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God Arranged the Members

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a, Luke 4:14-21 and Excerpts from A Place Called Community by Parker Palmer

Sunday January 23rd, 2022

By Rev. Nicole M. Lamarche

Good morning and happy Annual Meeting Sunday! I worshiped with the Zoom Watch Party last Sunday and celebrated along with you, as the Rev. Nicole Garcia asked us to think about the difference between being welcoming and being inclusive. And I am still pondering what that looks like. And it made me give thanks all over again for the privilege of sharing life with a people committed to continuing to learn, grow and evolve together and to even ask that question in each generation!

For those of you for whom this is your spiritual home, you know that each week when we come to this time in our gathering, we let ourselves slow down a little bit, in part because I need that, because I get nervous, but also because often in our culture, we don’t do that, so I invite you to tune in and let yourself arrive more fully, to listen to your heartbeat and to take a deep breath. 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.

“God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as God chose." This felt like the perfect scripture for our gathering today.

If all were a single member, where would the body be? And I think this time is showing, maybe more than any other in my lifetime, that on our own, isolated in our homes, without connection and community, without common spaces, without worship, I think the answer is that people are more afraid, more sad, more alone, more worried, tending more toward a view of scarcity than abundance. If all were a single member, where would the body be?

These ancient words to the people in Corinth, point to the foundation of what it means to be the Church, I think, what it means to be the body of Christ, right now. They tell us that each individual member is part of a whole, connected and interdependent and these words tell us, that each one is needed, that each one is part of caring for and serving the whole body, and each part has to work with the others to make it all hum.

And part of why this felt perfect for today, it seems like we are living in a time of great fragmentation, even as we struggle to know what normal even means, here we are, meeting and making meaning together, caring for one another creatively and still living our call to love beyond these walls.

And it felt perfect for today because it reminds us that as a church, we are alive! We are an organism, a body, a movement, a living thing that isn’t something frozen in time, it is a body!

And even before the writers knew of science, they were onto something. Did you know that our bodies replaces around 330 billion cells per day, making over 3.8 million new cells every second? It’s an ongoing process. But our bodies are alive and actively engaged in serving the whole system! And its members, every member is a part of this process.

This year has shown us that being a part of something that is alive, a body, something that aims to respond to the world and also welcome people of all kinds, something that is about a diverse group of human beings, is hard, especially when Boulder County has had a really difficult year, especially in a church like ours, that values the unique expression of individuals, as part of God’s design for us.

On our website under the section on faith, the first line is this, “We are diverse, free thinkers, following the compassionate path of Christ.” And the truth is, if you haven’t already noticed, being diverse is difficult. It would be easier if we were like a lot of churches where we are all told to think the same way, it would be easier if we were all the same age, the same background and the same educational experience, the same interests and hopes, the same sexual identities and understanding of what a family might like, the same understanding of who Jesus was or who or whether God is, this is us, and it would be easier if we were more alike, but we are not.

And this year has revealed how truly diverse we are as a church and I am not sure all of you know that.

I have felt like some of you have wanted me to resolve the tensions that have come with being diverse, but I can’t and you know what? I think we don’t want to. What if the discomfort and maybe even some of the messiness that comes with being diverse, is a gift? Because as I look around in culture, I see very few places where a combination of people like ours would share life. Where else would you all hang out together?

What it looks to be diverse is to have hard conversations grounded in love, with people you might not understand, being diverse looks like extending grace and kindness across differences that might even perplex you, it looks like making connections with people whose lifestyle you really don’t understand, it looks like including people in the circle who annoy you, it looks like being patient with people who communicate differently than you, it looks like being open to having the way we think about things change or even be challenged, it looks like being held accountable for who we say we are and showing up again and again and again, knowing maybe the Divine had an idea about the magic that can happen when we commit to being a part of that?

Being diverse, free thinkers following the compassionate path of Christ means we learn to share life with those who are totally different than us.

