Sermon by Guest Preacher - Aug 26, 2018

How dear to me is your dwelling, O LORD of hosts!
My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the LORD;
My heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God. (Psalm 84:1)

We are quickly approaching fall—a time of change. So many things are happening at once… children go back to school and young adults to college, we begin to think about putting the patio furniture away, and wondering what the next few months will bring. This is a season of transitions—it is palpable here at St. John’s as we prepare to say good-bye to Monte, and welcome Richard and Craig to our community. And, as we begin to wind down from our season of rest and renewal and anticipate the return of the Rector, Jered, and his family.

Sometimes transitions can be unsettling and we seek stability to ease our discomfort. We see this today in the Old Testament reading when the Israelites desire to make a permanent home for God—they put “God”, symbolized by the ark of the covenant, in the inner sanctuary of the Temple in Jerusalem. They wanted to confine God to a particular place so they knew where God was at all times. They had finally settled in Jerusalem and they wanted the stability of knowing that God was with them.

This idea of God residing in one geographic location, namely Jerusalem, didn’t work so well for the Israelites and also for the early followers of Jesus. John’s gospel was likely written post destruction of the Temple when Jews and the Jewish followers of Jesus were going through an identity crisis—now that their place of worship, the Temple, was destroyed, they wondered where would they find God. More importantly they wanted to know where they belonged.

This yearning for belonging is one that has plagued religious peoples forever, and there is no easy remedy for this desire to belong.

One perspective, from our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, is that we belong in Beloved Community.

He says, “As the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement, we dream and work to foster Beloved Communities where all people may experience dignity and abundant life and see themselves and others as beloved children of God.” (https://www.episcopalchurch.org/beloved-community)

This idea of Beloved Community is appealing, but if you’re like me, it is hard to cultivate this kind of community. Even many of the disciples in John’s story today walk away because they cannot fulfill the demands that Jesus has for following him.

Also, community is not an easy concept in our transient culture where we can move from state to state or even church to church until we find our tribe. And, I don’t know about you, but my tribe, the people I chose to associate with, are generally those that think, act, and vote like me.

In my self-righteous youth, it was easy to walk away from those people or groups that I did not agree with; and to be self-selective about what I perceived to be community.  In my slightly wiser (only slightly) adult life, I’ve learned walking away is not always an option, and that living in true community means that I belong to groups of people that I may love but don’t always like so much.

One of the places I’ve learned to participate in this type of truer community, is my neighborhood.

My family lives in a smallish town that allows us to have chickens if we follow certain rules set up by the city council. Our neighbor next door is vehemently opposed to my family having chickens but we followed all the rules so the city granted us a permit.

This was not before Phyllis, our neighbor, filed a petition with the city council that opposed our permit. I won’t go into all the details of what became a highly political fiasco, with our city council representative coming to our home and the mayor calling us to personally invite us to the city council meeting to defend our chicken permit.

Our friends called this situation Chicken-gate to express the hilarity of small town politics and community engagement. And it become more than a civics lesson on democracy, it was ultimately a lesson in love.

Our children, still pretty young at the time, but aware of what was going on, asked me why Phyllis, our neighbor, hated us. In that moment, with that question, I decided to love instead of walking away.

I told our children that Phyllis didn’t hate us; she was unhappy about us having chickens and that we may not understand her, but we could love her and pray for her. We turned to love, and learned that love could reside in differences as well as similarities. And we shared our eggs with Phyllis.

Chicken-gate is just one small example of how my family reached across difference and maintained love for our neighbor Phyllis. And, it gets much harder to do when the stakes are higher.

I was so sad and so distraught when I read about a study that showed siblings no longer talk to one another, as well as husbands and wives, and life-long friends because they are divided by partisan identification. (Jeremy W. Peters, “In a Divided Era, Political Anger is all Each Side has in Common,” The New York Times, Monday, August 20, 2018, page A12)

I find it excruciating that those with whom we are supposed to be the most intimate—siblings, friends, and spouses—are not talking with one another. This does not sound like Beloved Community.

And, there is hope. Mahzarin Banajin, a professor of social psychology at Harvard University, says, “intimacy with others is one way to overcome the division between human beings.” (Mahzarin Banajin on “On Being with Krista Tippett,” aired on August 26, 2018.)

Intimacy—the really knowing of another human being. A knowing of the other.

Beloved Community begins with the love that can only come from God incarnate in Jesus Christ. This way of love begins with turning to Christ. Again, from Bishop Curry, he says this about practicing Jesus’ love, “Like the disciples, we are called by Jesus to follow the Way of Love. With God’s help, we can turn from the powers of sin, hatred, fear, injustice, and oppression toward the way of truth, love, hope, justice, and freedom. In turning, we reorient our lives to Jesus Christ, falling in love again, again, and again.” (http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/files/2018/07/Way-of-Love-2-English-Full.pdf)

Falling in love again, again, and again! I like that. That sounds like the intimacy we are missing, and the foundation upon which to create stability in an uncertain and divided world. Falling in love with Christ by following the Way of Jesus, is a place to begin.

In today’s gospel, Christ tells us, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living God sent me, and I live because of God, so whoever eats me will live because of me.”

We learn that God resides in us through the incarnate Jesus Christ. God resides in us.

This is the most incredible intimacy with God possible—God is inside of us. And not only that, Christ tells us that we can renew that relationship with God by eating his flesh and blood. By coming to this altar as a community, we renew our intimacy with God. (intimacy with God idea influenced by…”Caught up in Love” by Martin L. Smith in Sojourners, August 2018, page 44)

This is where we truly belong—in Beloved Community that starts with our intimacy with God by turning to follow Christ and renewing the commitment to love one another. We do this each week when we come together to share a meal in Christ’s name.

This is the dwelling place to which we belong…here, in this community loving one another into Beloved Community…

How dear to me is your dwelling, O LORD of hosts!
My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the LORD;
My heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God. (Psalm 84:1)

 Amen