SERMON ~ 11/14/2021 ~ “Community”

READINGS:11/14/2021 ~ Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time ~ Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost ~ (Proper 28) ~ 1 Samuel 1:4-20; 1 Samuel 2:1-10; Daniel 12:1-3; Psalm 16; Hebrews 10:11-14, (15-18), 19-25; Mark 13:1-8 ~ Stewardship Sunday ~ Video of the Full Service: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HpuDXcFSP4o.

Community

“…let us always think about how we can help one another to love and to do good deeds. Do not stay away from the meetings of the community, as is the habit of some, but encourage one another;….” — Hebrews 10:24-25.

I want to share a family story but it’s a story which ties into American sociological/economic history. I know— big concept; I’m sorry. The story has to do with the family of my wife, Bonnie Scott Connolly.

The family has owned property in Maine since 1898 but Bonnie was born in Philadelphia. When she was young her parents moved to Westport, Connecticut.

So she came to maturity, went to Grade and High School there. Now, in the 50s and 60s, the era of her youth, Bonnie describes Westport as a normal town.

Bonnie and I have a running disagreement about that. Me— the kid from Brooklyn, and that’s not Brooklin, Maine, that’s Brooklyn, New York— I say in that era the town of Westport was at least somewhat privileged. It was a suburb. From my perspective, suburbs meant privilege.

However, Bonnie is right. The town was normal, at least the way we used to describe that. This gets into sociological/economic history. In the mid-50s a typical CEO made about 20 times the salary of an average worker at the same firm. Last year, CEO pay at a Standard and Poor’s 500 firm averaged 299 times more than the average worker at the same company.

When that spread was smaller I think it meant a closer community or it least seems like a closer community was more of a possibility. But Westport, Connecticut has become an enclave for CEOs and celebrities, largely cut off from what most people call normal.

Well, Westport is still Bonnie’s hometown, her community. Just like I still keep track of news of the theater scene, my community— also not a particularly normal community— Bonnie keeps track of news from Westport and regularly checks a Westport blog, even though she never went back after she left for college in 19 (mumbled). Bonnie asked me to do that.

A while back that blog posted this local news. “Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central, had to cancel an appearance at the Anti-Defamation League fund-raiser here. But the replacement is Whoopi Goldberg.”

Westport… is no longer normal— Trevor Noah, Whoopi Goldberg— big trade. But that’s not that point. That post from the Westport blog got re-posted on a site not particularly friendly to people of color and linked back to the Westport blog.

What happened? Hate comments started to flood that Westport page. The person who runs the blog, a contemporary of Bonnie’s, said the comments were vile, racist. He disabled commenting on the story, took down the worst ones but left others up. He wanted readers to see what’s out there beyond the Westport bubble. (Slight pause.)

This is clear: the writer of Hebrews refers to community as if it were a place. And community can mean a place since local communities often self-identify in that way.

Groups meet at clubhouses, restaurants, designated rooms. I once regularly met with a Bible Study group in a room just off the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange. An odd location? Yes. But we identified as a community in a location.

Of course, communities also meet in churches, synagogues, mosques, ashrams. The bottom line: the community label can be applied to nearly any small group no matter where they meet, especially groups who meet for guidance, for study, for mutual support.

But is that what the writer of Hebrews is trying to highlight, just the local community? My answer is yes and no. I think we have to pay attention to a number of things in an effort to define community as it is laid out here.

To do that let me throw out two fancy words, $64 words to use the old term: orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Orthodoxy is defined by accepted creeds. And laying out Orthodoxy is what this writer is doing in telling us who Jesus is, linking Jesus to Jewish history and practice. [1]

Please note the explanation quotes Jeremiah. (Quote:) “This is the covenant / I will make with them….” Covenant— the Hebrews live by the concept of covenant and here Jesus is tied to covenant. That’s identification through orthodoxy.

And where does the writer take us next? We are taken to a community, a place where people meet people. (Quote:) “…let us always think about how we can help one another to love and to do good deeds. Do not stay away from the meetings of the community, as is the habit of some, but encourage one another;….”

This is where that other word— orthopraxy— orthopraxy concerns practice comes into play. And yes, a community relies on practice, on action, on participation. No participation, no action, no practice equals… no community. Participation, action, practice— all necessary.

So, orthodoxy— belief— needs to be worked out in orthopraxy— action. What we say we believe is merely that, what we say. Unless there is consequential action which focuses on, fosters and encourages community… words are simply words.

I need to be clear about this. Orthodoxy, what we believe, and orthopraxy, what we do, are and need to be intertwined, inseparable. Put another way, God is faithful. If we approach the house of God filled with faith and sincerity in our hearts— orthodoxy— what needs to be the result?

We need to (quote:) “…think about how we can help one another to love and to do good deeds.” That is action. Orthodoxy, belief, leads to orthopraxy, action. And not just action— action together, action in community. (Slight pause.)

