A Commonwealth Partnership
Listen in love for the cadence of mystery that befalls us in gospel partnership…
I thank my God…for your partnership in the Gospel.
Our commonwealth is in heaven.
Rejoice in the Lord always.
He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
Work out your own salvation in fear and trembling.
Have no anxiety about anything but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Again I say rejoice.
All these inspired sentences come to us from Philippians, including today’s text, the first, which names the partnership of the Gospel.
You are surrounded by intimations of partnership. Take a walk today down Commonwealth Avenue. Abigail Adams will greet you. Yes, she will reach out to you from the women’s memorial. Look hard into her eyes and listen for the echoes of a not too distant past. It is all around you. Not far from where you stands near Fairfield, George Washington mustered his troops, as the Revolution began. Here you are! Bunker Hill, Old Ironsides, the Boston Harbor with its aroma of tea leaves! Enjoy it, don’t miss it. Your time will go by fast.
We lived an hour from Buffalo for many years. You would be surprised how many people in western New York have never seen Niagara Falls. ‘Oh, yes, I meant to go last summer. I will get there some day’. We lived about an hour from Montreal for some years. You would be surprised how many people in the far north country have never been up Mount Royal. ‘We were going to take the kids, but then something came up. We will get over there some day.’ We lived in New York, on the upper west side, right on the Hudson River. You would be surprised how many Yankees fans have never taken the road up to West Point. ‘I just don’t like to drive that much. One day I will get there’.
Abigail, Commonwealth, Boston, New England, the whole earth await you. Don’t disappoint them. Make a pastoral call on life. Be good to life and life will be good to you.
Abigail and John Adams lived out a remarkable partnership. Theirs was a bond, a friendship, a fellowship of rare, real love. You may access some of their shared life through their letters
Listen, for just a moment, Abigail to John:
That your Sex are Naturally Tyrannical is a Truth so thoroughly established as to admit of no dispute, but such of you as wish to be happy willingly give up the harsh title of Master for the more tender and endearing on of Friend (MDF, 110).
Listen for just a moment, John to Abigail:
It is a fortnight to day Since I had Letter from you but it Seems to me a month. I cannot blame you for one of yours is worth four of mine. (MDF, 370)
Abigail and John lived in partnership. Their historical koinonia is a harbinger, a foretaste, of what gospel partnership can be.
What Paul Means by Partnership
Paul writes not of an earthly Commonwealth Avenue, but of a commonwealth in heaven, a commonwealth of heaven (Phil 3:20). Partnership is the crossroad we take to get to the heavenly commonwealth. Koinonia, partnership, is a way of being in life, a way of living in the world. It is the rigorous character of fellowship that finally turned the Roman Empire upside down, lasted through twenty centuries, and to this day beckons young people and others to another side of the street. With this one word, Paul identifies his running mates.
We are awash this week in running mates. It is a good term, running mates. Those with whom we choose to run the race do say a great deal about who we are. So the Spanish simply say in their refrain, ‘dime con quien andas, y dire quien eres’.
While Paul will later name individual partners, he begins with a broad embrace of all his readers, and now hearers: I am thankful for your partnership.
For Paul the church is an eschatological community. The church is a living body, wherein the whole is far more than the sum of the parts. It is an organic expression of mutuality wherein persons are understood to be made for community, and persons become human persons in a trans-subjective, transpersonal, setting for re-socialization.
One of my mentors, R Scroggs, used to say that, for Paul, the church’s characteristic marks are joyful liberation, reciprocal mutuality, gracious equality, communal discernment. The church is both separate from and participatory in the world around, and so must ever think twice, both of its own joyous existence and of its role as God’s arm in the world.
The way of good living, gospel partnership, is revealed, apocalypsed, to Paul. All our readings today bear similar witness. The burning bush is revelation. The song of the psalmist heart is revelation. The marks of fellowship are revelation. The recognition of the Christ comes by revelation. All our readings prepare the way for partnership.
So, Scroggs: “because of grace, persons are able, insofar as at any particular moment they live by faith, to use their faculties without distortion which self-anxiety inevitably creates, without the repression of energy and function which is caused by the exhausting and exhaustive project of securing the self. It is the freedom from fear, life now secure as a gift, which gives one confidence to try, even in the face of obstacle and danger.” (PND, 187)
Here are some guidelines, according to Paul, that mark out where the crossroad of partnership comes upon the commonwealth of heaven: freedom, peace, love, mutual upbuilding.
Koinonia is a new way of being in the world. The world finds a new way of being in Koinonia.
