Beloved Community – Sermon Honoring Martin Luther King Jr.


5pm sermon podcast [link]

For a recording of the 10:30am sermon, comment below with your email address.


Valerie Nicolet-Anderson [link] 1 Cor 6:12-20 – Paul’s instructions on sexual ethics for the purpose of strengthening and forming community identity. What does it mean to take on a communal identity that is non-normative? How might taking Paul’s instructions literally outside of his historical-cultural context be problematic?

The King Center [link] Martin Luther King’s Philosophy, including the centrality of agape love & the beloved community, a concept named by Josiah Royce, founder of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, reportedly the oldest & largest interfaith organization working toward peace and justice in the United States

DIGGING DEEPER | books + articles

The Great World House: Martin Luther King, Jr. & Global Ethics by Hak Joon Lee – King observed that increasing globalization, modernization and technological advances meant we need global ethics to ensure communal survival, peace, and well-being. Kingian global ethics can be summarized as “glocal” (local communities within global context) and communal-political (our struggles and liberation are connected in the community of the great world house; political power is important insofar as we need it to resist injustice; the communal and political must be and should be intertwined)

kingian global ethics

We Will Get to the Promised Land: Martin Luther King Jr’s Communal-Political Spirituality by Hak Joon Lee – The spiritual side/background of King related to the above concepts

Extremist for Love: Martin Luther King Jr., Man of Ideas & Nonviolent Social Action by Rufus Burrow Jr. – Family, theological mentors, friends, black women, Ghandian nonviolence and how they influenced Martin Luther King Jr. I recommend reading the last two chapters about how King kept hope alive, paying special attention to his last “mountaintop” sermon, which came after two attempted bombings of his house and bombings of his friend’s houses, as well as the other struggles of the civil rights movement. I also highly recommend reading chapter 6, about Vernon Napoleon Johns: “God’s Bad Boy,” about a badass prophetic preacher who planted his own produce and sold it after church services (to the embarrassment of his congregants) and called out R.T. Adair, a prominent man of the community during church for shooting and killing Adair’s wife on suspicion of adultery, from the pulpit (after Adair only received a slap on the wrist and no jail time for his crime). “‘There is a murderer in the house,’ he announced to a stunned congregation. ‘God said, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ Dr. Adair, you have committed a sin, and may God have mercy on your soul.’ Johns stared down at Adair in solemn judgment, with one eye in a menacing twitch caused by a childhood kick from a mule. Then he sat down.”

The most pastoral response? Maybe not. Badass? I think yes.

Toward the Beloved Community: Martin Luther King Jr. & South Africa by Lewis V. Baldwin – Recommended for those wanting to explore what it looks like to believe that “injustice anywhere is a threat everywhere” and to understand how King collaborated with interfaith/global partners to be in solidarity fighting for liberation not just in the U.S. but also in South Africa, against apartheid.

p. 27 – “I think we have to honestly admit that the problems in the world today, as they relate to the question of race, must be blamed on the whole doctrine of white supremacy, the whole doctrine of racism, and these doctrines came into being through the white race and the exploitation of the colored peoples of the world.” c.f. “Doubts and Certainties Link: A Transcript of an Interview with Martin Luther King Jr.,” London, England (winter 1968): 1, King Center Archives.

p. 31 Differences of South African & United States situation due to idea of suffering community (less resonant with oppressed South Africans than African Americans) and racial composition (higher ratio of people of color in S. African than in US, leading to greater fear of blacks). These differences led King to believe that justice would be hindered so long as tribal loyalties took precedent over larger communal identity.

p. 73 King’s influence on Desmond Tutu & Allan Boesak

Outline (not transcript):

