Sermon by Rev. Richard Feyen
Delivered Sunday, October 9, 2022
First Christian Church in Las Cruces.
First Reading: “We Make the Road by Walking” by Brian D. McLaren
Second Reading: Luke 17:5-10 from Eugene Peterson’s “The Message” translation
I want to invite you to start thinking about two things … perhaps at some time in the past you have been invited to speak about what this church means to you? So think for a minute.
What does this place mean to you? And … not just “this place” as a building, but as a place of worship, as a community of people, as sacred ground where, in other cultures, one might be encouraged to walk barefoot.
What does it really mean . . . think beyond the old carpet, the hole in the ceiling, and the massive amount of electrical work that needs to be done? Think beyond the pillar in the atrium that is leaning, the sometimes confusing lines in the parking lot and the “stuff” that needs to be sorted, given away, disposed of, or preserved. Even think beyond the awesome views, the great location and the tremendous ways in which this building is being used by the community.
Think about what this place of worship really means to you.
And then . . .
Think about why you come here?
There are a lot of great reasons to be part of First Christian Church in Las Cruces.
Great people, good preaching in the past, challenging and thought provoking opportunities, the fellowship, the friendships, the family like ties, the commitment to a truly open, accepting, and compassionate atmosphere where all people really are encouraged to think and believe in the way they are most comfortable. It could also be, as David Steindl-Rast points out, that you come out of gratitude after having missed being together during the pandemic.
Why do you come here and what attracted you in the beginning?
I hope that in time you might be willing to speak out on those two questions, either in some small group conversations, or over coffee after worship, or as you gather in the Wednesday evening gathering times; but first some thoughts.
I remember, with some pain, a few years I spent selling insurance. I knew I was headed into seminary and I had already sold my convenience stores but I needed a couple of years to straighten out a few things in life so I decided to sell insurance for a little while. My dad had sold insurance, I had been around it, so I thought I could handle it. There was a lot of cold calling involved. Yes I was one of those people for a period of time that called people’s homes in the evening hours to try to set appointments for sales presentations – miserable work! I hate rejection and faced a lot of it in that year or so. But my supervisors kept pounding in to us that if we just did the work, made the calls, set the appointments, the income would come in.
The general rule of thumb was that for every ten phone calls a person could make one appointment. And for every ten appointments a person went out on he or she could make two sales. All a salesperson had to do was follow through with making one hundred phone calls a week resulting in ten appointments a week and a person could earn a living selling insurance.
It was a numbers game. The truth is it worked. The hard part was it meant facing rejection ninety times every week. It was not easy . . . but it worked. Twenty percent of the people I talked to face to face resulted in a sale. To carry the numbers game one step further … twenty percent of the actual sales provided eighty percent of my income.
When I started serving my first full time pastorate, I was totally surprised when I started crunching the numbers and realized that the numbers were virtually the same. I am not making cold calls on parishioners, not that part of the equation. Twenty percent of the people in a congregation provide eighty percent of the income needed to support the life of the church. And it is the same in nearly every church. And more widely, twenty percent of the churches in the Wisconsin Conference provide eighty percent of the funding needed for the Conference to fulfill its ministry. And I would guess it is the same here in New Mexico as part of the Southwestern Conference. A recent (pre-pandemic) very in depth study on a nationwide basis done by two researchers, Kirk Hadaway and Penny Marler found that 20.4 percent of the population of the United States attended a worship service of some kind on any given weekend. Today’s text shows that it was even worse for Jesus for as we read in this passage from Luke only ten percent of the people in the story, one out of ten, returned to give thanks for the healing blessing they received.
Nobody asked me to do this but the text from the Common Lectionary inspired me to begin thinking about it and I have looked at the finances here just a little. I have no idea who gives what but it has been suggested to me that the numbers I mentioned are close to accurate for this church as well. There are a lot of reasons people find comfort in church and a lot of reasons people contribute their time, talent and treasure. Gratitude, as mentioned in today’s passage, is but one.
It takes a lot contributions of time, talent and treasure to make this place called First Christian Church exist, how you participate, what you choose to give, how much time you spend can make a difference as to what it means to be part of First Christian Church. More important than what we do for the survival of this place though is the work we can do for the people beyond the walls of this church. One of the largest churches in the United Church of Christ, The Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, Texas, used to have a saying that when you become a member you take off the bib and put on an apron. The point of course, is that when you are a member you are no longer being served, you are there to serve others. The ministry that Jesus did in his lifetime, through his teachings and after his death through the many followers who carried the message forward … was not and is not just for the people who come and listen. It is not only for the twenty percent who are here in worship or for the ten percent who are grateful. The mission and ministry we provide is for the eighty or ninety percent who are not in worship. I have often told people in churches where I have been serving that we are to be making decisions based on what will bring others in to the church not on what will or will not make US more comfortable.
You have had some time to think . . . Maybe we could take a few minutes and your responses.
What does this place of worship really means to you?
And why do you come here?
That kind sharing . . . that is the message we long for people beyond this space to hear. How many will share it?