Partnership is one place where the great religious traditions of the world find common ground. It is an opening to a different way of being in the world. I give you Martin Buber:
The life of human beings is not passed in the sphere of transitive verbs alone. It does not exist in virtue of activities alone which have some thing for The realm of Thou has a different basis…
When Thou is spoken, the speaker has no thing for his object. For where there is a thing there is another thing. Every It is bounded by others; It exists only through being bounded by others. But when Thou is spoken, there is no thing. Thou has no bounds…
When Thou is spoken, the speaker has no thing; he has indeed nothing. But he takes his stand in relation. (I and Thou, in passim)
A verse from Paul, readings from our tradition, a voice from the another religious tradition—all of these open up an avenue for you, an avenue of meaning, belonging, empowerment, enjoyment.
What Partnership Means for You
Now you will need to ponder, a bit what this means for you on August 31, 2008. Coming to church, and hearing about koinonia, suddenly changes the news reports about running mates.
Running mates are not only the province and problem of televised campaigns and presidential candidates. You will be nominating your own running mates over the next few years.
A strong partnership has such a powerful influence. Think of the athletic teams you have known that have shown such powerful partnership that they became virtual unstoppable. Think of the couples in leadership, the wives and husbands you have known, who have influence because of their shared commitment. Think of the pastors and lay leaders in congregations, who, when the yoke can be set and shared well, move heaven and earth. Think of the faculties who bring out the best in each other, and so are far more than the sum of their parts.
For our newly arriving students, freshmen and others, the forging of partnerships, the chance at koinonia, will be at the very heart of what happens, for good, in the very quickly passing span of four years. Here is their prayer, and ours too:
Bless our friendships these four years, we ask
Help us to grow in kindness
Help us to listen in silence
Help us to acquire the gentle arts of comraderie
Teach us to speak heart to heart, soul to soul, I to Thou
That when we leave we may have befriended and been befriended
And so have found our own identity, our second identity, our selves.
Bless our decisions these four years, we ask
Help us to grow in confidence
Help us to perceive consequences
Help us to learn to choose and to choose to learn in choosing
Teach us to decide with grace, with passion, with humility
And so by choosing found our own identity, our second identity, our selves.
Bless our intuitions these four years, we ask
Help us to acquire a vocational tongue
Help us to honor what lasts, matters, counts
Help us to have courage to become who we are
Teach us not to cut against the grain of our own wood
And so by hearing our calling to find our own identity, our second identity, our selves.
Yet, the matter of matriculation, of entry upon a new path, is one that greets most people in the autumn of the year, particularly in the gathering of religious communities, like our own.
A real partnership of the Gospel will depend upon a common hope. It is not enough for us to recall the common faith of John Dewey. It is not enough for us to recall the common ground of Howard Thurman. On a reliable, common hope hang our future. What are the features of the common hope, this partnership, this partnership of the Gospel? We have preached some of them this year. T. Something temporal. A heart for the heart of the city—a longing to heal the spiritual culture of the land. U. Something universal. An interreligious setting. L. Something of love. A developed expression of contrition. I. Something imaginative. A keen sense of imagination. P. Some real power. An openness to power and presence. A capacity for partnership, heart to heart, that rests on a faith in the partnership of God in the Gospel.
The human being for all his and her faults, has a capacity for wonder, for love, for courage, for the mutuality of work in partnership, on which this fragile globe depends. The best speech I have heard was by Mario Cuomo, who at the close said he would like to be remembered by one word, ‘participant’. As Charles Darwin’s exhibit reminds us, for all the changes that reason and experience have brought us, which we need not fear: “there is a grandeur about this view of life…” Nearby we have leading thinkers who write about imagination with creativity and about creation with imagination.
Are We Open to Partnership?
Hear the Good News. The God to whom Jesus prayed, and of Whom Paul spoke, and in Whom we live has opened up a heavenly prospect, an eternal meadow of fellowship. We are left today with a lasting question. Are we open to partnership? Are we open to a kind of life formed in the Gospel of Partnership? Are we ready, willing and able to live as the gospel teaches?
We need one another. We need healthy partnerships: of learning and piety, of church and school, of school and university, of pulpit and lectern, of words and music, of lay and clergy, of women and men. To the partnership of the Gospel we turn, for labor, in love, in the next decade. Will you respond? You are gathered here today for a reason, the partnership of the Gospel. Will you act?
Are we ready to live as those who remember Romans 12: 1-9 (recited)?
Howard Thurman wrote:
For this is why we were born: People, all people, belong to each other, and he who shuts himself away diminishes himself, and he who shuts another away from him destroys himself.
Will you embrace the partnership of the Gospel?
-The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean