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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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