Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost
September 24, 2023
Have you noticed that our Seekers Church member’s commitment statement doesn’t include a profession of faith? Whether committing for the first time or recommitting, I merely affirm “my relationship with this Christian community in the tradition of the Church of the Saviour, linked with the people of God through the ages.”
Our omission of a profession of faith has helped a number of people over the years who didn’t initially name themselves as Christians become members of Seekers. Some described themselves as spiritual rather than as religious. A few described themselves as Buddhists or as Christian Buddhists. If I remember correctly, we’ve had one or two members of Alcoholics Anonymous who regarded our member’s commitment as similar to the third step of AA, “a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” And some said they were just followers of Jesus.
Over the years I’ve thought that our member’s commitment should include a profession of faith, but I also know that those who didn’t name themselves as Christian at first have been faithful about living out their commitment as members of Seekers. Then, in preparing for the class on the Book of Acts I reflected on the “God-fearers” in the first century C.E. They were gentiles who admired Jews for both their morality and their monotheism, and so they attended Jewish synagogues but they didn’t convert to Judaism (and didn’t necessarily observe Jewish dietary laws). When Paul began showing up at the synagogues they attended, many of these gentile God-fearers listened to him and began following “the Jesus Way”. In today’s epistle, St. Paul describes the “Jesus Way” thusly: (I’m using the translation from The Message)
If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care—then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.[i]
The gentile God-fearers may not have fully comprehended Paul’s theology. Let’s be honest, a lot of Christians don’t, and some of those of us who think we do have problems with some of it! The gentile God-fearers who became Christians may have had some reservations about rudimentary Christian doctrine, yet their lives were changed as they practiced “the Jesus Way.” And other Jews and gentiles noticed. “See how they love one another.”
So now I’ve changed my mind and I affirm that you don’t need to be a professing Christian to affirm your membership in Seekers. But notice that the member’s commitment statement holds seven commitments within it. I believe that when we promise to live out these seven commitments, we have implicitly made the commitment to follow the “Jesus Way.” Let’s look at those seven commitments more closely.
The first promise is to deepen my relationships within Seekers. There is no way to do this without opening my eyes, my ears, my mind, and my heart to others’ ideas, actions, and emotions. To listen, to find agreement, to empathize, to care.
The second promise is to share the gifts I’ve received from God with others in Seekers and outside the community. This promise hides a challenge: first, I must know what gifts I have received from God. Life in a mission group is helpful here, as members evoke, name, and confirm each other’s gifts.
The third promise is to nurture my relationship with God and Seekers through spiritual disciplines. Spiritual disciplines are not rules for the sake of having rules. They are tools that help nurture my relationship with God and you, to follow the Great Commandment of loving God with all my mind, and heart, and soul, and strength and loving my neighbor as myself. Our Learners and Teachers mission group (raise your hands) currently has the following spiritual disciplines:
- I will spend time daily in silence, prayer, scripture, study, and personal reflection in light of my Christian faith.
- During the week, I will hold in prayer each member of this mission group and those who are involved in the School for Christian Growth.
- I will come to each meeting of this mission group prepared for the work before us, intending to be the Body of Christ together, expecting to encounter the Spirit, and open to being changed.
- I will regularly report to the group’s spiritual guide on my inward and outward journey and my life as part of this mission group and this faith community.
- Ours is an incarnational faith: I will honor my own incarnation by regular exercise and mindful nutritional choices.
- God calls each of us to exercise our gifts to create our own lives, to build up God’s Church, and to heal the world. I commit to naming and expressing God’s gifts in me in all aspects of my life, but especially in this mission group.
- I commit to giving time and energy beyond attending mission group meetings to support and further the mission of the group. This will include regular involvement in the School for Christian Growth.
- This mission group and the School for Christian Growth exist as expressions of the larger Seekers Church community. I will give of my time, energy, and financial resources to the support of the life of that faith community.
- We are each pilgrims on the Christian journey, along paths that are sometimes narrow and steep: I will ask for the support I need from others in the mission group, and give support when asked.
We annually review them during recommitment season to see if we want to add, change, or delete any. We haven’t changed them much over the decades. What spiritual disciplines does your mission group have? If you’re not in a mission group, do you have spiritual disciplines? Do you need a spirit guide to help you identify them?
Fourth, I commit to caring for the whole of creation, including the natural environment. Seekers who are in the Earth and Spirit mission group (Raise your hands) each have different emphases in living out that commitment. I encourage you to ask each of them about their emphasis. Similarly, the CreatureKind Ministry Team (raise your hands) is committed to helping Seekers be a “partner community” with CreatureKind, the nonprofit group that advocates for awareness about Christian obligations to animals, especially farmed animals. I encourage you to ask us about our emphases. You might get some ideas from both groups for how you can live out this commitment.
