Sermon – April 26, 2015

Categories: Church,Sermons

Rev. Joe ConnollyAction

by Rev. Joe Connolly

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“My children, our love must not simply be words or pure talk. It must be true love, which shows itself to be true in action.” — 1 John 3:18.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away— or if not in a galaxy far, far away at least in a city which is at a considerable distance in all kinds of ways from Norwich— a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away I worked in an imaginary place called Wall Street. Of course, there is actually a street which bears the moniker “Wall Street.”

I label “Wall Street” imaginary because we do need to realize when a reference is made to (quote:) “Wall Street” what is being addressed is a nationwide industry— the investment industry. People who work in the investment industry live and work everywhere from Maine to California and beyond. Which means “Wall Street” is not a reference to a place.

Just like the term “White House” does not literally mean the place the President lives but can mean anything from those who work closely with the President to the entire Executive Branch. The term “Wall Street” is not a location and the term “White House” is not a location. These are simply convenient constructs of language not to be taken literally.

Now, this one’s a little more difficult to catch but watch me. The term “investment industry”— that term might be another figment of our imagination, a linguistic construct. You see, having been on the inside, having worked on “Wall Street,” I know several things about the so called investment industry that most people don’t realize.

Let me illustrate that with a couple of stories. I may have used them separately before, although I think not together. So I’ll apologize if you think I’m repeating myself. In any case, I think they will well illustrate the point I am trying to make. (Slight pause.)

I had a supervisor who once said people have illusions about what happens in the industry called Wall Street. One illusion says since this is a business which takes care of trading for what often amounts to billions of shares a day, the average person thinks the industry needs to be super organized just to do that.

After all, said my boss, how do you keep track of billions of items except by being organized? This executive then spoke this truth: “Our organization consists of nothing more than chaos— we are organized chaos. But chaos is still chaos.” Think about that: Wall Street is chaos.

In my presence yet another executive at the same firm once pointed to a room filled with clerks and said every job at every desk on the floor relied on one thing. Mistakes will be made. Mistakes will be made often!

It’s the job of the people at those desks to correct the mistakes. You take mistakes out of the system, said that executive, and thousands and thousands of people whose job it is to correct the mistakes will become unemployed. Mistakes? Chaos? On Wall Street? Oh, no!

Believe it or not, this Wall Street talk takes me to something which happened in Seminary. The Senior class needed to raise money so we could give a gift to the Seminary. Many of us went to businesses and stores around town and asked for donations of goods or services. We, in turn, set up a raffle, sold tickets for these goods and services in order to raise the money for that gift.

When we first talked about setting up a raffle, the three Methodists in the class were dead set against having a raffle. After all, a raffle— that’s gambling.

You see, they said, the Methodist Book of Discipline— yes, the Methodists are methodical and they have a book filled with rules and regulations— the Methodist Book of Discipline does not allow for gambling, especially among the clergy. And participating in a raffle is gambling. So we cannot participate, so they said.

By the way: members of the laity who are Methodists are not supposed to take tickets at raffles, either. Remember that the next time you buy a ticket from a Methodist.

I was the first to respond to that, in part because of my Wall Street background. “Do Methodists have a pension fund?” I asked.

They looked at me as if I had landed from another planet. One of them said, “Why, of course we do.”

“And is a good amount of money invested on Wall Street,” I asked?

“Why, yes,” was the answer.

“So,” I said, “please explain to me how putting United Methodist Pension Fund money in the hands of Wall Street firms is not gambling?”

There is, of course, no answer to that. It is gambling. And there is nothing (with the possible exceptions of death, taxes and Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown at the last minute) which is more 100% sure than to say Wall Street is a place where gambling happens.

No matter how safe things feel, no matter what kind of claim is made about the soundness of an investment, there is always risk involved. Ask anyone who lost a bunch of money in the meltdown of 2008 if Wall Street is safe. They will tell you all about “Wall Street” and its risks.

Having worked on the inside, my opinion is to use the term “invest” and “Wall Street” in the same sentence is questionable. You do not invest money in Wall Street. You place it there, as in ‘place your bets,’ in the hope the risk involved produces a reasonable return. But it’s a risk. It’s a bet. It’s a gamble. (Slight pause.)

We find these words in First John: “My children, our love must not simply be words or pure talk. It must be true love, which shows itself to be true in action.” (Slight pause.)

Any competent professional investment manager will tell you there is no such thing as a foolproof investment. Any competent professional investment manager will tell you one of their goals to reduce risk.

But therein lies a problem. While you can never reduce risk to zero, you can reduce it so much that any gain, any benefit, becomes close to impossible. Indeed, a competent professional investment manager will tell you if you want to get anything out of your investment, risk is necessary. You need to take some risk.

I think for we moderns risk presents a particular challenge. Why? We like to reduce risk. And reducing risk makes for the possibility of smaller returns. Or so it’s said. But increasing risk makes for the possibility of larger returns. Or so it’s said.

I therefore want to suggest the smallest risk comes when we do… nothing— the smallest risk comes when we do… nothing. A much larger risk comes when we do… something. Action involves risk.

Which brings me to the season of Easter. Easter is not simply about some kind of euphoric joy. And Easter is not about some reward in the sweet by and by. Easter is about action. Easter is about risk.

Easter is a season which aims at being a guide to a transformed life, a transformed life of shared caring— action— shared caring— action among people— shared caring. And notice, this ethic of caring, this ethic of action, is grounded in God’s action, God’s risk.

God’s action of loving us is found in the truth of the resurrection, God’s risk of love for us. Hence, Easter not only assures us with the idea that risk can be taken; Easter authorizes and empowers us for risk. Easter issues not some new knowledge about life, but empowerment for that life, empowerment for that life which is to be lived out in fullness. (Slight pause.)

For me this means Easter is a time when we are invited by God to action. But therefore, a logical question would be to what action does God invite us? (Slight pause.)

Well, here’s what I think about the kind of action to which God invites us. Unconditional love is the greatest risk we can take. And it’s obvious to me that God invites us to love unconditionally.

Unconditional love, you see, means a risk of 100%. When unconditional love is offered, at that very moment, when we take that step to love unconditionally, there is a 100% risk in place since at that point there is absolutely no possibility of return.

It confuses me that we often miss or don’t understand this simple idea about love: love is an action, not a feeling. Love is an action. And unconditional love, unconditional love, is the most amazingly supportive action we can take, in part because its risk factor is 100%. (Slight pause.)

There was a running theme at yesterday’s Susquehanna Association Meeting. That theme had to do with a saying that’s been going around within our denomination.

(Quote:) “Be the church. Protect the environment. Care for the poor. Embrace diversity. Reject racism. Forgive often. Fight for the powerless. Share earthly and spiritual resources. Enjoy this life. Love God.” (Slight pause.)

Be the church. Now that’s a tall order. Why? To be is an action. Being takes risk. Or as is says in First John (quote): “…our love must not simply be words or pure talk. It must be true love, which shows itself to be true in action.” Amen.

United Church of Christ, First Congregational, Norwich, NY

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: “Here’s another saying that’s been going around recently (quote): ‘We will never change the world by going to church. We will change the world by being church.’ Again, be the church— that defines risk.”

BENEDICTION: We are invited to make God’s house our home. We are equipped by the grace of God to help others on their journeys. God leads us beside still waters and restores our soul. God’s love in Jesus, the Christ, has blessed us and we shall dwell in the house of the true shepherd. Amen.

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