Sermon by Rev. Richard Feyen,
delivered Sunday, October 16, 2022
at First Christian Church in Las Cruces.
First Reading: “Paradise in Plain Sight: Lessons from a Zen Garden” by Karen Maezen Miller
Second Reading: Luke 18:1-8 from Eugene Peterson’s “The Message” translation
This year’s Nobel laureates in the Economic Sciences, Ben Bernanke, Douglas Diamond and Philip Dybvig, have significantly improved our understanding of the role of banks in the economy, particularly during financial crises. An important finding in their research is why avoiding bank collapses is vital. All of us enter into contractual agreements with our banks, both as depositors and as borrowers and that system is vital to the functioning of our society especially during a time of financial crisis which is what these three were studying. A contract, either written or implied, stipulates an agreement between two or more parties regarding the exchange of goods or services, typically for a monetary sum, but generally there is an exchange with a perceived value.
A covenant by contrast is an agreement to give with no expectation or promise of an exchange. It is a promise to give. The most common example of a covenant is a marriage, in the eyes of the church, marriage is a covenant. (Marriage gets a little tricky because in the eyes of the state it is a contract.) This coming Wednesday afternoon I will have the privilege of celebrating the covenantal vows of marriage between Lynn Cashton and Bill Anderson as they were exchange vows of marriage. Each person promises to be there for the other, regardless.
First Christian Church is in covenant with the Southwestern Conference and the United Church of Christ and with The Christian Church Disciples of Christ. We could theoretically stop giving any financial support to either of them and we would still be a DOC/UCC church. But we have agreed to be in relationship and so we stay connected.
We do not have a contract with the sacred and indefinable which we call God.
Nor does the woman in the story read from the eighteenth chapter of Luke have a contract with the judge.
The difference is we DO live in covenant with the Sacred. THAT is what our Sacred text is all about. This collection of writing goes to great lengths to describe, as it evolves, the covenantal nature of the relationship between us and all that is sacred. This Sacred essence, this non-entity we call God will always be present – from the ground upon which we walk to the love we share – there exists a sacredness of life that is and always will be present. But we do have to work, persistently, pray consistently, or as Karen Millar says, “Tug constantly at the roots of what gets in the way” In order to stay in touch with the sacred side of our lives.
The woman in the story I read from the eighteenth chapter she has no covenant, or contract with the judge. The judge does not care for her one bit. He has no obligation to her. He has no concern for what God feels or thinks, no requirement on his shoulder to do what is right. He simply does not care.
So, says the story, understand that even in this instance, even when this unjust judge, who cares not at all, finally gives in and takes care of the woman; imagine what the presence of the sanctity of all life will provide with your persistence. And without persistence little, if anything, can happen.
Before we left on camping trip this past summer we cut the grass. We trimmed the edges of the sidewalk. We pulled up the weeds in the gardens on either side of the front door. We watered all the flowers and cleaned the debris off of the deck.
When we returned home ten days later the grass had grown, the edges of the sidewalk were covered by grass as if it had gone wild, some of the weeds seemed to have shot up two feet, and the flowers on the deck were parched. Caring for our yard, like caring for ourselves, is an ongoing task that involves persistence. We are fully aware of that at the most basic level. Life, like our lawns, takes constant care.
I like new things. By that I mean that I like to try new things and go new places. I like to explore new paths whether they are in the mountains or deep in theological veins of study. I like to try to envision new ways of seeing thought and new approaches to old ideas. I don’t mind heading off in a new direction. If we have the time when traveling I like to try a road we have not tried. I do not under any circumstances appreciate doing repetitive tasks. So even when I cut the grass I look for new ways to do it. I try to cut on a different path or go in the other direction.
But all too often it seems like the same weeds are growing up in the same places. In life itself I catch myself having to face hurts experienced years ago because it seems as if I did not clear them away sufficiently once before and I am finding myself remembering a hurt inflicted either on me or by me that I wish I could leave behind.
Life takes persistent effort.
Every building that has ever been built must be maintained. Every brick laid, every roof put on a structure, every lawn seeded, every parking lot, every highway, everything ever put in place by human hands will one day have to be rebuilt, reseeded, relaid, reworked.
Every life lived well is a life that must be maintained as well.
Persistence pays off.
Today’s story from Luke is part of a larger teaching by Jesus that wants us to understand that maintaining a relationship with the sacred essence of all life is not easy! Both before and after this story that Luke tells are stories about people caught in complacency. This is not an admonishment but an encouragement to hang in there with the realization that the sacred is all around us.
The Psalm which inspired the Call To Worship assures us of strength found in the presence of the sacred and the songs we sing today and other time, are chosen to remind us of the strength and assurance of love and justice in the world around us, when we work to find it.
Persist. Persist in prayer. Persist in sharing love. Persist in being present with those who need the comfort of a friend. The Holy and Sacred is found, justice is served, people are fed, and hope is delivered when you persist.
WE ARE the compassionate presence of the Christ for people.
And by we, I mean this congregation is the hope for progressive Christianity in Las Cruces. And by we, I mean all of the faith communities of this community. We have to realize that we all offer the message in a variety of ways. And, I mean the faith communities of this country, ALL the faith communities, as we offer a moral compass to and for the leaders of our country.
We are, through our persistence, the presence of sacred love for those sitting together here today, for those beyond our walls and for the rest of the world. WE are the presence of sacred love for each of your families, and for many other families to whom we are connected in a variety of ways. We change the tenor and temper of things in our communities by small persistent acts, by maintaining a prayerful spirit in all we do and by working together through small acts of love and justice.
Here, by being that small persistent and determined group who will not give up, we can dig up the weeds of anger, hang cork board to absorb the sounds of greed and ignorance in the world and we can, and do, share the love of the Holy and Sacred way of Truth. All as part of one family of faith working together for sacred loving kindness.
Boldly persistently work for it and justice will live.
It is has to be who we are and what we do.