Sermon – April 12, 2015

Categories: Church,Sermons

Rev. Joe ConnollyTestimony

by Rev. Joe Connolly

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“The apostles continued to testify with great power to the resurrection of Jesus, the Christ, and they were all given great respect.” — Acts 4:33

More than a month ago I mentioned one of the ways both our New York Conference Minister, David Gaewski, and the Conference keeps in touch with the churches and the people of the Conference is with a weekly e-mail newsletter. And you can all sign up for it by going to the Conference website. This was a part of David’s reflection in that newsletter from a couple days ago. (Slight pause.)

(Quote:) “I am thinking about resurrection. When I was looking out my window, straining to see a crocus, the question that came to me was this: is God able to do a new thing in me?”

“Then, of course, I realized how presumptuous that question is. The question needs to be, ‘Am I able to allow the Holy Spirit to change me in ways that better embody what is holy in my life?’ Likewise, am I able to allow God to change me in ways that brings holiness into all the lives of the people whom my life touches?”

“…I love the story of the caterpillar, the chrysalis, and the butterfly,” David continued, “and I think it worked very well for the children’s message at the Easter service I attended! But it is the tangibility of the power of life over death that I am contemplating for this moment. And we always live life in this moment.”

“The next word I speak, the next text I type, the next phone call I answer— in those moments— how will I live the resurrection? I hope it will be intentionally, mindfully and with honest integrity.” [1] (Slight pause.)

I think this is a short version of what I believe David is getting at. What does the resurrection mean to me, to us right here, right now? How do we act that out in our lives right here, right now? (Slight pause.)

For a moment, let me take us in another direction. As I am sure you know, Pat Evans, our church historian, has been sorting through our of church history. This includes an ungodly amount of paper. She thought I’d be interested in something she discovered so gave me a folder with some papers this week.

In it were blue books, the kind given out in that ancient era of school when all tests were contained in these kinds of things. (The pastor holds one up.) And these blue books from this church did, indeed, contain tests.

Based on the questions therein— they were multiple choice questions and easy to answer— it was obvious these books dated from about thirty years ago, the 1980s, since Pastor John VanEpps was referenced in a question. For the most part, the questions were aimed at checking what people knew about both this church and the denomination.

I had the decided impression these tests were given both to confirmands and those seeking to join the church. And the questions ranged all the way from the somewhat serious— “What former pastor of this church served as the President of the United Church of Christ?” to the silly— “What is the name of the Rev. VanEpps’ cat?”

I know Rev. Avery Post served this church from 1952 to 1958. And I know Mr. Post served as President of the United Church of Christ at the National Level from 1977 to 1989. I have no idea what the name of John VanEpps’ cat was.

Now, this might lead some to ask what could possibly have been the purpose of such a test? I want to suggest such tests come from a way of understanding life, a way of thinking which claims life is about a series of facts rather than an idea.

Or, as my Church History professor once said, it may be important to remember Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492. But it is much, much more important to grapple with the idea that the voyages of European explorers were about the beginnings, the birth of a new economic system. That economic system is called capitalism.

And yes, the date probably is important to help us place the context of when capitalism first came on the scene. But it is vital to understand the date points not to the voyages but to the bigger idea called capitalism. In short, to know the big idea is much more important than to know the details, the facts, the exact dates of the voyages. (Slight pause.)

We find these words in the work known as Luke/Acts in the section commonly called Acts: “The apostles continued to testify with great power to the resurrection of Jesus, the Christ, and they were all given great respect.” (Slight pause.)

There is a concept in these words from Acts which frightens many Christians today, especially Mainline Christians— testimony. Speaking of testimony and, therefore, speaking of tests, let me ask: ‘what would a ceremony of membership in this church looked like— let’s say in 1877?’ (Slight pause.)

In a ceremony of membership there would have been an expectation that the candidate include something, say something, about their own Christian journey— a personal testimony. And, in a real sense, giving testimony back then or today is a test.

Indeed, in that testimony offered by those joining the church in the 1870s a person would be expected to say something about what they believed. And that person would probably also say something about why they wanted to join this church, as opposed to being in union with the Baptists or the Methodists.

But the testimony common then and even testimony common now usually tends to be a list of facts rather than a big idea. And yes, the questions in the blue book test, as I illustrated, were about facts, not ideas. That poses the obvious question: ‘what is testimony, really?’ (Slight pause.)

I want to suggest our New York Conference Minister, David Gaewski, had it right. Testimony is not something spoken. Testimony is not about facts. Testimony is something done. Testimony asks the question: “how will I live the resurrection?” — how will I live the resurrection? (Slight pause.)

The Thought for Mediation on Easter Day, last week, was from Church historian Diana Butler Bass, an Episcopalian and a member of the laity. (Quote:) “The point isn’t that you believe in the resurrection. Any fool can believe in a resurrection from the dead. The point is that you trust in the resurrection. And that’s much, much harder to do.” (Slight pause.)

Testimony, you see, is not about facts. Indeed, one common testimony people offer today is the claim that they believe in the resurrection of the body. However, that testimony treats the resurrection as a fact.

But a fact is something which can be proved. Whether or not we believe a specific fact matters little. The fact exists. It doesn’t need our belief. The resurrection, as Butler suggests, is about trust.

Indeed, when we need provable facts to define our trust, then our trust ceases to be trust. Something either is or it is not. Trust is in no way a part of the equation when it comes to facts. Hence, for us as Christians, a key is ‘do we trust?’

Do we trust… resurrection? Do we trust… that God acts in our lives? Do we trust… hope? Do we trust… freedom? Do we trust… the presence of the Spirit of God? Do we trust… love? Amen.

United Church of Christ, First Congregational, Norwich, New York

ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Choral Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “People mis-quote people all the time. Nothing against the Post Office (I have some good friends who work there), but on Tuesday they published a stamp in honor of the poet Maya Angelou. The stamp featured what purported to be a quote from her. But it was not. To be fair to the Post Office, the words used are widely attributed to Angelou. But were written by Joan Walsh Anglund and are from the book A Cup of Sun. But it does not matter who wrote the words. That is only a fact. The words embrace a helpful, big idea, so I shall repeat them. (Quote:) ‘A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer; it sings because it has a song.’ And in order to be true for us, testimony needs to incorporate song, a song in which we trust. And if we make resurrection our own through trust, we will sing it. And the trust we express in that song will be in everything we do.” [2]

BENEDICTION: Hear now this blessing: we go into the world carrying forth God’s love. Let us go from this place and offer the peace of God which surpasses all understanding to all we meet, and may the Peace of Christ keep our hearts and minds in the knowledge and companionship of the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sanctifier, this day and forever more. Amen.

[1] I have slightly edited David’s words for this context but I do not think I have altered their meaning. The original words can be found here:


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