Year B; 6 Easter; 5.6.2018
[DRAW large red heart on the flipchart with the heading “God is LOVE The Beloved Community”]
Last week, I gave a “homework” assignment to the 8 and 10:30 congregations. We talked a lot about love because our reading, the First Letter of John was all about love.
“Beloved, let us love one another because love is from God.”
We talked about being beloved because God loves us first. We talked about loving others because God loves us first. We talked about our community as the Beloved Community.
The assignment was to ask you to think about and pray about what is the character of the Beloved Community. And I’d like very much to hear what you say is the character of the Beloved Community. Will you shout out your responses to me and I’ll write them on the heart I just drew on the flipchart.
[Write all the responses in the heart on the flipchart]
These are the words that came to me, “Compassion, Generosity.”
This is a very good list. I’ll post it in the Great Hall and invite others to write their words on it.
Today, we heard more lessons about love. In John’s gospel, Jesus gathers with his disciples for the last time before he went to die on the cross. He gave them a “new commandment.” He said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Our Maundy Thursday observance in Holy Week is based on this commandment.
There was a cartoon posted on Facebook recently by “nakedpastor.com”, a funny religious cartoonist. The cartoon is of a mountain climber bedecked in backpack, hiking boots and a ball cap. He is hanging on the edge of the mountain, having climbed up to see the wise one seated at the top. He is peeking over the crest of the mountain to the calmly seated “wise figure.” It is Jesus. I know this because he is wearing a crown of thorns.
This is how the conversation goes:
The Hiking Man hanging on the edge, peering over it asks Jesus, “Any words of wisdom?”
Jesus says, “Yeah. Go back down and just love people will ya?”
Honestly, it’s a daily discipline. “Go back down and just love people!” It’s a choice. One theologian wisely argues that love is “…far from a mere feeling of euphoria.” It is much more than the, “I just can’t help falling in love with you,” famous romantic song of Elvis. “Love is a disciplined habit of care and concern that…can be perfected over a lifetime.” God chooses love every day. We can choose love every day.
The saying is, “You are known by the company you keep.” But in fact, “…following Jesus could make us become the company we keep.” We COULD be like Jesus over a lifetime. We COULD love like Jesus. And it’s a choice.
I remember early on in our faith journey, my late John and I wanted to learn more and more about God through worship and the classes for adults at St. Luke’s in Durham, North Carolina. Maybe our desire was to “keep company with Jesus” and his followers. I worked hard during the week in a harsh corporate setting. He worked construction and came home exhausted every day. We looked forward to Sundays at St. Luke’s because there were so many people at St. Luke’s who loved one another. We wanted to be like that.
The year I began my discernment for the priesthood, I was assigned to a small African American Church called St. Titus’. I was the only white person in that church. And my presence was welcomed with authentic joy, generosity, and friendship like I had never experienced before. It was The Beloved Community!
Father Monroe Freeman was my mentor and he trained me to be a Eucharistic Minister. I’ll never forget the first time I offered the chalice to a kneeling parishioner. Lowering the chalice to her lips gave me a feeling of warm connection, a mystical experience with another person sharing the “cup of salvation.” I was moved to tears and felt that connection every time I served the chalice.
I think this is a feeling people have from time to time when they serve God at the altar and in worship. Performing our liturgical tasks in the assembly of the faithful can be a mystical experience. That mystical experience is surely linked to our common bond of love with Christ.
In a few minutes, we are going to commission the St. Paul’s lay ministers of the liturgy. They are lay people trained and licensed by the bishop to do their ministry. They are Eucharistic Ministers, Lectors and Lay Worship Leaders.
These are 33 lay people who have been called by God to share in the holy ministry at the altar and in other settings of worship. If our average annual attendance on Sundays is 150 people, this means that almost 25 percent of our congregation participates joyfully and skillfully, and I would say, lovingly in worship. It means that they have the opportunity to connect with you and me in holy ways, coming nearer and nearer to God’s model of love.
If we look around this Beloved Community, we see in many ways how God’s model of love is unfolding. When four-year-old Estella ran in here last Sunday during 10:30 worship looking cheerily for her mother, I experienced a “sweet spirit” in us that welcomed her. No one said, “That child needs to know her place, and not interrupt worship!” Instead, we smiled as if to say, “Enter into the household of God, beloved one!”
And so, let us choose to love in the way God loves. Let us say to all, “Enter into the household of God, beloved one!”