Sermon – October 25, 2015

Categories: Church,Sermons

Rev. Joe ConnollyFaith and Belief

by Rev. Joseph Connolly

Click here to download a .pdf version of this sermon.

Click here to listen to this sermon on Vimeo.

“Jesus replied, ‘Go. Your faith has saved you.’ And immediately Bartimaeus received the gift of sight and began to follow Jesus along the road.” — Mark 10:52.

I think many of you are aware I grew up in the Roman Catholic tradition. As I have said here a number of times, my late father spent his entire working career teaching at a Jesuit High School. Therefore and as I have also said, when I was growing up— my late teens, early twenties, very formative years— Jesuits— those radicals— were my friends.

Here’s an example of my friendships with Jesuits. It happened when I was twenty-one. I had just returned from 14 months in Vietnam. A Jesuit friend invited me to dinner at his rectory to meet someone who was staying there for a couple days.

Now, it’s probable many of you have heard of the two peace activist Jesuits who also happen to be brothers, Daniel and Philip Berrigan. If you have not heard of them you can use “Google” to find out a little more about them.

My friend had gathered about 10 young men to be at the rectory ONE night and the special guest at this dinner was Philip Berrigan. Dan was not there. For all I know, given that era, Dan may have been in the hoosegow for protesting something.

I’m going to presume something about that dinner invitation. My presumption is, since I had just returned from Vietnam, I was invited by my Jesuit friend so I could meet Berrigan. Perhaps my friend thought I needed to be exposed to a peace activist.

There are two things to be said about my situation then. First, both before and after my time in Vietnam, I realized the foolishness of the leadership which put us in that mess. Therefore and paradoxically, I had made the decision that I would willingly enter the Army if I was drafted because that was my duty as a citizen.

On the other hand, I was fully on board with the peace movement. As I said, I realized the foolishness which placed us there. And maybe my Jesuit friend did not realize that about me, hence the invitation.

Second, despite being fully on board with the sentiments expressed by the peace movement, I was very young. At that point in my life I was much more interested in following the Mets, the Jets, the Yankees, the Giants, the Knicks, the Rangers and going out with friends to a local tavern. I am sure these were more important to me than joining peace demonstrations.

Now that I am a little older, I understand peace is a goal of the Dominion of God. And clearly we, as a society, consider people in the peace movement then and sometimes now— so-called peace-nicks— not particularly worthy of respect. They are often thought of as outcasts. Certainly the Berrigans were thought of as outcasts. (Slight pause.)

Another Jesuit friend was Vincent J. O’Keefe. Vinny— or Uncle Vinny, as members of my family called him— Vinny taught with my father in the same school. Later Vinny was the President of Fordham who guided the University through the process when women first became students at what had been an all male institution.

And yes, that transition to co-education at Fordham happened only in the early 1960s. We need to remember today is still less than 100 years since women gained the right to vote. Before then women were considered at best second class citizens, essentially outcasts in their own nation. (Slight pause.)

I want to share just one more story about Vinny. He was also, at one point, stationed in Rome, second in command of the Jesuit order. He was and is the only American to have ever held that post.

Now, when one gets appointed to be the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, the chief big-wig, that’s a lifetime appointment. Like the Pope, it’s a lifetime appointment. When Vinny’s boss, Superior General Pedro Arrupe, a Spanish Jesuit, was disabled by a stroke Vinny ran the order and did so for quite some time. But Arrupe did not die quickly.

Eventually Pope John Paul II stepped in because the Pontiff did not feel comfortable with an American in that position. Indeed, the Pope made an unprecedented move and appointed a caretaker of the Jesuits who ran the order until Arrupe died. Vinny was sent back to America.

And yes, we were that close to having an American run the Jesuits. Perhaps the Pope considered we Americans as outcast. It is fairly well known John Paul II had issues with Americans.

Interestingly, at the time this happened even though my contact was sporadic at best, I was still heard from Vinny. So, I guess you could say I had one degree of separation from the Pontiff. (If I was telling this story on Facebook, this would be the point at which I’d type in a little smiley face, right!) [Slight pause.]

As you all know, my life is very different today. I, in fact, have no face to face contacts with any Jesuits. But I still read Jesuit authors. And I am the Facebook friend with one Jesuit, James Martin, S.J., even though I have never met him in person. I very much appreciate the writings of Martin, an editor at large for America, a Jesuit magazine.

