Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Sermon Prep #1

This summer at Lakebay Community Church, we've been working through the Covenant Affirmations, the six core statements that help define and root us in our own unique tributary of the Church. As summer slowly winds down, we're also reaching the end, and this Sunday brings us to affirmation #6: The reality of Freedom in Christ.

This affirmation is probably the one that drew me most strongly toward the Covenant Church. Having spent too much time among those fine folks who spend their days slinging mud and arrows at those who hold slightly different positions on theological minutia, I was looking for a place that spent less time debating and demeaning and more time serving and ministering. I found that place in the Covenant Church, and am ever grateful that we are defined by this idea of true freedom to disagree over secondary issues while focusing in on carrying out the work of the Kingdom.

Much of it comes down to Psalm 119:63 - "I am a friend of all who fear you, to all who follow your precepts." Key is that word "friend." Friendship takes this to a whole new level. We're not just talking about "putting up with" or "being cordial toward." Friendship implies looking beyond differences and finding commonalities upon which to build strong, positive relationships. Friendship implies enjoying each other, looking out for each other, seeking the best for the other, and even (gasp) learning to like each other.

I've mentioned here before that sometimes I forget. I get so used to living in this stream, where we discuss theology and practical ministry, and then go out for pizza, sharing in each other's lives, caring about each other's families, supporting each other in our particular ministries. It's so. . .freeing. Which is what freedom is supposed to be about.

Then I make the mistake of assuming I'll get the same treatment in an online theological forum, or talking to a 'fellow believer' at the coffee shop. Only, when I mention I just may not be a true 5-point Calvinist, or I just may not completely agree with Darby's understanding of the end times, or I may just not completely buy into supralapsarianism, they begin to treat me as if I have an open, infectious wound and I'm spewing a deadly virus into the air. And 'friendship' isn't exactly the word I would use to describe the sudden shift in our relationship.

Of course, it pushes back out into the bigger world, doesn't it. In so many areas we as a society have lost the ability to carry out civil conversations, let alone maintain friendships, with people who disagree with us over any and every issue, be it music preference, favorite TV show, or, gasp, politics.

It would be all too easy right now to speak national politics. But I want to keep it local.

Across the state of Washington, any number of fire departments were seeking the passage of levies yesterday, hoping to raise extra tax money to pay for much needed staffing and improvements as other sources of funding have dribbled to a halt. And, as of this morning, all but one of those levy lifts was passing. The only one to lose was our own Key Peninsula Fire District 16.

And why did it lose? I'm sure some voted against it because they can't afford to pay more taxes, I'm sure others had other valid reasons for voting against it. But, by and large, it seems most voted against it because we have two fire commissioners out here who haven't figured out how to get along. How to be a friend toward those who disagree, how to set aside personal issues and focus on the bigger mission of supporting our local fire department.

And, because these two have not learned how to be civil, how to carry on a conversation, how to live in the freedom of disagreement, they have instead turned toward antics like smear campaigns, illegal back-room meetings, lying, and, in one famous instance, attacking with a coffee mug.

So this week I'm spending time pondering what it means to behave civilly, and to pursue friendships with people who hold to different understandings of Truth and the nature of reality, to be kind and considerate even with those who hold theological positions which I consider just plain silly, to pursue friendship over being right, relationship over getting my own way. . .and at the same time I'm watching our local fire department being dealt a serious blow, simply because two men can't, in fact, just get along.

What about you? Can you think of other places where this idea of "Freedom to disagree" has played out in such a way that it was life-giving, and community-affirming? Or have you seen what we've just seen here, a time where people's inability to set aside differences eventually led to painful division and disaster?

Anybody want to share?

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