"The Beloved Community
(Exodus 12:1-14; Psalm 149; Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-20)
Today begins our 2017-2018 church school year. Summer vacation from school has ended, personal vacations have been taken, and school-year schedules have begun. We gather together, today, to begin this new church school year.
As creatures made in the image of God, we are created to live in relationship to one another, as the persons of the Trinity do: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in perpetual, loving relationship with one another. When we are in relationship to others, we form communities. Marriages are a community of two people. Families are a community of three or more people. Villages, towns, and cities are communities of families. Counties are communities of villages, towns, and cities. States are communities of counties. The USA is a community of states. Continents are communities of countries. Oceans are communities of sea life. And the Earth is a community of continents and oceans. And within all of these communities are other communities: arts communities, sports communities, book group communities, and so on. There are endless types of communities.
The type of community I want to focus on today, the first Sunday of the new church school year, is the church community. The church community is a special community: It was called into being by God in order to be the body of Christ in the world. Jesus is no longer on Earth in person, so his disciples, gathered together in churches, are his body. We are to seek his will and walk in his way, inspired and sustained by the Holy Spirit.
Over my years of being a Christian as an adult, I have come to think of and call the church community The Beloved Community. I don’t know where I first heard or became aware of this phrase, but it is the phrase that I apply to church communities, so that’s the title I chose for this sermon. After I chose the title, I thought I’d google it to see if I could figure out where I had first heard the phrase. Lo and behold, Martin Luther King, Jr., popped up as the person who had made the phrase popular. The phrase didn’t originate with King, however. It originated with the early twentieth-century philosopher Josiah Royce, but I’m not going to focus on him. Instead, I’d like to share what the phrase meant to King when he spoke of it as his ultimate goal. According to the King Center,
"For Dr. King, The Beloved Community was not a lofty utopian goal to be confused with the rapturous image of the Peaceable Kingdom, in which lions and lambs coexist in idyllic harmony. Rather, The Beloved Community was for him a realistic, achievable goal that could be attained by a critical mass of people committed to and trained in the philosophy and methods of nonviolence."
"Dr. King’s Beloved Community is a global vision, in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth. In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood. In the Beloved Community, international disputes will be resolved by peaceful conflict-resolution and reconciliation of adversaries, instead of military power. Love and trust will triumph over fear and hatred. Peace with justice will prevail over war and military conflict."
King’s vision of The Beloved Community sounds an awful lot like Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God. For example, take the passage from the Letter to the Romans that was read today:
Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet"; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, "Love your neighbor as yourself." (13:8-9)
All the “shall nots” of the Ten Commandments are really “shall loves.” If you love, then you fulfill ALL of the law; ALL of it!
Or, take the passage from the Gospel According to Matthew that was read today:
"If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (18:15-17)
You’ll notice that the first course of action when someone in the church community sins against you is to communicate with the person one-on-one. In other words, start with the most loving response by keeping the sin between the two of you and trying to resolve the transgression. If that doesn’t work, you take a few others with you and communicate to the person. The most loving thing didn’t work, so you do the next loving thing, which is to involve just a few others. If that doesn’t work, you involve the whole church community in the conversation. And, if that doesn’t work, you let go of the situation. You don’t curse the person, or take revenge, but you, also, don’t allow the person to keep sinning against you (what we might call abuse today). You don’t sin against him or her, either. You walk away. We are, ultimately, powerless over others, so we do our best, inspired by God, and if that doesn’t work, we take care of ourselves.
This is what King had to say about the nonviolent method put forth by the Bible and interpreted by him:
"There are certain things we can say about this method that seeks justice without violence. It does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent but to win his friendship and understanding. I think that this is one of the points, one of the basic points, one of the basic distinguishing points between violence and non-violence. The ultimate end of violence is to defeat the opponent. The ultimate end of non-violence is to win the friendship of the opponent. It is necessary to boycott sometimes but the non-violent resister realized that boycott is never an end within itself, but merely a means to awaken a sense of shame within the oppressor; that the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption. And so the aftermath of violence is bitterness; the aftermath of non-violence is the creation of the beloved community; the aftermath of non-violence is redemption and reconciliation. This is a method that seeks to transform and to redeem, and win the friendship of the opponent, and make it possible for men to live together as brothers in a community, and not continually live with bitterness and friction."
King had a universal vision of The Beloved Community. He wanted the whole world to become The Beloved Community. I guess, actually, that’s what we all want, right? Isn’t that why we have chosen to become disciples of Jesus? We have experienced and understand the redemptive power of love – which is, inherently, nonviolent. We have been saved and redeemed by the nonviolent, redemptive power of God’s gracious, merciful, and peaceful love. We KNOW it’s power personally! And we would like the whole world to know it and to live it. We, too, would like the whole world to become The Beloved Community.
That is why we come here on Sunday mornings to worship. That is why we participate in hospitality and fellowship at coffee time. That is why we attend Bible study. That is why we sing in the choir and in Heavenbound. That is why we stay late on Sundays to go to board and council meetings or to lead worship at Cherry Brook. We would like the whole word to become The Beloved Community, but we know that such a world-wide community must begin somewhere, and that somewhere is in each church, and our church is this church, the Canton Community Baptist Church. The Body of Christ is made up of churches all over the world. We do our part here; others do their parts in other places; and, together, The Beloved Community grows and spreads the gracious, merciful, peaceful love of God in the world.
This church school year, may we be the best Beloved Community we can be right here, with these people and in this place, so that, one day, the whole world may become The Beloved Community of God. Amen.
Sermon preached by the Rev. Amy Johnson, Canton Community Baptist Church, Canton, CT, Sunday, September 10, 2017, the Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost.
Image is from https://paxchristiusa1.files.wordpress.com/2016/02/belovedcommunity.jpg?w=712