“The Beloved Community” 01/26/2020 by Rev. Stacy Swain (Click on title for audio)

Let us pray: Holy One:  Lead us out of what we think we may know and into what you know is possible for us.  Give us time and space and the courage to hear your call. And may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts lead us in your way.  Amen.

         This past weekend, I was in Minneapolis MN and over the course of my time there I ended up spending quite a bit of time in two rather peculiar, but strangely compelling places.   

         The first place I found myself in was the Mall of America, an enormous complex which truly is not just any mall, but is the mall of all malls, a mall claiming not to be of Bloomington where it is physically located, but instead a Mall of America.  A national Mall, full not of monuments to the past but of store front upon store front  promising in the most alluring of ways, what one’s future could be.

         I ended up in the mall of America for a good part of one morning because, it turns out that the Mall of America is a great place to walk when the temperature outside plus the wind chill plummets to a cold that is downright dangerous.   

         And so last Sunday morning, as you all were here, I was doing lap upon lap around the inside perimeter of the Mall of America

         As I made my rounds, I knew that Amy was sharing with you a word about sin and what that “Gone-wrongness” looks like in the racial injustice we experience today. But walking in that Mall of America, that National shrine of sorts, was to leave all of that messiness behind.  As I passed store upon store, those store fronts were full of displays of smiling beautiful, well-adjusted people enjoying the best that life had to offer. The Mall of America was anything but messy.  The white tiled floor gleamed.  The storefronts sparkled.  There was nothing out of place.  To walk its floors was to be assured that all was right and good in the world.  I would be lying if I said I did not feel its allure.

~~~

         The second place I found myself spending quite a bit of time in, a peculiar but compelling place that promised to transport me to a better place than where I was, was the Minneapolis airport.  I ended up spending more time there than I would have wanted as I awaited my departure to Boston.  As I sat there plane after plane departed to all sorts of fabulous destinations, the intercom system called out Cancun.   Honolulu.  Alaska  — so many interesting places calling to me, places far more interesting than where I was. 

~~~

         We are in a time of profound national and global discontent.  We know in our bones, I think, that change is needed.  We need to change our relationship with ourselves, each other, the world, and perhaps even with God.  We name racism. Name xenophobia. We name fear of those whose gender identity does not fit into the binary of male and female, we name the restlessness, the loneliness we feel in our own lives, the anxiety we feel and see in our kids. We know something is wrong and we want to make a change but the hard part is knowing how exactly we are go about making that change and what such a change could look like.

         That is why I think the messaging of the Mall of America and of that Airport are so alluring.  Are you looking for change?  Well here is a way.  How about this beautiful sweater and these lovely cream colored riding boots?  Want to make a new start?  I hear Cancun is lovely this time of year.

         There is of course another pathway to change of course that is a deep grove in our way of being with each other these days and that is not through  the escapism that the Mall of American and the airport metaphorical epitomize. If we feel the allure of escapism on one hand, we also feel the threat of the escalation of violence on the other.

         This is that loud and petulant voice that says that if change is needed it is not me but you who needs to change.    Judgement is fast and furious and the bellicosity of discourse is just a hairs edge to devolving into violence.  The is strong pull in our world these days to blame the other and direct all our animosity and energy them.  If they  would just go away, this thinking goes then all our problems would as well.   

          

         So here we are knowing change is needed, knowing gone wrong-ness is real, but the pathways we are being offered: escapism or the wratcheting  up of violent speech and action, we know are not going to lead us to where we truly need to go.  So, where do we turn?

         Where do we turn?  Turning is a powerful concept in the Biblical Witness.  Turning is to repent.  It is recognizing that some thing is not right and it is making the commitment to going in a different direction.  It is a change of heart and mind.  It is being willing to step into a different understanding of reality and what is possible.  It is what Jesus is calling us to in the scripture for today.

