Jeff Bezos had a dream that became a reality this week when the Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket was launched. He was joined on this journey by a small cohort of others. This brave group began an adventure they never experienced before. I wonder what it was like. There is a part of me that would relish the experience, but then another part that says, “If you can’t ride on a roller coaster, you might not be a prime candidate for a rocket ship!” But I do marvel at seeing firsthand the vast space of the heavens.
I have a couple of shoe boxes on the top shelf of my closet that contain notes – love notes. They are from my wife and span the thirty plus years we’ve been together. We met in a distant past where people still wrote letters to each other. Those love notes, in letter and card, tell our love story. Once, in a moment of insanity, I took them down to throw them away figuring that I knew well enough the sentiments the boxes contained. This interrupted our marital bliss for a moment, until I came to my senses and placed them securely back on the shelf. My wife knows more about devotion than I do.
The advice Jesus gives on being a Beloved Community is pretty straight forward. For instance: “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6:37) Don’t judge, don’t condemn, forgive. Got it. Or do I?
This is, in my estimation, essential to being a community grounded in love, and incredibly difficult to practice. Judging others, evaluating people, categorizing everyone I meet is kind of part of the human operating system, isn’t it? We meet someone new, and we automatically think, “Seems like a nice guy,” or “Seems a little pushy to me.” Human interaction is a constant stream of evaluation and judgment.
When our congregation was working through the inclusion of LBTQ+ persons in the life and ministry of the congregation, a variety of people told me they could not accept such people. Then they asked, “How can you as a Christian accept them?” When I responded that judging others was above my pay grade, they were quick to claim, “I’m not judgmental!” To condemn, evaluate, or condemn someone is to judge them. And, news flash, we are all judgmental – acting like gods as we process everyone and everything through our own internal measure of what is right, wrong, good, bad in the world.
Our current culture helps us with the process of evaluation and condemnation by creating neat little categories filled with unspoken assumptions and stereotypes that are usually untrue. You are conservative or liberal, white or black, male or female, successful or lazy. On top of that, most of us assume that we are the norm for all human behavior and if you don’t agree with or act like me you are wrong. So, as you can see, living like Jesus commands is a tough task. It is, however, essential if we are to be the Beloved Community. It is even more essential if we are to be light in this dark, judgmental world.
Can we practice suspending judgement and evaluating others; can we stop measuring everyone by our own set of standards that we can’t meet ourselves? Can we, instead, just listen to and accept others as they are and learn from them through what they offer? In a community rooted in forgiveness, it is possible. Only when we can try and be forgiven for failure; only when we can mess up and find that we have not been judged, is there a hope of being the Beloved Community.
The truth is that all any of us brings to a relationship with another human being that matters is that we are a beloved child of God. The other person brings exactly, and only, the exact same thing. So, what’s to judge? You and me – we are the same in the eyes of God. In the Beloved Community we are no better or worse than anyone. Don’t judge, don’t condemn, forgive. Got it.
Pax Christi – Tim Olson, Lead Pastor
Image by John Hain from Pixabay
It is hard for congregations to become a manifestation of Christ’s Beloved Community. There are many reasons, but perhaps the biggest reason in our age is consumerism. Our culture, driven by economic values and personal satisfaction, turns everything into a commodity. We “shop” for churches. In the same way we decide not to go to a restaurant that gave us a bad burger, we decide to find another church because of a slight from another member, a sermon with which we disagree, or a song that we disliked.
The first step to being a part of The Beloved Community rooted in Christ is not to love others. Being able to share ourselves in a Christ-like way with another person must be preceded by being beloved. “Christ loves me.” That is the beginning. Sounds easy, right? But which “me” does Christ love? Is it the “me” that shows up at work every day? Or is it the “me” that carts my children to all those activities? Is it the loving spouse or the guy that gets road rage in traffic? Is it the “me” I try to be or the one that ends up falling short so often? Is it the “me” I let people see, or the one that is hidden so deep it never sees the light of day? In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Polonius counsels, “To thine ownself be true.” Who is my “ownself?” Is it the me I present to the world or the me that Christ knows, that God made?
A cashier in Decatur, Georgia, recently came to work and never made it home. An argument with a customer over wearing a mask – encouraged by the store – led a man to walk out to his car and return with a gun. He shot the cashier dead. A month earlier, in Flint, Michigan, a store security guard charged with enforcing the store’s “mask up” policy was shot in the head and killed. Three members of a family are charged with first degree murder. Official responses to the incidents have voiced some form of, “Well, masks are a sensitive matter and tensions are high.” Seriously?! The response in my mind is “Have you all lost your minds?”
Last Sunday, about 100 people came back to worship in the sanctuary after more than a year away. As expected, things went off without a hitch for the most part. The preacher did somehow fail to get his mic turned on during the service at one point. The streaming of the video had a hiccup quickly resolved. Overall, though, it turns out that we, who had been worshipping virtually for a year, did indeed remember how to do it live, together. And it was glorious.
Last week, I offered an introduction to the whole Church, and our congregation, as a Beloved Community constituted by The Beloved Community of the Holy Trinity. God’s love makes community, it draws people together, it glues disparate people and personalities together in community that shares love with the world. Every Christian congregation is a divinely constituted holy, messy, sacred, flawed community and each of us has been drawn by the Spirit to be here – in this place, at this time.
This coming Sunday the Church observes the Festival of the Holy Trinity – The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Grasping the meaning and essence of the Trinity is not an easy task. In fact, it is ultimately impossible for it is the attempt at trying to express the deepest mystery of a God who is as close as your breath and as distant as the farthest galaxy; as intimate as your most inner thought and as transcendent as time itself. When the Athanasian Creed teaches, “We worship one God in trinity and the Trinity in unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the divine being,” I find myself over my head and out of my depth.
One of the lessons I had the privilege to teach during confirmation this year was on prayer. Prayer is not always easy. In fact, it can be downright difficult. The words for prayer just don’t always seem to come when they are needed.