Paul E. Jackson
University Congregational Church
Sunday, May 3, 2015
1 Thessalonians 5:12-25
But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil. May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this. Beloved, pray for us.
“Scriptures, n. The sacred books of our holy religion, as distinguished from the false and profane writings on which all other faiths are based.”
― Ambrose Bierce, The Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary
“To the poet, to the philosopher, to the saint, all things are friendly and sacred, all events profitable, all days holy, all men divine.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
“In every ancient religious and sacred text, faith is a verb; a thing to be demonstrated. It is in modern days that we have diluted faith from an act to a philosophy.”
― Steve Maraboli
Greetings to the Church at 29th and Webb Road in Wichita, Kansas from your friend Paul, who stands before you this bright morning to talk with you about the Sacred Connections in our lives and in the life of our rabbi, Jeshua, whose teachings and life we have discussed many times before…
Or so an early house church meeting of one of the Jewish groups that would evolve into the proto-Christians of the first century might have begun. I’ve been thinking about these Sacred Connections lately…it started a few weeks ago when I preached on the resurrection using Gary Cox’s book, Think Again, and then it sort of culminated this week with the funeral of Bob Borreson. Connections have been on my mind–My personal connection with Gary Cox and with Bob Borreson and my historical connection with the life of Jesus.
For instance, I didn’t know until Bob’s funeral that he was one of about 1800 people who witnessed the end of World War II. Bob was serving on the USS Missouri and was on board the day that Emperor Hirohito signed the instrument of surrender that ended the Pacific Theater of operations for World War II. Think about that for just a second. Connected directly to end of the most deadly war in human history–we said good bye to that man just this past Tuesday. Bob was connected to history in a profound and special way.
At Bob’s service it was remarked that his favorite subject to study and read for biography was Abraham Lincoln and wouldn’t you know that there was a terrific portrait of Lincoln on display at Interfaith Ministries this past week where I attended a press conference announcing the awarding our own Kim Carraway and Debbi Green the Spirit of Faith Humanitarian Award for their work with the Hygiene Pantry. Odd coincidences. Strange Connections. The web of my life as it intersects with the webs of your lives. Sacred Connections.
And these connections got me thinking about more connections. Just as the early apostles were directly connected to their shared experience of Jesus (Jeshua, or Joshua, in my example from earlier), and they shared this connection with the passionate house churches that had sprung up all over Israel and Palestine in the centuries following the death of their rabbi, or teacher. These people had witnessed the events, or were one or two or three people removed from the events, and so they felt they had a pretty strong grasp on the story and they wanted to share the story and its life-changing moral over and over again. They had seen firsthand what the Jesus Movement could affect in someone’s life and they wanted others to know about it. We’re not big on proselytizing here at UCC. We’re not into that whole, “oh man you gotta come to my church because….we’ll…we have the only true way to God. So if you don’t accept my take on the Jesus Movement, well, you’re lost forever and you’ll rot in hell. SO, there’s that. Nice knowing you. Have a good day.” Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with that (ok—there’s plenty wrong with that, but we’ll take that discussion offline for now). But there are numerous congregations in this city and state that are functioning extremely well using the aforementioned business plan. It’s effective. It scares people into pews. It opens wallets. It’s just not us.
We’re not that kind of a church. Because we’re not that kind of people. We don’t interpret the Jesus Movement in that way. And as you all know by now…Interpretation Matters. It matters very much. We don’t claim to have any secret knowledge or any special truth other than our own individual and shared experiences of the Jesus Movement. And with those house churches that began two thousand years ago we share a another sacred connection—this is our house…this beautiful building…and we invite others to visit and to be with us as we celebrate life and as we share our lives together. That is our interpretation of the Jesus Movement. And if you like it and the joyful noises we make then by all means you should join us and become part of this movement….this ideal…this understanding that the world can and will be a better place. It will be better because each of us, in our little sphere of influence, can enact small changes in the world. Who knows what seed of kindness that we plant will grow….and who knows what it will grow into.
