by Rev. Joe Connolly
“For, I, Yahweh, God— I love justice; / I hate robbery and wrongdoing; / I will faithfully compensate, / and I will make an everlasting covenant with you.” — Isaiah 61:8.
This is a truth of American life in 2014: we all interact with computers. Do you have a cell phone? Do you drive a car? Do you have a bank account, use an ATM? Then you interact with and even operate computers.
Now, rumor to the contrary, computers are not particularly intelligent. They can do one thing exceptionally well. They count. But they don’t count like you and I count.
This gets a little technical— a shout out to John Kolb who knows a lot about computers here— this gets a little technical but whereas you and I count sequentially— one, two, three, four, five, etc., etc., etc.— the basis of the hardware we call a computer counts only two numbers: zero and one (as John nods his head). Anything more than that is way too complex for a computer to handle.
Mind you, computers count zero and one really, really, really fast. That’s what gives the illusion of what some see as intelligence: they are fast.
We, besides working slower, don’t have hardware. We have wet-ware— a brain. It is not computers, but we who are able to think creatively, intuitively and that is real intelligence. Computers do not, never have had and, given current research, it is becoming quite clear never will think creatively, intuitively.
Computers are amazing. But they are a tool. We invented them. We provide the real intelligence, and, as I said, these days we often interact with them. Now, it used to be people interacted with a single computer— one on one interaction, person and machine.
About twenty years ago the development of Internet changed that. With the Internet people began using computers to interact not with just one computer but to interact with each other— wet-ware, one of us, interacting through hardware, a computer, with other wet-ware, another one of us. It made a difference. Because of the Internet we are now empowered to interact with hundreds of thousands of sets of wet-ware, other humans, simultaneously.
To be clear, there is a downside and there is an upside to all this wet-ware interaction. It’s called Facebook.
Facebook is simply one example of interaction with others. Facebook is nothing more than communities formed over the internet but formed in a way which could not have happened only twenty years ago.
However, just like any community, internet communities have a compatibility problem. The problem? How do we, how can we live with each other? In order for community to happen this is a necessity: people with deferring views need to understand how their wet-ware can learn to interact with other wet-ware when they don’t agree with the opinions displayed by the wet-ware of others. (Slight pause.)
In the mid-1800s Alexis de Tocqueville published in two volumes of the work Democracy in America. This is a quote from that writing: “The tradition of founding voluntary societies was especially strong in early America, evidenced in cooperative ventures ranging from quilting bees to barn raisings. In no country in the world has this principle been more successfully used or more unsparingly applied to a multitude of different objects than in America.”
A little earlier in our history Ben Franklin was more succinct and placed a more theological bent on these interactions. (Quote:) “To pour forth benefits for the common good is divine.” (Slight pause.)
These words are from the Scroll of the Prophet Isaiah: “For, I, Yahweh, God— I love justice; / I hate robbery and wrongdoing; / I will faithfully compensate, / and I will make an everlasting covenant with you.” (Slight pause.)
Today we heard from Second Isaiah who addressed the nature of God and the covenant God makes with humanity. And in this passage we hear about good news.
As was said when the passage was introduced, this was written at least 500 years before the birth of the Christ. So Isaiah was not necessarily addressing the Messiah, specifically, but was addressing good news for the people then, 500 years before the birth of the Christ.
We also heard about the Baptizer today. When it comes to John, there is agreement in Scripture about two things. First, the mission of John is to prepare the way for the Messiah. Second, John is very odd— lives out in the wilderness, wears strange clothes, eats strange food, is not acceptable in polite society.
I think, despite proclaiming the advent of the Messiah, John is labeled as odd in the Gospels because the writers realize the message of John was not the same as the message of Jesus. John had it wrong. John’s message said, “The Dominion of God is approaching, therefore the end of the world is going to happen shortly.”
Jesus also says, “The Dominion of God is approaching.” But Jesus asks what might that Dominion look like here, now, in our time.
The message of Jesus is not that the end is near. The message of Jesus says we are here to help each other envision the picture God has of that Dominion, what that Dominion might be, what that Dominion might look like right here, right now, as we participate in the covenant God offers. This is the same covenant, the same vision of covenant, Isaiah addressed: a covenant with a God who loves justice.
Theologian John Dominic Crossan calls this message of Jesus collaborative eschatology. Put in plain words, the end result of the world— that what eschatology is, the end of the world, right?— put in plain words the end of the world is not destruction. The end result of the world is construction— not destruction, construction. The covenant to which God calls us challenges us to cooperate with God and each other in building the world anew each day, in building a world overflowing with the justice of God. (Slight pause.)
In my comments last week I quoted the famous science-fiction writer Ursula Le Guin who said hard times are coming in part because we live fear-stricken society. To counter that, she said, we need to be able to imagine real grounds for hope, be see a larger reality beyond fear. And to conquer fear, she said, we need to embrace creativity— to conquer fear we need to embrace creativity. (Slight pause.)
The Herberger Institute at Arizona State University has been studying what competency in the 21st Century might look like. What they have found can be summed up in a single word: creativity. Those who are competent will be creative.
These are several aspects of creativity the Institute highlighted: improvisation, idea generation, agility, flexibility, tolerance for ambiguity, curiosity, risk taking, collaboration. (Slight pause.) Collaboration— that brings me back to computers.
In a book which delves into the history of computers, Innovation, Walter Isaacson says creating the computer as we know it today was a cooperative effort. The computer was not invented by one individual nor one organization nor one generation
So, here’s my take: on what the 21st Century does and will look like: the future needs to be a collaborative effort, an effort which includes everyone. The Baptizer’s vision will not do. We need to embrace the vision of Jesus, a vision of cooperative competence.
I think the vision of Jesus, the Christ, includes 21st Century aspects of life. And these attributes are creativity, improvisation, idea generation, agility, flexibility, tolerance for ambiguity, risk taking, curiosity, collaboration. And for Christians, for Christians this collaboration must be about seeking justice for everyone.
In order to do that, in order to seek justice for everyone, we need to cease being driven by fear, a popular stance today. And, in fact, the apocalyptic, fear filled vision of John which says the end times are upon us, is a common vision today on the left and on the right. It is a vision we need to overcome.
How can that prevalent vision of fear be overcome? We need to practice and embrace the four aspects we find surrounding us in this Season called Advent: hope, peace, love, joy.
All this is also to say the call of Christ to us, the call of God to us, can be summed up in one word: covenant. And the call to covenant is a call to creative collaboration.
And so yes, God calls us to covenant. And I believe if we are willing to cooperate with the covenant to which God calls us we, the church, will be and are well positioned to face and to tackle the challenges of the 21st Century. 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 Congregational Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “There is a falsehood commonly believed about Christianity that if you believe exactly the right things or can recite exactly the right things you have passed the test. You are a Christian. However, historically what has defined someone as a Christian is not a set of beliefs. what has defined someone as a Christian is the actions they take. Do you follow Jesus? In order to follow Jesus in the 21st Century, it seems to me one needs to be fearlessly creative as we seek to collaborate with each other.”
BENEDICTION: Let us go forth with hope. Let us be led in peace. Let us find places of love. Let us know the joy of God’s presence. And, indeed, as the Psalmist states: all the mountains and hills shall break into singing and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands because God reigns! Amen.