Sermon – August 13, 2017

Categories: Church,Sermons

Rev. Joe ConnollyYahweh, God, Omnipotent [1]

by Rev. Joseph Connolly

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“Elijah replied, ‘I have been very zealous for Yahweh, God, Omnipotent.’” — 1 Kings 19:10a.

There is a test one can take— some call it a psychological test, the name of which is The Myers–Briggs Type Indicator. It was constructed by Katharine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers and is based on a theory proposed by the famous Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung.

The test breaks people out into eight categories which are labeled as extrovert, introvert, sensing, intuitive, thinkers, feelers, judging— indicating those who seem to make judgements with some speed and perceiving for those who seem to readily perceive things before others. All these categories are designated with a one letter code for example ‘S’ for sensitive, ‘I’ for intuitive.

Further, all these categories can be mixed and matched in groups of four letters. Therefore, there are 16 possible categories into which individuals may fall, each category having a four letter code.

To translate: categories are commonly known four letters— for instance— INTJ, ESFJ, ISFP, etc., etc., etc. My standard line at this point is I don’t fit into any of those categories since I’m an ESPN. (Sorry— sports joke.)

In any case, people can be tested and over time it is not unusual for an individual to change categories. For instance, an introvert might change and become an extrovert.

Indeed, the first time I was tested, in my twenties, I tested as an introvert. But I left that category behind and eventually tested as an extrovert.

All that brings me to a little personal history which might explain the shift. As many of you know, I am a Vietnam veteran. When I was discharged, I did what a lot of Vietnam veterans did. I did some soul searching.

As to that process of self-examination, since I made it back I asked myself ‘why?’ Why had I survived when so many others had not? Some might even call that kind of reflection having a conversation with God.

A lot of us have asked that question about survival when 50,000 of us did not make it back. I, personally, still have no answer for it. I don’t expect I will, ever, have one.

But I think some of that introspection did lead me down a specific career path and that’s I want to talk about. I decided, having survived, I needed to be involved in someplace I felt spiritually called.

Now, some might say this process of self examination, since it did have to do with my sense of spirituality and there is not question about that, was me not just being introspective but me seeking the call of God. While I do not disagree with that, I think at that time at least, I primarily considered other aspects. I felt I needed to be someplace I thought I belonged, someplace I could call home, someplace which felt right.

And I loved theater. On top of that, I knew I could write. On top of that I knew I wanted to be a writer from about the time I was ten.

There was only one problem with of all this. Being involved with theater means being very public about one’s own being. And being public about one’s own being is not a place of particular comfort for an introvert.

On the other hand, being a writer is a solitary type of profession, is it not? After all, one goes off into an attic and writes, throws the manuscript out the attic window and others read it and don’t bother you anymore. That’s the way it works, is it not?

Well, that’s not the way it works if you write for the theater. Once a play gets produced— and that happened to me before I was thirty— once a play gets produced it means interacting with directors, designers, actors, etc., etc., etc. Theater is, you see, a collaborative art, not something done in solitude.

All of which is to say a requirement of theater is interaction with other people. And interactions with other people is a trait exhibited by extroverts. Ipso facto, I think that’s one reason I shifted from introvert to extrovert.

Perhaps I shifted because it was necessary. Perhaps it happened because of the experience of working in a collaborative art form. Perhaps I shifted because I sensed a place to which I was called, no matter how uncomfortable that place might have seemed. (Slight pause.)

We find these words in the work known as First Kings: “Elijah replied, ‘I have been very zealous for Yahweh, God, Omnipotent.’” (Slight pause.)

God, omnipotent— an odd phrase— what does it mean? The classic definition the word omnipotent says it is the quality of having unlimited power. Of course, logically, only monotheistic religions can a god whose attribute might be omnipotence. You can’t have two gods with unlimited power. That would be an oxymoron, would it not?

And while having unlimited power might be a common, dictionary definition, the question needs to be asked ‘is it a sound definition?’ For instance, can an all powerful God set up an impossible task and yet accomplish it? Can an omnipotent god create a rock so heavy that very same deity cannot lift it?

Further, Freud said omnipotence is simply megalomania or narcissism, therefore clearly not omnipotence. Indeed, there are a multitude of issues with the concept of omnipotence, at least the way we humans thing about it.

Indeed, I think the main problem with describing God as omnipotent comes because we relate the word only to human power, human understandings. And we humans tend to think in terms of power as brut force. (Slight pause.)

So, tell me— what if we humans thought of this omnipotent attribute of God simply as overwhelming, unconditional love? And what if this overwhelming, unconditional love meant God walks with us, no matter what the circumstance, no matter where we are? (Slight pause.)

