September 29, 2013
The 19th Sunday after Pentecost
This is “Recommitment Season” at Seekers Church. Like our sister faith communities that have grown out of Church of the Saviour we maintain the tradition of inviting all members of the community to make a conscious, intentional commitment to join together on the spiritual journey with Christ for the upcoming year. It may sound odd, but this kind of conscious commitment helps us open our hearts to God’s creation in new ways.
For me, the weeks leading up to this annual celebration of our commitment to Christ and to each other has become a time for reflection on my own journey and our journey as a community. It’s an opportunity wake up to some places where I’m being called in some fresh way, a time to confess where I’ve missed the mark I set for myself last year, a chance to adjust my practices to help me dig a little deeper. The process is sort of a spiritual equivalent of new year’s resolutions, but it’s a process I tend to take more seriously than a quick list of “wanna-dos” on New Year’s Eve.
As I’ve looked at our lessons for this week from this perspective of annual recommitment, I can see some things I want to lift up this morning:
• Commitment is at the core of our growing life together;
• Scripture gives us glimpses of the joys and pains of growing together and the deeper contentment that emerges from committed relationships. And finally,
• Annual recommitment is an opportunity for growth.
Why bother with commitment, and this odd annual renewal? I think it’s because our life together is built on the foundation of commitment and it helps if we can keep that in mind. We ARE in this together … thanks be to God!
COMMITMENT IS AT THE CORE OF OUR GROWING LIFE TOGETHER
We’ve written about this in the little “Guide to Seekers Church:”
As one of the churches born out of the Church of the Saviour, our life together is based on the amazing belief that each one of us is called by God to a particular area of service. Young or old, regardless of experience, skills or education, despite our past successes or failures — God issues each of us an individual call. Broadly defined, it is a call to a life of love and service. Concretely, it is a highly individual desire, placed by God in the heart of each person, to be about particular works in the world and in the church. People have multiple calls and recognizing this is important to us in Seekers Church.
The spiritual journey for individuals in Seekers Church grows out of a commitment to answer “Yes” to a call from God as part of this faith community.
Gordon Cosby, the founder of the Church of the Saviour, spoke of calling as being “seized by the power of a great affection.” We are not people who understand God’s call as a mandate to some burdensome, tiresome obligation. We live in the mystery of Christ’s teaching that while he carried the cross, his yoke was easy and his burden was light. To walk with Christ in an obedient life of service is to find rest for our souls and joy in our hearts by responding to God’s call on our lives.
I wish I could offer a copy of the guide to everyone who wants one, but we’ve run out of copies and it needs updating. In fact, that little task is on my TO-DO list, but not quite high enough for me to have completed it yet. (The current version is available on line under “Core Documents.”)
So one of our core values is that being part of a committed community helps us claim and learn to celebrate God’s call. In his book “Wishful Thinking,” Frederick Buechner suggests that “The place God calls you to is where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” I’ve thought about that a lot over the years, because often the place where I feel called doesn’t feel like all that much fun. And there are lots of us who have spent considerable time and energy trying to measure the validity of God’s call by how burdensome, or dutiful, or self-sacrificing it seemed to be. After all, that thinking goes, if God’s call on Jesus led him to death on the cross, a sudden death at the very peak of his earthly ministry, how could I possibly “follow Jesus” if what I think is God’s call feels like fun?
SCRIPTURE GIVES US GLIMPSES OF GROWING TOGETHER
This week’s Epistle lesson gave me an interesting reminder about that. As I started working with the text from First Timothy I skipped over the beginning, which goes “Of course, there is a great gain in godliness combined with contentment…” I got stuck wondering about how contentment could foster a “great gain in godliness.” Wasn’t that some version of “If it isn’t fun it just might not be God’s call?”
Then I began to see with fresh eyes what Paul had written. Maybe, I thought, this phrase means something more like this: “There is a great gain in something not identified here when godliness can be combined with contentment!” Once I saw that, the rest of Paul’s little lesson began to speak to me about the importance of commitment. The idea was that I’ll be better off as I find ways to combine some form of godliness with contentment, and commitment may be the clue about where to look.
