Sermon – January 25, 2015

Categories: Church,Sermons

Rev. Joe ConnollyAn Apocalypse? [1]

by Rev. Joseph Connolly

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“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘This is the time of fulfillment. The dominion of God, the realm of God has come near, is at hand; change your hearts and minds; believe in this good news.’” — Mark 1:14-15.

Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, a pastor in the American Baptist tradition, in a real sense, descended from American royalty. He is the great-grandson of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, one of the most influential progressive figures to serve on the court, and also the great-grandson of famous Baptist cleric Walter Rauschenbusch. [2]

Some of us might know the name of Justice Brandeis. But fame is fleeting, so it’s probable only scholars of American religious history know Walter Rauschenbusch. Why should we be familiar that name?

Walter, a professor at Rochester Seminary in the early 1900s, was in the forefront of the Social Gospel movement which applied Christian ethics to real problems. These problems included economic inequity, poverty, crime, racism, unclean environment, poor schools and the danger of war. Now, that sounds like today’s issues, does it not?

The Social Gospel movement sought to make real the words “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Much of what this movement espoused from the minimum wage to Social Security became law with Roosevelt’s New Deal.

A chip off the old blocks, Paul Brandeis Raushenbush recently posed several questions to American Christians about living a life of faith today. These are the questions. (Slight pause.)

Does our faith encourage an active, prophetic stance towards creating justice in this world. Or does it explicitly or implicitly encourage a complacency towards inequity by saying faith is more spiritual than social and things will work out in the afterlife?

Does our faith affirm the dignity and worth of all people, rejecting any claims of superiority, explicit or implicit, based on identities including race, religion, sexuality, gender, class, nationality? Does our faith encourage critical examination of Scripture? Is it open to continued revelation of eternal truths that come with new knowledge?

Does our faith promote non-violence and believe war is to be used only as a last resort or not at all? Does our faith confront and reject any teachings that might cause anyone to act with violence or incite rage or hatred towards others?

Does our faith further interfaith cooperation, empower our ability to feel compassion for the suffering of those different from us and see the wider, interconnected responsibility of the human family instead of caring only about those in our immediate group? [3] — the Rev. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush. (Slight pause.)

These words are from the work know as Mark: “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘This is the time of fulfillment. The dominion of God, the realm of God has come near, is at hand; change your hearts and minds; believe in this good news.’” (Slight pause.)

This passage is not meant to say the end of the world, an Apocalypse, is at hand. The message is much more simple than that. In the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. the proclamation made here is this (quote:) “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.”

A straightforward message is in front of us. The realm has drawn near. We need to seek the will of God right now. We need to engage in the will of God right now. (Slight pause.)

So, what does that have to do with a budget? Everything. We are blessed with gifts beyond the wildest imagination of most congregations. And we do need to be aware of how those gifts are used.

I would invite anyone to be engaged with and help the missions committees do their work. Why? Together, as a congregation, as one, we need to see how we use these gifts and work on, offer help about, how these gifts are used. Again why? These are our gifts entrusted to us and meant to be used.

Again why? We need to be disciples. One more why— as disciples, we need to be aware, as was Jesus, of the fierce urgency of now. 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: “In the Anthem the choir used this odd phrase: ‘Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by Thy help I’ve come;…’ What does that mean? 1 Samuel 7:12 says (quote:) ‘Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and named it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far God has helped us.’ Mizpah and Shen are places and Samuel places a stone, a monument, there as a remembrance of God. The Hebrew word Ebenezer means ‘stone of help.’ So, for me these words mean we need to recognize and remember we are all in this together and we do not get anywhere without the help of God. Or as the theologian Marcus Borg who died last Wednesday said, ‘Imagine that Christianity is about loving God. Imagine that it’s not about ‘what’s in it for me,’ whether that be a blessed afterlife or prosperity in this life.’”

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 or narrowness. Let us seek the God of Joy whose wisdom is our God. Let us go in peace to love and serve God. Amen.

[1] It does need to be noted that since this service of worship incorporated the Annual Budget Meeting these comments were more brief than a usual sermon might be.

[2] Note: the names of Paul and his grandfather are spelled differently.

[3] This is slightly edited for context.

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