Good morning! I so missed this time together with you last week, but I was right where I needed to be. Heather and I decided it was important for me to be with the kids in Sunday School early on, to tell them loud and clear that the children and youth of our church are just as important as the adults. As I preached last month, not one of us stands higher than any other.
We are gifted with amazing and thoughtful people in our congregation and I trust you were touched by the words of our own Rev. Elizabeth Robinson. She has been instrumental in supporting this church in our efforts to be God’s hands to those who live on the margins- connecting our impulses to help and love with people who are hurting and in need right here in Boulder County.
This year one of our priorities is to make an impact in the area of poverty and homelessness here. We have done practical things like offer blankets and food. Robb Lapp is devoted to working on affordable housing with Archway homes. John Woods and others are working with Habitat for Humanity. And many of us have worked on advocacy at the policy level. This week I joined Carol Gibson and Stan Stutzman in their weekly outreach with Attention Homes. A committed and super buff young guy named Blake gave us the instructions on how to be safe and how not be a jerk to homeless people as we made our way downtown.When we arrived he pulled out a large wagon stocked with hand warmers, water, granola bars, sandwiches, hygiene products, hot chocolate and more. Our task was to be stealth, but bold in spirit, as we shared these ordinary things in the hope of connecting people with the services available to get them off the street.
Of course I shivered desperately with each step, in spite of all of my layers, and I imagined what it would be like to sleep outside, this time of year, in a place like this. At one point Stan asked me if I had met Jesus yet? I paused. I thought I was getting a good sense for Stan, but this question surprised me. Then, I learned from Carol that Jesus lives in Boulder.
As we walked the streets we found people who were hurting, people who were excited to talk to us and everyone we encountered was grateful. Thank you for caring! Thank you for doing this! Thank you for being here!
The experience had me pondering the whole week about how easy it is for us to get confused about what our purpose is, as a church. With Christendom in America as a whole in decline and anxious, it is easy to get to thinking that we are to be about the latest curriculum or the most cutting edge program.
In pursuit of a clarified purpose for all that calls upon us, I even spent some time searching for the church’s mission statement or a vision statement these past weeks. I didn’t find a mission statement, but I did find a statement of purpose and covenant. What struck me immediately is that at its heart, the statement is all about being of service. Each part is an action: Assist each person with their spiritual journey, while valuing diversity and encouraging individuality;
· Nurture each person’s understanding of the Christian heritage and of present-day Christian living;
· Offer opportunities for reconciliation and healing between separated individuals, groups and nations;
· Work actively to alleviate suffering and promote social justice;
and in the manner of a family, love and support individuals in their daily lives.
Assist, nurture, reconcile, heal, work to alleviate suffering, support one another in our daily lives. These are all things that ask something of us.
There is really nothing passive about this statement of purpose and while these commitments are grounded in what we value about our life, our spiritual journeys and all creation, they aren’t really about what we profess to believe. They are about what we promise to do.
In fact, I laughed out loud when I got to the end of that Article in the church constitution where the purpose statement is found because it ends with this: “We, in fellowship with Community United Church of Christ, covenant with God and with one another to work and worship together in the name of Jesus Chris.”
After being here for just over a month and having had the chance to visit with many of you in coffee shops, homes and here in our sacred space, it is clear that we aren’t all on the same page about in whose name, we do what we do, but we are all clear that we are bound together by a shared commitment to serve, to show up, to do!
Some of us give our time and our skills, our money and our heart in the name of a radical revolutionary Jesus of Nazareth and some of us do what we do in the name of a Mystery we call the Divine and some of us don’t believe in any of this, but we know we are here to use who we are for the sake of Love and some of us apparently answer the call to serve in the name of Jesus Chris…. Or maybe Jesus in downtown Boulder.
Among us are progressive Christians, agnostics, traditional believers, atheists, spiritual independents, secular Jews, people of conscience- an eclectic assortment of devoted do-gooders, who believe our religion is compassion. Much of the world claims to want diversity and difference, but the truth is that this is hard to hold together. And yet, part of what drew me here is your willingness to try to let the wideness of the world, be welcome even in here.
Because in this church, we are not tied together by beliefs or creeds- instead in this place, in this post-modern church that is daring to live out a call that is bigger than any of us, here in this place, we are bound together by a willingness to say Yes to the Universe.
