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From Manure

Luke 13:1-9 and "A Purification" by Wendell Berry, published in New Collected Poems (Counterpoint, 2012)

Sunday March 20th, 2022

By Nicole M. Lamarche

Good morning on this third Sunday in Lent and the first day of Spring!

It’s so good to be with you. I will never take for granted having energy in this room again…so thank you for being here. I invite you to take a deep breath, to open your spirit to hear whatever word God has for you today as we pray this prayer for the Psalms. Gracious God, may the words of our mouths and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

He came looking for fruit from his fig tree and there wasn’t any. But after three years of not having figs, he was impatient, so he demanded that the gardener standing with him cut down the tree. But the gardener tells him to give it more time and to do this one other important thing… put some manure on it.

Jesus tells this story after giving a bit of a sermon or a theological rant, maybe sometimes they are the same thing? And he asks those around him one of these core questions that has long been the human exploration: do you think that some people suffer more because of their sins?

He says, Do you think that those Galileans suffered in this way because they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? In other words, is there a connection between the hardship we endure, the pain that comes our way, and our actions? Jesus says no, but then he shifts to telling this story about the gardener.

And when I read that this was our text for today, I choked up and laughed at the same time. It’s almost as if Jesus was with us this year, over these months that have included an insurrection on our capitol, a massacre whose anniversary we mark on Tuesday, fires and lost things, lost relationships and lost hopes, and now a war, that is leaving babies without mamas and the bodies of babas covered in rubble. In this year, today and this week, I hear Jesus saying something like this to us, hang on, give it time, some of the best things in life, some of life’s fruit, comes from life’s shit. That’s what this story is for us today and I think that’s what this year is about.

If you have been with us for this Lenten journey so far, you know that our theme is Journeying Into New Stories. We started with surrender and letting go, putting down stories that are no longer true for us and last week we talked about knowing our shadow selves and our false selves, and today, well maybe this is the only time you can ever say this in church. And feel free to shout it out if you want. Today our theme is: shit.

There seems to be an ancient and abiding truth here- when we look at Mother Earth and the cycles and seasons and when we look at our own lives, it seems to be that despite all odds, sometimes new life, new beauty, new possibilities, really do emerge from the most terrible circumstances. So I have been wondering if maybe there is a particular kind of fruit that can only come from crap? I don’t know, but it seems to be true.

Maybe it’s because we tend to be more open, open to new ways of doing and being when we’ve come so close to losing it all? Or maybe it takes seeing how much we love something to really feel the depth of it? Whatever it is, it seems like those deep hole moments in life, those manure times, whatever we might call them, are the very same places where incredible things happen.

Because look at us. We are still here. After two years of trauma and then more pain in so many forms and we are still here. And I know there is a lot we need to grieve, we’ve lost a lot. But after so much manure on us, there is also fruit.

On Friday night Linda, Judi and Joyce hosted a beautiful gathering among three churches involved in supporting the Almas family, refugees from Afghanistan. And we gathered right here to hear stories, hearing what’s next, hearing about bringing them to doctor’s appointments, supporting their adjustments. And Linda keeps reminding us, with everything we do, our actions must move them toward self-sufficiency. This is making something marvelous from manure. Look at this fruit!

Maybe you have heard these words from Thich Nhat Hanh who said, “Without suffering, there's no happiness. So we shouldn't discriminate against the mud. We have to learn how to embrace and cradle our own suffering and the suffering of the world, with a lot of tenderness.” He said, “Most people are afraid of suffering. But suffering is a kind of mud to help the lotus flower of happiness grow. There can be no lotus… without the mud.”

We might not have asked for the mud, or the manure that came in layers this year, but instead of being angry or saying nothing could change or closing off and shutting down or taking care of only ourselves, this year has shown me what I thought all along, but saw lived in all of you. Whatever we all might believe, we are a church that lives resurrection, we don’t live in denial of the death around us, but we go to the crosses of this time, to find life, to create community, to choose to sit among the voices that say this is all there is, and prove them wrong, we demanded that not be so! Look at this fruit from all of the manure.

Like others of you, these twelve months have been some of the most challenging and painful for me, I have been on my knees in prayer many times. Asking God to make things clear, to show the way, to let me know whether this manure would become something else, and God said, give it time… hang on.

It made me think of a banner from the Occupy Wall Street Movement. The first time I saw it was January in 2011 when our Occupy Oakland crew joined thousands in the Bay Area and tens of thousands across the country in preparing and planning to march to the nation’s biggest ports and to take them over and to start to change the conversation and change policy and law around the power of large banks and major corporations. That winter weekend, the banner had been placed over one of the humungous shipping containers. And it read, They tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds!

This year tried to bury us with manure, but we remembered all over again that we are seeds!

Yesterday a group from our church, joined those from other congregations, including our sister church in Longmont, civic groups, members of law enforcement, elected officials and others for a gun buyback event with Raw Tools at Bronco’s Stadium. This was the first one at the next level. It was so infused with Spirit. Cars lined up, waiting patiently and impatiently and those of us who accompanied each one struck up conversations and heard stories if they wanted to talk. Every car that I walked with had a gun they didn’t want and no place to get rid of it. One person drove all the way from New Mexico. Over the course of three hours, we chopped up 189 unwanted firearms and 106 of them were assault style weapons, including the very last one we chopped up and I watched it happen through tears. It was a military grade assault weapon and now it can no longer take a life. This disarmament movement has now reached the next level and when Mike tells the story, this part of the chapter starts with us, Community UCC in South Boulder as one of its authors. We chose to not turn away but, to find life, to create community, to choose to sit among the voices that say this is all there is, and prove them wrong! And look at the fruit from all of this manure.

What if this can be true in so many parts of our lives? What if even through our tears, we need not be afraid of the manure, we need not fear the mucky mud when it comes, but instead, what if saw it as our holy work, to turn that manure into compost? What if sometimes that is how we get the good, juicy fruit of life for each of us and all of us?

As we heard from Wendell Berry, “upon the gathered refuse” in the trench, in the dark, beneath it all, what is there, somehow, escapes into the new, is something new! A new thing rising! Sometimes the stories we need, the new stories, the best stories, sometimes the best fruit comes from life’s ____!

This year tried to bury us with manure, but we remembered, we are seeds! May it be so. Amen!

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