Pat Conover: Finding the Lost Coin With the Light of Love

September 17, 1995
Pat Conover

Finding the Lost Coin With the Light of Love

I’ve wrestled with this sermon, particularly in terms of trying to find the right starting point. The search for the right starting point for the sermon became for me a search for the right starting point for the next phase of our life together as Seekers. So this is the best I’ve come to….

I love you.

This sermon is many things, but that’s the root of it all. I love you.

What can Seekers look like if we all start from such an affirmation?

For me it means wanting to stay with you. It means weighing Seekers into my big life decisions because I know I want to be here with you. I realize that for some of you Seekers has to be "just passing through," or "just checking things out." That’s fine. Seekers isn’t just for those who stay. Actually a lot have left over the last nine years: Art, Phoebe, Cynthia, Kay, Bill Code, Bonnie Shevock, Barry Clark, Ruth Powell, and more. I miss them but their leaving has helped me realize that the whole of Seekers is larger than the sum of its parts. And I love you not only individually but also for the wholeness of Seekers that we are. God may take me away tomorrow, by health, by accident, by call. But I know a big part of me is bound up with Seekers. I am not sitting back waiting to see what will happen. I am not waiting to get through this long hassle with the building. I love you now.

But it is not just a feeling of togetherness that makes me love Seekers.

And it isn’t just that Seekers has been there for me as I’ve worked through a lot of pain and ongoing transitions in my personal life. Oh yes, that does matter. But there is something else.

I’ve chosen again and again to give my life to Christian ministry as I understand God’s call within my life. As for many of you, such decisions have radically shaped my life path and given me a sense of meaning. I have followed God’s call in ways that make me know I stand in radical opposition to the sexism, the commercialism and so many other things in the culture we share. Such standing against is not easy. It is the whole of Seekers and not just one-to-one relationships that helps such standing feel not crazy. What is at stake here, because we are engaged in Christian ministry, is not just loving each other but also loving the whole world even while opposing so much of it. This is confusing and sometimes dangerous business.

We need the flowing reality of the love that is the promised blessing of God to those who confess, who open, who care, who commit. We also need containers to gather some of the flow, and I’m talking about pitchers and glasses – not capped bottles. We need a home. I will struggle to stay with you if we end up homeless, but we need a home. It isn’t that I am building centered, it’s that I am home centered. To build for a moment on one of the metaphors Sonya used last week, we are pioneers and not just explorers. We are not just wandering Seekers, we are grounded Seekers. There are a lot of practical reasons we need a home but I want to lift up four spirit reasons.

  • You can see some things more deeply when you are settled in a home then when you are just passing through.
  • We can spread out from our home but we also know where to come to look for each other.
  • Our home provides one significant symbol of our investment in each other.
  • Having an address can help other people find us.

It seems to me that the spirit challenge we have to get over is being willing to invest in a home, either at here, or somewhere else.

I want to tell a sad and glad story that will help you understand why I have taken the stand I have taken in our conversations. (Tell Shalom Community story) My learning from this story is that I need a home even if I have to give it away. I also learned that if I can’t have a home, the next best thing is to remember that I had a home. This is my response to sermons by Marjorie Bankson that named the stories of exile and return as one of the formative sets of stories for the people Israel.

I spent a lot of meditation time on the lost coin parable from the lectionary scriptures for this week. I asked, "What coin has Seekers lost?" Surprisingly, the "coin" that came to mind is the coin that is the money that is hidden in Seekers today. It is not easy to talk about money in our culture today. And Seekers, sadly, is reflective of our culture in this regard. I think we have to find our lost coin and bring it into the light as part of our journey toward and within the kindom of God.

I want to name two things I perceive about Seekers and money that I think we have hard time talking about.

  • Collectively we have a lot of wealth.
  • Our wealth, even more than our income, is not evenly spread out.

By wealth let me be clear that I don’t mean just ready cash, I mean pension holdings, equities in houses, academic degrees, orthodonture, and some marriages, among other things.

So, when I think of the stewardship of Seekers, the raising of our annual Seekers budget is one of the smaller measures that comes to mind. What responsibilities and callings have we taken on and how is our wealth attached to such responsibilities and callings?

Though our giving to the budget of Seekers is but a small measure of our overall stewardship, at least it is partly in the light. There are some lessons to learn from it. We collectively give about $150,000 a year to Seekers. Our giving is uneven. It is uneven, in part, because our incomes are uneven. But it is also uneven because we are not contributing in similar proportions. Even though you’ve heard repeatedly that I oppose the tithe as a spiritual standard for membership, I do appreciate that the tithe is part of what helps core members feel like peers. Such a standard helps create a sense of community because it is a measure of our investment in our common life.

But core members and those who give very minimally are equally nailed by the question of stewardship of our wealth. (The tithe only addresses stewardship of income and one of the reasons I oppose it as a spiritual standard is that it is a lot easier to give a tithe of income if a lot of personal and family wealth goals have already been met.)

The core of this sermon is a challenge to everyone in Seekers to start giving from our wealth. It is sparked in part by our need to buy and/or improve a home. But to make it clear that this is a stewardship issue larger than our need for a home, I would ask those of you who are uncomfortable about giving to the ownership of a building if you would be willing to help endow a Seekers ministry. Perhaps we should start a capital fund with a goal of dividing the funds equally between gaining a home and endowing ministry.

So let me focus the question a minute. How much could you give as a one-time gift to Seekers? How much could you loan at a low-interest rate? How much could you write into your will? (Pause) However much those numbers are, would you feel differently invested in Seekers if you committed such amounts?

I want to reflect on a foundational story from the historic roots of the Church of the Savior. The original acquisitions of this building and Dayspring came about because a small group of people borrowed against the equities in their homes to come up with the down payments and then put in a lot of physical labor to make the properties work. It was a building centered season but it was vision grounded. That vision included a dramatic commitment to ministry. Even though those people did not have Seekers in mind, we have profited greatly from their courage and commitment.

I see an equally serious commitment to ministry in Seekers: in our common call, in our mission groups, and in many individual ministries. There is also a spirit lesson somewhere in the fact that we have $50,000 sitting in a bank account right now because people we do not even know remembered us in their wills as part of the Church of the Savior. Others have anonymously invested in our future. Cannot we who know each other do so much more?

I understand that there is a lot of fear floating around. But I hold up the message that perfect love casts out fear. And part of the casting out of fear has to do with bringing our fears to light. We may share the cultural fears in talking about our wealth. That is hardly surprising. Silence is part of the defense of wealth. So let’s let the sun shine in. Can we start from a mutual commitment to hold up our wealth, as well as our live and our incomes, to the love of God. Whatever the financial implications, I believe we would let loose a flood of spirit energy.

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