Sermon – May 29, 2016

Categories: Church,Sermons

Rev. Joe ConnollyFaith

by Rev. Joe Connolly

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“On hearing this Jesus was amazed and turned to the crowd that was following and said, ‘I tell you, I have never found this much faith among the Israelites.’” — Luke 7:9.

In the course of my comments last week I told a story. Now, I know some of you were here and heard that story but others were not. That’s the nature of week to week on a Sunday morning. So, at the beginning of what I have to say today I want to repeat that story because I think it’s pertinent. (Slight pause.)

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, back when I lived in New York City I got into a discussion with an Episcopal priest. This cleric told me upon ordination that he had taken a vow to preach what the church believed.

That’s interesting, said I. You’ve taken a vow to do something that’s impossible to do. You cannot preach what the church believes. All you can do is preach what you believe to be what the church believes. What the church collectively believes and what you believe the church believes may be very different things.

Further, given all the people in the church, what the church collectively believes is likely to cover quite a very broad range. So it is, at best, difficult to even say the church has a specific list of beliefs. (Slight pause.)

Let me examine that story in another way. Many people name the generations born in the 20th and 21st Century this way: Greatest Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials.

Many people say there is competition among generations. But it’s not about games— who wins, who loses. The real competition among generations is about and has always been about… ideas.

Further, none of the generations have an invalid way of approaching the world, a poor way of thinking, bad ideas. The ways, the approaches, the ideas of each generation are simply different.

Now, it seems obvious that we live in a rapidly changing world. And one of the things fueling that change is how serious people are thinking about the world.

The Rev. Mr. John C. Dorhauer is the General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ and also the author of several books. The most recent is Beyond Resistance: The Institutional Church Meets the Postmodern World.

In that book Dorhauer, instead of splitting generations into arbitrary groups according to age or generation, asks ‘how do people think, what is their approach, their thought process?’ Therefore Dorhauer says, one reason the world is changing is because how people think is changing, not because of competition.

The label he uses to identify the type of thinking which is now coming to the fore is Postmodern thinking. Postmodern thinking says each person comes to every encounter understanding that each person has their own life experiences. This helps make them wise and helps make them who they are and helps them be the person who they have become.

Postmodern thinking says each person realizes the person they will be tomorrow is not the same as they were yesterday because of what is happening to them today. Now I think all that sounds exactly like what I said to that Episcopal priest those many years ago.

Additionally, postmodern thinking recognizes we all have filters with which each of us sees the world. For a long time the dominant Western filter has been the Caucasian and heterosexual and male— a Caucasian and heterosexual and male view of the world. To use the slang version, that’s white and heterosexual and male.

You do not even have to be white or heterosexual or male for that to be your filter because this way of thinking is and has been all around us. It influences all of us.

Hence, for many it still is a dominant way of thinking. But in a Postmodern world this way of thinking is falling by the wayside.

In the age of Postmodern thinking, the filters of race, gender, sexuality identity, culture, class and income level are all recognized as having an influence on our thinking. They are all recognized as being aspects of how each of us thinks. [1] (Slight pause.)

We find these words in the work known as Luke: “On hearing this Jesus was amazed and turned to the crowd that was following and said, ‘I tell you, I have never found this much faith among the Israelites.’” (Slight pause.)

Scholars identify the last shift in how we humans think— before this Postmodern— they identify the last shift in how we humans think as starting with the Renaissance. That stretched from the 14th to the 17th Centuries.

This way of thinking became manifest in the art, architecture, politics, science and literature of the era. It further blossomed and was nourished by modern science with the advent of the Enlightenment of the 18th and 19th Centuries.

Clearly that span is a span of more than 500 years. Dorhauer says with Postmodern thinking it is likely we are at the very, very beginning of the next 500 year shift. It will take 500 years for the way we’ve started to think now, in our era, to reach maturity.

To be clear, that Renaissance/Enlightenment way of thinking can, in fact, readily be described as that aforementioned white, heterosexual, male filter with which we humans saw the world for so long. That filter told us: power and only power matters. And if you do what you are told by those in a position of power things will be fine.

But that way of thinking also produced this dictum, this opinion, this rule: because power reigns there is only one, singular universal truth allowable. We all need to think the same way. Deal with it.