One of those on-line Bible study sites was pretty clear about the link between “godliness” and “call:”
The godly among us are those people whose reverent worship of God flows into obedience throughout the week. (BibleStudyTools.com)
That fits with what we’ve tried to say about our own sense of call: If it’s the right thing for you to be spending your life on these days, there will be a deep sense of rightness, a kind of righteous exhaustion that helps you know you’re on the right track. That’s what I think of when I hear Buechner’s phrase “deep gladness.” It’s the feeling on the bus heading back to Antigua after a day pouring concrete in the village … or the hug that marks some reconciliation after a hard conversation.
In the Guide to Seekers we say:
However, like Moses, we have found that God’s call might not always sound like good news at first, and may never be “easy” in the common sense of that word. God has said: “Set my people free.” We may not feel up to the job, and sometimes we’re not sure God is either. But also like Moses, we know that we can struggle with God in prayer, and through the struggle deepen our understanding. If it is truly God’s call on our lives, the river of grace flowing from God through us will bring us to peace and joy at our deepest level. It is in following our call that we experience the mystery of God’s presence in our community and an ever-deepening friendship with God in our inner lives. We grow in our faith, find rich fellowship within Christian community, and experience new life and healing, all by following our call.
In Seekers Church, commitment to community is understood as an important part of an intentional Christian life lived in the context of this time in history.
I must confess that this level of commitment, this kind of intentional belonging, was a challenge for me for a long time. Not that I couldn’t make a commitment, but that I wanted to be sure I could live up to it when I did. Our culture puts a pretty high priority on feeling good about the commitments we make. That often grows into the idea that if it doesn’t feel right – or good – I shouldn’t commit to it. That can make contentment a necessary precondition to commitment: If it wouldn’t make you feel good, don’t agree to do it.
As most of you know, I took my commitment as a Boy Scout VERY seriously. (Deborah’s introduction of me this morning even included that point.) But something you may not know about me is that I was not willing to join a fraternity as a freshman in college because the membership commitment required that I would support and care for all my fraternity brothers. That made perfect sense, but since it was clear that I didn’t know who would be joining the fraternity over the last 3 years of my belonging, I wasn’t able to say “Yes.” In those days, I was unable to commit to what I did not know. Commitment without contentment was a non-starter.
A couple years after that clear “No” I met Marjory. It was intense, and very soon I knew that I wanted to make a commitment to be with her. I suspect that my love for her pushed aside the idea that I didn’t know what I was committing to, but love opened my heart, and that shift was a key turning point for me. In fact, when I proposed that we get married, her first response was “Do you know what you’re asking for?!” My “Yes” led to her “Yes,” and that opened the gift of lifelong learning at home. (Thank you, Jesus!) It was a solid beginning of my understanding of commitment as a pathway to contentment, but only a beginning.
The other experience that really opened my eyes about commitment in community was my first decade in the Army. For most of that time I was part of one front-line unit after another, where the membership was constantly changing. This natural “rotation” meant changing in ways that were a bigger, more challenging version of the uncertainty I had not been able to accept as a college freshman. In those Army units people were coming and going all the time, there were ALWAYS old colleagues to bid farewell and new people to bring onto the team. After a while I learned that as we worked together, we got to know each other, and we learned to trust each other.
In Duc Pho, Viet Nam, the advisory team I led was just four of us. When my radio operator, Tom, said he’d send the report we’d put together, I knew I could stop worrying about it. By working together Tom and I had learned that we shared a commitment to supporting the people of Duc Pho. I knew in my heart that we were both committed to that mission. “Teamwork” taught me a lot about the importance of commitment, and the contentment it could bring.