Fifth, I commit to foster justice and be in solidarity with the poor. Again, ask the members of the Eyes to See, Ears to Hear Peace Prayer Mission Group (raise your hands) how each of them lives this out. In the Seekers Racial and Ethnic Justice Ministry Team (raise your hands) each of us has committed
to dismantle white supremacy and systemic racism in ourselves, in our faith community, in our nation and in our world – by better aligning our words and actions to the hopes and teachings of Jesus.
Some Seekers have seen their call as being in solidarity with poor people. Ask around and you’ll find interesting ways in which different Seekers meet this fifth commitment.
Sixth, I commit to work for ending all war, personal and private. If you are wondering how to do this, you might ask members of the Eyes to See Ears to Hear Peace Prayer mission group for some ideas.
And seventh, I commit to respond joyfully with my life, as the grace of God gives me freedom. To the Israelites starving in the wilderness after the exodus from Egypt, living joyfully was the last thing on their minds. They wanted full bellies! And so they grumbled to and about Moses. How frequently do I truly live out my life joyfully? What do I allow to hinder me from responding joyfully? What encourages me to live joyfully?
But making these commitments is only part of the tradition we brought from the Church of the Saviour. Our tradition includes being accountable for living out our commitment. And as Lindsay Fertig Johnson recently wrote in Inward/Outward Together, “Life in community is so beautiful. Life in community is so hard.”[ii]
How accountability is expressed can sometimes make community hard. My weekly spiritual reports frequently include my awareness of the times I’ve failed to be open to another’s views or have said or done something that I know was hurtful. It’s hard to write these. It’s hard when Marjory Bankson, the spiritual director in the Learners and Teachers mission group, responds to something in my spiritual report with questions for me to ponder. But there have also been times when I have been unaware that I haven’t lived up to your standard for being a Steward or a member of the Servant Leadership Team because I didn’t know what your standards are until after I failed to meet them! Accountability for living up to my commitments is harder when I am criticized privately in person, on the phone, or by email; but I can screw up my courage to respond privately, and we can usually work it out, as Jesus urged his disciples to. (This was our gospel lectionary in Matthew two weeks ago.) But it’s really hard when accountability is expressed inappropriately. Several times this year I’ve received blistering emails from a Seeker who sent them to other Seekers. When that’s happened, I’ve really struggled to remember that living in community is beautiful. And that my travails are nothing in comparison to what Moses experienced in the wilderness.
As most of you know, at the end of this month I will be leaving the Servant Leadership Team (the SLT) after seven years. Some of you may be wondering why. The simple answer is that I no longer feel called to it, and I honor our Seekers’ doctrine that we do things because we are called to exercise our gift(s) in that way.
But there are factors that influenced me in evaluating whether I still felt called. I have served on the SLT seven years; I am mindful that the SLT working group had recommended that the SLT have a term of three years, even though I disagree with that recommendation both because it replaced the idea of call with the idea of a specific term and because I feel three years is too short a period. More importantly, another factor had to do with my gifts. This year I began reflecting that most of the gifts I have brought to the SLT relate to tasks I had been doing before joining the SLT and would continue to do even if I was not on the SLT; in particular, serving as secretary for Seekers Church, convening Martha’s Mob and doing minor maintenance, and serving on the children’s team. And finally, as we have emerged from the covid-19 pandemic, many of the needs that the SLT has been asked to address have related to providing pastoral care, which I don’t believe is one of my spiritual gifts. I don’t recall having that particular gift affirmed in me. I’ve prayed a lot about wanting to be better at it, but prayer hasn’t helped. I want to be clear, I am not leaving the SLT because of congregational grumbling about me; I’m not in the same situation as Moses with the people in today’s passage from Exodus.
I do plan to recommit as a Steward, and I invite all of you to commit or recommit as a member or Steward. More than that, I urge you to commit or recommit to practicing the “Jesus Way.” In The Message version of today’s epistle, St. Paul exhorts the Christians in Philippi to
[d]o everything readily and cheerfully—no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night…[iii]
May it be so.
[i] The Message, Philippians 2:14-15. Copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson
[ii] Inward/Outward Together, Sept. 16, 2023. Copyright © 2023 inward/outward: a project of the Church of the Saviour.
[iii] The Message, Philippians 2:2-4.