I believe now more than ever, especially with what is happening in our country, that this is essential work right now, simply sharing a spiritual journey with a wild and wonderful, a diverse and fantastically different group of people. I care about that a lot. And I know many of you do too.

It’s really important to me that we are not a club and there is no other place in our culture where all of us would be bound together in love, across this level of difference in class and educational background, professional experience, religious journeys, wow we are diverse. It is a gift that we get to share life together. And also as we heard from Parker Palmer, sometimes it can conflict with our own comfort, “Community will teach us that our grip on truth is fragile and incomplete, that we need many ears to hear the fullness of God’s word for our lives.”

God arranged the members! I am starting to wonder if this wild combination is for a reason.

Not long ago someone shared with me that church wasn’t for them because it is easier to find God in the wilderness. And I think most of us agree with that. I hear this kind of thing quite a bit, especially from those who have given up on religious community altogether. But I am coming to understand that at least from the Christian perspective, there is an expansiveness never gained, a fullness, even, that might be lost without living out love with others. The Body of Christ is as Father Richard Rohr writes, a collective reality.

It is not possible to come to a place of being able to extend grace without practicing it on others. It is not possible to have our hearts broken open to our Greater Love, without practicing compassion each week.

Rohr goes on to say that, “There is no other form for the Christian life except a common one….Until and unless Christ is someone happening between people, the gospel remains largely an abstraction. Until Jesus Christ is passed on personally through faithfulness and forgiveness, through bonds of union, I doubt whether he is passed on at all.” He even goes so far to say that, “We are now paying the price for centuries in which the Church was narrowed from a full vision of peoplehood to an almost total preoccupation with private persons and their devotional needs.”

So what if the church is an idea with a purpose, what if God put us all together like this for a reason?

This week we celebrated the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, and he shared that church, especially worship, when it is good and right, is people of all kinds sharing life and community and love, he said, “Worship at its best is a social experience with people of all levels of life coming together to realize their oneness and unity under God. Whenever the church, consciously or unconsciously caters to one class it loses the spiritual force…and is in danger of becoming a little more than a social club with a thin veneer of religiosity.”

I think that part of what this means for us is that on our own, we might not choose the companions we need, rather we are more likely to pick the people we want, the ones who go along with our plan, our fears or reinforce our bad habits, the ones who will be sure to tell us we are right, the ones who probably won’t unsettle our perspective, but that would be more like a club. And church might be the place of true community, where we don’t choose our companions, but God does.

I give thanks for this wild and wonderful mix that is Community United Church of Christ. I give thanks to God that we haven’t been totally reduced by the pandemic and even in hard times we haven’t stopped from loving lavishly and we didn’t retreat from our mission, even after a massacre and fires that still has our community in shock and struggling, I give thanks to God. We have cared for our people and collaborated with our community to be a presence of hope to people and places that are continuing to be in pain?

What if God has put us all together for a reason, in our diversity, what if that is a gift?

At the last Annual Meeting, we had a conversation we didn’t want to have and we agreed to plan on borrowing tens of thousands from savings, if needed. This was one of the many things that kept me up at night this year. Let me say that again, it wasn’t 45 or 40, it wasn’t 35 or $30,000… But do you know when it was all said and done, in the end, it was just, $4,251, that’s a miracle! In a year when we asked more of ourselves and had less to work with in some places.

We are an organism, a movement, a living thing that isn’t frozen in time, we are a body that is alive! And being diverse, free thinkers following the compassionate path of Christ means we learn to share life with those who have different ways of living this all out, and this year more than ever has revealed how diverse we are, but what if that is a gift? What if it means we commit to being a people of all levels of life coming together to realize our oneness and unity under God? What if it means we see one another as our companions given to us by grace? What if it means we understand that community will teach us that our grip on truth is fragile and incomplete, that we need many ears to hear the fullness of God’s word for our lives? As it is, there are many members, yet one body! Thanks be to God! May this be so. Amen.

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