On the other hand as I indicated, Postmodern thinking says each of us brings our own experience to the table. Our own way of thinking, therefore, matters. And what is the consequence of that? It is much, much harder to identify a singular, universal truth. We each see things our own way.

Of course, if Postmodern thinking is coming to the fore, that leaves a big question on the table. It’s the question Pilate is pictured asking Jesus in the Gospel we know as John: “what is truth?” Indeed, in a Postmodern world where each of us sees reality in a different way, can anything be labeled as a singular, universal truth? (Slight pause.)

When Jesus says, “I have never found this much faith among the Israelites” the obvious question needs to be asked: ‘what exactly is faith?’ Is faith a fact, something you possess? Is faith something based on your own perception of fact? Or is faith different than any of that? (Slight pause.)

I want to suggest what we really mean by faith is trust. The Centurion trusted a healing would be provided. The Centurion did not seek a factual path to healing: perform a task or incant this prayer or take a pill and a cure will happen. This Roman simply trusted. [2]

And trust is not a fact, not something we possess. It may be ours. But trust is a verb. Trust is something we need to give away or it is meaningless. You see, we need to trust someone else. The Centurion trusted God. (Slight pause.)

In a couple of moments Meena Conant will sing Nothing Left to Say by Joe Martin and David Angerman. [3] I think even within Postmodern thinking the message of the song is straightforward, simple, singular, universal: “God is.”

And perhaps that, in a Postmodern world, is where we can each bring our own thinking, our own experience, our own understanding to the table. For each of us this is what can be said as a universal and perhaps all that can be said: God is.

But if each of us says God is, that means saying that ‘God is,’ becomes a universal. And I think this is the one universal truth available after this paradigm shift called Postmodern thinking sets in: God is; trust God.

And I also think this universal truth— God is, trust God— is vital and amazing and real. I say this universal truth is vital and amazing and real because trust translates in other ways.

You see, trust empowers joy. Trust embodies love. Trust envisions freedom. Trust says hope is real.

And yes, once each of us, on our own, comes to understand that the basis of faith is a simple idea— God is. And when each one of us does that something wonderful happens. We start to recognize that each of us does bring something to the table.

And we start to recognize that we humans, together, are one. When we recognize we are one, barriers, walls, mean nothing. And we start to recognize that— together we are a community of faith because faith is built on a verb: trust. Of course, the verb trust says when we trust God and when we trust one another it can be and is a universal truth. Amen.

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: “Two things: what happens if someone in our Postmodern world says, ‘There is no God.’ There is only one problem with that. If you say ‘There is no God’ then that becomes your God. Second, for me Scripture is clear about this: God trusts us. God has faith in us. If anything that’s more important than the other way around.”

BENEDICTION: God keeps faith forever. Go from this place filled with new life, ready to bear the good news of God’s promises. And should you find yourself feeling worried or discouraged, remember the wondrous love of God, the healing power of Christ Jesus, and the bold courage of the Holy Spirit. These go with you today and always. Amen!

[1] All this is found in the first chapter of Beyond Resistance: The Institutional Church Meets the Postmodern World by the Rev. Mr. John C. Dorhauer, Exploration Press, Chicago, IL, 2015.

[2] When this reading was introduced this was said:
“One could argue that the story we are about to hear concerns healing. But as it is read do notice how little attention is paid to the act of healing, itself.”

[3] Nothing Left to Say ~ Words and Music by Joseph M. Martin and David Angerman

When I see the morning rise,
when I gaze at cloudless skies
or watch a golden eagle as she flies,
there’s nothing left to say,
there’s nothing left to say,
there’s nothing left to say, God is.

When I watch the children play,
dancing through a summer’s day,
dreaming, singing, laughing all the way,
there’s nothing left to say,
there’s nothing left to say,
there’s nothing left to say, God is.

When I see the falling snow,
touch the beauty of the rose,
trace the winding river as it flows;

when I see a caring face,
or a simple act of grace,
people reaching out with love’s embrace;

when I hear a symphony,
view creation’s tapestry
or wonder at life’s sacred mystery,
there’s nothing left to say,
there’s nothing left to say,
there’s nothing left to say,
Lord, I stand amazed,
nothing left to say.

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