The sermon from Sunday, June 25, 2017 on Matthew 10:40-42, when we celebrated Beloved’s 17th Anniversary
Statistics will tell you that many new church starts fail. Conventional wisdom runs that the most successful ones appeal to a particular target demographic – and they end up being pretty homogeneous. Having a group of people who are very much alike works relatively well as a substantive basis of community.
Even under those circumstances it’s not an easy task to build community and connection in this world. It’s especially not an easy task to build community and connection among people who are quite different from one another.
Yet the realm of God is populated by all God’s people.
I think about this congregation and find for all our diversity we have something that makes us alike: we want to be a part of a community that looks like the realm of God, that is indeed populated by all God’s people.
We are alike in our embrace of our differences – and we as a congregation embody – literally embody – so many of these differences.
We really are black and white and gay and straight and poor and affluent and cis- and transgender. We are young and old and in-between. We are physically disabled and mentally ill – and not. We are from different parts of the state and the country and outside of the country. We come from all sorts of church and non-church backgrounds.
And we are glad of it. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. It is often not comfortable.
When I say to people that we are not a mega-church, nor are we trying to be, that emerges from the fact that we invite people into discomfort – especially in the ways in which we ourselves embody relative cultural privilege – whether that’s through being white or male or straight or relatively affluent or nondisabled or just the right age or body type for society’s conventions or cisgender or non-immigrant.
We invite one another into accountability and relationship and something beyond the glorified individualism of our culture. We do so as a holy act.
That is bold, but it is not always popular.
That is our journey. Beloved Community Church has been on a 17-year ongoing journey of welcoming all in the name of Jesus, for in doing so we welcome Jesus and the gracious and loving God who sent Jesus.
You see several components in this short scripture, right? It invokes the prophet, the righteous person, and the merciful soul who shares a cup of cold water. Our work as Christians requires us to strive for prophetic justice, for sacred justice, for a world that recognizes the inherent dignity of all human beings.
A world where none would be denied access to healthcare or nourishing food or decent shelter because they are not among the wealthiest people on the planet.
A world where none would be denied loving and supportive relationships with family and friends and colleagues because they are queer or trans.
A world where none would be denied basic respect for their full humanity and intrinsic worth because they are black or non-English speaking or disabled.
A world where the Earth would be treasured rather than exploited.
A world that is decolonized in body, mind, and spirit because Jesus resisted empire NOT in the name of recreating another empire, but with the intent of making manifest the realm of God.
A world where of course we will offer a cup of cold water to the little ones.
A cup of clean, cold water to the little ones of Flint, Michigan.
To the little ones of Uniontown, Alabama and Union Springs, Alabama.
To the little ones of Niger and Mali and Bangladesh and Thailand and El Salvador and Bolivia.
A cup of mercy in the name of Jesus because we follow Jesus. Because it is the due right of all God’s people – and we are all God’s people.
Seeing this reality is not easy on the journey of life in this world. That is why we gather here to do the work of righteousness. For to be righteous in this day and age is to be humble and confident and joyous and grieving, all in the name of Jesus as we strive to set aside our egos and allow God to work through us.
It is not easy to live this way in a world that soaks us in fear and greed, scarcity and meanness. That is why we do the work of spiritual formation in community together, so that we have the strength and the courage and the tenacity and the hope to keep walking in the ways of Jesus, striving for a world where no one is an outcast and no one is a stranger.
The philosopher Hannah Arendt, whom I quote here from time to time, suggests that it is the condition of alienation and loneliness, the absence of conversation and connection with others and even with our own selves, that fosters the rise of totalitarianism in our world.
Let us affirm that the work of moral imagination requires us to hear the cry of the world’s deepest needs, to bear witness to its most whole-hearted joys, and to nurture compassion and wisdom wherever we can.
To do so, we continue to open our hearts and our minds to one another and to our own souls.
This is the work of the Church. This is the commitment of this congregation, past, present, and future. This is the calling of God upon our lives.