Rev. Laura Cunningham
Pastor, Western Presbyterian Church
June 19, 2016
44“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 45“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. 47“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 51“Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” 52And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” 53When Jesus had finished these parables, he left that place.
Priceless moments, pearls of this past week, when so many hearts were breaking in so many ways… reading about the Orthodox Jewish congregation that went to the gay bar at the end of Shavuot worship, to light candles and sing; hearing about the thrilling night of Tony awards, that the top four were taken home by people of color; following the senate filibuster led by Chris Murphy for what seemed to be an obvious gun control vote, and realizing that some I never expected were adding their voice.
Light shines all the brighter in a dark night, even in this season of long days. In a week following Orlando, when our parables of the kingdom of heaven refer to treasure, when the third offers this stark warning of what happens when we don’t pursue what is most valuable in that kingdom, priceless treasure is thrown into stark relief.
This week was a reminder that our life of faith is not just as private individuals, but as a people working towards citizenship together in God’s kingdom, an immigration journey of our own, that has its own treasure map.
This week began with Jessica Vazquez Torres, from Crossroads Anti-Racism training, introducing herself, sitting down with some of you to introduce this idea of anti-racism work in all kinds of organizations. Very helpful conversations. But part of it was Jessica herself, a Puerto Rican immigrant who grew up in Orlando and also identifies as queer, willing to sit with Western and our session, and tell us that last Sunday that she sat in our Courtyard Room for fifteen minutes before anyone spoke to her. She said this out of love, a love that called us both back to the markers we have hanging on our banners here, and called us forward to what lies ahead.
We all have our individual journeys as part of this larger process. My individual quest for treasure has taken me some strange places this week, and I invite you to consider your own. From the lacrosse field in Oakton, VA, where all of the other kids’ families looked a lot like me, to the corner of 24th and G where I some of these people I am growing to call friends struggle with very different problems, to a dinner Wednesday night with some members of my husband’s church at a club that didn’t even allow women until 1988, to a Thursday morning gathering at the Project Create studio in Anacostia, to a Friday lunch at Huong Viet, at the largest Vietnamese shopping center on the east coast. Maybe it’s because I’m an Arlington mom, or a Presbyterian pastor, or simply a resident of this area.
It can be surprisingly easy to live in this area and not recognize our diversity. You can keep to your own Metro line (that’s getting harder) or traffic pattern and never happen into another community – sometimes because that community is gated or guarded, sometimes because of a river barrier or an expressway, sometimes because you don’t know the language or the dress code.
Yet we are citizens of a different commonwealth, neighbors in a different neighborhood, brothers and sisters in an unimaginably diverse family, called the kingdom of heaven by Jesus. This place has redrawn the traffic patterns, taken down the gates and rewritten the codes. And this is the field where our treasure is hidden, the family whose heirloom is this priceless pearl.
The psalmist says that what is most precious is when kindred live in unity, and who does Jesus call brothers and sisters? It’s not just the family he was born into. It’s the people who do his will. This way of living is the treasure, hidden but not disguised, difficult but not out of reach, requiring something old and something new of us, in the spirit of these parables, a holding on to what is good, but a giving up of some things, too, for the sake of what is new.
I have never yet known a church want to give something up. You, we, are here because there’s something we like about this church: the worship, the architecture, the solemnity. Some of you are here because you like John’s preaching, or you liked the fact that the church was willing to stand for the homeless in our community, or you appreciated the prayerful commitment to GLBTQ issues, particularly in a day when our denomination was more divided. Yet we are in a new place now, a time to decide what of our treasures we want to keep and what we need to do to pursue the treasure that lies in front.
I see these banners here, and I know so much of the history that lies behind them, but I have to wonder what lies ahead, on our quest for the treasure God has in store.
Because as committed as you are, I also sense some restlessness, a realization that while some of you think we are fine the way we are, others realize we still have work to do.
As citizens of this kingdom, heirs of the priceless pearl of love in the midst of difference and diversity, we are like immigrants who already have the green card, but haven’t found home yet. We already have the gift of belonging, in the midst of all of our differences, but haven’t quite figure out how to open it, how to share it. We believe in it, we know it’s there, but we haven’t yet fully understood the frames that shape our understanding, the things about the place we live in now that keep us from making the move.
Yet here we are, between where we’ve been and where we’re going on this treasure hunt for the kingdom. This quest is going to mean rethinking how we got to where we are, as well as celebrating the diversity that we are now, in the midst of one of the most diverse areas in the world, when it comes to just about every aspect of diversity.
Congregation that includes all kind of people, some who like worship the way it is, some who want to see it changed, still a few who were born in this area, but most of whom were born in a different part of the nation or the world;
Denomination, that after 60 years of ordaining women, has just elected two women, one we would traditionally call white, the other African-American, who have a different vision for our church, who are committed to working together to making race a priority in our Presbyterian life.
City where in spite of the continued influence of the dominant cultures, we are surrounded by unhidden treasure, perhaps we just never thought of it that way. We never knew we already lived in the field; how would we know to find the treasure there?
Just down the street, reporters at NPR are guided by an ethics handbook: For more accurate stories, seek diverse perspectives – not just a story on unemployment, but what does that look like to people in Ward 8? Or: “Our coverage should reflect the true complexity of the world we live in.” How does it reflect many different groups? Or: “Our story selection reflects the many aspects of our mission.”
In my work, in our work together, I see the need for ways to do this same kind of work, reflecting the diverse perspectives of Ward 2, of federal workers, of ages and geographical locations. I see the need for addressing the complexity that lies behind all of our banners. I know our story selection needs to reflect the many aspects of our own mission.
Giving up some of my ways of doing things – who I read, talk to, where I go, what I write about – I’m asking you to hold me accountable. I’m hoping to give up some of what is old, but not all, not the part of me that knows this is our journey. For the sake of the something new, that treasure!