“Meeting Jesus”

February 1, 2015

 

Acts 2:42-47

John 14:15-21

 

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 perspective.

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 sacred activities.

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.

This is 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:

the attitude of expectancy;

the 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.

Recall those 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 others.

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.

Our 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.

As 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.

But as 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,

When 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.