February 1, 2015
We often do things without thinking much about them.
Sometimes it helps to reflect on why we do what we do. It gives us a new
It’s kind of
like asking why mountain climbers are all tied together on the same rope. You’d
think it’s to keep some from falling over a cliff or getting lost. But I’m told
that, really, it’s to keep the sane ones from going home.
“Blest be the
tie that binds,” we sing in the old hymn. “Blest be the tie that binds our
hearts in Christian love.” Maybe so. Maybe without that tie, the sane ones
would go home.
The truth of the
matter is, we need each other.
And we need to
think about why we do what we do when we are together.
Which brings us
to the meeting of the congregation.
It is one of the
hallmarks of our tradition—one of those activities that was brought into the
United Church of Christ through the Congregational stream. Indeed, the meeting
of the congregation was central to Congregational identity. In UCC congregations
throughout New England to this day, the sense of the importance of coming
together is so strong that for many congregations their main building is not a
sanctuary but a meetinghouse. Even
here we use our sanctuary for dual purposes. We meet here to worship. We meet
here to consider our life together.
And both are
At a meeting of
our congregation we might talk about money—but this is much more than a mere
“business meeting.” It is, in a very real sense, the acting out of the demands
put upon us by God: the demands of the Word read and proclaimed and the meal
shared at the table. The “business” of the meeting of the congregation is done
prayerfully, in love for one another and for God.
corporate work—the work of the body of
Christ—and it can’t be done by isolated individuals. For this reason, we
don’t allow people to vote by proxy or absentee ballot at meetings of the
congregation. Occasionally a member will say something like: “I can’t be here
for the meeting. Is there some way that I can vote anyway?” And I answer as
gently as I can: “Of course not! How can you vote without praying with the
congregation, without hearing what is said, without the opportunity to speak,
without be present to the leading of the Spirit?”
We come to
meetings of the congregation, not with minds made up, but with spirits open to
the action of the Spirit of God in us and among us as we meet and talk
together. The important thing is our attitude as we gather:
attitude of expectancy;
attitude of openness—of having eyes to see and ears to hear;
the attitude of accepting one another—of loving each
one of the people here as another child of God, of believing the Spirit can
speak in that meeting through any one of us, and of being sincerely ready to
hear what is said.
It is also the
attitude of coming to the meeting to do Christ’s will and not our own.
words of Jesus as he shares a final meal with his followers.
The concern of
Jesus in these hours is not what will happen to him. Facing betrayal and
arrest, crucifixion and death, the concern of Jesus is the community of men and women who follow him.
Jesus speaks to
us as a group, not simply as individuals. This is somewhat obscured in English
translations by the word “you.” Jesus is using the second person plural—“you,
the whole lot of you.” His concern is with how all of us together will behave toward one another and how we will
live in the larger world.
“If you love
me,” Jesus says, “you will keep my commandments.” If all of you love me, all of
you will keep my commandments. There is no place here for some warm, fuzzy,
individual “love of Jesus” apart from our love of one another. There is no
place here for the ill-will that characterizes so many congregations (ask your
friends). There is no place here for the exclusivity that favors some over
Jesus calls us
to respect one another, to seek the good the community of faith, to—simply
put—do to others as we would have done to us. As a congregation we can’t rely
on a few people to do this. We are—all of us—called to love. We are—all of us
together—called to keep Jesus’ commandments. And we are—all of us—needed when
we are called to a meeting as much as when we are called to worship.
Congregational tradition is not as “freewheeling” as we often think it to be.
To be a Congregationalist takes some discipline so that in what we do we might all keep the commandments of Jesus. It
is a great calling and a high challenge that you took on in covenanting to be a
member of this congregation.
Let’s not kid
ourselves. Keeping Jesus’ commandment to love one another does not come easily.
So we need each other to help us all keep the commandment.
Congregationalists, we need this reminder. We often emphasize the
responsibility each individual has before God. And that is an important part of
our tradition. It makes faith a personal commitment. It is one of the deepest
roots of democracy in our nation.
important—and in the light of this morning’s lesson, perhaps more important—is our behavior as a
community. Our Congregational tradition is not about isolated “believers” but
the whole people of God assembled in a particular place and time. And love for
one another is commanded of the whole community.
When we live as
Jesus taught and demonstrated in his life,
we take risks, love one another, and seek the good of all:
We receive the
new Spirit of peace that the Resurrected One promises;
Our eyes opened
to recognize the risen Christ among us;
In the words of Marcus
Borg, who died last month, we meet Jesus again for the first time.
It helps to look
at why we do what we do together.
We find that we
are not abandoned. The Spirit that Jesus promised is alive and at work among
us. The tie that binds keeps us moving forward together.