A Sermon Delivered by
The Reverend E. F. Michael Morgan, Ph.D.
Trinity Episcopal Church
Morgantown, West Virginia
Fourth Sunday of Pentecost
July 7, 2019
The task of the preacher on any occasion is to proclaim the Good News of God in Jesus Christ. Today is the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost; a day when we continue to reflect on the mystery of our faith, and I would like to expand our task just a bit, and look at the process of what it means to be a Beloved Community in contemporary North America as mandated by the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church, and particularly as we struggle with issues and challenges that often seem to resist and work against building up strong communities of faith, communities that when they’re functioning at their best, seek to be grounded in love and justice.
On Wall Street in New York City a leading monetary guru, Jim Collins, author of several “good to great” books, which are basically corporate business guides and strategic organizational publications, has said the following:
“Enduring great organizations, whether in the corporate world or the non-profit sector, are all characterized by a fundamental duality. On the one hand, they have a set of timeless core values and core reasons-for-being that remain constant over long periods of time. On the other hand, they also have a relentless drive for change and progress. Great organizations keep clear the difference between their core values which never change; and operating strategies…which endlessly adapt to a changing world.”
(That’s worth repeating)
Great organizations keep clear the difference between their core values which never change; and operating strategies…which endlessly adapt to a changing world.”
Now in light of this, consider and reflect on a passage I found in a promotional brochure of an insurance firm specializing in collision liability and automobile coverage. In today’s economic world, the company’s overriding concern is to be more than just another business enterprise. It wants to be an ethical corporate leader. In fact, it states clearly on the wall of the firm’s main lobby:
“Our Mission is to create peace of mind and build enduring relationships.” (again)….create peace of mind and build enduring relationships.”
Wait a minute. This is car insurance? What’s going on here?
Well it seems over the years this insurance company proudly claims it built up its record of success person by person. The relatively small firm is made up of 3800 employees who all play different roles. These talented individuals reflect a variety of life and work backgrounds, diverse cultures, and other ways people ordinarily identify themselves. But they share one overall common purpose at their place of employment: and that is a deep commitment to service. In fact, when the company recruits new employees, individuals they call “team members,” it’s an absolute necessity that a candidate possess characteristics that are in line with the company’s core values. Quote: “We look for compassion, empathy, trustworthiness and an innate desire to serve.” .… (again) compassion, empathy, trustworthiness and an innate desire to serve.” Core values!
And once the new team members come on board, they stay. The average tenure of employees is 12 years, yet 25 years or more with the company is not uncommon; and last year 29 individuals celebrated their 25th anniversary of employment with the firm,
Well what, you might rightly ask, does all this have to do with Becoming a Beloved Community in the Episcopal Church? That’s a fair question, and I would like to take a moment to review where we stand, as Trinity Church seeks to live into “Being” (and not just becoming) a Beloved Community of faith. There are four goals in this religious initiative that have been endorsed by our most recent General Conventions in 2015 and 2018. 1) Telling the truth, 2) Proclaiming the Dream, 3) Repairing the Breach, and 4) Practicing the Way of Love. Over the course of the summer during this long season of Pentecost, I hope to address these objectives in greater detail.
But let’s begin today with a bit of an introduction to the challenge of what it means to Become a Beloved Community by responding to the first goal, Telling the Truth. According to the resource material provided by the larger church, we start by simply telling who we are, and how we define ourselves. Here at Trinity Church for example, we should probably ask; Who are the people who affiliate with us? Where do they live? What do they do? And what things have been done or accomplished by them? At the same time, perhaps just as importantly; what things have been left undone and not accomplished that they could have done better, especially in regard to matters of justice and morality?
As we look to our place in the wider Christian Church we see that anecdotes and stereotypes regarding Episcopalians abound. In a less flattering light, we are seen as an established somewhat stuffy group preoccupied by doing our liturgy in good order with impeccably good taste; OR with reference to our Hebraic roots sanctioning us as God’s chosen people, Episcopalians have become God’s FROZEN people, which is to say – stuck in our ways, all too familiar and comfortable with the means by which we’ve always done things. To paraphrase the Seven Last Words of the Church (usually a reference to Jesus on the cross), we joke instead that our understanding is “we’ve never done it that way before,” with a threatening undertone suggesting things better not change while I’m still here. Is this over-stated? Maybe, but acknowledging stereotypes is one way to start telling-the-truth about who we are.
If we truly seek reconciliation, healing, restoration, redemption, and new life in Christ, it begins with telling-the-truth about ourselves, and particularly the embarrassing and uncomfortable truths about the racial and ethnic composition of our churches. Do we unwittingly participate in local systems of injustice? If so, what and where are they, and how are we complicit? Are we benefactors of “white privilege?” I don’t know, I’ve only been here a short time and I acknowledge this is pretty sharp, if not harsh criticism, but it has to start with honesty; and to do that correctly we need accurate information. Who is actually a member of Trinity Church? Who pledges? What does that entail, or entitle? What level of commitment is required to be a ‘communicant member in good standing?’ And how does participation at Trinity promote a witness to the church’s historic presence in this community?
Or, said another way perhaps, without any institutional overhang; is Trinity Church really the place where “all are welcome” and you’re invited to come just as you are, no questions asked? Who in fact does show up here, unexpectedly? Could one of those strangers be Jesus Christ? If so, would HE feel welcomed?
From this it follows that the requirement of truth-telling be affirmed. Truth-telling is related to a higher vision of a Beloved Community whereby religious “relevance” is seen as critical to the achievement of social justice? And spiritually, how can we ever understand, discuss, pray, and struggle with these matters seriously in our life together unless we tell the truth? That’s the only way we might reach at least some tentative conclusions or partial decisions on how we should ACT faithfully in the world; not only during this summer months of 2019, but beyond as well. Simply put, it comes down to this. How do we dream and envision the future of a Beloved Community at Trinity Church, and then, how do we act on the basis of that belief?
Let me close by telling one more truth about the Bible that may help to answer the fundamental question of faith. From the Book of Genesis all the way to the Book of Revelation; from the beginning of the Hebrew Scriptures to the ending of Christian doctrines; there is but ONE dominant theme throughout all the texts, and it is simply this. God takes sides. God takes sides with those who have been disenfranchised and rendered powerless. God takes sides. From the story of slavery in Egypt, to the relocation and exile in Babylon, God stands firm against all oppression, and always empowers the most vulnerable. God takes sides. That’s social justice.
And when we turn to Jesus, we find an agent of hope who lovingly teaches a radical day of judgment. For those who are hungry, thirsty, lost, sick, blind, disabled, or imprisoned – Jesus loves them above all others. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus himself quotes Isaiah and says: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind…and to let the oppressed go free.” Were he alive today, which some believe the living-Jesus still is, he would likely say to us:
Tell the truth,
then – Follow Me.
…. in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
CREDITS, NOTES, & REFERENCES: available on request.