I officiated the marriage a lovely couple here yesterday. A beautiful bride and a handsome groom and a big loving family. And we made a connection. A sacred connection. I’ve met with this couple a number of times as we prepared for this important day and one of the recurring themes in our discussions was how do they stay connected? How does this new couple keep the deep love that they have been feeling for each other in these exciting days building up to their wedding—how do they keep this deep love alive? How do they stay connected? And we talked about strategies and things they can do in a practical manner and I have every confidence this couple will love each other more deeply each day they are together. And isn’t that the key? Shouldn’t our connections, those ties we have in our relationships, shouldn’t they be deeper and stronger after each encounter with that person? Jesus would tell us that caring for others, more than for ourselves is one sure way to strengthen those ties. The Gospel writer of John tell us that Jesus said “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
One of my dearest friends still gets into an argument with me because UCC doesn’t have a creed. She says to me “what do you believe in?” “If you don’t profess a creed, what on earth do you stand for?” And for the millionth time I try to explain the difference between a covenantal church and a creedal church. A creedal church requires adherence to a creed, like the apostle’s creed or the Nicene Creed. Church members are expected to speak the creed out loud and they agree to live by the precepts of the creed. If you want to join a Methodist church, you must stand before the congregation and say yes to a series of questions. You have to say that you believe these things. And this is terrific. This is how most of the churches in the world function. A group of like-minded individuals interpreting the Jesus Movement in a manner that makes meaning for them.
A covenantal church exists because its members adhere to a covenant; a statement of belief or of faith. In a covenantal church there is no requirement to profess a creed or to even agree with everything that the church may stand for. This morning you are probably sitting next to someone with very different views from yours. I guarantee it. And this is a great thing. The connections to faith and religion that form our various pasts, inform our connections that we maintain in this place. If we come from a faith tradition that connects to the Jesus Movement in a creedal or doctrinal way, you would expect those people would not be particularly comfortable with some of the things that are said from this pulpit.
I remember many years ago when I brought a good friend to visit. We sat up in the balcony and it was a sultry summer morning. My friend had grown up in a very conservative congregation and was not comfortable in a place where questions about faith are not only tolerated, but encouraged. After the service my friend looked at me rather troubled and actually said “can you say that from a pulpit?” My friend’s connection to the Jesus Movement was so controlled and so defined by creeds and doctrines that the questions asked by this congregation were seen as almost impossible. I think most of us can share similar stories.
Such incredulity existed in the early church. The Jesus Movement appeared in the midst of Jews and gentiles who were occupied by a violent and powerful foreign military—the Romans. This semester one of my classes is a deep study of the social world of early Christianity and was the genesis for this sermon. We’ve been studying first century Roman beliefs and culture and trying to get a handle on how the Jesus Movement caught fire in such a profound and world-changing way. I have an ancient Roman coin up here, a gift from a student in my previous life, and I really enjoying looking at this coin and imaging the hundreds and thousands of times it was traded for things—for food, or rent, for drink or entertainment. I like to imagine the human hands that have connected with this coin. Their hands were hands not unlike mine. And they belonged to humans not that different from us. They had to eat and sleep and they wanted a better life for their children and they had to pay taxes and go to work and they had bills. And all kinds of money worries. The early church was formed by people not that different from us. They heard the stories of Jesus and they liked what they heard. And so they came together to share in that belief. They formed communities of belief. We call those communities church. Those sacred connections that started in the beginning, stretch through time and space and lead to this place, connecting us to Jesus and his followers in very real ways.
I am thankful for this church. I am grateful for this pulpit, that stands as a beacon of reason and love. The love to pursue the Jesus Movement in ways that make meaning for us. I am thankful for each of you and your questions and your presence in this place. I am grateful for the Jesus Movement and proud to be learning how to be a credible spokesperson for the movement. AMEN