Flag’s Closing Sermon at General Synod: Transformation is the Work of Revolution

CHHSM Board Member the Rev. Dr. JJ Flag, CHHSM delivers the sermon during closing worship of the UCC’s General Synod.

Taking the UCC General Synod theme “Making All Things New” to a deeper level, CHHSM Board Member the Rev. Dr. JJ Flag delivered the sermon at the closing worship of the June 30-July 4 event in Indianapolis by exploring the concept of transformation as revolution.

The sermon, delivered the evening of July 4, was preceded by inspiring music from the Synod choir, setting the stage perfectly for Flag’s words. Based on Revelation 21:3-4, Flag’s opening words were a challenge: “Do you want a revolution?” he asked. “Whether you want it or not, it is here. We have been talking about revolution all week long. When we talk about ‘God is still speaking,’ making things new, we are taking revolutionary talk.”

Flag admitted that at one time, he thought of the Book of Revelation as just “rapture and fighting the anti-christ.” As he joked to the Synod worshipers, “Who needs horror movies when you have the book of Revelation?”

But a deeper examination reveals Revelation as a book of revolution, he said. It also reminds us that “there’s such a thing as bad theology — but it doesn’t stop at being bad theology. Often, it’s death-dealing theology. Bad theology distances you from God, tells you that there are certain parts of you that are not welcome at the table.”

It also can be linked to the sin of individualism. “The work of revolution is going to take repentance,” Flag told attendees. “That’s a word that we don’t hear in the UCC very often. It makes us uncomfortable because it carries so much baggage. We must be willing to repent of the sin of individualism.”

He cautioned Synod goers against becoming too smug. “Lest we find ourselves on our moral high horses because our theology is progressive” and we are open and affirming, Flag said, the UCC also inherited some things from other denominations. Jesus as “our personal lord and savior” is one, he said — but the irony is that our savior is collective. And although many in the UCC proudly announce that “nobody can tell me what to do,” the reality is that “we have been given this ministry; therefore, we are committed to the work.”

“We have got to get back to the we,” he added. “Church is not church without the people. People cannot experience personhood by themselves. It takes community. So we have to repent our sin of individualism — but not just that. We have got to recommit ourselves to interdependency.

“There is not a lot we can do by ourselves. … We have to recommit to doing the work together; move in covenant to one another.”

Flag warned listeners not to dwell in the UCC’s uniqueness instead of the work. He reminded worshipers that “‘problematic Paul’ reminds us that we are part of the body. May parts, many members,” he said. Everybody has a purpose in the body, and we need to move in covenant, to work together.

The work of revolution must be done together. And it’s more than writing checks, more than marching, more than making phone calls. “The work of revolution is a team sport,” he said.

But tied to that work is theology. “Not only do we need to recommit to an interdependence on one another, but we need to reclaim a theology of resurrection,’ he said. “After all, we are the United Church of Christ … in our attempt to be a big tent for everyone, we need not get lost in what makes us different from everybody else. We follow a Christ who, at the end of the day, death could not defeat. We are a revolutionary people.”

“Resurrection in and of itself is a revolutionary thought,” he posited. “The fact that death should have ended Jesus’ ministry, and the fact that he came back three days later is a radical thought in and of itself.”

Then Flag asked those gathered, “What ways might we partner with God to bring resurrection to our communities?”

He cited the harm reduction resolution passed earlier in the Synod, and asked, “How else can we practice resurrection?” Linking back to the opening sermon delivered by CHHSM’s Jamar Doyle, he added, “How else can we preach life into dead things? How do we welcome people with scars into our space so that we might partner with God in pursuing resurrection for them?”

Flag injected humor throughout his sermon to emphasize points. “JJ, you came in preaching this message of revolution, and it did not go through the proper committee,” he said to much laughter. “It didn’t come before Synod to vote on it, yet here we are.”

The humor introduced another key concept: “The act of worship is itself an act of revolution,” Flag said. “So whether you know it or not, you’ve been engaged in it on a weekly basis!”

He left Synod goers with a charge. “How do we take it beyond this space and time and move it forward?” he asked. “That is a question for you to answer.

“My prayer is that people will say, ‘Those are the people who met in Indianapolis, Indiana, and they left to turn the world upside down.’ May it be so, now and forever, Amen.”

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