Sermon – March 9, 2014

Categories: Sermons

Rev. Joe ConnollyUnderstanding

by Rev. Joseph Connolly

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“Do not be like a horse or a mule, / without understanding, / whose temper must be curbed / with bit and bridle, / else it will not stay near you.” — Psalm 32: 9.

Erik Parker is a Lutheran Pastor and also the writer of a blog I follow. The name of the blog is The Millennial Pastor. Eric is, you see, a part of the millennial generation.

According to the strict definition, a millennial is someone under 35. Eric both qualifies as a millennial and is a pastor in a Main Line denomination. Are millennial pastors rare?

While their numbers may be fewer than previous generations they are, perhaps, not as rare as you think. I, myself, was a mentor for a millennial pastor, Manda Adams, in our Susquehanna Association. She is now serving a church in the Buffalo area. Which is to emphasize you should not delude yourself: pastors who are also millennials are not like dragons or unicorns. They do exist.

At one point Manda was a member of an Open and Affirming United Church of Christ Congregation— a Congregation of 4,500— in Dallas, Texas. Which is also to emphasize you should not delude yourself: unlike dragons or unicorns an Open and Affirming United Church of Christ Congregation of 4,500 in Dallas, Texas also exists.

Back to Pastor Parker and his blog: in a recent post Eric insisted what the church does not need is Anchorman Christianity. For those unfamiliar with the movie Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and its current sequel, in using the term Anchorman Christianity Pastor Eric is not talking about real reporters who deliver real news.

Eric is addressing a certain strain of talking heads found in some media outlets, anchors who offer people what they want to hear, not what they need to hear. Of course, studies prove we don’t question inaccuracies that reenforce our own preconceived beliefs and/or prejudices. We accept them as true, even if they are dragons or unicorns.

Certainly one point Eric tries to make is we are the last defense against Anchorman Christianity. We are the last defense against these dragons and unicorns.

Now, in that blog Parker created a list to help identify what Anchorman Christianity looks like. To be clear: this list is very tongue in cheek and is meant to be funny. It is not meant to sound angry— some people might take it that was— it is not meant to sound angry, so please do see the humor in this.

So, to the list— first, Anchorman Christianity offers easy answers. After all, people don’t need good teaching and sound preaching. Easy answers are so much easier than in-depth explorations of faith, theology, history and ethics.

People also enjoy outrage, so Anchorman Christianity offers that. We are, by most counts, biologically inclined to respond viscerally to negative emotions like anger.

The media knows this well, says Eric. In church or on TV it is way easier to preach outrage— outrage about a range of issues from government to religion to personal agendas to money to the lack of money than to encourage people to grow in empathy and compassion.

Indeed, seeing the ‘other’ as human and their issues as problems we are called on to do something about takes work and a good measure of God’s help. After all, who has the energy to be calm, collected, compassionate, resourceful and tenacious? Outrage is easy.

Anchorman Christianity is evident when a preacher talks about the Bible people think they know as opposed to what the Bible really says. After all, the Bible says that God helps those who help themselves, says cleanliness is next to Godliness, says to thine own self be true, says love the sinner, hate the sin, says money is the root of all evil, says spare the rod, spoil the child.

No— the Bible says none of these. But it is undoubtedly more convenient to preach a Bible of fantasies and clichés, a Bible of dragons and unicorns than it is to preach on what is actually found in the pages of Scripture.

Anchorman Christianity also promises we will all get rich and never addresses the realities of the world and its brokenness in the church. Real economic and social issues— why, that’s too depressing. What does God care about that stuff, anyway?

Last, Anchorman Christianity preaches nostalgia, since people don’t really need to live in reality, don’t need to pay attention to what’s happening and don’t need to be… real. [1] Anchorman Christianity— it’s a world filled with dragons and unicorns. (Slight pause.)

We find these words in the Tanakh in the section known as The Writings in the portion called the Psalms, in the work known as Psalm 32. “Do not be like a horse or a mule, / without understanding, / whose temper must be curbed / with bit and bridle, / else it will not stay near you.” (Slight pause.)

Earlier I said one point Eric makes about Anchorman Christianity is we are the last defense against it, the last defense against dragons and unicorns. In short, we need to be both involved and educated to avoid being trapped by dragons and unicorns.

So, let me draw a parallel. Who stayed up late to watch the Oscars last Sunday? (Slight pause.) We have some. I did.

