Delivered at the United Church of Jaffrey
September 17th, 2017
I wake up in the middle of the night.
What is it?
I drift back to sleep, only to surface again a few minutes later.
It’s is one the cats.
The sound is far off,
Almost the hint of a sound
But there it is again…
A sliver of sound…
A pitiful rumor in the night.
One of the little ones is stuck somewhere, feeling scared and alone.
Ugh… I’m so sleepy!
Today is Stewardship Sunday.
And this is my stewardship sermon.
So I want to talk about value.
When we hear the word value we think:
“Buy one get one free”
“50 percent off… while supplies last!”
You can save a dollar if you buy two boxes of Cheerios at the Hannaford this week, which is cool, but I’m not a supermarket coupon…
I’m your minister,
And when I talk about value, that’s not I’m talking about saving money.
I want to consider something of great value!
When we say something has a great value, we say that it is precious.
A diamond is a precious stone.
Mr. Google says that the “Cullinan” diamond, that was discovered in South Africa in 1905, is worth approximately 400 million dollars.
That’s a lot of money.
What makes something precious anyway?
If we use the diamond as our example, perhaps we can say that two things make combine to make it precious.
A diamond is beautiful.
And it is rare.
Is that a correct equation?
Beautiful + rare = precious?
That may be the way to think about diamonds.
But it doesn’t satisfy me.
As a minister, I like to think theologically.
Theology is “the study of the nature of God and religious belief.”
So what is a “theological” definition of the word precious?
How do we talk about the idea of “precious” when we are talking about God?
Later in the night I wake up again.
Cary’s drowsy voice:
“What is that? Is that a kitty?”
“Where is it?”
“I don’t know.”
“It must be stuck somewhere.”
And with that, we both fell back to sleep.
Last week, the Island of St Thomas, was one of many Caribbean Islands ripped apart by Hurricane Irma.
One woman, Laura Strickling, described emerging the next morning as “stepping out onto another planet.”
The neighborhood that had been there the day before was barely recognizable.
Reverend Jeff Neevel, who is pastor of the Reformed Church in St. Thomas was interviewed by NPR, and several other news outlets.
Reverend Neevel said that
“The first couple days… There was some looting I saw going on and some tensions running high. It was kind of crazy, like a war zone, and people were just walking around like zombies.”
Neevel went on:
“After the storm, we all kind of went out and said, ‘OK, there it is.’ It’s horrible, but what do you do? You’ve got to bend down and pick something up and move it and put it back in its place. And that’s what we did.”
According to NPR, Neevel, his church, and other faith based non-profits have continued their work:
Together with My Brother’s Workshop, the Salvation Army, the Red Cross and other churches in the area, Neevel says his congregation quickly got to work to “get people set and basic needs met.” That means food for more than 400 people a day, canned goods, hygiene kits and diapers for lines of people that stretch out the door.
Let me return to this idea again.
Remember the equation?
Beauty + rare = precious?
This is the “precious” of diamonds.
It is my opinion that this equation is a weak one, and if something is to be precious in a theological sense, it must be based on an equation that is not weak.
Beauty + rare = precious is a weak equation because it is so obviously constructed on human opinion.
The idea of beauty can change.
Rareness can also change.
So, precious, in this sense, is only temporary.
If it is possible to come up with an equation that is less dependent on human opinion, perhaps we can find a more permanent – even eternal – notion of precious.
A theological understanding of precious.
I wake up again.
Cary also stirs.
“The poor thing…” she says
“I’ll get him,” I say.
I get up.
The old farmhouse stairs creak as I walk down.
We have two new kittens. Two males that we have named Totem and Taboo.
They are kittens and you know what that means!
Actually you can make up an equation for kittens.
Cute + trouble = kittens
I am inclined to state that this equation is a theological one even though it is certainly just as dependent on human opinion as our previous equation about preciousness.
I’m sure Carol Naas, and the other cat lovers in our midst will agree with me that cuteness, as far as kittens are concerned, is an eternal truth, and that trouble too, is irrefutable.
But I don’t want to jeopardize my theological credibility by lingering too long on this subject… the point is…
The little imp is in trouble again, and it is the middle of the night.
As I suspected, the plaintive sound was coming from the basement.
So I opened the basement door.
The Medieval Italian Philosopher and mystic Saint Bonaventure said that because we have such refined consciousness, and we have such remarkable senses, we humans have the unique ability to perceive vestiges of God that exist in the world.
He called them footprints.
I love this idea.
I love the possibility that if you pay close enough attention – or perhaps if the circumstances are just right and you happen to be there – you can become aware of God’s presence.
You can see God’s footprint.
A hint that something eternal — something sacred — is present within our fleeting world.
Could this be the theological definition of “precious” that we’ve been looking for?
The apostle Paul seems to agree with this suggestion when he writes that
There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;
And that the same God inspires them all in every one.
So, a “precious” thing could be a gift that is obviously temporary, but still, somehow, contains within it, a hint of the eternal.
And could this precious gift – could it be what Jesus refers to when he tells us to give up “treasures on earth” and instead concentrate on “treasure in heaven”?
Perhaps it was the dark old farmhouse in the hushed depths of an early September night.
Perhaps it was my disoriented semi-conscious state.
Perhaps it was the basement light flicked on, that finally attracted the little kitty to the bottom of the stairs.
Perhaps it was the kitten’s obvious relief at being discovered and saved from the lonely basement.
Whatever it was, when I picked him up, I was suddenly keenly aware of its life.
The little thing!
A handful of fur with eyes and a quivering heartbeat…
How strange and wonderful that we should live on this goldilocks planet, just exactly the right distance from its star, to give us the possibility of life – to give us the gift of consciousness – to give us the presence of God.
I hold this small creature in my hands, and I am filled with wonder.
Perhaps this too – this capacity for wonder – is contained within the theological idea of “precious”.
We experience the eternal within the temporary, and we are filled with wonder!
This is the poetic moment.
The prayerful moment.
It is precious.
Church has been many things in our culture.
Church can be filled with problems.
But Church, as Rev. Jeff Neevel has shown us, this morning, is the one institution in our lives that tries – however clumsily – to create the context for our experience of the precious.
I believe that church, at its best, stands ready to turn chaos into love.
The mission of the United Church of Jaffrey is to Grow our Christian faith through acts of Love toward all.
Perhaps it is this mission.
Perhaps it is the fact that this church was the second church in New Hampshire to become open and affirming in the early 1990’s when it was a very hard thing to pull off.
Perhaps it is the banner on the back wall that proclaims “Always for Others”
Perhaps it is the way Triple D leaps into gear to provide funeral receptions for those in our area who are grieving.
Perhaps it is the wide variety of ages that join together in these pews.
Or perhaps, perhaps it is your great hearts.
It is all of these things, and many other things besides, that make this church precious.
I know this, in my deep hearts core.
I will meditate upon these things this week as I discern how much I want to pledge for the upcoming year.
Won’t you join me?