Sermon by Rev. Richard Feyen,
delivered Sunday, October 23, 2022
at First Christian Church in Las Cruces.
First Reading: “Be Nobody” by Lama Marut
Second Reading: Luke 18:9-14 from Eugene Peterson’s “The Message” translation
Several years ago Peggy and I took a vacation and went to Maine to go sailing. The ship we booked was the Schooner Stephen Taber, it is the oldest continuously sailing ship registered in the United States. While in Rockland, Maine, the home port of the Stephen Taber we walked out to the Rockland breakwater lighthouse. It is a one mile walk out on the breakwater to the lighthouse. The walk is across rocks laid carefully edge to edge but if you do not watch your step, it is all too easy to trip and fall flat. A person does not make a walk like that without watching where their feet are all the time.
There was another walk / hike we went on several summers ago while in Canada. We climbed to the top of Mount McKay in Thunder Bay Ontario. This hike was an uphill hike to the top. It was a walk over loose shale and wet clay. Fallen logs and slippery rocks impeded the trek to the top and the hike was precarious at times which was frustrating because I really wanted to be able to take my eyes off of what we were doing and appreciate the view. We really couldn’t though because each foot had to be placed with care.
You all know the kind of walks I am talking about; there are plenty of precarious hikes around here. Just a couple of weeks ago I hiked to the top of Tortugas Mountain over the boulders, and loose shale, I am certain that most all of you have been on hikes like that.
There are also an awful lot of walks where the going is good, where it is possible to keep your eyes in the air and your head thrown back, chin up seeing all that might be around you. Walks or hikes where a person can keep their head up and really let your feet step where they may because the going is so good that it really doesn’t matter where your feet touch.
It was on a very different kind of walk five or six years ago when we were in Chapel Hill, North Carolina for one of our daughter’s weddings’. It was a beautiful spring evening the air was pleasant. The sky clear and the sidewalk we were on was uncrowded. We decided to walk to a nearby brew house and restaurant for dinner a couple of nights before the wedding.
We were walking pleasantly along talking, laughing and enjoying the night air and the next thing I knew I was on the ground, knees and hands covered with ground in dirt and pebbles, ankle twisted, and … my face reddened with embarrassment. I had simply ventured too near the edge and turned my ankle as my foot went over the edge of the sidewalk.
Even those seemingly easy walks can turn in to a challenge.
Ask yourself which path or which walk more typifies the walk of life for you?
Think for a minute, which pathway are the Pharisee or the tax-collector on in the passage from Luke which I read for us a few minutes ago? Who is trying to impress and who is acknowledging the things they have done which separate themselves from others and wants to be one with all that is? Both of the men have isolated themselves from the general population, or done things which separate themselves; but only one acknowledges it.
There are, as always, a lot of different approaches to this brief passage. Several of them could be correct. There is no one avenue to go down when choosing what to talk about in this or any other passage. I just happened to choose to think about humility when I read the passage. Someone else might think about integrity, or authenticity in prayer, or some other speculative thought about what Jesus was trying to tell.
My question to you today is, “which of these two men that Jesus is talking about has, in your opinion, a more realistic view of life, their place in the community and their role in it? Another question might be which one of them is fully aware that he is facing a path riddled with the holes, uneven edges and slippery rocks? Which do you feel is walking on easy street?
One seems to me to have a better view of the path he walks upon and one may be turning an ankle at any moment.
One of these two men that Luke tells us about in the story is working hard at connecting and the other is making comments that disconnect him from others – so which is more closely trying to build community and which is becoming more isolated? Which one of them is taking off the mask and which is keeping it on?
In a little while when, we begin to share the joys and concerns that are on our hearts, those prayer requests we bring in front of one another, I want to remember that, “in our sharing our joys and concerns, our prayer requests, the bond among us is strengthened,” I really want you to think of it in those terms. Those are the moments where we let down the masks and reveal to others a bit of our deeper selves. In that sharing we become vulnerable. It truly is where real connections begin to happen. Our sharing with one another becomes a means for real connections.
The tax man in the story in Luke’s Gospel is the one who is fully aware of the separation he has caused to himself and others and his actions are indicative of his awareness of misdeeds. That is where Jesus makes the point of saying, “this tax man, he has gone home having made himself right with that which is sacred in the world.” He has, in fact, begun the process of reconciling himself with others.
The walk of life has been for me and quite likely for you as well, more like the mountain path or the breakwater; there have been trip hazards, slippery rocks and loose shale strewn across the way at every turn and it’s been uphill all the way. I have also tripped over the seemingly flat easy walks because I have been eyeing the sky rather than paying attention to my feet. Real connections, real life, real progress; happens as we connect with others in direct and honest ways. Real connections happen when we are not trying to be more than we are but when we can look at ourselves … and not see a mask.
What can we, as First Christian Church in Las Cruces, do to more closely connect ourselves with the greater community around us, the neighborhood in which we are located, or the ministry setting we have chosen. What niche can we fill in the greater Las Cruces area that will serve the community in such a way that the city would really miss us if we were gone? What one thing can we begin to think about doing that will make an impact in a way that connects us more broadly? How can we humble ourselves and connect with others in a way which we may have missed in the past.
Complacent casual steps may be the ones which leave us falling on our collective faces.
Bold, aggressive, and watchful steps may well be the ones which bring us to the top of the next mountain . . . or at least get us out of the valley. There are always choices.