        

~~~

         In our Gospel passage today, we hear of the call of the disciples.  We hear the call through the Gospel of Mark but it is echoed in all four Gospels.  Calling the disciples somehow is an integral and important part of Jesus earthly ministry.  Often when we hear the calling of the disciples I think we hear a kind of escapism on the part of the disciples.  They are following Jesus because they cannot wait to leave behind the fishing life.  They must be dying to get out of Galilee and reinvent themselves in some much more attractive role and compelling place than the backwater of Galilee?  Or maybe we think that Jesus is calling them because he senses the hot headedness in them and if and when push comes to shove these are the guys that will not hesitate to take up a spear or un-sheef a sword.  But this is not the case.  

~~~

         These fisherman were not looking for a way to escape their lives on the sea, nor were a bunch of hot heads looking for a fight. Instead long before they were called as disciples of Jesus they were students of Torah.  Galilee it turns out was a center of devoted religious life.  The Galilean people were actually more educated in the Bible and its application than most Jews. More famous Jewish teachers come from Galilee than anywhere else in the world. They were known for their great reverence for Scripture and the passionate desire to be faithful to it. [1]The temple at Capernaum was vibrant.  In all of the Roman occupied area, the Galilee was known for a place of religious devotion.

         These fisherman would have grown up in the synagogue.  They would have heard the rabbis teach.  For them there would have been no greater honor that to be asked by a rabbi to follow him.  To follow meant to study with the rabbi, to eat and drink and live with the rabbi for a concentrated period of time so that the student could come to embody the message of the rabbi. 

         So when Jesus comes and walks a long the shoreline and calls these disciples to him, they jump at the chance not because the want to abandon their lives but instead because they feel a deep desire to enter more deeply into it. The disciples know how to fish.  They are good at it.  Jesus asks them to take what they know and apply it ever more deeply and expansively.   He asks them to come now and fish for people.  To help them help others be caught up in God’s love, to a deep dive into what is to live ever more fully the way of embodied love.

         The way of embodied love is also the way that we too are called to engage. 

~~~

  1. H. Lawrence wrote: “It is a question, practically of relationship. We must get back into relation, vivid and nourishing relation to the cosmos and the universe . . . . For the truth is, we are perishing for lack of fulfillment of our greater needs, we are cut off from the great sources of our inward nourishment and renewal, sources which flow eternally in the universe. Vitally the human race is dying. It is like a great uprooted tree, with its roots in the air. We must plant ourselves again in the universe.”

         This is what the whole season of Epiphany is all about. It is about planting ourselves ever more deeply in the steadfast love of God and letting that Love flow in and through us so that that love may bring the change we need within ourselves and in the world.

~~~

         To love requires one to cultivate a reflective space between what we experience and how we choose to react to it.  To love requires that we cultivate the mindfulness to pause and choose not to escape nor to condemn but to enter in and to love.  And when I say love, here I mean sharing in the connective tissue of the universe, the steadfast love, the hessad that is the foundation of our being and the original blessing of the universe.  It is the beloved that names and claims us.  To dwell within this and to extend this asks everything.

~~~

         Jesus rose from the waters of the Jordan with the blessing of beloved upon him and that was the starting place for all he was to do. But soon what he was to do was to call the beloved community around him. 

         We are to be that beloved community.  We are to courageously seek to manifest what living love looks like in this time and place and what being a community where people are freed to follow the call of deeper engagement with the divine.

         In defining the attributes of what makes for the beloved community King put it this way:  “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.” 

         We are called to be the beloved community.  We are called to be a place of welcome and transformation.  A place of nurture and of inspiration.  A place of justice.  A place where the love of God can find us so that we can find our way in the beautiful but wounded world of ours. 

         The beloved community — it is our aspiration and our lived reality. I see love alive and on the move when I see you.  I see gentle tenderness and courageous action.  I see a the an encompassing, bear hug of welcome and I see the ferocity of witnessing to what is right.  I see honesty and vulnerability and I see generosity and compassion.  I see love alive in this place.

         So let say Yes again and again to the one that is calling for us to follow. Let us follow in the Way of the steadfast love of God made manifest in Jesus.  The way of not of escapism or domination but of loving engagement.  Let us renew our commitment to being a place where we hear and act on that call to move more deeply into who we are in service to the God that calls us.  May we be the beloved community where the transforming power of love is alive in us and through us with God’s grace may be more fully alive in the world.  

Amen.

[1] https://www.thattheworldmayknow.com/rabbi-and-talmidim