This is a summary of my sermon at St. James Episcopal Church in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, on February 18, 2018. St. James is embarked on a Lenten study of Becoming Beloved Community, a response to race, racism, and racial justice and reconciliation during the season of Lent, under the guidance of the Rev. Rebecca Jones. I followed up on the subject in more detail during the Adult Forum following the worship service.
The Gospel appointed for today, February 18, 2018, is Mark 1:9-15, in which the Spirit descended upon Jesus at his baptism and a voice from heaven said, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
The Episcopal Church’s gospel teaching in the current and the next triennium is centered on “Becoming Beloved Community,” a curriculum and theological outline of the Church’s thinking on racial justice and reconciliation. The Church is clear that this work on the subject of racism is part of our Christian Formation work. It is part of our call to live into our Baptismal Covenant.
What does “Beloved” mean? To be called “Beloved” is to be told that you are loved beyond measure. But “Becoming Beloved Community” is not just about us and our church community being the beloved ones. It is also about how we extend belovedness to our neighbors in church, in our community, in our state, in our nation, and to the entire global community of humankind.
We are called “Beloved Children of God.” We are created in God’s image, imbued with characteristics of God shaped in us like kindness, compassion, friendliness, helpfulness, and generosity. God calls us to live into our belovedness for the sake of others—not just people we know, but also people we have yet to meet and know.
Our Baptismal Covenant asks us five questions, found on page 293 of the Book of Common Prayer. To each question, we respond, “I will, with God’s help.”
1. Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers? The work of anti-racism, which means to interrupt racism wherever we encounter it, is an important part of our work of Christian Formation for ourselves and for our Church community. This is the work of study, prayer, and amendment of life.
2. Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? It is important to tell the truth about our human failings, our sinfulness, with regard to racism, in order to repent and return to the Lord. Repentance is not a once-and-done thing. We must acknowledge anew each time our words and actions intentionally or unintentionally treat other people as less than us because of the color of their skin or their culture, family background, or country of origin.
3. Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? Proclamation is both words and actions. Say “No” to micro-aggressions like jokes that rely on stereotypes of certain people based on superficial characteristics. Say “No” to harmful language and name-calling when talking to or referring to people based on what they look like. We are all more than our skin color or any physical attributes.
4. Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? This fourth question is about the Golden Rule—loving our neighbors as ourselves. A higher standard is to strive to love others as Jesus loves us.
5. Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? Our baptisms call us into being a good neighbor to people who are different from us in our churches, in our communities, in our states, and in our country, and finally, in the global human community. We are called to interrupt and eliminate racism and every other kind of “ism” or unfair way that we treat people.
This past week has been full of examples of the Beloved. February 14th was Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. We celebrated our romantic Beloveds, and we began a season of quiet, reflection, and prayer, looking toward Easter, because we are Easter people, resurrection people. But February 14th was also the day of a horrific school shooting, and Beloveds were students, teachers, staff, and family of the Parkland, Florida, school and all of us who prayed for them.
I want to mention anger and sadness, which are certainly the emotions that arise when a school shooting occurs. I have learned through a couple of years of meditating on anger and sadness that it’s important for our spiritual health and our ability to move forward to move out of anger into sadness. Instead of staying stuck in anger, reflect on the parts of the incident that make you sad, because sadness can lead you into compassion for the afflicted and into action to do something that makes things different.
February 16th was Asian Lunar New Year, in which a different branch of the Beloved Community celebrates their new year, marked by cultural practices such as the collective celebration of everyone’s birthday advancing a year each lunar new year. The national conversation around immigrants and migrants is another example of Beloveds. We know from science the importance of diversity in biology: rotated crops are stronger crops, and cross-bred dogs produce stronger, healthier dogs. We also know of many important discoveries and inventions made by immigrants that have improved our lives.
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been working on a writing project for the church, reading scripture, taking notes, and writing reflections on ideas for each of the Sundays in Pentecost. Two things jumped out at me from that study:
§ God’s love is steadfast. It is unwavering and unchanging. God loves us, God’s creation, no matter what. We are beloved of God.
§ Jesus has utmost patience for us. Jesus loves us in all of our sinfulness and sticks with us as we struggle with sin and figure things out.
What two great things to aspire to—to emulate God’s steadfast love for humanity and to try to have utmost patience for others who disappoint or hurt us. These two things are essential to Becoming Beloved Community.
Remember, we are Beloved Children of God and a Member of the Body of Christ. This is our core identity. Amen.