This takes us to a pivotal question. I kind of hit on it in the children’s time. [2] What is community? Is community simply a group that meets in a church, synagogue, mosque, ashram or near the floor of the Stock Exchange? Or is community something different, something more? (Slight pause.)

That presents the issue I addressed earlier. I think communities often act as a protective bubble. That’s what the writer of the Westport blog was pointing out. I say community cannot isolate itself in a bubble and be a real, a valid community. Why?

If in our practice we are called to help one another to love and do good deeds, if in our belief we are bound in covenant, then the community is where we gather for guidance, for study, for support. And you kind of heard Vicky say that earlier. [3] But that same community, if it is true to loving and true to doing good, also points outward to other communities, points to never being isolated.

So indeed, community is larger than small groups, larger than us, here today. And yes, community is built by helping one another to love, to do good deeds. A community invites people to be a part of that local community. But next, if what that local community shares among its own members is helpful, why not spread the word and spread the help?

I think when a community helps one another to love and does good deeds that practice needs to go out from the group. The local community then recognizes, becomes involved with other people, involved with other communities. (Slight pause.)

This is Stewardship Sunday. You heard that, didn’t you? Last week I said my comments then were part 1 of stewardship and this week is part 2. What is part 2?

Stewardship is not about money. Vicky also said that. Stewardship is about community, about helping one another to love and to do good deeds. And community is the local place our beliefs first need to meld with our practice.

And, if our practice is to help one another to love and to do good deeds, where should this practice of mutual support lead? It should lead to stewardship which supports what we do here. And since community should not be a bubble, our stewardship also supports what we do to help others outside this community. Stewardship— it’s about community; it’s a result of community. Amen.

11/14/2021
South Freeport Congregational Church, United Church of Christ

ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Choral Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “Two things, the first one a little theological the second one not so much: it is said the Hebrews did not have a theology. Rather, the Hebrews did theology. Western Christians are susceptible to thinking having a theology is enough— simply think right thoughts and I don’t have to worry about anything else. Clearly the writer of Hebrews did not think having a theology was enough. Doing theology— building community is vital. Second, my friend, the composer Tom Rasely with whom I have written a number of works for the church, says this: remember, at the end of the word community what we have is the word unity— think about it.”

BENEDICTION: Go forth in faith. Go forth trusting that God will provide. Go forth and reach out to everyone you meet in the name of Christ. And may the face of God shine upon us; may the peace of Christ rule among us; may the fire of the Spirit burn within us this day and forevermore. Amen.

[1] This is what was said for the introduction to the reading:
To our Twenty-first Century ears this reading may sound a little strange perhaps because, as the name of Letter to the Hebrews might suggest, this work is clearly a message to the Jewish population in the First Century and addresses First Century Jewish practice. The passage even directly quotes the Prophet Jeremiah. However, I think for us and our Twenty-first Century ears these words could be reduced to a paid of questions: ‘Who is Jesus?’ and ‘what is our response to our own answer?’ Therefore, that presents us with two other questions. How did Christians in the First Century respond and how do we respond to that initial question? Hear now this reading from the work known as the Letter to the Hebrews.

[2] In the Children’s Time (A.K.A. A Time for All Ages) the pastor asked about what it meant to belong to a club and said the first club to which one belongs is family. Then a comparison was made between the church and a club. The pastor asked people to raise their hands if they had been members 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, 50 years. The it was said these folks were voting members. Anyone who is present is a member.

[3] Victoria Devlin, Stewardship Chair, addressed the topic this way:
Ten years ago this month, the day before Thanksgiving to be exact, my husband Stuart Jones died very suddenly. To say that our family was devastated is an understatement.

We moved by instinct and planned the service, but it was Peter Foss, Denis, David and our admin, along with SueAnn, head deacon at the time, and the late Peter Gerquest who arranged for the ushers, who got us through our public good-bye.

We got through the holidays and then, I felt very alone. I hadn’t realized what a community of love South Freeport Church is and that the community was watching. There were casseroles, but there were also invitations to dinners, to movies, to take a walk. There were visits and there were hugs at coffee hour with the question: “How are you doing? What can we do for you?”

I suddenly realized that I could never leave this Church and had to give back as much as I could. And this is why I give time, talent and treasure to the Church.

South Freeport Church is a community of people making loving connections, because we know that we are people of the loving God. We are the church.

It would be wonderful if connections alone supported the church, but they don’t. We need to provide salaries for our minister (now Rev. Joe) and the amazing staff that brings its talents to us every day. We need to support our building, pay the utilities, and keep the lights on.

We also need to carry the love and connect to the community through Mission work, help educate our children, and comfort the elderly.

So, stewardship is not about money. It is about keeping those connections strong. It’s about maintaining our community of love.

This is why I give. Please join me.

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