Sermon – March 19, 2017

Categories: Church,Sermons

Rev. Joe ConnollySaved by the Life of….

Rev. Joe Connolly

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“So, if we are reconciled to God through the death of Christ while we were still powerless, how much more certain it is that we who have been reconciled will be saved by the life of Christ.” — Romans 5:10.

The first thing I need to say in my comments this morning is “Thank you.” Thank you to the residents of Chenango Valley Home for welcoming us, the members of the United Church of Christ, First Congregational, into your home. We, in the United Church of Christ, First Congregational, believe those of us who happen to be in a similar geographic location should be thought of as members of the same community.

But there is more to it than that, especially when it comes to sharing worship. We believe that when people worship together each person brings with them their own talents, their prayers, their concerns, their joys, their hopes and their sense of the Spirit— the Holy Spirit— who is both working in each of us and is working in all of us and is working in the greater community.

Hence, because of your presence in worship, because of the presence of any one individual, we, the congregation— all of us— we become a new and different creation by that presence, by your presence, here today. Therefore, we, the congregation, all of us, need to strive to affirm God’s works in each of us to move all of us together toward greater fullness, and indeed, toward greater community. The very name of my church— Congregational— indicates we are about community.

Let’s look at those two words for a moment: congregational and community. (Slight pause.) Hebrew— the language used in the Hebrew Scriptures, the so called “Old Testament”— is an interesting language. In Hebrew nearly every word can mean a lot of things.

In fact, in Hebrew— depending on the context— the same word can be translated many different ways. I always say the meaning of Hebrew words can change before our eyes, right in front of us. Now, in the Hebrew Scriptures the underlying word we translate as both congregation and community is qahal.

However, that’s not where the meaning of this underlying Hebrew word— qahal— ends. This word can mean congregation and community but it can also mean assembly, convocation, army, company— company as in a group of people gathered— multitude, cohort, gathering, group, session, crowd, horde. [1]

There is, however, one implication in all these ways of seeing the word— qahal— which is of extreme importance. And that is all these meanings imply the whole— everyone in a group. No one in the group is left out. The implication is we may be a group but we are one. We may be a group— many— but we are one. (Slight pause.)

We hear these words in Romans: “So, if we are reconciled to God through the death of Christ while we were still powerless, how much more certain it is that we who have been reconciled will be saved by the life of Christ.” (Slight pause.)

When this reading from Romans was introduced it was said this Epistle is considered by many scholars to be the crowning achievement of theological witness in the New Testament. It was also said this section touches on one of the bed rock principles of the Protestant movement: justification by faith.

In fact, one commentary I read says the first sentence of this reading makes a basic statement about justification by faith. But then Paul goes on and on and on about it for next four chapters! Equally, the commentary says what Paul says is very complex, hard to read, hard to understand.

And I don’t think I am saying anything you don’t know when I say this— the Apostle Paul is complex, hard to understand. On the other hand it was also just said earlier, stated earlier this is a great achievement of theological witness. If this achievement is so dense that we can’t understand it, what can we do to help us understand it? (Slight pause.)

I started my comments by addressing community. I want to suggest that, at least in part, justification by faith is about community. You see these words tell us we are (quote:) “…reconciled to God.” Further, these words tell us we are (quote:) “…saved by the life of Christ.”

Put differently, we are one with God because of Christ. Put differently yet again, we are one in community with God because of the life Christ. Put differently yet again, we are one people— one with God— because of the life of Christ.

And, please note, what makes us one is the life of Christ, the living Christ. Indeed, our proclamation as Christians is not just that Christ has died. What makes us Christians, our basic proclamation as Christians, is we say— and we shall say this on Easter morning— Christ is risen, Christ lives!

And because of Christ, because Christ lives, we are called to be in community because in community we are reconciled with God. Because Christ lives we are called to be one people because we are reconciled with God. Because Christ lives we, who are all very different, each one of us, are one people, one community, because we are reconciled with God. (Slight pause.)

All of which is to once again say to the residents here at Chenango Valley Home, “Thank you.” Thank you for welcoming us, the members of the United Church of Christ, First Congregational, into your home.

Thank you for bringing with you your talents, your prayers, your concerns, your joys, your hopes and your sense of the Spirit— the Holy Spirit— who is working in you and is working in the members of the United Church of Christ, First Congregational and working in the greater community. And why do I say that? How can I say that?

I can say that because— rumor to the contrary— the basic message Paul has is easy to understand. That message says Christ is risen, Christ lives. And because Christ lives we are reconciled to God. And because we are reconciled to God we are one. We are community. Amen.

03/19/2017
United Church of Christ, First Congregational
Worship at Chenango Valley Home

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: “In the Congregational tradition the building in which members of my church meet for worship is not called a church. It is called a meeting house. The reason the building called a meeting house is simple. That’s where we meet for worship. The building is not called a church because the people, the congregation, the community is the church. You are I and all of us together— people— are the church, the congregation.”

BENEDICTION: Let us rest assured that God is among us and travels with us daily. Let us know that God’s Spirit empowers us to do things in the name of God we did not think possible. Therefore, let us share our love for God with others, confident that God will provide if we are faithful. And may we love God so much, that we love nothing else too much. May we be in awe of no one else and nothing else because we are so in awe of God. Amen.

[1] Strong’s: http://biblehub.com/hebrew/6951.htm

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