Monday, January 29, 2018

Being Beloved in a Beloved Community

Sermon preached on the Second Sunday after Epiphany, January 14, 2018 at St. Thomas' Church, Bath:  John 1:43-51

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” (John 1:45-46)

           In invitations to come to church, these are the only essential words, “Come and see.”  But we need to know, those of us who are doing the inviting, Come and see what?

           First a slight recap from last week’s sermon, since this one follows directly on that.

           I mentioned last week that in Mark’s Gospel Jesus literally comes out of “nowhere,” and this is echoed her in John’s Gospel.  “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  Nathanael is not being critical, he’s just telling it how it is:  no one expected anything earth-chattering to come out of Nazareth.

           So I said Jesus came out of nowhere. Then, like many other people, he was attracted to John’s baptizing and was baptized himself.  All perfectly normal, except for the Holy Spirit coming down like a dove and a voice pronouncing him God’s Beloved.

           John says that Jesus will baptize us with a baptism of the Holy Spirit, and that is how we are baptized, into Jesus baptism, in which we are named God’s Beloved in a bond that is a promise for ever.

           The life of faith for each one of us is a living as if that state of Belovedness is the truest thing about us.

           As I said last week, that is a piece of astoundingly good news.

           Today we go one step further, and remind ourselves that a very big part of living into our Belovedness is learning to live with and encourage the Belovedness of those around us.  Living into our Belovedness includes living into a Community of Belovedness, or Beloved Community.

           And that is what we should be inviting people to “come and see.”  Not come and see our beautiful building.  Not come and hear our stunning music.  Not come and experience our wonderful liturgy.  Not come and hear outstanding sermons.  None of that.  Come and see our beloved community.

           It is a good and joyful thing for us to talk about beloved community today because tomorrow is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and beloved community was Martin’s vision.

           In 1956, at the First Annual Institute on Non-violence and Social Change held in Montgomery, Alabama, Dr. King said:

We have before us the glorious opportunity to inject a new dimension of love into the veins of our civilization. There is still a voice crying out in terms that echo across the generations, saying: Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you, that you may be children of your Father which is in Heaven. This love might well be the salvation of our civilization. This is why I am so impressed with our motto for the week, “Freedom and Justice through Love.” Not through violence; not through hate; no, not even through boycotts; but through love. It is true that as we struggle for freedom in America we will have to boycott at times. But we must remember as we boycott that a boycott is not an end within itself; … the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. It is this type of understanding good will that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.

           The miracle of Beloved Community.  The gift from God of Beloved Community, where opposers are transformed into friends, where the pledge to love one another is greater than any difference between us.

           Those words were spoken sixty-two years ago.  The road to beloved community has seen forward movement and backward movement.  In 2018, they are as fresh as they were before I was born.  They are certainly as urgent as they were then, and maybe even more so when the reality is the divisions among us are deep and wide, and there is no Dr. King to point a way forward, and even if there were we would now be filtering him or her through the membrane of any bubble we live in.

           It would be difficult to heart words like these because we have succumbed to “spin” as “news.”  We increasingly allow others to do our listening and thinking and interpreting for us. We simply soak up whatever we are told.  We have given incredible power to idealogues on all sides of the political and social spectrum, and the one thing idealogues can never lead us into is beloved community.

           Simply being beloved as an individual is hard. Living in beloved community is even harder, and the biggest reason it is harder is because beloved individuals don’t stop being beloved individuals.  Living in beloved community is not living as if race or creed or social outlook or sexual orientation or gender or anything else that makes us individuals does not matter.

           Beloved community is not all of our differences melted down so that we are all the same.  Beloved community is like participating in a choir, where every individual voice matters and the individual voices together make a unique sound.

           Beloved community is not a community where our differences are set aside, but where they are celebrated, as well as challenged, formed and re-formed.  Beloved community cannot exist where people are unwilling to listen and from time to time change.

           I hope you do not take what I have said as a scolding, but as a challenge and a vision, to be the People of God together that we are called to be, in the hard work of loving each other with that same “forever promise” as God loves each one of us.

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