Part way through the proceedings the 75th Anniversary of the great picture The Wizard of Oz was marked with a celebration. It is one of my favorite films, there is no doubt about that. And I am glad they noted this anniversary.

But I did not hear in any media outlet any outcry of indignation because no mention was made of the other great film produced that same year. Indeed, although I think The Wizard is a great film, it actually lost money in it’s initial release. The other great film released the same year made over 100 times its production cost.

The Wizard won two Academy Awards. That other great film released the same year won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

The Wizard told a fanciful, heart warming story— a wonderful story. But the other great film released that same year examined a personal tragedy set against a backdrop of national cataclysm— certainly more significant from the point of view of history, more significant from the point of view of social relations, more significant from the point of view of American freedom. That other great film was… Gone with the Wind.

Tell me, if The Wizard was recognized simply because it’s been 75 years since its release, why did Gone with the Wind not deserve at least the same recognition? Perhaps even more to the point, why has there been no hue and cry as to that lack of recognition.

Are we a society trapped in an Anchorman mentality, a society fixed on ignoring reality and truth? Are we a society trapped by dragons and unicorns? Perhaps we are. (Slight pause.)

For a moment let me take you through Psalm 32, since I think it deals with reality, truth. And I think dragons and unicorns are nowhere to be found in these words.

The song starts with an insistence that God is good, God is forgiving and the steadfast love of God endures forever— the basic message of the Gospel. In Romans Paul uses these words from this Psalm as the foundation for justification by faith. [2]

The truth, the reality of the goodness of God changes the focus of the Psalmist outward and places attention on others, shifts the focus of what the Psalmist says to one’s neighbor. Hence, forgiven and loved, we are called to teach others about the ways of God. This ministry of teaching is not presumptuous because this teaching is not a witness to one’s own ego but a witness to the love God offers.

Now, if we are called to bear witness to the love of God (and we are), to accomplish that God offers us an invitation to do something. We are invited to deal with reality and truth. Or, as the Psalmist puts it, we need to avoid being like (quote:) “a horse or a mule, without understanding.” (Slight pause.)

Earlier I mentioned millennials, this younger generation. You have probably often heard it said this group is not going to church, even though I mentioned two who are pastors. But there are a lot of institutions millennials are not frequenting or using. Church is merely one of many.

Why? Institutions have become involved in defending and even creating dragons and unicorns. Institutions have become involved in defending and even in creating dragons and unicorns despite the fact that dragons and unicorns do not exist.

Broadly, at least, millennials are not interested in these fantasies. From what I’ve seen, the motto of millennials is simple: get real; be real— especially when it comes to being in relationship with God. (Slight pause.)

Something we in the church need to understand about Scripture is this: the Bible is not like Aladdin’s lamp. [The pastor picks up a book and rubs it.] You cannot rub Scripture— (I’m sorry that’s a hymnal, I left the Bible back there) [this elicits a large laugh from the Congregation]— you cannot rub Scripture and think answers about God or about our life will magically appear. I personally know people who think that.

To use Scripture that way is to say the Bible lives in and supports a world of dragons and unicorns. It does not. Scripture, when examined studiously, is about reality, is about truth. So, Scripture can help us seek truth, seek reality.

Therefore, this should be obvious: one needs to study Scripture, one needs to grapple with Scripture in order to understand it. After all, this Psalm is very direct and even makes a claim about this straight out (quote): “Do not be like a horse or a mule, / without understanding,….” 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: “When the Psalm was introduced this was said (quote): ‘The great writer of musical comedy, Oscar Hammerstein II, said song is what happens when the emotion being transmitted is too great to be conveyed by mere dialogue.’ And then Hammerstein wrote this lyric for the Musical South Pacific. ‘You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear, / You’ve got to be taught from year to year, / It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear, / You’ve got to be carefully taught.’ You see there is such a thing as false teaching. It’s what produces dragons and unicorns. And we are the last defense against it, the last defense when someone preaches that the love of God is not universal. And, if we don’t believe a message of hate— a message of dragons and unicorns is being preached in a lot of places— then we are not paying attention to what’s out there around us.”


Note: this has been edited for size. The original is much longer.

[2] Texts for Preaching in the electronic version of this publication in the commentary about Psalm 32, the reading assigned for the day.


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