SERMON ~ 09/12/2021 ~ “Rally Day? What’s That?”

09/12/2021 ~ Proper 19 ~ Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time ~ Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost ~ Proverbs 1:20-33; Psalm 19; Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 116:1-9 or Wisdom of Solomon 7:26 – 8:1; James 3:1-12; Mark 8:27-38 ~ Rally Day ~ VIDEO OF COMPLETE SERVICE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=quX0GVd9AqA

Rally Day? What’s That?

{Wisdom says:} “How long, O simple ones, / How much longer, you ignorant people, / will you love being simple, being ignorant?” — Proverbs 1:22.

This is the fifth time I am leading in person worship here at South Freeport. Add one time leading by video and that is a total of six. Therefore I think I need to start my comments with an apology.

Why? I have already said what I am about to say twice. This will make it three out of six. But I need to assume some people will be hearing this bit of information for the first time and might not have been privy to it the other two times. (Slight pause.)

My upbringing was in the Roman Catholic tradition. There! I said it again. Now, in many Protestant churches as I said earlier the kick off of the Christian Ed year has often been called “Rally Day.” Here we have appropriately renamed it Back to School Sunday.

Because I came to maturity in Roman tradition I never heard “Rally Day” until I moved into a church in the Protestant tradition. My first reaction was “Rally Day? What does that mean?” Rally Day just does not happen in Roman Churches.

To a certain extent American history is the culprit in me having never heard the term Rally Day. You see, less than 150 years ago if you were a Roman Catholic you were considered at best a second class citizen.

Here’s an example of that. The Knights of Columbus was founded in 1882. Why was this organization invented? It turns out it’s not just a fraternal organization.

Back then insurance companies would not sell life insurance to Catholics. So, fraternity is not the prime mission of the Knights. Selling life insurance to Catholics is.

Another consequence of Catholics being socially ostracized was they organized their own educational system, established a range of schools from Grade Schools to High Schools to Universities. Given their own education apparatus, they did not need to celebrate an educational start date in the church.

That a Fall term would happen, education would happen, that was a given. Why mark something assumed? I would be remiss if I did not point out similar social ostracization in the 1920s led to the educational institutions established by churches on the right.

Therefore in my case, I ascribe the reason I never heard about “Rally Day” to information myopia. I did not know about what I did not see. And yes, sometimes information myopia can come from being ostracized. But there are many flavors of myopia about information, about facts.

Information myopia can come from, pardon the expression, willful ignorance. Make believe something does not exist even if it is staring you in the face— that is willful ignorance. It seems to me there’s a lot of that going around.

There are other flavors of ignorance. It can come from different forms of isolation— physical, self-imposed, social, economic, cultural isolation. Of course, information myopia can come from a lack of curiosity on the part of an individual. A lack of curiosity— a self imposed isolation is, perhaps, the worst kind. (Slight pause.)

In an article Psychiatrist Alfred Margulies said curiosity is necessary for stable individuals. (Quote:) “Wonder…” wonder meaning a sense of curiosity, “…wonder promotes a searching attitude of simultaneously knowing and not knowing.” (Unquote.)

Wonder blends astonishment with curiosity, a combination that ends up fostering deep appreciation of the other. Children can be exemplars of curiosity, of wonder.

The questions children pose often have as much to do with relationship as with acquiring information. For instance, when a child aska an adult, “Why do grown-ups cry when they are happy?”— yes, the child is seeking information.

But the child is not just seeking information. The child is asking for and seeking interaction. Relationship is at stake in the question being asked.

If an adult squelches that kind of “why” inquiry, relationship gets thwarted. I therefore want to pose the idea that curiosity is often about relationship.

Here’s an example of that from Scripture. We have labeled one disciple, Thomas, as “doubting.” But Thomas is known as Didymus— twin. And the episode is commonly described as being about doubt. But the word doubt is not in that passage.

So, when Thomas seeks to touch, to see, is that about proof? I think not. Rather, the scene is about opening doors to relationship.

And that relationship will require all kinds of personal, relational change. What Thomas does display is holy curiosity. And yes, curiosity is holy. [1] (Slight pause.)

These words are found in the work known as Proverbs: {Wisdom says:} “How long, O simple ones, / How much longer, you ignorant people, / will you love being simple, being ignorant?” (Slight pause.)

One of the things we need to notice in these words, in the context of how they are spoken, is that they are proclaimed into the very heart of the city of the people of God. This is a public proclamation, not a proclamation of an individual truth, but a public call to everyone, for everyone.

