Becoming The Beloved Community: A 2nd Principle Sermon
Rev. Jane Page
October 1, 2006
When I was growing up in Statesboro in the 1950’s, we used to visit my granddaddy’s farm. We would go out there to ride the ponies or pick vegetables from one of the gardens, or pull-up peanuts, or fish in the pond. Now I don’t want to pretend that I was ever really a farm worker. My daddy once told someone that the only cotton I had ever picked was out of an aspirin bottle. And that’s the truth. But my daddy loved that farm. And when my granddaddy died in 1962, daddy sold the extra property he owned – like our cabin at Cypress Lake and the little house that he and mom first lived in – and borrowed money – so he could pay his other family members for their shares of that farm and own it for himself. And he farmed it for a good long while – when it was still possible for one to be successful as a businessman and part-time farmer. Although he visited the farm often, his goal was to move to the farm and live there. So he and mama worked really hard and saved their money till they could build their dream house on the farm. In the last days of his life, his dementia was pretty bad and sometimes he would forget where he was. Once, he asked my Mama – “I didn’t sell the farm, did I?” And she said, “Oh No! You didn’t sell it. We live here. We built our house right where the Turner’s used to live? And that’s where we are right now. We are at home – on the farm?” And he said, “We are?” And just smiled a big smile.
You know – just like my childhood visits to the farm, we tend to visit “the beloved community” sometimes. It’s a wonderful place where our 2nd principle of affirming justice, equity, and compassion in all our human relations seems to shine. What a wonderful gathering of the beloved community we had here in this place last Sunday evening – when folks from different cities and different faiths joined together to lift us up at my ordination and installation. And their love did lift us up and we lifted them up till we were all dancing in the air. One of my former Baptists Sunday School teachers who attended told me she was so uplifted by our service that when it was over she was felt ready to be lifted on up to heaven. What a tribute to this beloved community. And then we continued that beloved community spirit at the Averitt Center. That glorious food that you all cooked nourished our bodies as excellently as the service nourished our spirits.
Then during this last week, I’ve witnessed the Primitive Baptists as they too visited the beloved community and reached out to all of my family in the aftermath of my dad’s death – no matter who we were or what we believed – to shower us with love and compassion – (and more food too!) And I felt blessed to be among them.
But like my granddaddy’s (and later my daddy’s) farm, the beloved community tends to be somewhere we visit – but not where we live. We go there at special times – when disaster strikes – or when a special celebration occurs – but then we go back to our regular homes and draw the curtains. Our goal should be to make the beloved community our home. Not that we won’t leave it sometimes – because we are human – but it should be home, the place we come back to and where we work and live and have our being. Now it may not be that easy. We may not be able to do it all at once. But like my hard working mom and dad, we should be working on getting there.
“The Beloved Community” is a term that was first coined in the early days of the 20th century by the philosopher-theologian Josiah Royce, who founded the Fellowship of Reconciliation. However, it was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., also a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, who popularized the term and invested it with a deeper meaning which has captured the imagination of people of good will all over the world.
(King Center Web Page).
According to the King Center Web page:
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….
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, …love and trust will triumph over fear and hatred. Peace with justice will prevail over war and military conflict.
Dr. King’s Beloved Community was not devoid of interpersonal, group or international conflict. Instead he recognized that conflict was an inevitable part of human experience. But he believed that conflicts could be resolved peacefully and adversaries could be reconciled through a mutual, determined commitment to nonviolence. No conflict, he believed, need erupt in violence. And all conflicts in The Beloved Community should end with reconciliation of adversaries cooperating together in a spirit of friendship and goodwill.
If you look at or read the news, we seem to be so far from this goal in the world today, that you wonder if we should just throw our hands up in despair. It seems impossible. When things in my life seem impossible, I try to remember the serenity prayer. That is – to be granted the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. And there ARE things I can do that will help us toward that bigger goal of living in the beloved community. Our “story for all ages” provides us with a good example. We can begin with our neighbors.
Jesus said – “love your neighbor as yourself.” And when asked, “Who is my neighbor?” – told the story that we’ve come to know as “The Good Samaritan.” Now, I’ve heard this story all my life. And for much of it, I thought – YES, we need to be good neighbors to the Samaritans – to those who are oppressed and looked down upon. And, in fact, one reason I was drawn to Unitarian Universalism was because of their work for social justice and civil rights. But I was missing a major teaching of this story. The SAMARITAN was the good neighbor because HE reached out to one who was a member of a group that was narrower in their focus. He reached out to those whose teachings were oppressive. And that’s where we Unitarian Universalists seem to have a hard time.
