Why the Comma?

Friday, May 30, 2014

GeorgeBurns once said, “The secret to a good sermon is to have a good beginning, agood ending and then having the two as close together as possible.” I will trymy best to deliver a good sermon tonight.

Thispast week I was one of fifty clergy from Flagstaff, Phoenix and Tucsonpresenting arguments on an important social issue at a press conference. As Ientered the church I noticed a banner on the wall with a large red comma andunderneath a quote from Gracie Allen, George Burns wife. I asked, “Why the Comma?” I was told by myfriend Pastor Milligan that the comma represented the anthem of the UnitedChurch of Christ (UCC) and was inspired by Allen’s quote: “Never place aperiod where God has placed a comma.”

TheComma invites us to believe that God speaks through other people, nature,music, art, a theorem, the Bible, and in so many other ways.

TheComma reminds us of the unusual religious freedom and responsibility to engagethe Bible with our own unique experiences, questions, and ideas.

TheComma reminds us to balance our rich religious past with openness to the newideas, new people, and new possibilities of the future.

TheUCC understands, as we do, that God did not speak to us only at Mount Sinai. Weknow (or should know) that God did not only have a conversation with Abraham,with Moses and Aaron, and with the prophets. When we hold up our Torah orTanach we continue that conversation that began long ago. God is stillspeaking.

TheComma as opposed to a period represents that God is still speaking to us as aContinuing Testament of our faith and connection.

Godis still speaking to us means that we are all welcome here.

Godis still still speaking to us and through that conversation our lives canchange.

            Donot cling to where Abraham, Moses, the prophets, Maimonides, Isaac Mayer Wise,and Rabbi Schneerson have brought you, for God hath yet more truth and light tobreak forth from his holy word.

            Thisweek I opened my bible to the 100th Psalm. The phrases that struckmy heart —

“all the earth”,

“we are God’s people,”

“enter the gates withthanksgiving,”

“the Lord is good,”

“God’s love enduresforever.”

Encouragedby how these passages opened up to me, I understand that our religion is morethan laws, commandments and “do this’s” and “don’t do that’s.” Our vitalJudaism is about relationships, collaboration, it is for all people, it isabout thanks, goodness and love. These are the values that we make meaningfuleveryday, not just in a way a book told to do it thousands of years ago.

I wasvisiting one of our congregants in the hospital this morning and got into aconversation about kashrut. Someonein the room said, “It is hypocritical when my orthodox friends eat treif outbut not in their home.” I got very excited and so, “No. That is theirexpression of their own Jewish identity.”

            Isn’tit exciting that they can still identify as Jewish and create boundries thatwork for them and are meaningful. That is the Comma, and that represents God isstill speaking.

It is truly amazingwhat can happen when we are in places, frames of mind, and environments thatencourage our reliance upon the Still speaking God. I am assured that Godspeaks to all the people equally – may we all have ears to hear, hearts to loveand hands to serve the

Stillspeaking God.

theComma is a new way to proclaim “Our Faith is 5,000 years old, our thinkingis not.”

Nowfor my “good ending” (I hope) for this good sermon. George Burns also said, “Happinessis having a large, loving, caring close-knit family…in another city.”