This is the sermon the Rev. Karen Calafat preached at the diocesan worship service on the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, January 17, 2021.
John Lewis, civil rights icon, a contemporary of Martin Luther King, Jr’s and longtime U.S. Congressman, said, “Through nonviolence, courage displaces fear, love transforms hate. Acceptance dissipates prejudice, hope ends despair. Peace dominates war, faith reconciles doubt. Mutual regard cancels enmity. Justice for all overthrows injustice. The redemptive community supersedes systems of gross social immorality. Love is the central motif of nonviolence. Love is the force by which God binds man to Himself and man to man. Such love goes to the extreme; it remains loving and forgiving even in the midst of hostility. By appealing to conscience and standing on the moral nature of human existence, nonviolence nurtures the atmosphere in which reconciliation and peace become actual possibilities.”
The Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, reminded us this week to be about “God’s way of love” and then prayed from The Book of Common Prayer, “Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn but the sword of righteous, no strength known but the strength of Love…”
In the wake of the horrible attack on our Capital and the uncertainties of today and the days ahead, let us all return our focus to love – love of God, love of our neighbor and love for our country and democracy.
How do we do this? We begin by listening for the voice of God, we follow Jesus and we invite others to join us on God’s way of love.
Our Old Testament reading begins, “The word of the Lord was rare in those days….” That could easily be said of today, but I wonder if it is that we are too distracted to hear the word of God rather than God’s word being rare. The daily news has not been good for many months with the uncontrolled pandemic and ugly politics. Our attention is easily consumed with these news items. It is no wonder the word of God seems rare.
One of my mentors said, “What you focus on will grow.” When I focus on the horrible news of the world — fears around the pandemic and political chaos — I feel bad, fearful and sometimes hopeless. But when I focus on love — the small acts of kindness I witness from others, the integrity some demonstrate in making costly decisions — my hope is bolstered, and my faith strengthened.
When Jesus invited Philip, “Follow me,” it was an invitation to do what Jesus did. Live how Jesus lived. Love how Jesus loved. It was not unlike the children’s game of “Follow the Leader” where those following pay very close attention to every move the leader makes and try to do as the leader is doing. This is a great way to live life when the focus is on following the Christ whose way is always love, healing, reconciliation and redemption. Following a leader who is contrary to love, healing, reconciliation and redemption is dangerous, even destructive, to one’s self and one’s community.
Martin Luther King, Jr. grasped this concept almost innately. King dared to dream a dream “of becoming a nation that is generous to the vulnerable, welcomes strangers, ensures the well-being of everyone (even non-citizens) within its borders, and blends the individual and community in a diverse but beautiful harmony of harmonies. King invites us to a dream of national healing in which boarded up businesses become places of innovative thinking, in which rust-belt factories become meccas for “green” experimentation, and run-down schools become temples of the imagination.” (Bruce Epperly)
And King reminds us, “…the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men (and women).”
The Beloved Community, marked by love and goodwill toward others. The Beloved Community, a phrase from the American philosopher Josiah Royce, was used by Martin Luther King, Jr. and John Lewis to describe the Kingdom of God. The Beloved Community, explains King, is one “in which Jesus has made love the mark of sovereignty. … The Kingdom of God will be a society in which men and women live as children of God should live. It will be a kingdom controlled by the law of love.”
The Episcopal Church has started a campaign called, “From Many, One: Conversations Across Difference.” It is an invitation to engage with each other and our neighbors in listening and sharing across the differences that separate us. The conversations center on four questions:
- What do you love?
- What have you lost?
- Where does it hurt?
- What do you dream?
Echoing the Latin phrase on the U.S. seal – E Pluribus Unam (“from many”) Unum (“one”) – and following in the footsteps of Jesus, this campaign trusts that “the spiritual practice of conversation across difference can help to knit us all into a diverse, more perfect union.”
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry says, “Conversation with others across difference is not just a nice thing to do. It is a spiritual practice of love in action.”
What do you love?
What have you lost?
Where does it hurt?
What do you dream?
“So much of human action and thinking is driven not by hate or anger but by the urge to protect what we love. By asking and sharing our answers to “what do you love?” each of us has a chance to name and to hear what matters most to us and why. It is harder to argue when we start from what we love.” (TEC)
Jesus started the beloved community when he called Philip to follow him. Philip then invited his friends “come and see.” We are quick to share a bit of breaking news, recommend a good book or movie, or even share a new recipe. Let us also be quick to share the Good News of God’s way of Love. Let us practice the Spiritual Discipline of Love in Action. Let us embody Jesus’ example of love in all we do and in all we say. Let us invite others “come and see” – come and be the Beloved Community where hearts are changed by love.
Into our wounded and broken world, go now and ‘shine with the radiance of Christ’s love.’ Amen.