayer from Psalm 18: 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 am not sure how many times a heart can break, but mine feels like it keeps breaking, showing new ways to feel shattered and sad and angry. Here we are gathering together after yet another week of tremendous tragedy in our nation and I confess I feel a bit weary.


It's not that I don’t believe another one happened, that’s actually the most believable part. And it's not just that another mass shooting has happened since we worshiped together last week and even last Sunday I mentioned how in 2022 alone we had already endured 198 mass shootings and now it’s 199. So it’s not just that we have had another one and it’s not just that we have had another moment where we see how little we have done to keep our kids safe, of what keeps breaking my heart is how we are told and sold the idea that it is worth the price we are paying, that we must all live in fear of sending our kids to school and of shopping at the grocery store or going to see a movie or going to a music festival, we are told that in order to have our freedom, this is what is required, but this is a lie. And since we are about the truth that sets us free, it feels important to call that out here. This lie that has been so fully funded, that it’s hard to see it’s a lie. This lie has offered elected officials a blood-soaked bargain, giving them money to fund their campaigns to stay in office, but allowing them to do nothing. This is just the price we pay for freedom they say.


But is this really freedom? If the definition of freedom is about having “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance” then a person must be alive to do that and your freedom to act as you choose should stop at my right to exist. And if the definition of freedom is about not being held captive, I think many of us do in fact feel that we are being held captive by those who profit from the status quo, sacrificing our children on the altar of the dollar.


As people of conscience and compassion, as people of faith and justice, I think we are compelled to ask where our individual preferences and philosophies intersect? Perhaps that is part of our ethic as Christians- to evaluate based not just on what is most convenient or comfortable for us, but in part to ask what it is that we owe one another?


I feel like that is part of what Jesus is saying here in the Gospel of John. It is a spiritual brain twister. Remember that this is another text that scholars call a farewell discourse. So we hear this with a particular kind of weight knowing that Jesus was trying to get the group to hold his teachings before he is gone. And he says to them, “that you all may be one.” This comes after he goes through all of those sayings about I am in you and you are in me… and I think he is saying act as if we are each manifestations of the Divine, a part God, a manifestation of the holy here and now and care for one another as if that is so.


This verse, that they all may be one, is the slogan of the United Church of Christ and it is foundational in some ways.


A lot has been made of these six lines and as I said this is part of Jesus’ farewell and many scholars believe verses in particular are addressed to future generations. The historical context of the moment was that the newer movement had formed house churches and they were starting to be expelled from the Synagogues… and there was likely fear and anxiety about where this new movement was going.


And into that Jesus says, that you all may be as one. As if to say, remember what you owe one another.


I think that when we are afraid sometimes the human tendency is to try and eliminate the discomfort that difference brings, it can deliver a dissonance that challenges our way of thinking, but I believe our faith summons us beyond our first response, beyond our inclination to sanitize ideas that don’t match our mental maps. I think Jesus wanted us to remember that unity does not mean conformity. And still being one asks us to pause at the intersection of freedom and responsibility and ask: what do we owe one another? Whether it’s in here or out there so to speak?


This feels important for our life together as a community of faith and also for our common civic life as participants in this democratic experiment that is still relatively young. If there are ways that we couldn’t exist without one another, if we couldn’t do what we do, or have what we have without in some ways seeing ourselves as one, as part of a bigger shared thing, do we owe one another more? Should we know one another more? Should we invest in one another more?


I know a nation state is not bound by the same things as a beloved community but I think there are similarities in terms of what connects us at a deeper level. Some of it, is our shared stories, but I think a big part of it, a big part of being one, being one body is being willing to affirm our varying histories to affirm our humanity in all its forms?


As you heard from bell hooks, “Beloved community is formed not by the eradication of difference but by its affirmation, by each of us claiming the identities and cultural legacies that shape who we are and how we live in the world.”


That is hard to do, but I think that is part of what we owe one another, crafting policies and plans that don’t aim to eradicate our differences but instead draw attention to our particularity. I think oneness needs a willingness to center multiple experiences.


I don’t expect the politicians holding up common sense gun legislation to have a change of heart tomorrow, but I do believe God wants us to change, to do better by one another. And at the intersection of rights and responsibilities to demand that more ask: what we owe ourselves as a whole?


Ten days ago, we had over 60 people in attendance for the screening of the film This is Not Who We Are, which was a moving documentary about what it is really like to be Black in Boulder. It was powerful and painful to see. One of the most difficult parts of the film for me was when a young Black girl talks about her fears of being shot simply for who she is. And we know her fear is now more than well founded.


I feel overwhelmed personally with all that needs doing and healing and changing, but in the meantime, I think it’s important for us to remember that Beloved Community, that what we are about, asks us to put our lives not just into our own liberation, but to the liberation of others. And I think we owe one another nothing less than freedom, not a fake blood-soaked freedom, but true liberation.


I invite you to take two actions this week. Pick one action that advances the liberation, the freedom of someone else. Maybe that’s writing or lobbying or calling Bennet or Hickenlooper or maybe it is committing to join some of us on June 7th as we go before the Boulder City Council trying again to create common sense gun laws in our own city.


I would like to offer another challenge, which is today to find someone in this room that you don’t already know and to connect beyond the surface, to connect long enough to hear a particularity, a difference.


Beloved community is formed not by the eradication of difference but by its affirmation. So within these walls and outside them, let us aim for oneness, which I believe is nothing less than liberation for all, for each of us to be seen as we are and to be allowed to thrive. Jesus told us that we humans need to find a way to hold together. And I think it was his way of saying, remember what you owe one another. Which I think is nothing less than true freedom. “That you all may be one.” May it be so.


Amen.








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