Sermon by Rev. Richard Feyen,
delivered Sunday, October 30, 2022
at First Christian Church in Las Cruces.
First Reading: “Selected Sermons and Writing” by Pauli Murray
Second Reading: Luke 19:1-10 from Eugene Peterson’s “The Message” translation
Here, in this space where we gather,
My hope is that each is touched by the Sacred
Not by my words
But through the compassion shared
May THE Light of life be yours.
There probably is not a person here who hasn’t, at one time or another, been approached by a stranger on a street corner or at a highway rest area, in a coffee shop or a Laundromat, and been asked, “are you saved?”
The first time in my life that I recall encountering someone who asked that kind question had a profound and very lasting impact on me and the question, though posed to me, was not even about me. I was sixteen. It was the summer of 1968. My father had just been killed in a car accident in the Chicago suburb of Wheaton where our home was; and the rest of the family had been at the cottage up in Michigan. The immediate and extended family had gathered at the house in Wheaton to await my sister’s arrival, she was out of the country as an exchange student in Ecuador and it took a couple of days to get in touch with her and then several more days for her to get back. We had a lot of time to wait.
One of those afternoons I was out driving, just to get out of the house and be distracted for a few hours, while doing so I picked up a friend from school who I saw hitchhiking to work. He was pretty shocked to see me, he had, just the day before, read in the local paper that Richard Feyen had been killed in an automobile accident. Clearly he had not read the whole article because he thought it was me. When I explained the matter he took my arm, looked at me in all earnestness and said . . . “was he saved? Because you know if he was then everything is alright.”
Well I did not feel that everything was going to be alright . . . and I could not wait to get my hitchhiking buddy to his destination. My father was dead, I had just helped my mother pick out the casket and make all the arrangements, I had heard a number of people already tell me I was “the man of the house now” and this well-meaning but ill-informed friend was insinuating that my dad may be in hell. And to add insult to injury … people in the church were telling me that it was all part of God’s grand plan.
That was not going to be a God I wanted anything to do with!
But here’s the thing … as much as we may not appreciate those who approach us in parking lots and airports and ask, “are you saved?” We do have to acknowledge that there is an element of “saving grace” involved in our Judeo-Christian heritage. In other words Christianity is about being saved . . . we can’t escape that. What we have to do is understand and interpret it in the way that I believe Jesus meant for it to be interpreted. Let me try to explain.
The very name Christian suggests it has something to do with saving. The Latin ‘Christos’ means savior, or the one who saves. It is what Jesus came to be known as in his day, so it became as a name – Jesus the Saving one – it’s like saying John Richardson (Richard’s son) – Richard Bakker (he was the baker) – The surname Waterman meant that somewhere in that ancestry there was one who carried water. Surnames were originally descriptions of what people did or where they lived or who their father was . . . Jesus Christos . . . Jesus the saving one. The real issue is how that is to be interpreted, from what or for what are people being saved?
I believe Jesus, in his day, saved people from a life of oppression, discrimination and isolation by a religious institution that took exceedingly literal everything that had been written in the sacred texts! Sound familiar?
We can take the origins of that back to Moses who set people free from oppression and slavery. Moses, according to the Sacred text, freed the Hebrew people from enslavement by the Egyptian Pharaoh. Then, set free from the oppressive state of affairs, the people embarked on a path to self-rule, or the Sacred Rule of Law by JWHW. This sacred rule of law, The Ten Commandments, was the law by which this ragtag group of people was to live in community. Israel means literally the “people of God” or it could be said “the people of the sacred way of life”. The law as given to the people by Moses was the authority revered as sacred. They were the rules by which to live peaceably in community. They were rules that would guide their relationships and dictate how to live. They were rules that eventually got expanded on and written in more detail and then enforced with a strictness that left no room for progressive advancements of thought or individual circumstances.
That was the Hebrew Scriptures, a story of a people and their law.
Then along came Jesus.
The people who followed Jesus’ teaching, the people of The Way, drawn together to live in community with one another, were thoughtful people who sought ways to be together in ways that really meant something. The Hebrew were then, through Jesus, given the reasoning behind the law and it was the one law which superseded all others.
It was the law of neighbor love.
Jesus’ teaching was a teaching that reminded the people of the origin of the law which was the pouring out love on the unlovable and ostracized of society. It was a selfless way of being that lifted people out of meaninglessness and turned them to a life of helping others, “saving” others from lives of meaninglessness by showing them that caring for others leads to a better life for all people in the here and now. Jesus’ ministry is a teaching that had nothing to do with the “hereafter” and everything to do with now.
Time after time Jesus “saves” people from being set apart and isolated by society. He released the lepers from their life of isolation. He recognized the Samaritan woman as a valued individual. He gave life to people on lifeless paths. He freed the man at Bethsaida from a lifetime of waiting for others. He saw the otherwise invisible people of society and turned the stranger into a friend. He took his era’s invisible population and put them front and center. He taught people to find meaning in helping others. Jesus turned to Zaccheaus and said to him and the people criticizing Jesus, “Today is salvation day in this home! Here he is: Zacchaeus, son of Abraham! For the Son of Man came to find and restore the lost. (seek and save)” Jesus saved people from aimlessness and separation by bringing outsiders into the community and empowering them to become one with all. Jesus reconnects the separated, recognizes the unrecognizable and communes with or, “shares a meal with”, ALL people.
Phillip Gulley, Quaker minister and author, writes, “The future of Christianity will rest in our ability to make our spiritual boundaries more porous, welcome the wisdom of other faiths, and borrow the best from other spiritual traditions, even as we share with them the stories and insights of Christianity.”
Our role today, as followers who long to “seek and save” as Jesus did, is to take on a larger task of opening the doors between the faiths. We ought to be examining and appreciating those things that have separated us from others and find ways to break down today’s walls and build bridges between ourselves and other faith traditions thereby leading the way as the “saving ones”, the Christians who, like Jesus, sought to restore relationships and pave the way to better interfaith dialogue.
Rather than staking stronger positions and building higher standards and setting ourselves further apart we, as Christian Progressives and mainline Protestants alongwith the Evangelical right, ought to be appreciating the sacred spiritual truths in all teachings and finding ways to eliminate the separations and together be the “saving ones”.
There is real HOPE in that kind of a message.
There is true community building in that work.
There is a saving message in that longing to be One with all that is and with our God.
First Christian Church can offer that kind of message to the community.
First Christian Church can truly bring that Christ-Spirit to this community.