Electrifying preaching punctuates Friday night worship
Written by Micki Carter with Rebecca Bowman Woods June 27, 2009
The Rev. Otis Moss III shed his clerical collar Friday night and put on his schoolmaster's robes as he led the delegates and visitors to GS27 through a grammar lesson on God's rules of punctuation.
"Only God has the right to write a period," the newly installed pastor of Trinity UCC in Chicago told those gathered for worship. In a mind- and tongue-numbing recitation, the young successor to the mantle of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright yanked the congregation out of their seats and set them humming.
Taking Revelation 1:8 as his text, he punctuated it with fervor: "God says I am the Alpha and the Omega, COMMA, who is, COMMA, and who was, COMMA, and who is to come, COMMA.
"John, the writer of Revelation, had the audacity to rewrite the grammar rules of Rome, reminding them that only God can write a period."
Now the question mark, Moss said, comes with mystery. "When a child is born, there should be a question mark . Never a period…
"There's a contradiction between those who put periods and those who know that God puts a comma. Dred Scott put a period; Plessy vs. Ferguson put a period. But God sent a comma down to Alabama… Today there's a holiday in January and they don't even deliver the mail in honor of the man they tried to put a period on."
He reminded the congregation that "Tiger Woods took out his driver and knocked the period out of the name of that golf tournament in Georgia."
In a mind-jolting, three-minute recitation of the history of Christianity, Moss shouted a COMMA between each event, all the way through to the 1957 creation of the United Church of Christ and the presence of John Thomas as General Minister, who introduced him Friday night. Moss thanked Thomas for his presence and his prayers during "some of our trying times last year" when the words of Jeremiah Wright were used against Barack Obama, then a member of Trinity, during the 2008 presidential campaign.
Moss finished with some political advice. "Don't get angry with the haters, the Rush Limbaughs. Next time you hear them, just say, 'COMMA!'
"When you see Dick Cheney, just say, 'COMMA!' Remember, there used to be a period on Pennsylvania Avenue."
Remember, "at Calvary, death wanted to place a period, but Jesus got up on Sunday morning. COMMA!"
Before Moss stepped to the podium, the worship service was dominated by the music and dance ministries of Trinity. The Sanctuary Choir, in traditional African dress, and young dancers in flowing white gowns built on the water theme of GS27. Moss's only reference to it came with this mind-blowing image.
"God took two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen, put them together, and . . . they had a baby called 'water'."
Synod performer Melissa Lopez of First Congregational UCC in Elyria, Ohio, during the Friday afternoon opening program. Randy Varcho photo
The evening plenary that preceded worship featured the Rev. Judith Youngman, interim conference minister for Michigan, who contrasted the state's bad news — auto industry failures, unemployment, a high foreclosure rate — with the good news of the ministries of UCC churches across the state.
"Sisters and brothers in Christ, it is no accident that we gather here at such a time as this," Youngman said. "The work of Christ's church goes on whether times are stable or times are turbulent.
George Heartwell, mayor of Grand Rapids, also greeted the delegates and visitors of GS27. Heartwell is an ordained UCC minister and a member of East Congregational UCC. He thanked all for coming and reminded them that they will forever change the city. "For we will surely hold you in our hearts long after you leave."
The Synod also recognized ecumenical and international guests, missionaries, and former officers, executives of instrumentalities and former moderators.