“Keep At The Task“
Rev. Richard Feyen
recorded on 6 Oct 2013
READINGS FOR THE DAY
First Reading: An Excerpt from The Saints’ Guide to Happiness by Robert Ellsberg
“As the otherworldly heroes of pious legend, saints may seem close to God but not exactly human. In fact, as Thomas Merton observed, sanctity is really a matter of being more fully human: This implies a greater capacity for concern, for sympathy, and also for humor, for joy, for appreciation for the good and beautiful things of life.’ One observes those qualities in holy persons of recent times — Mother Teresa, or Pope John XXIII, or the Dalai Lama. … And it makes one wonder if a similar quality or aura did not surround the saints of the past … They stood out not just for their faith or good works but for exhibiting a certain quality of being. In traditional Christian art this aura was represented by a halo. Real saints have no such distinguishing marks. But the aura is real. It is the presence of life, life in abundance.”
Second Reading: 2 Timothy 1:11 – 14 from The Message by Eugene Peterson
“This is the Message I’ve been set apart to proclaim as preacher, emissary, and teacher. It’s also the cause of all this trouble I’m in. But I have no regrets. I couldn’t be more sure of my ground – the One I’ve trusted in can take care of what he’s trusted me to do right to the end. So keep at your work, this faith and love rooted in Christ, exactly as I set it out for you. It’s as sound as the day you first heard it from me. Guard this precious thing placed in your custody by the Holy Spirit who works in us.”
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History is a fascinating thing. We look back at events in history, and we talk about time lines, and we see how one event leads to another, and we connect the dots of history over many years. But as those years go by, and as the events occur, we overlook the fact that people got up every day, worried where breakfast and dinner were coming from, and had the daily tasks of life to live. We might see events on a time line and think, “This year that happened was two years before something else happened, and a dozen years before that, well, something else happened.” In the meantime, those key players in the events were reading books, writing letters, and getting together with friends to talk over the situations of life.
Look, for instance, at the protestant reformation. The reformation is typically marked by the Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses in 1517, but the rumblings of revolt within organized religion predate that event. In England, nearly two centuries before Luther, John Wycliff produced an English language Bible. The Pope was so infuriated that, 44 years after Wycliff’s death, he had the body dug up, his bones crushed and scattered in a river! But for the next 150 years, people continued to get up in the morning, eat breakfast, worry about dinner, learned their lessons and, in some places, continued to talk about how much they did NOT like organized religion!
Now its 500 hundred years later, and we don’t like the organizations that followed that historic timeline! Luther’s impact on organized religion went on for years, and developed into many different branches of Lutheran and Reformed theology. And we struggle still, feeling as if we are still trying to get it right.
So what now?
Well, I believe we must keep at the task! We must keep trying to find a way to understand theology in a way that we are most comfortable, that makes sense using the gift of intelligence God has given us. “Keep at your work,” says Paul; this faith and love rooted in the message that Jesus came to share. It is a sound path on which to be.
I remember a time during my college years, I believe, coming home after an early job experience and talking with my mother about just how good it felt to really work hard all day. It was not a particularly important job. I did not have this wonderful glow from helping people. In fact, I think it was a simple summer job working for the city of Holland, Michigan doing a variety of maintenance projects. It was the simple exhaustion of working hard on a project, being able to complete the tasks assigned, finishing and coming home tired but refreshed from the work that made me feel really good. It was as if the abundance of life was wrapped up in the experience of a task-oriented day that was, literally, exhausting. It is a good feeling, working.
It is a feeling that comes from ‘keeping on the task’ and noting the completion.
I like doing things that are simple tasks. Tasks that one can look back on and see the work and note the completion; cutting grass and looking back out on the lawn from the deck and being able to observe the task complete is something like that. Raking leaves from the yard is another; clearing snow from the driveway another. These are tasks with a definite start and complete moment – and it feels good.
The protestant reformation was NOT one of those tasks. The ‘reforming’ of the Roman church in the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries took hundreds of years, multiple generations of people lived and died, with many even killed by the church as it struggled through the reforming that it went through.
Today, here in this place, we are not in one of those tasks like clearing snow or cutting the grass . . . today we are in the midst of a movement to reshape Protestantism that may go on for years, if not generations. We have the opportunity and the obligation, I believe, to keep on task, to keep the momentum moving, and to keep persevering in the face of criticism from other corners as, together, we attempt to move organized religion yet further along the path toward becoming a more reasonable faith practice that excites and involves and is real! Our mission statement emphasizes that we “come together to celebrate with joy the richness of ourselves and our religious community.”
We can become (and ought to be) exhausted and thrilled by the work of ministry; by the work of being here, working together to fullest of our ability, searching for meaning and understanding. It means that we should be working hard keeping on task, developing our religious community such that it does promote acceptance and openness of thought, as we strive to find ways to best serve our community here and in the world around us.
We have the opportunity to experience real abundant life through the joy of being on task; persevering relentlessly and working hard toward a faith that includes and involves many different aspects of life and the cultural differences that abound, knowing that God lives in and through all people, in all ways, from all backgrounds!
Paul experienced the joy of causing a little controversy, and the confidence in knowing he was on the right path with, as he said, with no regrets! We ought to be stirring things up in the world as well, working to make a difference, striving to be leaders – not out of bold pride or self-righteousness – but because we are confident in the message we have to offer! We are not alone in this quest. There are many other churches – Christian churches – across the country moving to take a far more progressive stance in order to see the tradition in which the sacred was revealed to them become more open to the realization that the sacred is revealed to many people, in many different ways.
We are One with all, and part of all that is – World Communion Sunday – celebrates that, and all that goes on, the work of people who persevere, and the people of faith who are open to understanding a world community of faith, accepting the sacred in their own unique way . . .
There is a great task ahead to overcome the divisiveness in the world within Christianity, our country, and our community. The story of the entire Bible is one of bringing order out of chaos; it starts in Genesis that way and moves through the teachings of Jesus, promoted by Paul. But it is also the message behind most world faith systems. We must begin – no, we must stay on task! We are more than a mark on a timeline. We are people making a difference in the lives of other people!
Keep on that task, friends!
With Great hope, AMEN.