Sunday, August 27, 2017 – St. Bartholomew’s Day
1 Corinthians 4:9-15
Chaos or Beloved Community – the Decision is Ours
Ken and I had been back from England for two full days when the horror unfolded in Charlottesville. The next morning, we went to Green Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church in Portland, because we needed to be in church. They were gracious and welcoming, and it was powerful to be there. We heard an amazing sermon preached by Pastor Kenneth L. Lewis, as we knew we would, and some rocking Gospel music by their band. But it felt a little strange to be visiting another church community that Sunday.
Last week, we went to Christ Church Gardiner, where Kerry is now serving as a deacon, and it was good to be there. Though in a very different, more subtle, white Mainer kind of way. But again, not our church. At times like these, when it feels like the world is fragmenting, I find I have a strong homing instinct, and I don’t think I am alone in that. Like the sheep we met so many of on our trek through the Lake Country in England – there’s a lot to be said for being part of your own flock! There’s safety and comfort in numbers and familiarity, in knowing and being known. That instinct’s natural, reasonable even. At its best, it can be the fabric of a healthy community. At its worst, it devolves into tribalism, an “us against them at all costs” mindset that’s part of what’s plaguing our nation.
So while it’s good to be here, in this community, we know we can’t use this community to shield us from what’s going on in the world, or to pretend that here, within this bubble, we are somehow unaffected by, or not responsible for the disintegrating fabric of our culture.
Being part of a healthy church community can be challenging, it requires something of us – relationship and authenticity, a willingness to be self-aware and a desire to make room for the other, to hear other opinions, and to value the integrity of the whole. As a community of God’s Beloved, we strive to mirror the kingdom of God, to serve rather than be served, to be like St. Bartholomew – that “also an apostle,” who gets named only once or twice in the Gospels, might be Bartholomew, might be Nathaniel, who knows? Doesn’t matter, it’s not about recognition, or who is the greatest – it’s about serving in the name of Christ; about going to the ends of the earth, bearing the message of the Gospel, bringing the peace and love of Christ. Being a witness of that love to world, in word and deed.
But how do we witness to that love, in what feels like an extraordinarily dark and difficult time in our history?
In his commencement speech to the graduation class of 2017 of Middlebury College, Jon Meacham addressed this same question, what can we do now, in our own time? Meacham is a Presidential historian, former editor of Newsweek, professor, author, winner of the Pulitzer prize for biography – and faithful Episcopalian; here’s a portion of that speech:
[As] Arthur Schlesinger Jr. once said, self-righteousness in retrospect is easy, also cheap. And so while we are right to condemn posterity for slavery, or for Native American removal, or for denying women their full role in the life of the nation, we should also pause and think: what injustices are we perpetuating even now that will one day face the harshest of verdicts by those who come after us? And what then can we do to right those wrongs in our own time?
It is in the answer to those questions—what can we do now—that history, at least as a popular sensibility, can find its motive force in our daily lives. … For if the men and women of the past—with all their flaws and limitations and ambitions and appetites— could press on through ignorance and superstition, racism and sexism, selfishness and greed, to form a more perfect union, then perhaps we, too, can right wrongs and leave the world … a better place than we found it.
And great change does not always come from the top. We live in a nation redeemed by the courage and the blood of African Americans, particularly in my native South, who braved humiliation and death to force white America to face up to the sins and shortcomings of an established order that denied people of color a full part in the life of the country. We must forever remember their sacrifice, honor their achievements, and be inspired by their example.
(In the last two weeks, Meacham has written with shocked heartache about the history of American hate.)
There is obviously much more work to be done, for all of us. As people of faith, in community, the question before us calls out with an urgency that is troubling, disturbing, – what do we do? Given the state of anguish and turmoil in our nation – as Christians, how do we respond?
I’d like to share this word to The Church, from our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry: [Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? August 18, 2017]
In this moment – when the stain of bigotry has once again covered our land, and when hope, frankly, sometimes seems far away, when we must now remember new martyrs of the way of love like young Heather Heyer – it may help to remember the deep wisdom of the martyrs who have gone before.
The year was 1967. It was a time not unlike this one in America. Then there were riots in our streets, poverty and unbridled racism in our midst, and a war far away tearing us apart at home. In that moment, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote a book, his last one, with a message that rings poignant today. It was titled, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?”
One of his insights then was that a moment of crisis is always a moment of decision. It was true then and is true now. Where do we go from here? Chaos? Indifference? Avoidance? Business as usual? Or Beloved Community? I’m a follower of Jesus of Nazareth because I believe the teachings, the Spirit, the Person, the life, death, and
resurrection of Jesus have shown us the way through the chaos to true community as God has intended from the beginning. Through the way of love, he has shown us the way to be right and reconciled with the God and Creator of us all. Through his way of love, he has shown us the way to be right and reconciled with each other as children of God, and as brothers and sisters. In so doing, Jesus has shown us the way to become the Beloved Community of God. St. Paul said it this way: “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself” and now he has entrusted us with “the message of reconciliation”
(2 Corinthians 5:19).
The way of Beloved Community is our only hope. In this most recent unveiling of hatred, bigotry, and cruelty, as Neo-Nazis marched and chanted, “The Jews will not replace us,” we have seen the alternative to God’s Beloved Community. And that alternative is simply unthinkable. It is nothing short of the nightmare of human self-destruction and the destruction of God’s creation. And that is unthinkable, too.
We who follow Jesus have made a choice to walk a different way: the way of disciplined, intentional, passionate, compassionate, mobilized, organized love intent on creating God’s Beloved Community on earth. …
In the days and weeks to come, as we gather in community to worship God and then move about in our homes, neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, social circles and more, we will be faced with a choice. I ask and invite us as congregations and individuals who are together the Episcopal Church of the Jesus Movement to intentionally, purposely, and liturgically rededicate ourselves to the way of Jesus, the work of racial reconciliation, the work of healing and dismantling everything that wounds and divides us, the work of becoming God’s Beloved Community. …
Where do we go from here? Maybe the venerable slave songs from our American past can help us. In the midst of their suffering, they used to sing …
Walk together children
And don’t you get weary.
Cause there’s a great camp meeting In the promised land.
We will walk there … together. We will make this soil on which we live more and more like God’s own Promised Land. So God love you. God bless you. And let’s all keep the faith.
The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry Presiding Bishop and Primate The Episcopal Church
Our Presiding Bishop, our Chief Evangelism Officer, and Preacher – walking in the footsteps of those who walked before him, disciples and apostles, ordinary people, following the way of Jesus… and inviting us to join him. To create a better world – one that reflects the Kingdom of God.
In May, the Episcopal Church began a comprehensive approach toward the work of racial reconciliation, which is called “Becoming Beloved Community.” In the next few months, we will have the opportunity to explore this multi-staged process together, as we move toward transformation, justice, and healing.
But for now, it’s just so good to be home, in our particular portion of the Beloved Community, the community of St. Bart’s, Yarmouth, on this, St. Bartholomew’s Day. Together, let us rededicate ourselves to the work we have been given to do: becoming more fully God’s Beloved Community, actively participating in the reconciling love of God for the world, with courage and conviction in the days ahead. There’s work to do, I’m so very glad we’re doing it together.