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"Moving Toward Beloved Community" - 12th Sunday After Pentecost - August 15, 2021

Moving Toward Beloved Community

The term “Beloved Community” keeps coming up here at St. Andrew’s, especially over the past year. You may know that this is a term used by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The website of the national Episcopal Church has this to say about Beloved Community: “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.”

Moving toward Beloved Community takes work. It takes faithful conversations and concerted effort. It’s worth the work. The closer we come to Beloved Community, the more we see God’s goodness and help others see God’s goodness. Our Psalm for today can help us understand a bit more about what that means in the life of St. Andrew’s.

Before we turn to Psalm 34, it will help to get a little introduction to the Psalms as a whole. For insight, let’s turn to a profound little book by the Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann: Spirituality of the Psalms.

The Psalms are both a record of faithful conversations and an invitation to continue to engage in faithful conversations. Culturally, the parts of the Psalms that seem to attract us are parts that speak of gratitude for the beauty and stability of life provided for us by God. Many Christians in our culture tend to act as though faithful conversations can only be conversations of praise and gratitude.

But the Psalms are not at all limited to this view of life. In fact, they frequently acknowledge that life can be full of suffering. Life can be disturbing. And faithful conversations take in all of life. Sometimes the Psalms pulse with guilt or fear or distress or anger. Can’t you almost see a fist raised to God as the Psalmist cries out “Why?” and “How long?”

Yet again, sometimes the Psalmist is surprised and filled with joy to find God’s presence and lovingkindness in the midst of the suffering of life.

To summarize all this in the words of Walter Brueggemann, in “the Psalms, authentic spirituality (that is, genuine communion with God) is never removed from the seasons, turns, and crises of life. . . . What one says in conversation with God is deeply shaped by . . . . the surprises and costs of our daily life.”

Brueggemann also points out that the Psalms are not only about private spirituality. “Communion with God cannot be celebrated without attention to the nature of the community, both among human persons and with God. Religious hungers . . . never preclude justice questions.”

Let’s now use this understanding from Brueggemann to delve into Psalm 34. The Psalmist is surprised by joy in the midst of suffering. Trouble and affliction are the lot of one described as brokenhearted and crushed. Yet, this poor soul encourages the community to bless and praise the Lord! A much-quoted verse from Psalm 34 comes immediately before the portion we read today: “Taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are they who trust in him!”

Most translations include a heading for Psalm 34 that points to a connection to a difficult period in the life of David. The heading seems to refer to a time of estrangement between David and Saul. Saul is the king, and David has been a trusted soldier and aide. David is so successful as a soldier that he’s gaining a lot of notice among the people. Saul becomes jealous and decides that David needs to be killed. David finds this out and runs.

Trouble and affliction are David’s lot. So how does he come through this time of suffering? If we follow David while he’s on the run, we see God working through people who listen to his story of suffering and help him. Saul’s son Jonathan doesn’t want to believe his father is trying to kill David, but he listens to David, investigates, sees the truth, and helps David escape. A priest named Ahimelech doesn’t know the whole story but sees David is in need and provides holy food and a weapon to speed him on his way. Others join him as he hides from Saul, providing companionship and protection.

How is this experience of David related to Psalm 34? Well, according to the portion of the Psalm that we read today, a community that can taste God’s goodness is a community that cares for one another. God’s loving care is made concrete through the loving care of God’s people. We are encouraged to fear or revere the Lord by keeping our speech from harming others, by doing good, and by seeking peace. For more about our speech, you might want to listen again to Father Jared’s powerful sermon from last week. I’ll focus much more on doing good and seeking peace.

What a beautiful opportunity we have as a community of faith! We who have tasted God’s goodness are encouraged to care for others so that they, too, can “taste and see that the Lord is good.”

In the past year, St. Andrew’s has become increasingly focused on listening to stories of suffering within our community and working to do good and seek peace in those situations. I call this our Beloved Community efforts.

What do Beloved Community efforts look like at St. Andrew’s? They have included faithful conversations—conversations that are honest about the suffering of life and that seek to find ways to extend God’s goodness in the midst of that suffering. Since last summer, we have started by listening, especially to the stories of people of color as they have faced hardship.

Last July the adult formation classes listened to four leaders from the Black community in Amarillo. Out of those sessions, a dream was born to address the issue of lack of reading materials in low-income homes. This lack leads to children falling behind from their first day of school and, thus, facing the probability of lifelong problems. Their problems also negatively affect our community as a whole. Several people from St. Andrew’s have partnered with others in the community through the non-profit Storybridge. The result is that the Dolly Parton Imagination Library has come to Potter and Randall counties! The hope is that within three years 10,000 children from birth to age 5 will be receiving a free book each month. I encourage you to ask questions, pray, and consider becoming involved in this effort.

Last August, the Beloved Community Book Club began meeting most Sunday evenings. The group has read and discussed a variety of books in order to understand the needs of groups whose experiences differ from our own. Over the months, the Beloved Community Group has turned toward action in addition to study. They have spearheaded the effort to adopt Margaret Wills Elementary School, where many students come from families with limited resources. Many in this congregation have joined in that effort. We started with school supplies for a large percentage of the students at Margaret Wills. Now we are moving toward ways to directly support teachers. I encourage you to ask questions, pray, and consider becoming involved in this effort.

Starting even before last summer, people from St. Andrew’s have cooperated with others in Amarillo to improve the lives of people in neighborhoods that have often been left behind: North Heights, the Barrio, San Jacinto, and Eastridge. For instance, some have been providing essential services in those neighborhoods. Some have been promoting neighborhood planning initiatives. Some have been working to establish an engine for economic growth through the soon-to-open North Heights Linen Service. Right now, some are working to change the zoning in North Heights so that it can be on an equal basis with other parts of the city. This will improve the economic future of that neighborhood as a whole. I bet there are other efforts that I’ve missed. And more efforts will undoubtedly grow in the future. I encourage you to pay attention to our Beloved Community efforts, ask questions, pray, and consider becoming involved.

As we move toward Beloved Community, we are engaging in faithful conversations and encouraging one another to act in ways that help others to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” This is how we fulfill our Baptismal Covenant to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves” and to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” May God continue to guide St. Andrew’s as we move toward Beloved Community in Amarillo. Amen.

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