1 Corinthians 1.1-10
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning,
Plymouth Congregational UCC,
Fort Collins, Colorado
My friends, this is a hard time for our nation. We live in an era when our beliefs have been shaken…that we do hold one another accountable for just and moral actions…that we do judge one another by the content of our character…that our nation’s leaders do act from a sense of integrity…that our nation itself does stand together…that we will come together as one people to tackle seemingly intractable challenges like global warming.
That is one of the reasons I give thanks to God always for you, Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ. Because when I read and hear and see the disgrace of impeachment, I remember that you are faithful, that God is faithful, and that you have gifts and graces have been strewn upon you in a truly extravagant manner…that you strive to be the Beloved Community. And that like a virus, Beloved Community is something you can catch if you’re not careful.
It’s a virus that lives not on the unwashed hands, but rather dwells in the swelling hearts of people like you. It’s not a virus you can catch with a handshake, but by opening your heart and your mind to something new. It’s not a virus that is transmitted by casual contact with other people, but rather is spread wherever love, beauty, awe, and grace are lived out. It is not a virus limited to one demographic sector: it spreads among Gen X and Boomers and Gen Y and the Greatest Generation whenever we break down walls and build bridges instead. It’s not a virus that is contained within any religious or ethnic group or gender: it is spread by reaching beyond oneself and beyond self-interest and radical individualism and beyond nationalism or chauvinism or racism.
None of us is fully inoculated against this virus that Dr. King called the Beloved Community, using the phrase of philosopher Josiah Royce. And I hate to tell you, but you have been exposed to that virus, which is sometimes a little hard to catch, and even harder to get rid of. You see, Jesus had the virus, and every time you come to the communion table, every time you are the recipient of God’s grace, when you received the gift of baptism as a new person, when you were given the gift of life itself – then my friends, you were exposed to the virus. And like any virus, the more you are exposed, the greater the chances that you will contract it and manifest the Beloved Community.
I am grateful for you, because you are not only living with that virus, you are a carrier, and I know that some of you are spreading that virus every time you lend a listening ear, act for justice, do a simple kindness, share something of yourself.
Beloved Community is the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed. Beloved Community is where creation’s wealth is preserved and shared; where racism, bigotry, and prejudice are eradicated; where fear and intimidation are replaced by faith and love; where nations use nonviolent means to resolve their conflicts; where we see and live into the unity of humankind and creation. Beloved Community is grounded in nonviolence on a personal level, and group level, and on a societal level. In 1957, Dr. King wrote, “The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community. The aftermath of nonviolence is redemption. The aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation.” Those of us who remember the fall of Apartheid in South Africa and the profound witness and work of Archbishop Desmond Tutu know that truth and reconciliation are the only viable alternatives to falsity and further violence.
When you read about or watch the impeachment hearings this week, I would ask you to remember something: that you have been exposed to a virus. Carrying that virus determines how you spend your money, how you think and feel, how you spend your weekends, how you vote, how you raise your children and treat your elders, how you exist as a gifted soul in God’s world. I give thanks for you. And as you watch the rancorous debate, and as you hear truths and falsehoods unfold, remember that you have been exposed to a virus that has changed you into someone who is not susceptible to the cancer of hatred. Carrying that virus means that you will not hate anyone and that you will work for reconciliation.
In an article in The Christian Century in 1966, Dr. King 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 of that objective is a truly brotherly society, the creation of the beloved community.”
The kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed and the Beloved Community that Dr. King espoused are not fully realized…I don’t have to tell you that, you see the evidence every day. But a virus is not visible to the naked eye. It is within us and among us. It is passed to others by love and reconciliation. I give thanks for you, Plymouth, because I have witnessed your love and your faith, and you give me hope for the Beloved Community. Keep on keeping on!
I leave you with a short visual meditation on the March on Washington in 1963…may it spread the virus.
© 2020 Hal Chorpenning, all rights reserved. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to reprint, which will typically be granted for non-profit uses.
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning has been Plymouth's senior minister since 2002. Before that, he was associate conference minister with the Connecticut Conference of the UCC. A grant from the Lilly Endowment enabled him to study Celtic Christianity in the UK and Ireland. Prior to ordained ministry, Hal had a business in corporate communications. Read more about Hal.