MESSAGE – A PLACE FOR ALL – Sunday September 13, 2020
SCRIPTURE: Romans 14:1-12
What the apostle Paul is describing in this part of the letter to the Romans is in many ways similar to what the Gospels talk about so often as the Kingdom of Heaven (32 times in Matthew) or the Kingdom of God (68 times in the other 3 gospels).
Now sometimes, as I have often said before, we get a little confused because we think, “well heaven is the opposite of earth, and so the Kingdom of Heaven must be the place where God reigns,” that is, not here, and we turn it into the hereafter.
But the emphasis in both ways of speaking is on the reign of God, and the fact is, if God is God at all, that reign applies to both everything and everywhere.
Vere dignum et justum est, aequum et salutare, semper et ubique gratias agere… as the old Latin prayer says, which you may remember in translation from communion here:
It is truly fitting and right, a good thing and good for us,
always and everywhere to give thanks to you, O God.
We live in the tension between already and not yet.
Because we look around at the oppression and injustice, racism, violence, destruction, and grinding poverty that are so evident in so many places around us; and even if we are somehow sheltered from that, we so often struggle with pride, enmity, jealousy, inadequacy, and perhaps thereby the hatred of self or others, which even in their most disguised forms are so corrosive to our happiness that we fall into despair, or seek desperately for mind-numbing distraction.
Things are not the way they OUGHT to be.
And yet, scripture presents an alternative vision, one which we have been talking about for several weeks now, of the genuine community and oneness of God’s people, on which today’s reading gives us another angle. Radical acceptance and welcome of those whom Paul calls “weak in faith.”
Welcome them not in order to argue about differences of opinion, and the differences he speaks of here all have to do with the following of rules:
Do you eat one way or another, pray one way or another, mark and observe special days differently, or not at all. Why do you judge and look down upon your brother or sister who does it differently? We are looking to create Heaven on Earth, to live in the Beloved Community.
In many ways that phrase Beloved Community is another way to describe what Jesus called the Kingdom of God.
That expression “Beloved Community” was coined by an American philosopher, Josiah Royce, who lived from 1855-1916, but most of us became aware of it in the writing of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or in places that inspired and were inspired by the vision he and others had for the creation of a new world in the decades after WWII.
Dr. King’s Beloved Community encompasses a global vision in which “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, international disputes will be resolved by peaceful conflict resolution and reconciliation of adversaries, instead of military power. Love and trust will triumph over fear and hatred. Peace with justice will prevail over war and military conflict.”
I became most aware of this during my time as a volunteer and board member for our local Habitat for Humanity affiliate, back in the 1990’s.
Bear with me as I read for you a powerful statement of Habitat’s guiding principles taken from the national website:
Habitat for Humanity is propelled by a vision of a world where everyone has a decent place to live. We devote ourselves to creating that world because we believe everyone — every single one of us, regardless of who we are or where we come from — deserves a decent life and deserves the opportunity for a better future.
Believing is not enough. So we build.
We build houses — and through those houses, the strength, stability and self-reliance that families need in order to achieve a better life. That better life is our primary goal. So when we build houses, we also build bridges between people of diverse backgrounds, we build paths to more connected communities, we build ways for all people to come together and share in the creation of a new world.
That new world allows access, equality and opportunity for all. That new world represents what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called “the Beloved Community.”
The Beloved Community is fair. The Beloved Community is just. The Beloved Community is built on love. Not just any love, but as Dr. King said, “the love of God operating in the human heart.” That’s a practical love that requires participation. When that love is truly and fully present, it compels us to act.
It’s part of Habitat’s birthright. We began at Koinonia Farm,
(koinonia by the way is a Greek word used often in the New Testament meaning to have in common, often translated fellowship or communion. Excuse me, I digress)
We (meaning Habitat for Humanity) began at Koinonia Farm, an interracial community farm outside Americus, Georgia, founded in 1942 by farmer and biblical scholar Clarence Jordan. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Clarence and his fellow Koinonia residents were fiercely committed to the equality of all people and utterly devoted to creating opportunity for all.
Born from that vision, we have grown into a global organization that has worked hard to live out that kind of love for more than 40 years. It fuels our belief that making home ownership accessible and affordable for low-income families is a critical component to creating the kind of future that Dr. King envisioned.
We have to care about the needs of those among us who need our help. We have to take on the struggles of others as our own and want for them the exact things that we want for ourselves. We have to live each day in the knowledge that we are bound together, that each of us must do our part, and that we thrive together or we will wither alone.
During a brief correspondence in the 1950s, Dr. King wrote to Clarence, noting the struggles that Koinonia faced from hostile and unwelcoming neighbors.
“I hope that you will gain some consolation from the fact that in your struggle for freedom and a true Christian community you have cosmic companionship. God grant that this tragic midnight of man’s inhumanity to man will soon pass and the bright daybreak of freedom and brotherhood will come into being.”
We still await that daybreak. While much has been done, so much more work remains. This will never be a world of equality, of fairness or of human decency that leaves no room for poverty, prejudice or violence, unless we build it. Bold actions speak louder than words. Working together, side by side, is what will continue to move us from tragic midnight to glorious morning.
For as Dr. King so powerfully stated: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
With his emphasis on the Beloved Community, Dr. King gave us the blueprint. Folks of faith and perseverance like Clarence have stewarded it and advanced it. Now it’s up to all of us to make it a reality.
My friends, we may not all be building houses, although I am proud of this church’s past participation with Habitat builds in our community. And it is the same spirit that has moved so many to seek to make a difference through our Saturday breakfast, sadly canceled 6 months ago today due to the pandemic after more than 17 years of never missing a Saturday.
But those are just particular examples, as noble as they may be, of the many ways in which we are called every day to welcome the other without looking down on each other.
Following the Jesus’ way means practicing radical compassion, kindness and inclusion today just as Jesus did when he walked on earth. God’s love transcends cultural and tribal divisions.
G.K. Chesterton described our shortcomings in this way:
It is not that the path of such love “has been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”
May we pray for the strength to make a start at trying where we have not, and to keep trying where we have begun.
In the name of God,
our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.