We are woven together by our shared commitments to be of use and of service, to act! What binds us is that if you choose to belong here, you are saying to yourself, to each of us, and to the world, in spite of all that I do not know, in the face of all of the mountains I cannot seem to climb, still I will show up, still I will live like this: Here I am!
You might have heard or sung this phrase before. It is found in the book of Isaiah in the Jewish Scriptures. And this part of the story begins with the death of King Uzziah, who was a real king documented by history. We know that when a story starts there, when it sets us off with the death of a monarch, we know that this time was seared into the memory of those who survived it. As one commentator wrote, “The death of a king and particularly this king was a tumultuous event in the ancient world.”
As the story goes, not long before his death, King Uzziah had been inflicted by God with a serious illness for his pride. He had sought to make the offering of a priest in the Temple despite the attempted intervention of the Priests of the day. The consequence for King Uzziah was living in quarantine until the day he died. 1
In a time of chaos and confusion, Isaiah, is outside of the sacred space, outside of the Temple, but the doors are open.
The implication from the religious context of the time is that Isaiah had seen the Divine throne or the essence of God, but he wasn’t supposed to, at least not like that. According to tradition, there was an order, there was a place, there was a time for a Divine encounter. Tradition had its way and it wasn’t supposed to happen like that. 2
So Isaiah seems to fall into despair. This wasn’t the plan, he sinks deep into sadness and he cries out, ““Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” As if to say, this wasn’t the way it was supposed to happen, how it could it be that even here, at this time, that I saw something Holy?
But then a seraphim, a glimpse of magic form another realm, brings Isaiah, a piece of coal from the altar, which is a symbol of a cleansing, maybe meant as a blessing, as if to say, “Keep breathing Isaiah, the holy of holies is still here!” Even in your sadness or your low place, even when you thought you had to do it in a particular way or a certain order, the Spirit beckoned…show up anyway.
The story says that we hear the voice of God asking Isaiah, “are you there? “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”
We don’t know if it took him some time, but we do know that Isaiah, gets it together enough to say, “Here am I; send me!” Maybe it was a (cautious) question Here am I? Or maybe it was a loud and proud Here I am! I am guessing it was the first one. But either way, he remained, he stayed, he responded.
And as I sit with it, I think maybe this might be the most courageous statement in all of our sacred texts. Here am I, Here I am; send me! Because he says that without knowing exactly what he is saying yes to and he says this without feeling ready or right.
In the presence of all that has gone wrong, in the face of all that we do not know, it is easy to get off track about our purpose as a community of faith. And I believe it is not easy, but it is simple: it is our willingness to stay, to show up, to respond with, Here I am, as our voice shakes.
Even after Isaiah says yes, God tells him not to worry because you will still probably have no clue. The text says, “Go and say to this people: ‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.’
Perhaps when we have said yes to something we do not comprehend, it is sign we are on the right track, that we are willing to join what God is doing. It means we have said yes to something we can only do with a Greater Thing. Our call is to keep saying yes. In the words of E.E. Cummings, yes is a word with the power to build worlds. He writes, “yes is a world & in this world of yes live
(skillfully curled) all worlds”
What a joy, what freedom, to know that being a part of this community isn’t just about something philosophical. Belonging here, living into our spiritual journey, isn’t about waiting until all is well, or we have figured it out, or until we feel ready or right, our purpose, our call is this: We are woven together by our shared commitments to be bold in saying Yes to the Universe. We are connected deeply and powerfully by our willingness to show up, which makes pathways to new possibilities, pockets of heaven on earth, glimpses of a love beyond the flow of ordinary time.
Even as questions, fears, unknowns and angry NOs surround - We will show with our seed planting and soil regeneration, we will show up with our sanctuary and our outreach to those with no place to live, with our walking for hunger, with our caring for one another, with our presence. We are bound together by our dogged efforts at finding the holy where it isn’t supposed to be. Even here, even at this time, even among us.
Beloved of God, in spite of all that we do not know, with all that we still haven’t figured out , with all that is yet to be found, in the face of all that aims to block us from hope, even when things haven’t gone as planned, God will still be seen, still let us live like this, let our spiritual journeys be about this: Here am I! Yes is a way to a new world… May it be so. Amen.