Who is our neighbor? As the Reverend Rosemary Bray McNatt reminds us:
Not just the hungry, not just the homeless, not just the prisoner, not just the lonely heart. (She goes on to say) Our neighbor is the brother – like my own brother – who is a born again Christian. Our neighbor is the mother, like my own mother – who is a member of an evangelical church. Who is our neighbor? Our neighbor is the co-worker who leaves tracts on your desk; our neighbor is the family who won’t let your children play with their children because they are not saved. Who is our neighbor? Our neighbor is the protestor who claims that God hates faggots; our neighbor is the evangelist who declares women should be silent in the churches; our neighbor is the neighbor who invites you to prayer meeting and encourages you to leave that place you say is a church but she knows is really a cult. All these people are our neighbors: not just the ones we like, or feel good about talking to, or have hopes will one day see the light of liberal faith. We cannot create the radical change in the world that liberal religion is meant to create if we are only hanging out with one another; we cannot offer a healing alternative to the religiously injured, lying half dead on the road of life, by keeping our faith a private pleasure. We can create radical change only with radical engagement, only with the radical faith modeled in the ministries of so many faithful prophets and sages and wise people.
Now let me quickly add that it’s understandable why many of us have a hard time reaching out to some groups, especially more conservative Christians. Many of us have been in situations where we personally have been hurt by some of the teachings of these churches. And the sting of rejection of whom we are or what we believe lasts a long time. I knowthat.
However, if we are going to swim with Christian churches, we don’t need to dive in that shallow end of the water and hit our head on the rocks causing us more pain. We can dive in at a deeper point – or wade in shallow water – and let our love stir it up – and we’ll be okay – especially if we have other UU swimming buddies with us.
In my message on September 10, I shared with you that we had been invited to participate with the First Presbyterian Church in building a habitat house here in Statesboro in February. I believe that this is something that we can do that will help us move toward the beloved community. Now I’m not naïve enough to believe that Habitat for Humanity alone can help all have affordable housing – but it’s one way – and it’s also a way to work with other caring people toward a common goal.
On our sign outside, there is a quote from a famous Unitarian – Francis David. It’s been up there for quite a while, and I was concerned for a while that it had not been changed. But maybe we need to read it over and over again. What does it say?
“We need not think alike to love alike.”
That seems to be especially applicable for our consideration of this habitat project. We have the opportunity to join together with other people of faith in making a difference to some family. And in doing so, I predict that we could make a difference in our own church communities and in the community of Statesboro. If we really want folks to be more open to us and to others, they have to get to know us. That’s how we overcome our prejudices. And we have to get to know them also. In the days leading up to my dad’s death, I had the opportunity to meet with the Primitive Baptist minister on three or four occasions. And you know – I think that he thinks I’m a good person trying to live out my calling. And I believe he’s doing the same. Now if someone says something negative to him about UU’s, he’s going to think about me – and he’s going to think twice before just swallowing any negative views. Many of you also have good relationships with folks outside of our fellowship. But they may not know that you are a Unitarian Universalist – or perhaps you just have an unwritten guideline not to talk about it. In any case, we need to make opportunities to be SEEN as Unitarian Universalists living out our principles.
Habitat for Humanity can provide us with this opportunity. Now when I first brought forth this proposal to the board, someone said – “But Habitat is a Christian organization, and our folks need to understand that so they will be prepared.” And, indeed, Habitat does identify as an Ecumenical Christian organization. But Habitat’s founder, Millard Fuller, realized the importance of being inclusive. Therefore, Habitat has an open-door policy: All who desire to be a part of this work are welcome, regardless of religious preference or background. Fuller states that the theology that is important in this work is simply, “The Theology of the Hammer.” He agreed with Francis David that we don’t have to think or believe alike to love alike. And the way he asks us to demonstrate that love is with the hammer. Many Unitarian Universalist churches have been active for years with Habitat for Humanity. And now, our fellowship has that opportunity here in Statesboro. Also, I’d like to remind our folks that we, too, claim Christianity as our heritage. It may or may not be the theology that you identify with – but it’s certain a foundational aspect of our denomination. Reclaiming our ties to our Christian heritage will help us as we work together with others in Statesboro to make the beloved community a reality.
I have this hammer with my name on it indicating that I want to be a part of this project. There are different ways to participate – by helping to raise money, by cooking for the workers on one of the Saturdays, or by actually being on site swinging a hammer or bringing water to others who do so. If you would like to participate in ways great or small, I invite you to put your name on a hammer also and tape it to this display.
Folks, the beloved community is not just a great place to visit – it’s where I want to live. (Sing) Come and go with me to that land.