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July 2, 2015, 10:17 AM

Beloved Community


Genesis 21:1-8
1-4 God visited Sarah exactly as God said; God did to Sarah what God promised: Sarah became pregnant and gave Abraham a son in his old age, and at the very time God had set. Abraham named him Isaac. When his son was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him just as God had commanded.
5-6 Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born.
Sarah said,
God has blessed me with laughter
and all who get the news will laugh with me!
She also said,
Whoever would have suggested to Abraham
that Sarah would one day nurse a baby!
Yet here I am! I’ve given the old man a son!
The baby grew and was weaned. Abraham threw a big party on the day Isaac was weaned.
 
Luke 1:46-55
46 Mary said,
“With all my heart I glorify the Lord!
47     In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.
48 The Lord has looked with favor on the low status of God’s servant.
    Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored
49         because the mighty One has done great things for me.
Holy is God’s name.
50     The Lord shows mercy to everyone,
        from one generation to the next,
        who honors the Lord as God.
51 The Lord has shown strength with God’s arm.
    God has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.
52     God has pulled the powerful down from their thrones
        and lifted up the lowly.
53 God has filled the hungry with good things
    and sent the rich away empty-handed.
54 The Lord has come to the aid of God’s servant Israel,
        remembering God’s mercy,
55     just as God promised to our ancestors,
        to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”
 
“Beloved Community”
Mary’s song has been on my heart a lot lately. Not the first half of the song, though it is lovely. No, the second half has been resonating in my heart these last few days, the part of the song about what God is doing and is about to do in Jesus. Mary sings of the holy commonwealth of God, the divine kingdom—what Martin Luther King, Jr. termed the ‘Beloved Community.’ She sings of the scattering of arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations, the pulling down of thrones and the lifting of the lowly. From her lips comes the image of the great leveling, a community where everyone stands on equal footing, on level ground.
 
These last few days (following the shooting in Charleston) pondering Mary’s song makes my heart hurt. Reading the powerful words from Martin Luther King, Jr., found on the front of your bulletin does the same:
Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant star of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty. –Letter from the Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963.
King dreamed of that kingdom, that Beloved Community, in 1963 and here we are in 2015 grieving the act of terrorism in Mother Emanuel AME Church! My heart hurts because I want that! I want to live in the kingdom Mary sings of. I want to belong to that community King preaches. I want that dream! NOW!
 
I know that Mary’s song is one of hope. She is literally expectant, birthing salvation and envisioning the commonwealth…but she is so young, so new. Her courage is breath-taking, but so is her innocence. Her words, in the echo of gunfire, seem naïve. She doesn’t realize yet all the resistance to the birthing of God’s kingdom. She hasn’t seen all the struggle for equality and justice that is ahead of her. She doesn’t know about all those who will fear this beloved community and lash out in fear, hatred and violence…but she will.
 
Her song ends, however, with someone who has more knowledge of this struggle. Her hymn closes with a couple who waited and struggled and despaired, who believed and doubted and hoped and feared—Abraham and Sarah.
 
Abraham was 75 years old, Sarah 74, when God issued God’s call—when God spoke into the darkness of their barrenness—and offered new life and the promise to build an alternative community through them. God invited them into a journey of faith to build a people living in community with God, to serve as a model for all peoples. And they accepted. They packed up and went.
 
It is no small thing, this blind journey Abram and Sarai embark on, leaving behind family, identity, security—all they had ever known. But the barrenness was that oppressive, they were that desperate. Millennia go community was everything, and a community built on the bonds of family was the most secure. Generations lived together for safety and security, but this was denied to Abram and Sarai. They had no heir, and therefore they had no future, no security, no continuation. Hope was hard to find. And then God spoke into this barrenness…”I will make of you a great nation. I will bless you. You will be a blessing. All the families of the world will be blessed through you.”
 
All that had been denied to Abram and Sarai, all they had seen others rejoice in, all they longed for as they watched from a distance could now be theirs! In following God’s call was hope and life in all its fullness. Without hesitation they packed up everything and journeyed to a new and strange land, to live as immigrants and strangers. They worshipped the Lord of Life and prepared to receive that promise…and they waited.
 
And they waited. And they waited. Life went on around them. Others welcomed new life into their families. Abram and Sarai struggled forward together, full of faith some days, full of doubt on others, through days of abundance, and through days of hardship. The barrenness persisted. Hope struggled to survive. When would the promise be fulfilled? When would they have what others had? When would they become God’s beloved community?! Is it any wonder that they began to question as the years passed and the possibility of reproduction seemed remote? Abram cried out, “My steward is my only heir!” Where is security in that? Sarai scornfully chuckled, “It has ceased to be with me the ways of a woman.” How could there be hope in that? Of course they laughed in disbelief at the growing impossibility of a child of their own. Ismael seemed a logical alternative.
 
But God renewed the promise again and again. God went so far as to rename them, taking a piece of God’s name and placing it within their own—Abraham and Sarah. “This is how much I am with you, my very name dwells within your own.” And each time, Abraham and Sarah squared their shoulders, took a deep breath, and continued onward with God toward the yet unseen beloved community. They chose to believe that in their future was a breaking point in the barrenness—that the exhausted present would give way to an abundant future. Twenty five years after the initial promise was made, when Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah 99, their disbelieving chuckles gave way to joy-filled laughter as Sarah gave birth to Isaac, whose name means laughter. Abraham and Sarah glimpsed that promised kingdom, they saw the advent of God’s beloved community, and they passed that dream onto Isaac. Isaac shared it with Jacob, and Jacob with his twelve sons. Generation upon generation passed on the vision of the commonwealth, and slowly it grew.
 
That commonwealth burst from the lips of Mary as she sang, it overflowed from Peter’s sermons. God’s kingdom lived in St. Francis, compelled Martin Luther, burned in John Wesley. God’s beloved community sang from Sojourner Truth, boomed in the cadence of Martin Luther King, Jr., shone in the compassion of Mother Theresa. And didn’t we see it on Friday (SCOTUS ruling for marriage equality)! Rainbows everywhere and tears of joy and thanksgiving! That beloved community took one step closer. Our children—Sarah and Landen and Tyler and Penelope and Gavin and Violet—will grow up with just the word ‘marriage,’ no qualifiers needed! God renews God’s promise to build the commonwealth through us. So we square our shoulders, take a deep breath, and continue on with God, trusting that God is working in the hearts of many even when we can’t see it. We believe there is a breaking point in our future because Charleston needs us. Baltimore and Ferguson need us. The immigrants on our borders and heckling the President in the White House need us. Full acceptance in the United Methodist Church needs us!
 
Sarah’s laughter echoes around us. Mary’s song is our song. “With all my heart I glorify the Lord! In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my Savior!” The Lord is looking on us with favor! We are the parents of justice! President Obama reminded us in his eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney Friday afternoon of the abolitionist hymn that once stirred hearts toward justice and angered those who stood opposed to full freedom:
            Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
            that saved a wretch like me!
            I once was lost, but now am found,
            was blind, but now I see!
We have work to do!

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