Sermon – June 21, 2015

Categories: Church,Sermons

Rev. Joe ConnollyAcceptable Times [1]

by Rev. Joe Connolly

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“For God says, [and here Paul quotes the prophet Isaiah] / ‘At an acceptable time I heard you, / and on a day of salvation I helped you’ (unquote). / See, now is the acceptable time! See, now is the day of salvation!” — 2 Corinthians 5:2.

The election I’m about to reference is, by many scholars, considered to be one of the most pivotal in American history. One candidate for President claimed to be the candidate of the people. Certainly that candidate’s speeches sounded anti-establishment, placing a high degree of emphasis on democracy, on symbolism, on personal popularity. But this candidate was attacked as having a vicious temper, unfit for office.

The family of the other candidate many would call American royalty. But this candidate was called aristocratic, aloof, overeducated, intellectual and, therefore, downright un-American.

A totally different picture presents itself when policy stands are considered rather than mud-slinging— mud-slinging something seldom done in American politics, right? The populist, democratic rhetoric espoused by one side did not show itself in practice.

You see, the populist was elected. But once in place the administration exercised unilateral, previously unheard of Presidential power, taking away some prerogatives from Congress. The losing party wanted to invest in infrastructure, boost the economy and bring, if not prosperity, a living wage to those mired in poverty— true populism. [2]

I am, of course, referring to the election of 1828— 1828. John Quincy Adams, the son of a president, was defeated by populist, Andrew Jackson. Historians say this election was the first in which political machines overcame reality with false claims and false advertising. It certainly sounds like some things have not changed, have they. (Slight pause.)

In 1908 the Federal Council of Churches, predecessor of the National Council of Churches, published a Social Creed. The language sounds dated but the meanings are familiar. (Slight pause.)

The Churches must stand for equal rights and complete justice for all men in all stations of life. Churches must stand for the right of workers to some protection against the hardships which results from swift crises of industrial change.

Churches must stand for a living wage as a minimum in every industry and for the highest wage each industry can afford. Churches must stand for the abatement of poverty. It certainly sounds like some things have not changed. [3] (Slight pause.)

These words are from the work known as Second Corinthians: “For God says, [and here Paul quotes the prophet Isaiah] / ‘At an acceptable time I heard you, / and on a day of salvation I helped you’ (unquote). / See, now is the acceptable time! See, now is the day of salvation!” (Slight pause.)

Last Wednesday we had a Bible Study in this church. Last Wednesday there was a Bible Study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. You know what happened in Charleston. Let me tell you about some thoughts from the Bible Study here, because I think it might help us reflect on what happened in Charleston. (Slight pause.)

There is no question about this: Paul’s message, in line with the message of Jesus, says the world is broken. Hence, when Paul says (quote:) “We conduct ourselves with innocence, knowledge, patience, kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine, sincere love, with the message of truth and the power of God; wielding the weapons of justice with both the right hand and the left hand;…” we need to understand these words in the context of the First Century of the Common Era.

The weapons used by the Roman Empire are weapons of death and destruction, not the plowshare but the sword. The weapons Paul addresses are called justice, here directly named, and peace and freedom and equity and love. The Roman Empire nor any empire before or since has tried to operate on the basis of justice, peace, freedom, equity, love. But justice, peace, freedom, equity, love are the empowering instruments of God’s realm.

Peace through victory— meaning attain peace through the use force— is the motto of all empires. But force is not now and has never been an instrument of peace. Peace has never been attained through victory, through force. The only thing attained through victory is a lull in violence. Victory will not quell violence.

Paul also insists (quote:) “…now is the acceptable time!” Paul’s proclamation has the same sense of the urgency of now insisted on by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Friends, this is my assessment: in our broken world the empowering instruments of God’s realm— justice, peace, freedom, equity, love have never been fully tried. But an obvious question might be: ‘why?’ Why have they not been tried? (Slight pause.)

Later in the service, when a Gospel reading is offered, you will hear the oft repeated words of Jesus (quote:) “I give you a new commandment: that you love one another.” [4]

We make a basic mistake when we hear these words. The mistake we make is that love is easy. Question: if love is easy, why do we see so much violence? Why do we believe peace through victory, peace through violence, is achievable? Paul didn’t believe that. Jesus didn’t believe that.

Indeed, if the urgency of now is real, if the acceptable time is now, we have a choice. We can stand idly by amidst injustice and inequity. We can ignore we live in a world which seems to rest on injustice and inequity. Or we can try to change that. This is our call.

I want to suggest two things to you. First, the empowering instruments of God’s realm— justice, peace, freedom, equity, love— are disciplines. And we live in an undisciplined world.

Second, the church needs to be not just a place to gather with friends and not just a place to worship but a place where these disciplines are taught and learned. And unless we gather to study the disciplines known as justice, peace, freedom, equity and love— gather to study the instruments of God’s realm, gather to study with the urgency of now, peace cannot and will not flourish. Violence will flourish.

You see among many things, Charleston tells us we live in a broken world. The only way to try to mend the world is to be disciplined enough to accomplish the task of learning, be disciplined enough to follow the teachings of Jesus, disciplined enough to bring the message of justice, peace, freedom, equity, love to those around us and to the broken world in which we live. Amen.

06/21/2015 (Week of the Annual Organizational Meeting)
United Church of Christ, First Congregational.

ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Choral Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “For a moment I want to come back to the reality of today through the reality of yesterday. In 1965— 1965— the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said this about the shooting of one Jimmy Lee Jackson, a civil rights worker (quote): ‘He was murdered by the brutality of every sheriff who practices lawlessness in the name of law. He was murdered by the irresponsibility of every politician, from governors on down, who has fed his constituents the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism. He was murdered by the timidity of a federal government that can spend millions of dollars a day to keep troops in South Vietnam and cannot protect the rights of its own citizens seeking the right to vote. He was murdered by the indifference of every minister of the gospel who has remained silent behind the safe security of stained-glass windows.’ [5] — The Rev, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1965. Some things have not changed. But now is the acceptable time for change.”

[1] This sermon is a little shorter than a usual sermon because of several things going on in the service today. Among the extra events were an Annual Organizational Meeting; Covenant Share Sunday for which here was a time addressing mission; a Ceremony Honoring Members in Long Standing

[2] What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848; Oxford History of the United States; Oxford University Press, September 23, 2009.

[3] Note: some of the wording is slightly altered to fit this context. The meaning is not changed. Only several parts of the proclamation were read. The Social Creed of the Churches, Adopted by the Federal Council of Churches on December 4, 1908.

[4] This reading was used in a ceremony honoring Members in Long Standing at the service: John 13:33-35 [ILV].

[5] http://nuweb9.neu.edu/civilrights/jimmie-lee-jackson/

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