I am a parish minister currently serving the Eliot Church of Natick MA. Eliot Church is a Community Church affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ. Any statements made and postions held in "Unity," however, are solely mine(of course, they may be used with appropriate atribution). Therefore if you disagree, please do not blame the church!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Do Not Conform!

Here are the notes from my very short sermon a week ago Sunday. It is short because it was a "Communion Sunday" as all first-Sundays-of-the-month are. However, it is extra short because it was Confirmation Sunday. When we confirm people at Eliot we invite the confirmands to "sign the book" and join the church. Two did and this is what I said about the big day.

As usual, this is printed the way I preached it. Also, the Bible passages lack the "chapter:verse" endnote. They are only notes because I lack the time to put them into another format. I leave the bible verse out in hopes that, if you are interested in the source and context, that you goodle and read the stuff around it.

Rev. Adam Tierney-Eliot
Eliot Church

Do not conform to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your minds

This is the suggestion, the charge, the commandment
That we find in our reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans today
And it is a fitting one for us
It is fitting, not just for Ben and Zach
But for all of us, members and friends of the Eliot Church
Do not conform
Many sects and denominations in the contemporary Christian landscape
Look at this passage and see, rightly
A requirement to avoid overly entangling oneself
In the many superficialities of daily life

Do not conform, Paul tells us
To the fashion of the day
The urge to fit in
The race for more wealth and more fame
Do not, he seems to say
Do not get too carried away with the pressures and values
Of a specific era in human history
But, instead, look to God for guidance
And Be transformed by the renewing of your mind

But this is where many faiths stop
When read in the light of many churches
And other houses of worship
We are meant to assume
That Paul stops short in his call
When it comes to the church
In other words
Do not conform to the world. Conform to the doctrines and teachings of this one, true faith whatever that may be

Of course, here at Eliot, we don’t usually agree with that interpretation
For how, (we and our predecessors here have asked)
How can we both conform to a static faith
And be transformed?
How can we renew our minds, our hearts and our souls
If we aren’t expected to stretch them and explore?
And so we, too, as a church are nonconformists
Like Paul and those other members of the early Jesus movement

Waldemar Argow,
(as many of you know, a past minister of this church)
Waldemar Argow once wrote
The first of the tenets of liberal religion is freedom in religionReligious liberalism does not ask that you subscribe to any creed or doctrinal statement…Why not? [he asks and then answers] Because it does not believe that the truth is ever fixed, or that any one religion or creedal formulation contains the final answer. It does believe that our comprehension of truth is an emergent thing which grows clearer as humanity grows wiser, nobler, and better informed.

This, this idea of growth that Argow describes
Is the guiding light of the faith of many in this room
And so, it informs our religious education program
Just as it informs and guides our worship services
And our outreach projects
And many other moments for us
Both as a community and as individuals
Our liberal faith is dedicated to something that is sometimes called
The Free and Responsible Search for truth and meaning
{from the P&P}

First, ours is a free faith
One where we do not expect others to agree with us
We can see that freedom in action today
Where we are celebrating the good work
Of those in our Confirmation program
we have come today
Not to celebrate a journey that has ended
There is no test for the people coming out of our Sunday School
This is not Conformation, at all
We do not ask our adults to conform
Why would we do so to our children?

No…We are today confirming, or affirming
Zach and Ben and, for that matter all the people
Who call Eliot “their church”
We are affirming their (and our) maturity
Their (and our) willingness and ability
To conduct and pursue the constant transformation of our minds
We are confirming their (and our) connection to this church

I call that mind free writes William Ellery Channing
Abolitionist, Liberal Christian, and long-time minister
Of what is now called the Arlington Street Church in Boston
I call that mind free which has cast off all fear but that of wrongdoing, and which no menace or peril can enthrall

That is the goal still today
The free faith, the free church, and the free mind
But such a goal can breed arrogance

And we must beware
For the purpose of our faith is just as much
About respect of others
As it is about the quest for truth
For it is through others that we learn about our world
About the Divine
And so Paul warns us
Not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think, but think with sober judgement

Good advice from the follower of a man named Jesus
A Rabbi another dissenter who paid the ultimate price
For the freedom he sought for humanity
This is why we, in our search for truth and meaning
Must also be responsible
Responsible to each other
And responsible for ourselves

The faith of the Eliot Church is built on trust
From the Universalists: trust in the goodness
And eternal, unconditional love of God
And from the Congregationalists (both Trinitarian and Unitarian):
Trust in the ability of our fellow human beings
To do the right thing
To govern themselves in matters of faith
As well as in those matters pertaining to society as a whole
That is why our members meet annually
To select officers and approve the budget of our church

(A system of governance that our tradition
Gifted to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Through Town Meeting)

And it is also why we reach out to the community
Through the Outreach Committee
And through MICAH
For example, As you heard today,
Ben went to West Virginia with the Work Camp
And both Zach and Ben have volunteered at the Open Door
Here in Natick

We are responsible for each other as a congregation
We are responsible as a congregation
And as individuals for the condition of the world

There is no higher earthly authority in our faith
To tell us what is right or what is wrong
It falls to us to do that
To Zach and Ben and to each of us
Member or not, adult and child
To share in that process of discernment and action

This process is an ongoing one
One that requires us not just to receive
But to give, to give of our time and our selves
As much as anything else
So it is with pleasure that I (along with the rest of you)
Welcome Zach and Ben
In to membership
Affirm their respective journeys
And confirm their place here

Let us take a moment now in silent prayer
For all those who have found a place
Within our walls and within our tradition