Wisdom declares this Word from God is to be heard, bids everyone to listen. This, thereby, is a proclamation to all people to enter into dialogue with God. This invites everyone to examine how God might see the world, to understand the nature of reality not as we humans see it, not as an individual sees it, but as it is created by Yahweh, God.

Since this is an invitation to examine how God might see the world, it is a summons to both curiosity and to relationship. Curiosity and relationship intertwined are at the core of this proclamation.

Is this passage a prophetic accusation, a prophetic condemnation? It proabbly could be read that way. But no— the only real condemnation here is when and if the people condemn themselves by ignoring God’s covenant teachings, by being willfully ignorant of God’s covenant teachings.

Of course, what that really means is we are in control. We have the ability to learn. We are in control because the teaching heard here is an invitation to participate, an invitation to be in relationship with God, an invitation to be in relationship with each other. I would be so bold as to suggest that to enter into relationship, to be in this kind of dialogue, is a sign of spiritual maturity. (Slight pause.)

I also want to suggest the pertinent issue here is one discussed in the last verse of the reading. (Quote:) “…those who listen to me / will be secure, / those who listen to me will be at peace; / those who listen to me / will live at ease, will have quiet, / will have no dread of disaster.”

Listen is repeated three times. Why? The Shema, the Great Commandment, says this: “Hear, O Israel.” And, when we do not listen to God, when we do not, therefore, hear God, we break covenant.

So if we are to rally to anything we need to rally to learning about covenant and through covenant. And covenant invites us to one thing: growth.

Covenant is, you see, a commitment to growth, a commitment to not be in any way myopic. Covenant growth is a commitment to learn, a commitment to change, a commitment to grapple with God’s reality, a commitment to seek, a commitment to relationship.

And yes, just change alone is a tall order. But we are invited to go beyond just change to growth. That is the daunting challenge of covenant. Amen.

09/12/2021 [2]
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: “Earlier I mentioned the episode we commonly call “Doubting Thomas.” Jesus invites Thomas to examine the wounds. Again, this is not about proof. This is about the invitation of Christ to relationship, and thereby it is an invitation to movement, to change, to growth.”

BENEDICTION: We are called to care, even when conventional wisdom says we should not. God is our helper. Christ is our teacher. The Holy spirit is our guide. Let us go forth knowing that the grace of God is deeper than our imagination, the strength of Christ is stronger than our need and the communion of the Holy Spirit is richer than our togetherness. May God guide and sustain us today and in all our tomorrows. Amen.

[1] The last several paragraphs are adapted from an article in The Christian Century (9/12/18) by Peter W. Marty, Curiosity Is Holy.

[2] Give that the date is the day after the 20th anniversary of 9/11/2001 the pastor said this before gathering joys and concerns for the Prayers of thep people.

We have come to the time we call Prayers of the People and the World. This morning I want to separate the two. So before I ask for your concerns for this day and in and about this place, South Freeport, I want to and need to address the anniversary of 9/11. I once worked in an office at 5 World Trade Center, one of the smaller buildings in the complex, a building crushed 20 years ago. But on 9/11 I was already in my sixth year serving the church in Norwich, New York. Of course, I had both worked at the Trade Center and I am a native of New York City. I still have friends and family there. To say what happened on 9/11 deeply affected me is an understatement. So on Friday I looked up the sermon I shared the following Sunday. This was among the things I noted on that day (quote:) “Christianity and all the great world religions, when well understood, have, at their core, a history which rejects nihilism, rejects ignorance, rejects insular judgments, rejects legalism, rejects the darkness found when one surrenders to an impulse which says cruelty to others is acceptable behavior.” At the end of the service before the Benediction I said something, just like I do here. On that day I offered this prayer from the United Church of Christ Memorial Service. So let me offer that prayer again right now after which I shall ask for your joys and concerns for this day.

Let us pray: we gather here in the protective shelter of God’s healing love. We are free to pour out our grief, release our anger, face our emptiness, and know that God cares. We gather here as God’s people, conscious of others who have died and of the frailty of our own existence on earth. We come to comfort and to support one another in our common loss. We gather to hear God’s word of hope that can drive away our despair and move us to offer God our praise. Amen.

And indeed, as we worship even here today, all these years later, it is well to remember we believe the protective shelter of God’s care, God’s healing love, is available to all people.

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