Sermon ~ 06/26/2022 ~ “The Bonds of Polity”

06/26/2022 ~ Third Sunday after Pentecost ~ Proper 8 ~ Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time ~ 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14; Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20; 1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21; Psalm 16; Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9:51-62 ~ Service of Shalom for Denise Perry.

The Bonds of Polity

“…you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; but be careful or this freedom will provide an opportunity for self-indulgence. Rather, serve one another through works of love since the whole law is summed up in a single command: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” — Galatians 5:13.

The weekly email sent out a week ago had some biographical information about me. I cannot, however, assume everyone saw it or read it. Therefore, I hope I will not bore too many people and I ask your indulgence as I in part restate and perhaps embellish some of that story.

I am a native of New York City. How much of a native? My motto was “If the Subway doesn’t go there it’s too far.” When I moved to Maine I needed to learn how to drive. After all, why would someone want to own a car in New York City?

In fact, my résumé before I went to Seminary had two major items on it. I worked as a writer in theater and theatricality related projects and I worked on Wall Street in back office operations. Those two things exist mostly, nearly only in New York City.

So how did I meet and then marry Bonnie Scott who, at that point, was a long time resident of Brunswick and a staff photographer on the Times Record? My best friend from New York City, Paul Johnson, is her cousin. I was visiting Maine with him.

Bonnie and I hit it off in part because we are both fond of puns. Hit it off is probably an understatement since a year later I moved to Maine and we got married.

Bonnie has always said one reason she felt I might be O.K. is I was her cousin’s best friend. I was, in fact, the Godfather of Paul’s daughter. I had been pre-screened.

But we still did need to get to know each other in a myriad of ways. We needed to allow relationship to grow, to become deeper, to mature.

That leads to this question: ‘how are relationships built?’ I think this is obvious: relationships are built by getting to know someone. And it is clear Bonnie and I had a head start because that family connection. (Slight pause.)

These words are found in the work known as Galatians: “…you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; but be careful or this freedom will provide an opportunity for self-indulgence. Rather, serve one another through works of love since the whole law is summed up in a single command: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Slight pause.)

Any psychologist will tell you an important step in becoming mature is individuation, something which starts the day we are born,. Individuation is the process whereby a person becomes a distinct, whole individual, differentiated from others.

However, the next step in becoming a distinct, whole individual, is integration with those around us. Indeed, anthropologists say we are social animals. We need one another and need to rely on one another— socialization— the next step. (Slight pause.)

Now I would rate your recently retired pastor, the Rev. Mr. Carson, as an expert in Congregational Polity, Congregational governance, how Congregational Churches govern themselves. And when John and I met a couple weeks ago he showed me this book. (The pastor holds up a copy of The Creeds and Platforms of Congregationalism.)

But I must also know something about Congregational Polity, Congregational governance. Why? This book is in my library also.

That brings up an interesting question: how is Congregational Polity just like the growth we experience in life and in relationships? (Slight pause.)

In a lecture one of my Polity teachers said (quote:) “The polity of local church autonomy”— local church autonomy— that’s individuation— “local church autonomy was defined in 1648 by the Cambridge Platform. This document says the local church has all the resources it needs to be a faithful witness to the Gospel of Jesus, the Christ.”

However (again a quote:) “Autonomy does not imply disconnection or total independence. Just like a well self-differentiated individual is healthy enough to know when they need help and how to get it, that is true of the church.” This knowing when one needs help and how to get it— that’s socialization. (Slight pause.)

As we all know, this local church will be seeking a new settled pastor. And local Congregational Church autonomy is important to us. We claim freedom as a right.

However, we need to be in covenant with, respect other churches and even rely on other churches. In that sense a broad understanding of covenant with others should be vital to us.

In fact, cooperation is embodied in Congregational heritage. In the 1600s our ancestors understood we needed to be in communion with other churches. Pastors were ordained not by one church but by a group of churches together. (Slight pause)

You’ve heard this phrase before: freedom is not free. Freedom comes with attendant responsibilities to others. Real freedom is impossible without family— family we know well right here in this worship space, family we know perhaps less well but are still family, family beyond these walls.

To reference the personal terms used earlier, the definition of health in a church is not simply individuation. It is individuation coupled with socialization. Self is vital. But so is interaction beyond self— building relationships— it’s a part of maturity.

This is also important: as we build relationships they will effect us. Relationships demand change. Change— I am sure you’ve heard that word before.

And you know this: the only constant is change. And because change is both real and a gift from God, one of the gifts God offers within change is that change becomes active and vibrant when we love each other.

Change is a part of the growth we experience through the love of God and the love of neighbor. If we love our neighbors, by definition, that will change who we are.

So let’s come back to the earlier question, ‘how are relationships built?’ The answer I offered earlier was, ‘by getting to know someone.’

In Galatians I think Paul’s answer was essentially the same and it sounded like this (quote:) “…serve one another through works of love since the whole law is summed up in a single command: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” Amen.

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: “I have two things to mention. In the First Inaugural Address Abraham Lincoln, still displaying a sense of hope about the Union, used this phrase to conjure up the ties among the states (quote:) ‘The mystic chords of memory…’ The word used is not c-o-r-d, ropes, bindings, but c-h-o-r-d, harmony, notes sung simultaneously. Harmony— a unity of sound but each note maintains its own place. I don’t know about you but I say harmony must exist in Congregational polity. Second, theologian Karl Barth said this (quote:) ‘A community which lives and is active only for itself and is inactive towards those around it, would not be a source of joy, but of despair.’”

BENEDICTION: This service of worship is over but our service in the name of God continues outside these doors, outside these walls. And may we love God so much, that we love nothing else too much. May we be so in awe God that we are in awe of no one else and nothing else. Amen.

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