Sermon – January 3, 2016

Categories: Church,Sermons

Rev. Joe ConnollyTrinity

by Rev. Joe Connolly

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“No one has ever seen God: / it is the only Begotten, / close to the heart of Abba, / who has revealed God to us.” — John 1:18

Last week a New York Times New Year’s editorial had this headline (quote:) Moments of Grace in a Grim Year. At its start, the editorial was not addressing 2015. It was addressing 1968.

What happened in 1968? On Christmas Eve, as the astronauts of Apollo 8 were sailing around the moon, they sent a message. With the world watching, they took turns reading the creation story from Genesis and then signed off.

“Good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas,” said Frank Borman. “And God bless all of you, all of you on the good earth” — a moment of grace.

The editorial then said in 1968 the good earth was having a terrible year. “The United States was torn by assassinations, violence in cities,… war in Vietnam.”

The writing next turned toward the present. (Quote:) “Humanity being what it is, the world remains a place of suffering and calamity. In 2015, catastrophes in the Middle East spread misery and terror the world over. The United States was brutalized… by the tyranny of gunfire. Our coarsened politics, so expert at keeping the populace fearful and distraught, got ever louder and cruder….”

The editorial had a recommendation, however. That we might (quote:) “…through an act of willful optimism,… swivel the mind away from the worst of this fading year. Tune out the rancor… find reasons to believe in the persistence of better values: humility, conciliation, kindness, dignity, reason.”

They backed up that recommendation for optimism by addressing some events of the year. (Quote:) “…nations… came together… to reach an agreement that may yet halt the march toward an overheated, unlivable planet.”

“Pope Francis,… a messenger of humility and peace, visited the Americas and challenged the wealthy and powerful in the name of the poor and the weak…. …he set a vivid example of welcome for children, immigrants, the forgotten.”

Next the article said this: “As the Syrian crisis swelled… tens of thousands of refugees found open doors and hearts in Germany and… …the Germans sent a message that rebukes nationalist bigotry and defends human rights….” For those of you who do not know, Germany— a country of 81,000,000 citizens— took in 1,000,000 Syrian refugees this year— yes, that’s 1,000,000 Syrian refugees Germany took in this year.

The article went on to list that dozens of states and cities, resisting a xenophobic tide, passed laws expanding rights and inclusion for immigrants. It also reported the Supreme Court ruled in favor of gender neutral committed love.

Many individuals led by example, it noted, opposing hatred and fear with courage. Parisians opened their homes to strangers on a night of terrifying slaughter.

After a gunman’s rampage at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., the families of victims forgave the killer. (Quote:) “A hateful person came to this community with some crazy idea he’d be able to divide,” said the mayor, “but all he did was unite us and make us love each other even more.”

President Obama spoke at the church about healing racial divisions and then began to sing “Amazing Grace.” The congregation stood and joined him— how sweet the sound. Days later, the Confederate battle flag came down at the South Carolina State Capitol. And if you don’t think that is a symbol of racism— to be clear these are my words— if you don’t think that is a symbol of racism you are just dead wrong. (Slight pause.)

The editorial continued: evil is everywhere and anger and hatred are loud, the editorial said. Shouting drowns out the quiet; tragedy and disaster block a view of the good. Yet there are always signs of progress toward a better future. Look, or you may miss them. [1] (Slight pause.)

We find these words in the Gospel According to the School of John: “No one has ever seen God: / it is the only Begotten, / close to the heart of Abba, / who has revealed God to us.” (Slight pause.)

Speaking of New Year’s reflections, Parker Palmer, a Quaker theologian, recently started a New Year’s meditation with a typographical error. When he realized what he had done, he decided to leave the typo in. He had not written “New Year’s Resolution.” He had written “New Year’s Revolution.” (Slight pause.)

I have a suspicion this is a hard thing to understand: the New Testament is about a revolution. One of the things people do not understand about revolutions is that, in terms of elapsed time, they happen very slowly.

Revolutions are not wars, not battles, therefore, never have immediate results. They happen over the course of time, at a snail’s pace, over centuries, even millennia. Our time frame, our time reference is limited. So the possibility that revolutions might consume centuries is a hard idea for us.

The New Testament, itself, was written over the course of nearly 100 years. But it took about 400 years for humanity to even begin to come to grips with the revolution contained therein.

I maintain a turning point happened with the formulation of the Nicene Creed in 325 of the Common Era. It took that long, you see, for the church to describe God as Trinity, a concept with which this passage from John wrestles.

Of course, there is something else we fail to realize. The revolution did not end then and there. After two millennia the revolution set off by the New Testament and its description of God is still in progress. And in some ways this passage from John is a theological deceleration of independence from former ways of looking at God.

All that having been noted, I need to address what this revolution encompassed. First, the complex: as mentioned, Christians describe God in a way which God has never been described before: Trinity. Greeks and Romans and many others describe god as a pantheon of entities.

Next, the description of the God of Israel is One. But that is also tweaked. God is still One but God is also Trinity. Or as I like to say, we Christians are Trinitarian monotheists or we are monotheistic Trinitarians.

Third, and if anything this is the most important point addressed by the reading from John— this Dominion of God is here, now. And this Dominion of God is a place where justice can reign for all. This Dominion of God is a place peace can reign for all. This Dominion of God is a place where God acts in the life of all humanity and in the life of each individual.

And we— you and I— need to participate in the Dominion of God, here and now. We— you and I— need to work for the justice of God and the peace of God, here and now. Working toward this Realm, this Dominion of God, this place where the Reign of God is a possibility is what we are called to do as Christians. (Slight pause.)

I think this all comes down to a simple statement: whether or not we recognize it, what I’ve just described is a revolutionary way to look at God. It is a revolutionary way to envision our own lives. And we are still, today, trying to grapple with the consequences of that revolution, now two millennia in length. (Slight pause.)

That, of course, brings me back to the reality of the world around us. Yes, evil seems to be everywhere. Anger and hatred shout. We are told fear is our only refuge. We are told that daily.

I, for one, don’t buy it. What I do buy is that God is with us, so why be fearful? God is present, so why be fearful? God invites us to work toward the realm of God, here, now, so why be fearful?

You see, my claim is that I am a Christian. Hence, my claim is that Christ lives. Christ is among us. Christ is with us now. So why be fearful?

Indeed, what we Christians claim, what we celebrate with this feast called Christmas, is that Christ lives. Christ is among us. Christ is with us.

It is not a solstice celebration. It is not a secular celebration. It is a celebration that says Christ lives. Christ is among us. Christ is with us.

And that, my friends, is revolutionary thinking. Or at least it’s revolutionary thinking in a world that can often seem driven by fear.

You see, what we Christians believe is the revolution called peace, hope, joy, freedom, love is real. And we— you and I— need to work at making these real.

So do not fear. Look around. Peace, hope, joy, freedom love are there. And we believe this because Christ is with us. 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 a précis of what was said: “These are the words of Catholic theologian and mystic Richard Rhor: ‘We worshiped Jesus instead of following the path of Jesus. In so doing we made Jesus into a mere religion instead of a journey toward a union with God. This shift took Christianity into a path of belonging and believing instead of seeking faith, faith something which fosters transformation.’”

BENEDICTION: Let us go in joy and in hope in peace and in love and in light, for the one who has made covenant with us is present to us. God reigns. Let us go proclaiming God’s love and God’s light. Amen.

[1] This was slightly edited for this context.

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