SERMON ~ 01/29/2023 ~ “Searching”

01/29/2023 ~ Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany ~ Micah 6:1-8; Psalm 15; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; Matthew 5:1-12 ~ VIDEO OF THE FULL SERVICE:


“Where are the wise? Where are the scribes? Where are the scholars? Where are the debaters? Where are the philosophers of this age?” — 1 Corinthians 1:20a

The Rev. Roger Wolsey is an ordained United Methodist Elder who directs the Wesley Foundation at the University of Colorado in Boulder. He is also the author of Kissing Fish: Christianity for People Who Don’t Like Christianity.

An article Wolsey offered said this: the word Religion comes to us from the Latin religare. The word means “to bind together.”

Biologists, anthropologists and sociologists all contend humans are social creatures. Practitioners of these varied disciplines insist we are at our best when we associate and interact with others people. Granted, some of us are introverted. Introverts need space and time— a friend of mine likes to call it cave time— introverts need space and time away from others more so than extroverts.

Extroverts are, of course, those who tend to not just enjoy crowds and noise but revel in it. Fun fact— the majority of Americans are extroverts. Did you know that? (Slight pause.)

I got into talking about sports events a little last week. One reason sports events are popular is not just the competition or amusement they provide but the chance to interact with a crowd of people. Extroverts enjoy crowds and introverts know they can get lost in a crowd and no one will notice them.

Even the most introverted among us would probably admit they enjoy other people and perhaps even thrive because of them. Introverts just don’t want an overwhelming diet of crowds, minute to minute, hour to hour, day to day.

Which is to say if you do not at all enjoy others, you always want to be alone, you probably need be living deep in the woods of Maine. But if you crave total isolation you are very, very, very rare. We humans really do need other people.

Here’s another way of looking at that: we humans are social creatures. We know there is strength in numbers. Religare— we bind together.

To use an example, Rosa Parks could not have helped end racial segregation in the South by herself. It required the combined, organized efforts of many kindred spirits joined together.

And how was that effort organized? The record shows the movement frequently relied on workshops, on trainings and on town forums for those who were directly involved but also for the whole community, even those not directly involved.

The whole community needed to understand what was happening and, hence, to be involved in some way. And it does seems like the understanding of the whole community was a necessary piece for the movement to progress.

Additionally, the record shows there was a great reliance on prayer and on worship. At least in part, what was that prayer and worship about?

There is no doubt about this. Prayer and worship involves social contact. Prayer and worship involves feeling mutual support from others. Prayer and worship involves people relying on people relying on people relying on people.

My take is the Civil Rights movement was not just an example of Christianity at its best, although it was that. The Civil Rights movement was an example of what we humans do at our best. We are social creatures. We rely on one another. We are neighbors. We bind together— religare. [1] (Slight pause.)

These words are recorded in the work known as First Corinthians: “Where are the wise? Where are the scribes? Where are the scholars? Where are the debaters? Where are the philosophers of this age?” (Slight pause.)

Today’s Scriptures turn the social norms of society upside down. The Gospel says blessed are those who are gentle. Blessed are those whose hearts are clean. The race is not always to the swift. The powerful don’t always win.

But, as was suggested when the Corinthians reading was introduced, this is not really about social norms, human norms. After all, as much as we might like to think the races we run do not always belong to the strong and the swift— the powerful, the swift and the strong do often win. So this is not about social norms.

Put another way, many of us would take the world we know and break it into a series of social norms. The two social norms with which we are most familiar is called winners and losers. And yes, there are winners and losers. But church, church, is not about winning and losing, a normal state of things for the world.

You see, those to whom Paul writes in Corinth are a polarized group. They must have been astounded by these words about the swift and the powerful.

When I say the Corinthians are polarized, we know Paul writes to the Corinthians because they are a church having battles among its members. And battles, all battles, have winners and losers. And conflict in a church— that never happens, right? O.K.

Further, I would suggest that the battles at the Church in Corinth were not as much about the particulars of theology or even ecclesiology— how a church runs itself. I think it’s much more likely the Corinthians were divided by their own self centered win/lose points of view. In short, they placed victory ahead of the well-being of their brothers and sisters in Christ.

And so Paul counsels them, strives to direct them to a theological perspective. And what is that theological perspective? How should you treat brothers and sisters in Christ? Who are your brothers and sisters in Christ?

Let me put the words ‘brothers and sisters in Christ’ in a slightly different way— a community of Christ. A community of Christ is not about wining and losing. And even more importantly, a community of Christ is not about who wins and who loses. A community of Christ is about loving God and loving neighbor. (Slight pause.)

And so, “Where are the wise? Where are the scribes? Where are the scholars? Where are the debaters? Where are the philosophers of this age?” (Slight pause.)

Cornel West is a professor who currently holds the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Chair at the Union Theological Seminary. He says this (quote): “Never forget… justice… justice is what love looks like in public.” Justice is what love looks like in public.

And what did Jesus say? Blessed are those who are poor in spirit, those who are mourning, those who are gentle, those who hunger and thirst for justice, those who show mercy to others, those whose hearts are clean, those who work for peace.

In short, the wise, the scribes, the scholars, the debaters, the philosophers of this age are not those who seek to separate winners and losers into groups and thereby label them as deserving and undeserving. The wise, the scribes, the scholars, the debaters, the philosophers of this age need to be those who seek to live out the reality of community, those who seek to be the community of Christ.

And what is the community of Christ? The community of Christ is where loving God and loving neighbor is our only guide— the community of Christ— religare. Amen.

Elijah Kellogg Church, Harpswell, Maine

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: “Miroslav Volf is a Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity School and the Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. He says this (quote): ‘Theology is not only about understanding the world (analysing it); it is about mending the world.’ I might add that’s what a sound theology does— strives mend the world. Of course we can’t do that unless we start here.”

BENEDICTION: Through God’s grace, by being attentive to God’s will, our deeds and our words will change our world for we will discover ways to proclaim release from the bondage of narrowness. Let us seek the God of Joy. Let us go in peace to love and serve God. Amen.

[1] Note: the words of Wolsey are paraphrased. Any alteration of meaning is the fault of the writer of this piece, not of Wolsey.

7 Ways to find a Progressive Christian Church

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