Why do I like Martin’s writings? Here’s one connection for you: we, in the United Church of Christ, are quite fond of saying, “Wherever you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here!” In a recent article Martin reported this is what Jesuits say: “God meets you where you are.”

In this article Martin wrote (quote): “…God doesn’t expect us to be perfect before we can approach God or before God approaches us. Your spiritual house doesn’t have to be perfectly in order for God to enter.”

“…God meets you in ways… you can understand and appreciate. If you are scholarly or more introverted… you may meet God by being inspired through reading a book. If you’re a more social person, you may meet God in a group setting. If you’re someone who loves nature, you may meet God by the seashore. God meets you as you are, where you are, and in ways you can understand.”

“This may sound obvious but that can also be threatening because, for some people, this implies a dangerous laxity. If God meets us where we are, is there any need for change? If there is no need for us to change in any way, does that mean anything goes?” — the thoughts of James Martin, S.J. [1] (Slight pause.)

We find these words in the work known as Mark: “Jesus replied, ‘Go. Your faith has saved you.’ And immediately Bartimaeus received the gift of sight and began to follow Jesus along the road.” (Slight pause.)

I need to remind you that Mark is the earliest Gospel recorded. And it is clear throughout all the Gospels, but I would suggest it’s especially clear in Mark, that Jesus is sent to and has a ministry with the outcast.

Bartimaeus is outcast. If someone was blind in this era, being an outcast was a given. If someone needed to beg to be sustained, being an outcast was a given.

In fact, Bartimaeus is only one of many outcast recorded by Mark. The narrative we hear from Mark is riddled with the outcast, all of whom are received by or empowered by Jesus.

These include the possessed Gerasene, the Syrophoenician woman, the blind person at Bethsaida, the alien exorcist, even the little children— who, to be clear, would have been considered outcast in this era— and finally Bartimaeus. All this is to say those who are perceived by society as powerless, outcast, take a prominent place in the economy of God’s new order. (Slight pause.)

Over time you may have noticed that all my sermons have titles. But, in the course of my weekly comments, I don’t often mention those titles. I’ll mention the title today: Faith and Belief.

What’s the difference between faith and belief? I think belief implies a list, a set of premises to which one ascribes, as in asking the question ‘what do you believe?

Faith, on the other hand, does not ask for a list. Faith implies a relationship. In that faith implies relationship, faith also does not just imply trust. Faith insists on trust.

Having faith means trusting someone. Indeed, when it comes to faith, there is a name we give that someone: God.

Having faith means trusting God. Having faith means trusting God is real. Having faith means we trust God is present to us. Having faith means we trust God is there for us.

When Jesus tells Bartimaeus, “Go. Your faith has saved you” what is really being said is Bartimaeus, this outcast, has exhibited trust. And, as an outcast, Bartimaeus is not an acceptable member of society. Yes still, Bartimaeus, the outcast, trusts God.

I think Bartimaeus knows trust is about relationship. It’s not about a list of premises, rules. It’s not about what you have. It’s not about trusting what you have. Bartimaeus, the outcast, knows when one trusts God, one is in relationship with God.

Well, the next time someone asks what you believe, the next time someone asks what you believe as a Christian— and that is a question which does get asked— you may have noticed it often has been often asked at Presidential debates— the next time someone asks what you believe, go ahead— confuse them with your answer. Tell them you trust God, that’s what you believe, because that’s certainly not a list.

Of course, you should probably be careful if you offer that answer. After all, belief in God, trusting God, that’s the answer that outcasts often give. 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 an précis of what was said: “We sometimes use an Affirmation of Faith here. The classic one is The Nicene Creed. It sounds like a list of beliefs. It is not. In the original language used in that Creed, Latin, the word we translate as ‘I believe’ is Credo. An accurate translation of the word Credo is not ‘I believe.’ An accurate translation is ‘I give my heart to…’ Christian belief is about the heart, not about a list of doctrine or dogma.”

BENEDICTION: Go out in the strength and love God provides. Praise the deeds of God by the way you live, by the way you love. And may the steadfast love of God and the peace of Christ, which surpasses understanding, keep our minds and hearts in the companionship and will of the Holy Spirit, this day and forever more. Amen.

[1] These words are slightly edited.

Author: admin