Show me what Christianity looks like! This is what Christianity looks like: it looks like the Beloved Community.
In the July, 1966 edition of Christian Century The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote: “I do not think of political power as an end. Neither do I think of economic power as an end. They are ingredients in the objective that we seek in life. And I think that end or that objective is a truly brotherly society, the creation of the beloved community.”
The Beloved Community…
The notion of the Beloved Community is not entirely new. True Christians have inscribed it in their hearts and actively worked for it for centuries also calling it by another name — the Kingdom of God. Not a far-away, distant, pie in the sky by and by place, but a here and now presence, a here and now truth that we are called upon to help bring into being no matter who we are or where we are. Now.
A group of the earliest followers of the Risen Christ knew this, and lived this, as we heard in today’s first reading from the Book of Acts. They heard Peter powerfully proclaim “God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power… Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this same Spirit that you both see and hear.” Some who heard Peter’s words just dismissed it as lunatic ravings and walked away, but others heard, heeded, and asked to be baptized. They then “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayer. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”
Show me what Christianity looks like. This is what Christianity looks like!
The earliest Christians understood that following the Risen Christ meant taking care of each other. Meant working for the welfare of all. Meant sharing what they had with those who had less. Meant being in community, not living just for themselves. Meant not just talking about, but being the Beloved Community.
The notion of “The Beloved Community” undergirded everything The Reverend King said and did. Hear Dr. King’s words about the Beloved Community from a speech he gave in 1957, the day after receiving the Social Justice Award from the Religion and Labor Foundation in New York:
“The (goal) is reconciliation; the (goal) is redemption; the (goal) is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. The type of love that I stress here is … agape which is understanding goodwill for all. It is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. It is the love of God working in the lives of people. This is the love that may well be the salvation of our civilization.” (The Role of the Church in Facing the Nation’s Chief Moral Dilemma,” 1957).
Yes, this is what Christianity looks like. Sharing an “overflowing love which seeks nothing in return.” Seeing to it, as that band of early Christians did, that all are included and all are taken care of. Looking out not for “Number One,” but for the health, welfare, and well-being of all. Sharing what they each had so that no one went hungry, no one was left out, no one was cast aside.
Our Gospel passage today talks about whose voice to listen for and whose voice to follow. It talks about, on the one hand, the voices of thieves and bandits, how they try to call out to the sheep, try to lead them away but the sheep — the followers of Jesus — do not listen to their voices, do not follow them.
And who would? Who would knowingly choose to follow a thief or a bandit? I think about those cartoon characters with eye masks and leering grins — or Snidely Whiplash, archenemy of Dudley Do Right (I know, I know, before many of y’all’s time… Just think cartoon, think caricature of wicked bad guy). Who would knowingly follow one of them?
But the thing I’ve learned about evil is that it usually comes wrapped up in ever so enticing, packages with ever so sweetly seductive voices. Voices that say “Come follow me and I will make you rich, and rich will make you happy.” “Come follow me, look out only for Number One because life is short and the one who has the most toys in the end wins.” “Come follow me and I will make you great again.”
Remember the old legend of the Pied Piper of Hamlin? He came into town and promised to drive out all the rats. And with the beautiful sound of his magical flute all the rats indeed followed him and were drowned in the river. And, during that time of rampant plague, all the townsfolk were overjoyed.
Until he came back for his real purpose: to play his magical flute once again and entice all the children to follow him. Which they did and they were never seen again. Who would have invited the Pied Piper in if they known his true intent? But the sound of his flute was so sweet and his promise so enticing…
We hear about choosing which voice to follow in today’s Gospel passage. As Christians we recognize which voice we are called to follow, the voice of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd. The one who loves us with unconditional, limitless, transforming love and compels us to love others in the same way. As Dr. King said: “It is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. It is the love of God working in the lives of (people). This is the love that may well be the salvation of our civilization.”
This is the Beloved Community. This is the Kingdom of Heaven. This is where our hearts lie, this is where our choices lead, this is what our actions build. This is the voice we listen for, this is the voice we follow.
Show me what Christianity looks like. This is what Christianity looks like! AMEN.