In 1648, church leaders in North America came together to consider how they would organise their congregations. The meeting that they had in that year, produced a document which was called “The Cambridge Platform”, and that document called for a rather new way of doing church.
Rather than creating churches that were based around a set of beliefs that we must all believe, they chose to lead based on an agreement, a covenant, between the members to walk with one another in a spirit of love.
That may not sound so terribly radical today, but it was, in place of a set of beliefs and god given rules. The writers of The Cambridge Platform turned to the divine essence within each of us, and to our commitment to one another, to use what is best in us, to find a way forward without hard and fast rules. It was a way of being in community that combined freedom and commitment.
At the time, what was radical about The Cambridge Platform was the freedom it offered. Individual freedom of belief was not the widespread assumption that it is today. But today it may be the notion of commitment that is the more radical and the more difficult of these two elements.
So let’s talk about commitment for a moment.
Whenever I do a wedding, I commend the couple on their choice to make a commitment to one another. I tell them that what they are doing is incredibly counter-cultural. Committing to another person, or to anything that is not self serving, is becoming a foreign concept.
So what else do we commit to?
I know I did commit to a two year contract with Three. But really that was just to get the cool phone that I wanted.
I committed to the gym membership that I stopped using, but that’s a commitment to my own wellbeing.
I think there is one huge exception to the “no commitment” rule, I haven’t quite figured it out, but that seems to be sports. For many people, win or lose, their team is their team. They are willing to wear the regalia, willing to pay for the tickets, willing to endure the pain of loss and will stick with their team through thick and thin, for little more than the thrill of an occasion victory.
I’m a bit anxious to admit that I don’t support any team in that way, I am terribly fickle, I like whoever is winning. Which makes me feel good, but goes back to this lack of commitment.
If you are one of those people committed to a sports team, maybe you can come and explain to me how that works and why you don’t just go off to the winner.
We avoid commitment because we see commitment as antithetical to our freedom. That’s certainly why I would have preferred a one year contract, to the longer one I’ve ended up with.
Many people avoid commitment in their relationships, preferring the freedom to move on when something goes wrong or something no longer suits.
We don’t commit to our jobs, or our employers, and our employers don’t commit to us. Once that was different, but today every job is temporary.
Anne Morris says though that “The irony of commitment is that it’s deeply liberating”, and that’s an odd statement.
Commitment means voluntarily giving up our freedom to make some other choice. It means agreeing not to go off with someone who seems like a more appealing partner, or going with a mobile company with a better deal.
So how can commitment liberate us? How can it give us more freedom?
Consider how theologian Carter Heyward talks about Love, she writes “Love, like truth and beauty, is concrete. Love is not fundamentally a sweet feeling; not, at heart, a matter of sentiment, attachment, or being “drawn toward”. Love is active, effective, a matter of making reciprocal and mutually beneficial relation with one’s friends, and enemies.”
Love is active. Love is something we build and create and sustain, and the reality is that we will never do that work in the absence of a framework of trust and certainty. A framework that we can best call commitment.
Our best work is done when we don’t have one eye on the door thinking about trying something, someone or someplace else.
As Alfred Adler describes it “If men or women contemplate an escape, they do not collect all their powers for the task. In none of the serious important tasks of life” he continues “do we arrange such a “getaway”. We cannot love and be limited.”
Our lives together here, at New Unity, echo in many ways what we have just said about commitment. It is tempting to see this place, and other spiritual communities, as yet another place, to dip in and out of, depending on what’s on offer. Surly if the congregation down the street has a better program this year, or, god forbid, a better preacher, why not head over there? Don’t we, at the very least, want to keep our options open?
Today we celebrate our new members. Those who have chosen to make commitments to this particular community in the past year.
Commitment matters here.
It matters because we never think the same way when we have our eye on the exit. We never think the same way about people, if leaving them is always an option. We never think the same way about challenges if we allow ourselves to simply avoid them.
New Unity is a place built on commitment and it is commitment that creates the environment where each of us can thrive.
It is commitment that enables us to give to one another without expecting anything in return.
It is commitment that makes it possible for us to receive without feeling indebted.
It is commitment that allows us to give of our time, our talents and our financial resources.
It is commitment that assures us we will not be abandoned, and it is commitment that keeps us face to face when things become tense and conflicts erupt, as they are want to do in any set of human interactions.
Commitment is a key ingredient in this inclusive community of faith.
It is with joy that today we recognise our new members, those people who have chosen to enter the life sustaining web of committed love. May that web grow ever stronger within this community, and may its bonds reach beyond these walls, to hold and comfort all who are in need.
And when we are in need, may we always have someone to lean on.
May it be so.
(Kindly typed from the audio by Shiobhan Joseph)