Sermon February 2, 2014

Categories: Sermons

Rev. Joe Connolly


by Rev. Joseph Connolly

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“Where are the wise? Where are the scribes? Where are the scholars? Where are the debaters? Where are the philosophers of this age?” — 1 Corinthians 1:20a

The Rev. Roger Wolsey is an ordained United Methodist Elder who directs the Wesley Foundation at the University of Colorado in Boulder. He is also the author of Kissing Fish: Christianity for People Who Don’t Like Christianity.

In a recent article Wolsey said this: the word Religion comes to us from the Latin religare. The word means “to bind together.” Biologists, anthropologists and sociologists all contend humans are social creatures.

Practitioners of these varied disciplines also insist we are at our best when we associate and interact with others. Granted, some of us are introverted. Introverts need space and time— a friend of mine likes to call it cave time— introverts need space and time away from others more so than extroverts.

Extroverts are, of course, those who tend to not just enjoy crowds and noise but revel in them. (Fun fact— the majority of Americans are extroverts.)

I would suggest one reason sports events are so popular is not just the competition or amusement they provide but the chance to interact with a crowd of people. Indeed, extraverts enjoy crowds and introverts know they can get lost in a crowd and no one will notice them.

But even the most introverted among us would probably admit they enjoy other people and thrive because of them. Introverts just don’t want an overwhelming diet of crowds.

Which is to say if you do not, to a certain extent, enjoy others and thrive because of them, you should not be living anywhere near people. You probably need be living deep in the woods of Wyoming or Montana… or maybe even the tundras of Antarctica but not anywhere near people.

Here’s another way of looking at that, another way of saying that: we humans are social creatures. There is strength in numbers.

Indeed, put yet another way, Rosa Parks could not have helped end racial segregation in the South by herself. It required the combined, organized efforts of many kindred spirits joined together.

And how was that effort organized? In what ways did the Civil Rights movement sustain itself?

The record shows the movement frequently relied on workshops, on trainings and on town forums for those who were directly involved and for the whole community, even those not directly involved. The whole community, you see, needed to understand what was happening and to, therefore, be involved in some way.

Additionally, the record shows there was a great reliance on prayer and on worship. At least in part, what was that prayer and worship about?

There is no doubt about this. Prayer and worship involve social contact. Prayer and worship involve feeling mutual support from others. Prayer and worship involve people relying on people relying on people relying on people.

Indeed, the Civil Rights movement was not just an example of Christianity at its best, although it was that. The Civil Rights movement was an example of what we humans do at our best. We are social creatures. We rely on one another. We are neighbors. [1] (Slight pause.)

These words are recorded in the work known as First Corinthians: “Where are the wise? Where are the scribes? Where are the scholars? Where are the debaters? Where are the philosophers of this age?” (Slight pause.)

Today’s Scriptures turn the social norms of society upside down. Blessed are those who are gentle. Blessed are those whose hearts are clean. The race is not always to the swift. The powerful don’t always win.

But, as was suggested when the Corinthians reading was introduced, this is not really about social norms. After all, as much as we might like to think the race does not always belong to the swift it often does. And the powerful do often win. So this is not about social norms.

Put another way, many of us would take the world we know break it into the social norm of winners and losers. Probably doing that at about 10 p.m. tonight, right? [1] But this is not about winning and losing, a normal state for the world. This is about theology.

Indeed, those to whom Paul writes in Corinth are a polarized group. They must have been astounded by these words about the swift and powerful.

When I say the Corinthians are polarized, we know Paul writes to the Corinthians because they are a church having battles among its members. And the battles have winners and losers. Conflict in a church— that never happens, right?

Further, I would suggest that the battles at the Church in Corinth were not as much about the particulars of theology or even ecclesiology— how a church runs itself. I think it’s much more likely the Corinthians were divided by their own self centered win/lose points of view. In short, they placed victory ahead of the well-being of their brothers and sisters in Christ.

And so Paul strives to direct them to a theological perspective. And what is that theological perspective? How should you treat brothers and sisters in Christ? Who are your brothers and sisters in Christ?

Brothers and sisters in Christ— let me put that in a slightly different way— community of Christ. A community of Christ is not about wining and losing. And even more importantly, a community of Christ is not about who wins and who loses. A community of Christ is about loving God and loving neighbor. (Slight pause.)

And so, “Where are the wise? Where are the scribes? Where are the scholars? Where are the debaters? Where are the philosophers of this age?” (Slight pause.)

Cornel West is the Professor of Philosophy and Christian Practice at the Union Theological Seminary. He says this (quote): “Never forget… justice… justice is what love looks like in public.”

And what did Jesus say? Blessed are those who are poor in spirit, those who are mourning, those who are gentle, those who hunger and thirst for justice, those who show mercy to others, those whose hearts are clean, those who work for peace, those who are persecuted.

In short, the wise, the scribes, the scholars, the debaters, the philosophers of this age are not those who seek to separate winners and losers into groups and thereby label them as deserving and undeserving. The wise, the scribes, the scholars, the debaters, the philosophers of this age are those who seek to live out the reality of community, those who seek to be in the community of Christ.

And what is the community of Christ? It’s where loving God and loving neighbor is our only guide. (Slight pause.)

The motto of the United Church of Christ— this strange union of churches we call a denomination states this, it quotes John, states this: “That they may all be one.” If we live out that statement then loving God and loving neighbor ceases to be mere lip service and if we live out that motto we are all one. 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: “Miroslav Volf is a Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity School and the Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. He says this (quote): ‘Theology is not only about understanding the world; it is about mending the world.’ I might add that’s what a sound theology does— mend the world. And there is no way to mend the world other than to start with an understanding which says the world is our community.”

BENEDICTION: Through God’s grace, by being attentive to God’s will, our deeds and our words will change our world for we will discover ways to proclaim release from the bondage of narrowness. Let us seek the God of Joy. Let us go in peace to love and serve God. Amen.

[1] Note: the words of Wolsey are paraphrased. Any alteration of meaning is the fault of the writer of this piece, not of Wolsey.

[2] This is Super Bowl Sunday. There will be a winner and there will be a loser.


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