Updated: Jun 13, 2022
In the name of God, who is love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
I’m so glad that Father Jared’s sermon for Mother Courtney’s ordination to the priesthood last month is available on our website. It really is “profound,” as Bishop Scott called it. I especially appreciate his description of the four Gospels as four churches we might find today. I’m going to borrow from his description of today’s church of John.
The church of John . . . [is] meeting in someone’s home. You can hear them shaking their tambourines and singing in the backyard, “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” . . . And then after the service, they’ll knock on all the neighbors’ doors delivering baskets of garden vegetables [and] gluten free bread. . . . And the neighbors say, “Thank you. You really don’t have to keep doing this. Really. You really, really don’t.” But they do – because for John it’s all about the community and creating a beloved community.
Beloved community. What’s the nature of beloved community in the Gospel of John? Well, that’s a little hard to say. Because there seems to be a tension in John. Sometimes, John presents an expansive, adventurous beloved community. But sometimes John presents a small, intimate, safe beloved community. Because the wider world doesn’t feel safe. It feels like us against them. We’ve probably all run into people today who use the Gospel of John in that us against them way. We may have felt excluded when they did so.
In one of the Conversations with Scripture books, an Episcopal scholar writes about this tension in John. It’s a tension between two ways of looking at the Good News of Jesus Christ. Is John the Gospel that “separates, excludes, defines, and demands”? Or is John the Gospel that “breaks boundaries, opens doors, and displays a vision of a colorful, diverse, even ecstatic community of friends of Jesus”?1
The passage we read today holds one of the keys to resolving this tension in favor of an expansive, inclusive understanding of the Gospel. And that key is an understanding of God that we now label “the Trinity.” God is love, a type of love called agapē in the Greek. Agapē is about relationship and actions that work toward the good of the ones who are loved. Agapē is a mutual, self-giving type of love. When we understand God as Trinity, we understand that there is an agapē relationship among the three persons identified here as the Father, the Son, and the Spirit of Truth. And today’s passage from John with its context shows that this relationship is not exclusive, but always moves to reach out and include others.
Yes, the community of John’s Gospel struggled. On one hand, they had a desire for the intimacy and security of an exclusive beloved community. On the other hand, they sensed that God might be calling them to the adventure and expansiveness of an inclusive beloved community. The Trinity tells us that God’s focus is on an expansive, inclusive beloved community.
In light of the call to an inclusive beloved community, I want to talk to John’s church of today. If I were in their back yard, here’s what I’d say as a deacon. How wonderful that you work toward beloved community. Keep on loving those who gather in your back yard. Keep on loving your next-door neighbors. But you might want to rethink how you do that. You see, your next-door neighbors don’t need more zucchini or tomatoes. They already have their favorite vendors at the Farmers’ Market. And some of them regularly stop by a specialty bakery as they drive home from work. Others have a top-of-the-line Cuisinart bread maker at home. So, you might think, instead, about getting some good music and some tasty tacos and inviting your next-door neighbors into the front yard. Maybe include them in beloved community that way.
But, hey, don’t give up on your garden vegetables and gluten-free bread. Because you do have neighbors who need them. They just aren’t your next-door neighbors. They live across town. They live in a food desert, and transportation is a big issue for them. Going to a Farmers’ Market or a bakery or even a grocery store is a major undertaking.
This might not be a part of town that you go to. But give it a try. Because you’ll find brothers and sisters, you’ll find children of God. They may have gone through some different experiences that you need to understand. But you’ll find that you have much more in common with them than you would have guessed. And you’ll grow in God’s love as you get to know them and include them in beloved community. That’s what I’d say, as a deacon, to John’s church.
And now, as a deacon, I want to talk to St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church. You are a beloved community if ever there was one. You’re doing a great job of loving those who regularly gather on this campus and in small groups. And you’re reaching out to your next-door neighbors. But you have more room to grow in reaching out to your neighbors across town. That’s why the Beloved Community Ministry was born in 2020. To ask ourselves, “How can we grow more inclusive? How can we learn to love our neighbors throughout this city and area more fully?”
The Beloved Community Ministry has led us to expand in terms of education. It has reminded us that it’s not enough for the children of our families and our friends’ families to be in safe schools with the resources needed to provide quality education. We’ve been asked to expand beloved community toward all the children of God in our area so they can benefit from this type of education, too. For over a year, St. Andrew’s has supported the Dolly Parton Imagination Library in providing a free book each month for children from birth to age 5 in Potter and Randall counties. We’ve also supplied some needs at public schools in disadvantaged neighborhoods: Margaret Wills Elementary School, Eastridge Elementary School, and Sam Houston Middle School.
Hopefully, we’re also aware that our elections have a lot of consequences for education. There was a vote in May that asked people to decide whether it was worth paying more taxes to ensure the safety of students and teachers in two ways: replacing Austin Middle School, which is collapsing, and providing improved security at several campuses in the hope that Amarillo won’t become the next Uvalde. How sad that few people prioritized the safety of our students and teachers!
School board elections are also important. We always need members who will advocate for all students and teachers. That is now even more true than usual. Recent political changes are threatening the sense of history, of worth, and of well-being of persons of color and LGBTQ persons.
Moving beyond education, how far do we at St. Andrew’s expand beloved community when it comes to meeting needs in specific neighborhoods? Some have experienced decades of neglect and discrimination. These include neighborhoods such as Barrio, Eastridge, North Heights, and San Jacinto.
How many of us are aware of the environmental hazards faced by those living in parts of the north and east sides of Amarillo? Homes next to heavy industry, surrounded by pollution of various types, suffering from inadequate sewer systems. When we have a chance to talk about and influence those issues, do we side with the financial interests of those who benefit from this arrangement? Or do we decide that these are our brothers and sisters, and we don’t want family living like this?
A good further step toward an ever-expanding beloved community with all of Amarillo is to get to know those neighbors. Our Beloved Community Ministry is going to be letting this congregation know about some special opportunities. Opportunities to celebrate, support, learn from, and dream with the neighborhoods of Barrio, Eastridge, North Heights, and San Jacinto.
Those opportunities are about to start. On Saturday, June 18, we will be joining other congregations in an effort organized by the NAACP Religious Affairs Committee. We’ll be “helping hands” at the Juneteenth Parade and Celebration in the Park. As we help, we’ll be seeking to get to know our neighbors in the North Heights.
If you haven’t already, please pick up the handout located at the back of the Nave or scan the QR code near it. It was also available at Truckin’ this past Wednesday. It gives information about how to help at Juneteenth, about the Educational Support Fund, and about the overall history and focus of St. Andrew’s Beloved Community Ministry.
Beloved community is about agapē, the type of love shared within the Trinity. Agapē is about what’s good for the loved ones. It’s always expanding to include more and more people in that love. Here at St. Andrew’s, we have beloved community. Let’s keep expanding our beloved community. Amen.
----- 1Conversations with Scripture: The Gospel of John, by Cynthia Briggs Kittridge (the Dean and President of the Seminary of the Southwest). 2007: Morehouse Publishing, page xv.
[There is not video available this week due to Internet failure on Sunday]