That leads me to the other interesting words from this reading. Yahweh was not in the whirlwind, not in the earthquake, not in the fire. And then there was a sound of sheer silence. (Slight pause.)

How do we, how can we listen to and for the voice of God, this God Whose real voice is one of overwhelming, unconditional love? (Slight pause.) I suspect listening to the voice of God always encompasses a willingness to change. Put another way, can we turn away from an egocentric focus on self and turn toward a focus on God? (Slight pause.)

I, personally, always felt the call to be a writer was a call by God to do the will of God. But, equally, the demand made on me was that I needed to change.

Why? I was called into a very public domain. And equally, when I heard the call to be a pastor I realized that the very public domain to which I had previously been called prepared me to be involved in an even more public domain.

Here’s the brief story about the intertwining of these two— writing and standing in front of a congregation. As I have often said, I was a member of an Episcopal Church in New York City. And, with my friend Paul Lee Johnson, I wrote music for their choirs. Writing— you remember what I said about that. That’s this place introverts inhabit.

Then the pastor suggested to me I might be a suitable candidate for ordination. And then the pastor, perhaps trying to give me a little push, invited me to read Scripture at a service.

To this very day I can remember banging of my knees as they knocked together when I stood before that group of parishioners who knew me only as a writer, who knew me not as someone who ventured into public presentations. I also remember how many approached me at coffee hour and told me I did well with the reading and how much they appreciated it. And I also remember, of course, that very same pastor had me read over and over and over again, Sunday after Sunday after Sunday.

Hence, I believe for me there is a real connection with that path from being a writer to being a pastor. And, to be precise, the connection is being called into the public arena. Equally, the other connection is a willingness to listen to and to listen for the voice of God. Equally and finally, the last connection is a willingness to change. (Slight pause.)

So, is God omnipotent? Yes, God is omnipotent when one thinks of omnipotence not in terms of power.

God is omnipotent when one thinks of God in terms of overwhelming, unconditional love, in terms of God walking with us, no matter what the circumstance, no matter where we were at. And God is omnipotent when we are willing to change enough to hear the call of God for our life. Amen.

08/13/2017
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: “Those of you who know something about my employment background know that being a theater person I had 100 different jobs. After all, I was a theater person. That’s what theater people do. But I always felt called. I think we need to understand that there are people who are called to be bankers. There are people who are called to be assembly line workers. But the call is what’s important. We need to be aware of God calling us, this God of omnipotent love.”

BENEDICTION: We are called to care in a world which can be uncaring, commissioned as lovers among some who may offer back indifference. Know this: God is with us in all our days. So, 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 all our togetherness. May God guide and sustain us today and in all our tomorrows. Amen.

[1] This was the weekend of the white supremacists violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. This prayer was offered in the course of the Prayers of the People.

This prayer is titled ‘To the God Whom We Have Forgotten, and Whom We Had Best Remember. It is by an Episcopal seminarian, Lauren Grubaugh, who was in Charlottesville, VA on 8/12/2017

To the God Whom we have forgotten; to the God Who is not male and is not white; to the God Who takes no pleasure in violence; to the God Who is Love; to the God Who is tender-hearted and warm of embrace; to the God Who is not deaf to Her children’s cries and is moved to tears by their suffering; to the God Whose law is love of neighbor, hospitality for the stranger, care for the weak; to the God Whose touch is healing, Whose gaze is compassion; Whose way is loving-kindness; to the God Who is Justice; to the God Who tramples fear and hatred under Her feet; to the God Who convicts our hearts, stirs our spirits, transforms our minds; to the God Who revels in the joyful dance of community and invites us to do the same; to the God Whose own child was lynched, hanging on a tree, not by God’s own hand, but because of the fear and hatred of those human beings Who feared the kind of world they were promised would be ushered in and hated the changes they would have to undergo to get there.

Our memory is so short: our failure to remember the sins of our parents, our aversion to repentance, is killing us. Our souls are wasting away. And black, brown, female, queer, Muslim, differently abled-bodies are dying.

O God Whom we have forgotten, we do not even know how to call on your name. We have not seen You in the faces of our sisters and brothers. We have not felt you in the pain of our neighbors, strangers, friends and enemies; O God Whom we have forgotten,
do not let our imaginations be infiltrated by war-mongering forces of violence.
Do not let our spirits be colonized by the depressing fear of our oppressors.

Transform our minds that do not know how to think of you existing without these heavy chains we have placed on ourselves and on each other.

Amen.

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