This summer we, the La Verne Church of the Brethren, took another step towards our strategic envisioning goals. We hired Amanda Bennett to be our Social Media Coordinator. One of the first things she did after getting that job was to post the letter we wrote to our representatives, calling for a just immigration policy. Forty-five Facebook users shared it and it had around 4,000 views. That is good stuff. Amanda works at helping Instagram and Facebook users see who we are as a congregation. Towards that end she asked several staff members to send her a selfie and answer some questions. One of her questions was about how we staff members see this church.
Then at the end of August, Amanda posted a photo of me and what I said about this church. This is what I wrote:
The La Verne Church of the Brethren is the real deal. This congregation is seeking the mind of Christ with its body, soul, mind and spirit. We welcome all with genuine love; we are happiest when the community connection is honored; we use our minds in seeking to follow Christ; and we show up to feed the homeless, march for immigrant rights, stand up for our sisters and brothers who are marginalized and help rebuild communities after natural disasters. This is the church I looked for my whole life and I am deeply grateful God led me here.
I mean every word of that statement and I’ve been saying it for years, but when I saw it posted on Facebook I thought of my Facebook friends who are members of churches I served before I came here. Being Brethren and always wanting to be polite, I thought to myself, “What do the churches I have been part of in my past think about that last statement: “La Verne Church of the Brethren is the church I looked for my whole life”?
It made me do some more soul searching about why I think this church is different than other churches I have experienced. It isn’t because this church is perfect. We are far from perfect and if you are here because you think we are perfect, I want to be absolutely upfront with you. There will come a time when we will disappoint you. However, we are real here. I know that when I get up to preach you expect me to bring myself….not some agreed on doctrine that makes everyone comfortable. In fact, you demand me to be real. I can’t tell you what a gift that is. It is one of the gifts we give each other.
I also don’t claim this church as the church I’ve been looking for my whole life because we all agree. This is a church where, most of the time, we know how to disagree about what matters. We don’t fight about the color of the carpet. No, we debate the big stuff — what is happening in our world and who we want to be as a body of Christ meeting in this place, at this time.
Also, this church isn’t different because it has all the answers. If you are looking for that church, we aren’t it. This is a church of lifelong learners. When Loren Bowman, one of our saints, was preparing to die he invited me over to work on his memorial service. He wanted me to know what he didn’t want me to say. He didn’t want me to say that Loren thought any specific thing on any specific topic. He said, “I have lived my life keeping my mind open. I have changed my mind several times.” This is a church that keeps its mind and its heart open. We try to limit our sacred cows so that we can find new light in new times, following Christ wherever he leads us. That means that we can be comfortable to just sit in our questions sometimes, trusting that as we continue to seek the mind of God we will find clarity. It gives this place a dynamic and active spirituality because we worship and serve a dynamic God who is not left behind by a changing world.
This is a church where faith blends with action. I’ve been in those churches where we talk about what is happening in the world and shake our heads and think, “Thank God I know what’s right and I live here in this little bubble of goodness.” It isn’t like that here. If you want to help families and children impacted by natural disasters, this church is involved with that in a couple different ways. If you want to help feed the homeless, you can do that right from our church kitchen. If you want to work on your privilege so you can be a good ally, you can do that here. If you want to visit people being detained by ICE we can hook you up. If you want to help someone displaced by violence, there are ways. If you want to develop relationships with your neighbors of other faiths, we can aid you in that process. Because we know that loving God and loving your neighbor is intimately intertwined. As I John says, “You cannot love God, whom you have not seen, if you hate your neighbor, who you have seen.”
Now I am guessing that some of you think I am doing a commercial for the La Verne Church of the Brethren. Heaven forbid. The Brethren do not like to talk about themselves and would hate to be called braggarts. I hope that isn’t what I’m doing. But I’ve been doing some thinking lately about the Beloved Community, especially in relationship to this congregation.
The Beloved Community is a term that was first coined in the early 20th century by the philosopher/theologian, Josiah Royce, who founded the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Royce’s vision rested in the idea of a community working for a lost cause…not a hopeless cause. For Royce a lost cause was one that evokes our highest hopes and our deepest moral commitments and probably won’t be fulfilled in our lifetime.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, latched on to Royce’s concept and filled it with the meaning and example of his own life. King worked tirelessly for the creation of a beloved community in which prejudice and bigotry would be replaced with inclusion for all peoples. He didn’t live to see the fruit of his own labor.
I think this church works for lost causes every day. But I do feel there is something I need to challenge you today, on this Back to Fall Sunday. The Beloved Community can’t exist if you don’t invest yourself in it.
My husband, Bryan, was a very reserved, introvert. He came to church every Sunday but he timed it so he usually arrived during the Call to Worship and left during the benediction. I remember one Sunday when I was giving him a hard time about leaving before the postlude. He said, “I don’t walk out to my car alone, Susan. There is a whole group of us who are dashing to our cars at the same time. We wave at each other every Sunday.”
We can’t be the Beloved Community if we come for the good music and the challenging messages and then sprint for our cars. The Beloved Community requires our involvement. It is like exercise. We now we need to exercise. We know we feel better when we do it. But it requires a commitment. So does the Beloved Community. And it isn’t just about working for justice. It is about eating brunch together, dancing, laughing, building greens for Advent, participating in Guess Whose Coming to Dinner, learning to know the people with whom you share this sanctuary. It is about meeting each other so that when we need each other we know each other. It is about knowing each other at a depth that allows us to trust each other enough that we can be real with each other. That doesn’t happen without some effort on your part.
Friends, today is the day. Imagine yourself staying after church and walking over to the Fellowship Hall. Imagine going through the line to get brunch and then getting to know the people with whom you are sharing this meal. Then a video presentation of an upcoming dance calls us to stop our conversations and listen to all the opportunities that are coming our way. Imagine yourself choosing at least one of those possible events in which to participate. Today is the day. We need to be in real relationship in order to create the beloved community of lost causes. We need to all jump into the vase if we are going to create a dazzling bouquet of every kind of flower. Amen.