by Rev. Joseph Connolly
“…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.
You have probably heard me say one hundred times that Bonnie’s cousin, Paul Johnson, is my best friend. And you have probably heard me say one hundred times that I was on vacation with Paul at the family property in Maine when I met Bonnie.
What you probably have not heard Bonnie say— but I have heard her say this— is one reason she felt I might be O.K. is I was her cousin Paul’s best friend. Put another way, I had been pre-screened by someone she not only knew but someone she knew well— a relative, family.
In one sense, we were already family— she was Paul’s cousin. I was the Godfather of Paul’s daughter, Barbara. Even so, we still needed to get to know each other in a myriad of ways. We needed to allow for that 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 you might say Bonnie and I had a head start because we are already a part of the same family (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 the most important step in becoming mature— and this is something which starts the day we are born— is individuation. Individuation is the process whereby a person becomes a distinct, whole individual, separate from others.
However, the next step in individuation, the next step in becoming a distinct, whole individual, is integration with those around us. Indeed, ask any anthropologist what makes humans human, and you will get the answer that we are a social animal. We need one another and we rely on one another— socialization. (Slight pause.)
In a recent writing our Conference Minister, David Gaewski, said this (quote:) “The polity of local church autonomy”— local church autonomy— that’s individuation— “the polity of local church autonomy was defined in 1648 by the Cambridge Platform. Essentially what this founding document communicated is the local church has all the resources it needs to be a faithful witness to the Gospel of Jesus, the Christ.”
However, again quoting David, “Autonomy does not imply disconnection or independence. A well self-differentiated individual is healthy enough to know when they need help and where to go to get the needed help.” Knowing when one needs and how to get it— that’s socialization. To continue with David’s words— “These principles also apply to congregational church life.” (Slight pause.)
Today we, this local church, had an annual meeting. And as a church in the United Church of Christ autonomy is important to us, the local is important to us. We claim freedom as a right.
Two weeks ago the New York Conference had its annual meeting. And, as a church in the United Church of Christ, covenant with other churches is also important to us. Hence, since covenant with other churches is vital to us, to our heritage, we need to realize freedom is not free.
Freedom comes with attendant responsibilities to others. So, real freedom is impossible without family— family we know well, right here in this worship space and family beyond these walls.
Indeed, to refer back to the personal terms used earlier, the definition of health in church is not simply individuation. It is individuation coupled with integration. Self is vital. But so is interaction beyond self— building relationships. Relationships— that’s a part of what maturity is about.
Indeed, there is only one problem with building relationships. Relationships effect us. Relationships demand change.
Now, it is said the only constant is change but within and throughout the kaleidoscopic sleight-of-hand called change— change, perhaps one of God’s gifts to us all— within change resides the permanency of our love for each other. And love is or should be the thing that matter most.
All that brings us back to the earlier question, ‘how are relationships built?’ The answer I offered 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 want to note two things. First, the motto of the denomination known as the United Church of Christ speaks to the issue of individuation and integration. This is the motto: ‘That they may all be one.’ Second, Twentieth Century theologian Karl Barth said this (quote:) ‘A community which lives and is active only for itself and 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.