By the time we arrived at Seekers in 1976 I was almost ready to accept the idea that God might call me to be a member here, part of a community where I had NO say in who else was there. I say “almost,” because it took me about four years, until the spring of 1980, to make my own commitment to membership, to trust God enough to be part of a group that was growing together into an unknown future. Fred Taylor, one of our co-founders, walked with me as I wrestled with whether to commit to membership here at Seekers Church. The sticking point for me seemed to be writing my spiritual autobiography. As far as I could tell back then, I hadn’t lived enough of a spiritual life to have anything to write about. But Fred’s commitment kept him engaged, meeting with me, encouraging me to look at my life from a spiritual perspective. In some ways he was asking me to look for the glimpses of godliness that were there, scattered among all the other mementos and memories.
As I think about my first commitment to Christ through this Church, my spiritual autobiography barrier was a lingering version of that old reluctance to make a commitment to something I couldn’t see clearly. It was a later version of my refusal to join a fraternity because I didn’t know who I’d be living with in the future. The fact is, when it comes to commitment to an unknowable future, there seems to be some sticking point for everyone. We want some assurance of how it will turn out before we sign up.
For many of us who have been immersed in a culture where contentment is a necessary precondition to commitment, the spiritual journey is a radical path, radical because it is built on the notion that commitment is a necessary precondition to contentment. I think that’s what makes it a faith journey.
ANNUAL RECOMMITMENT IS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR GROWTH
Three weeks ago, when our focus on recommitment began, the Servant Leadership Team offered a handout with our call, the commitment statements the Members and Stewards will be making on October 20th and some questions that might help you think about your own journey as part of this faith community. Copies are still available in most of the worship folders. If you can’t find one easily, check with me.
This time before Recommitment Sunday give each of us – recent arrivals, attenders, Members, and Stewards – the opportunity to review our commitment to God and to Seekers Church. This year, as you reflect on the call of Seekers Church and our commitment statements, we invite you to ask yourself:
• What is God’s emerging call on Seekers Church as one small part of the Body of Christ?
• How is Seekers Church living out the commitments our Members and Stewards have set for this Church?
• What is my part in our life together as a faith community?
• What do I need from and through this community in order to deepen my commitment to Christ?
Part of our traditional preparation includes a silent hour of prayer in the sanctuary before signing the Seekers membership log, the record of all Seekers members since our beginning in 1976. Our record of recommitment is here on the altar table for you to sign when you’re ready. There is a page for Members of Seekers and a second page for Stewards.
I encourage you to take time to reflect on how you are hearing God’s call on your life. Spend some time here in silence with your journal if you can. And if the sanctuary is too busy, find a quiet place upstairs, or at home. The important thing isn’t so much where you spend that quiet time, but that you take the time to reflect on your commitment to God through this little part of the Body of Christ.
If the idea of commitment bugs you, if you’d rather be on your spiritual journey alone, ask yourself whether part of your reluctance might be the feeling of being out of control if you simply “Let go and let God.” I can testify from my own experience that growing together, as part of a committed community, opens the door to a deeper contentment, and opens your heart to a deeper call. This season is an opportunity to let your heart grow.
So during this recommitment season I am reminded that:
• Commitment is at the core of our growing life together.
• Scripture gives us glimpses of the joys and pains of growing together, and the deeper contentment that emerges from committed relationships. And finally,
• Annual recommitment is an opportunity for growth
Why bother with commitment, and this odd annual renewal? I think it’s because our life together is built on the foundation of commitment. It helps if we can keep that in mind as we learn to love each other and the world God has given us to care for. We ARE in this together … thanks be to God!
As Gordon Cosby reminds us in this season’s reflection paragraph:
In the struggle to become Christ’s Body, we have only one weapon and one alone: Love…. Love is what first softened your heart and mine. Love brought us into the struggle. Love alone has the power to break hearts open so that we will all lay down our defenses and join in the cosmic movement toward a new heaven, a new earth, in a Holy City whose foundation is Love.
Gordon Cosby, Seized by the Power of a Great Affection: Meditations on the Divine Encounter, page 41