  1. Introduction – Hi, I’m Karen. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a graduate student who came to St. Louis to study social work at WashU and divinity at Eden Seminary. When people hear that I’m from California, sometimes they exclaim, “And you went from California to Misery?” And I chuckle, because when I talk to people in St. Louis about where they’re from and how they got here, a lot of people say that St. Louis grows on you.
    1. It does. There are lots of reasons I like St. Louis. But one important reason is that I found family here. Though the last few months have been hard for many of us, I’ve felt a spirit of family as I’ve worked with others to make St. Louis a better place to live.
    2. I grew up a child of Taiwanese immigrants, so I don’t have any close biological relatives in America. They are all in Taiwan. So from an early age, I learned what it was like to have family of choice. I had Grandma and Grandpa next door, and we celebrated birthdays together. I had Grandma and Grandpa in Florida, and we were pen pals, and on holidays, I got giant care packages from them, filled with goodies. I had my church family who bought me a laptop after college because my laptop was dying and all of its keys had rubbed off. Every Chinese and Taiwanese woman that my mom knew was Auntie.
    3. Martin Luther King Jr. grew up in a similar culture. The African American community is great at creating a sense of family. When I was living in the West End neighborhood, I visited a church and all of its congregants were African American. Everyone made sure to hug me, ask me to come back, and one woman even kissed me on the cheek the next week I visited. As Christians, we share this vision that Martin Luther King Jr. calls the beloved community, where agape love, the love that seeks to create community is the norm. We may not be great at it, but it is a Christian idea and a Christian mandate to create radically inclusive communities where we care for each other like family. People like to say a lot of things about solidarity and what it means to be a good ally. I think it boils down to this idea of radically inclusive family. During Ferguson October, Rev. Renita Lamkin said at SLU when police officers threatened to hurt peaceful protesters, her attitude was, “THIS ONE IS MINE AND YOU BETTA NOT.”
  2. For Martin Luther King, Jr., the beloved community would heal the world. Because if everyone is like family, you might have conflict, but conflict can be resolved peacefully. Poverty, hunger, and homelessness would not be tolerated. Racism and discrimination would be replaced by radical inclusion. I know that for some of you, this metaphor is painful. Family has hurt you badly and it is self-care for you to stay away from them. I get that. I’ve seen it. If that’s the case, I think you can still find hope in the idea of the beloved community. The spirit of family and agape love seek to preserve and create community, but doesn’t force anyone to do so. It’s an ideal, but it’s one that Martin Luther King, Jr. thought was realistic and achievable.
    1. In his last sermon, Martin Luther King, Jr. said “there is something happening in Memphis. There is something happening around the world.” I think we can say today, “there is something happening in St. Louis. There is something happening around the world.” In St. Louis, fast food workers are organizing together to protest against racial injustice because economic justice works hand in hand with racial justice. Ferguson protesters visited organizers in Palestine to be in solidarity over their struggles for liberation. When I was in Taiwan, I shared my experiences in St. Louis and my cousin shared her experiences in the Sunflower Movement, which is fighting for accountability and transparency in its legislature. Beloved communities are springing up in rocky soil, even as they thirst for freedom.
    2. The apostle Paul was also dedicated to preserving and creating beloved communities. A professor once said I was like Paul because I wrote a letter to my church. I was a little offended. Paul likes to tell people what to do and how to live. No one wants to be told how they should conduct themselves in the bedroom. I did not want to be like Paul. After some reflection and complaining to other seminarians, I realized that Paul is actually pretty cool. He doesn’t tell people what to do because he’s trying to be bossy and horrible, but because he is trying his best to preserve and create beloved communities. Today, we read a passage from the letter of Paul to the Corinthian church where Paul critiques libertinism, a dominant Greco-Roman philosophy that hinged on the idea that one is free to do anything. He quotes from libertine philosophy, “all things are lawful for me,” then adds “but not all things are beneficial.” He sought to define the church against Greco-Roman libertine culture as a way of resisting colonial oppression. Do I think resisting Greco-Roman libertine sexual ethics is as much of a concern today? Probably not. Instead, I think we are challenged to ask, How are we to be holy? How do we define ourselves against the oppressive dominant culture?  Metropolitan Congregations United (MCU) is hosting sacred conversations about race and the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ) presents workshops that explore our intersecting identities and how they relate to power, privilege, and oppression. The oppressive dominant culture says that we don’t need these conversations and these workshops are irrelevant. It says that #BlackLivesMatter is offensive because #AllLives(already)Matter. It says that we don’t see race or we are beyond race. It says that we have a black president, so everything is okay.
    3. In 1 Cor 3, Paul addresses a church that is split over their loyalties to different apostles, leaders, of the church. He complains, “For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,”” and adds, “are you not merely human?” As King would, Paul argues that divisive group loyalties are less important than commitment to community. Today, we are challenged to ask, In our busy lives, can we be this catholic? Can we live into this vision of shared church leadership? Martin Luther King Jr. said that we are part of a great world house in which injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. If this is true, will we allow people outside of the St. John’s community, outside of the Episcopalian community, outside of the Christian community, outside of the faith community, can we allow them to lead us? Can we be that serious about being an apostolic church?
  3. King’s vision of agape love in the beloved community and the great world house challenges us to be thoughtful about who we are as a community. Who are we as St. John’s? St. Louisans? Episcopalians? Christians? Humans? When we recite that we believe in one holy, catholic, and apostolic church, what does that mean? Do we believe it? And do we believe that we can work together to heal the world?

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