Sermon by Rev. Richard Feyen,
delivered Sunday, November 6, 2022
at First Christian Church in Las Cruces.
First Reading: Thich Nhat Hanh
Second Reading: 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17 from Eugene Peterson’s “The Message” translation
It is November and for me that means thinking about Thanksgiving and the spirit of gratitude. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday as we enter into this holiday season and really when I think about holidays all year, Thanksgiving tops the list.
Thanksgiving is really important for me because it is for family time. Gathering around the table for a special meal, gathering in the afternoon for being with family and friends, and gathering just to be together with an emphasis on being grateful for what we have … it does not even have to carry any religious overtones. We can be grateful for what we have without being grateful TO anyone or anything. We can really simply be grateful.
It is a good exercise to be thinking about what we are grateful for and the list does not have to be only the kinds of things that we generally consider the positive things. I believe we can also be grateful for the sacred presence in our lives as we live through the tragic or difficult times.
I have a friend, we don’t see one another too much anymore but we were quite close for a while. He was a member of a former church I served and we shared the love of flying. He was a successful salesman for one of the largest national airplane parts companies. He had a company provided airplane and flew himself all over the country selling airframe and power plant parts to FBO’s (Flight Base of Operations) primarily throughout the Midwest. He had in fact done so well and taken advantage of so many incentives and bonus opportunities that he ended up earning more than the owners of the company. So the owner did what an ungrateful and unscrupulous owner might do; he fired him. My friend panicked . . . he had two children in college – they’d become used to a comfortable lifestyle – and he had been spending as fast as he earned … but he also had the presence of mind to think for a minute and look for the door opening rather than dwell on the one just closed.
As it turned out it was the best thing that ever happened to him … he formed his own company, started in his basement, selling only the things that he knew FBO’s used a lot of and had to replenish constantly. He provided a long list of consumable products. Things like rags, oil, windshield cleaner, all of the kinds of items that are cheap and frequently purchased which he knew the FBO’s offices had a hard time finding in the giant catalogue he used to sell from. He made his own 10 page catalogue, mailed it to every airport in the country and concentrated on selling 25 – 30 different products and in a couple of years was earning more than he imagined possible.
And he set the business up in such a way that he could fill orders while out in his boat while fishing. He had manufacturers drop ship directly to the customer.
He could sell a drum of oil to an oil company that kept its airplane at the Waukegan airport because it was easier and faster for the maintenance people to buy Mobil oil from him than it was for them to do an internal corporate transfer and have it delivered.
In the moment, when he was let go from the larger company, he was certainly not grateful for being fired – but he is grateful now for what has happened.
Tragic events happen all the time … but when we stop and look and think and, given the perspective of a little time, … we can also see the sacred events that emerge and be grateful for the sanctity of life at work to bring blessings into being.
I want to be careful with this because tragedies happen all the time and we are all sensitive to how they affect life and I am well aware that things do not always go as we hoped … yet I believe if we are open to the sacred spirit that moves in and through us all we can begin to see outcomes from tragedy and the presence of the sacred spirit with us through difficult times, as something to be grateful for.
Let me say at this point how incredibly grateful I am for each and every one of you and for my opportunity to be here serving First Christian Church. I, like Paul in the text read earlier, am continually thanking the sacred essence of life … for you! I regret the health issues that are causing me to leave earlier than anticipated but I am certain the sacred essence of life is alive and well and will serve you well.
I want to take you back in my life a bit and point out things that have happened.
I am learning to be grateful after a tragedy . . .
I could never say that I was grateful for my father’s death in 1968 … but then had he lived, I likely never would have become a minister in the United Church of Christ.
I would never say that I was grateful for my sister’s death or that my nephew, business partner and brother in law, who all died in the same year as she did, but that was part of what drove me into seminary.
I could never say that I was grateful for my late wife’s death … but then had she lived life would have taken a very different avenue for us.
And … I could never say that I was grateful for Peggy’s brain tumor … but that event led both of us into churches for the last decade of our ministries which were awesome experiences for both of us, and the churches we served.
We are not grateful for the tragedies but we are and often should be grateful for what happens when we are open to the movement of the sacred in and through our lives as we move through those difficult days with our God’s presence. God does not make those things happens, God is with us in the form of the community which surrounds us as we go through those difficult times.
Surely any of you can look at life and think of a time when you were struck with some sort of tragic event only to have some future outcome be a real blessing. It might be as simple as finding that perfect position after being let go from one job, or the presence of someone in your life who might not be there had it not been for another tragic event. And today, in light of my recent hospital stay, we don’t know where the next path will lead but we can be, and are, grateful for the opportunity to be in this moment together with you looking forward to a new way to be present for the City of Las Cruces.
I adapted the words of the Text from Thessalonians because there are certain “trigger” words that get in the way for some people, me included. I wanted to be able to look at the text in the way that I believe the sacred works in real life. I am grateful for where I am and what I do and I hope you are as well. My hope is that our Great teacher, the Spirit of Christ like love, that which we worship, the love we experience and the eternal comfort and good hope, we have come to know here in this place; may comfort you and strengthen you in every good work and word.
WE ARE OF THE SACRED … working together to bring the love we know to others. Working together to bring the comfort of the holy and sacred essence to one another and being present for one another; we are a community of faith that touches lives and I am grateful.
WE ARE OF THE SACRED … working together through the proclamation of the good news to bring this community of faith alive for others, standing firm on the traditions that brought First Christian Church into being and following what we were taught by word and practice, to offer to others the love we experience and the eternal comfort and good hope, we have come to know in every good work and word.
WE ARE THE SACRED … Working together, grateful for the presence in all people of the sacred essence, we can and do bring the sacred alive for others.
Whether here or vicariously through the presence of our members and other Disciples of Christ and United Church of Christ members around the world, we are the sacred presence for the world community of which we are a part.
You have made a difference in the world. You have done it before – you will do it again. We are the presence of the sacred – it is who we are and what we do.
And . . . we are grateful.