Sermon – January 31, 2016

Categories: Church,Sermons

Rev. Joe ConnollyProphesying [1]

by Rev. Joseph Connolly

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“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, / and before you were born I consecrated you; / I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” — Jeremiah 1:5.

I told this story here once here before but it as a long, long time ago so I’m going to chance repeating it. When I was in my twenties I was in a men’s group who got together for what they deemed to be serious discussions.
The evening meetings happened sporadically, usually timed to coincide with a basketball, baseball or football game on television. We would have our so called “serious discussion,” then watch a game, drink beer and eat pretzels.
Which is also to say we may have been serious about it, but the real reason for meeting was not the chosen topic of the day. The real reason was to watch a sporting event, drink beer, eat pretzels and shout at the TV.
One evening the topic was simple: is it O.K. for a Christian to be a communist? After most of the people present delivered a scathing opinion of communism— this was the early 1970s— I piped up and said it was O.K. for a Christian to be a communist, O.K. for a Christian to be a capitalist, O.K. for a Christian to be a socialist, etc., etc., etc.
What was not O.K. was for a Christian to be a greedy communist or a greedy capitalist or a greedy socialist. That ended the discussion, for which the others were grateful since it was nearly game time.
Starting in the late 1940s fear of so called “Godless communism” became rampant in America. As I think that story illustrates, what is Godless in economic systems is not the system. What makes any economic system Godless is greed. (Slight pause.)
We find these words in the Scroll of the Prophet Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, / and before you were born I consecrated you; / I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Slight pause.)
Many of you have heard me say this: a prophet does not predict the future. Biblical prophecy is not about predicting the future. Prophecy, Biblical prophecy, is when one speaks the Word of God, the truth of God, the reality of God. Therefore, prophecy in the Biblical sense is about now— right now. (Slight pause.)
So, I believe this to be a word of prophecy— at least as I see it— and I hope as God sees it. Greed makes communism Godless, socialism Godless, capitalism Godless. And we need to be as wary of Godless capitalism as we need to be wary of Godlessness in any other system or, indeed, anything else.
In fact, in the reading from Luke Jesus offers a prophecy, a true prophecy. Jesus proclaims the Word of God, the truth of God, the reality of God. Jesus says to bring good news to those who are poor, to proclaim release, liberty to those held captive, recovery of sight to those who are blind, release to those in prison and to proclaim the year of God’s favor is prophecy. It is about now.
So, here’s a question: is that prophecy Jesus offered— is that prophecy too tall an order for us in our times, now? And are these words Jesus spoke not a true calling for we Christians, now? (Slight pause.)
Today we have looked at and passed a budget. I want to suggest as dry a topic as finance is for some, especially in budgets we can and we must speak the Word of God.
So the serious question before us today has been— whether or not we acknowledged it— the serious question before us today has been this: is our budget prophetic enough? Did our budget say anything about the truth of the Word of God? (Slight pause.)
I want to suggest one way we can infuse prophecy into our budget, the make up of our budget, is for more of us to be involved with it. To be clear, I think the Trustees do an outstanding job, a wonderful job and, as I said, finance can be a dry topic for some of us. But I also think more of us need to be involved with the prophecy found in the budget— and it’s there.
Indeed, I believe prophecy— speaking the Word of God— is our call as Christians, as I said. And our budget needs to be a full fledged part of that prophecy.
Why do I say this? Well, the Scroll of the Prophet Jeremiah has this statement you heard earlier (quote:) “I appointed you— I appointed you— a prophet to the nations.” 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: “I want to leave you with two thoughts: the first is from the contemporary troubadour Bob Dylan (quote:) ‘I think you will find / When your death takes its toll / All the money you made / Will never buy back your soul.’ The second is from Saint Basil a fourth century theologian and monastic (quote:) ‘The bread you possess belongs to the hungry. The clothes you store in boxes, belong to the naked. The shoes rotting by you, belong to the bare-foot. The money you hide belongs to anyone in need.’”

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 whose wisdom is our God. Let us go in peace to love and serve God. Amen.
[1] Note: this sermon is shorter than usual since our Annual Meeting happens inside the context of worship. Also note: the Baptist Pastor David Spiegel and his wife Martha were in the New York City area welcoming their fifth grandchild, William (first child for their daughter Shannon), into the world. Hence, members of the First Baptist Church were also with us on this day.

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