Sermon October 18, 2015
Job 38, 16-17 and Mark 10:35-45
“Taking Our Place in the Story”
Our family had a conversation this week about something that happened and it was interesting to realize that while we were all more or less part of the event, we had four different stories to tell about what happened. It reminds me of the story from India of the blind men who had heard of the elephant but never been near one. One day, they are each brought to the elephant and the one who touches the tusk says that elephants are sharp, the one who touches the trunk thinks they are like a snake, the one who touches the tail thinks they are like a rope, the one who touches the side compares it to a wall, and the one who touches its leg thinks it is a large cow. No matter how much we think we know, we are always limited by our own vision and experience. We must be careful about assuming we have the whole picture.
After suffering and friends telling Job he is at fault, he finally gets his day in court with God. Job has carefully prepared his argument and opens his mouth to speak, but God speaks first with several questions including: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Have you commanded the morning since your days began and caused the dawn to know its place? What is the way to the place where the light is distributed, or where the east wind is scattered upon the earth? Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades or loose the cords of Orion?” We won’t hear Job’s response until next week, but we can guess that he walks away realizing that despite the fact that his suffering is very real, he is not God. A folk proverb says, “90% of what a person sees lies behind the eyes.” Job is learning that faith is seeing the world through God’s eyes. He has just been given a profound gift…a new lens with which to view the world and his place in it. We could all use such a gift.
Both of our texts are about people who have a viewpoint based on their life experience. In each case, they are given the opportunity to expand their worldview. I think that is what we are given today. We stand here in 2015 with 135 years behind us. I have enjoyed reading some church history and learning that who we are today fits into a much larger context. Two significant things happened in the year 1880 – the first railroad train “The Atlantic and Pacific” arrived in Albuquerque on the brand new tracks and the first Protestant Church in the region was formed. Our history has some color to it. In the early days the only Protestant services were held wherever people would come together and that was most often the saloon. I find that amusing when today, a movement in the church is sometimes called “Theology on Tap”. Churches are meeting in bars – drinking beer, singing hymns and speaking of God. We imagine that to be innovative. I love knowing that we were doing that 135 years ago!
Through the years, this congregation has worshipped in a saloon, the Bernalillo County Courthouse, Old Town, Broadway and Coal, landing in this building in 1947. Father Ashley, a missionary came to New Mexico after being run out of Ireland for preaching. It seems his offense was preaching as a Protestant in a Catholic country. On October 17th, 1880, Father Ashley, Charles Howe, principal of the new school, Rufus Fox, a carpenter, and Mary Snyder met and organized the first Protestant Church in
Albuquerque. Writing about the event later, Mary wrote, “Mr. Ashley was the minister, Mr. Howe the deacon, Mr. Fox the treasurer, and that left only poor me to be the congregation.” (Taken from an article by Erna Fergusson dated February 26, 1923).
In a letter written by one of Rufus Fox’s daughters, Evelyn, we learn how this became a Congregational Church. Evelyn said, “Our father came to Albuquerque in the late 1870’s. He often pointed out the room in a two-story adobe house in Old Albuquerque across from the old church…It was in this room that he as a good Lutheran read his Sunday morning service, and later gathered two, then three other men of Christian background about him. When the numbers grew to four, they felt they should organize a Protestant church. But which denomination? My father was a Lutheran, Mr. Snyder a Presbyterian elder; I am not sure who the third one was or what his background but another denomination I believe; and the fourth had been a Congregational minister…He seems to have persuaded the others that the Congregational fellowship would embrace them all in Christian love. So the little group organized and affiliated with the Congregational denomination.”
Reading some of our history has been inspiring as I see those threads in us today. We take our mission seriously – to live God’s love, justice, and inclusion. We seek to embrace everyone in love. Another sign of this church’s commitment to inclusion from the beginning is that for many years, the Congregational Church housed all the other Protestant groups.
We are steeped in a rich tradition and commitment to serve the community. That foundation will continue to pave the way for us to move into the future together. We are probably best served as we claim our roots. It is interesting that Pope Francis is gaining so much attention. He is terribly countercultural as he places service above all. He is not enamored with the power of the papacy or the fancy clothes. Instead, he prefers to connect with people as he washes the feet of prisoners, feeds those who are hungry and cares for those who are poor. He is very clear about why he does it: "Help one another: This is what Jesus teaches us, and this is what I am doing — and doing with all my heart — because it is my duty. As a priest and a bishop, I must be at your service. But is a duty that comes from my heart. I love it." – (Homily, Mass of the Lord's Supper, March 28, 2013)
In the gospel lesson this morning, James and John are dreaming of power. They want the best seat at the table. They want to be recognized. It sounds as if they want the power and prestige. Jesus explains that if they want to be great, they have to serve. Service transforms not only the world, but it transforms us.
Martin Luther King described it this way: “And so Jesus gave us a new norm of greatness. If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that [the one] who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That's your new definition of greatness…by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great. Because everybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity to serve. You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.” (Martin Luther King, Jr. “The Drum Major Instinct” a sermon preached February 4, 1968)
I don’t know what the next 135 years hold for First Congregational United Church of Christ, but I do know that we will be people who serve our community. I do know that we will continue to be passionately committed to love, justice, and inclusion. I know that we whatever steps we take into the future; we do so standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. I am proud of our rich history and I am excited by our future – it is wide open and full of promise. May we take our place in the story and move forward in love.