Mark 12:28-31 Luke 6:27-38
The Rev. Tom Herbek
January 14, 2018
Jesus called on his followers to create a world and a community with a very different way of setting expectations for how we interact as people. Although Jesus never used the word, it seems that what we need in our world today is a “paradigm shift.” Rhea Miller once described it this way: “Paradigm shift is a term meant to convey the changing of the way we view the world: the turning or shifting of our perception, our overall concept of reality. It is not so much a matter of a change in the content of our world as it is a shift in our understanding. It is not so much a change of pitch on a musical scale, as a change in tone…. It is how the facts fall into a new place for us…. It is important to understand that a paradigm shift is not a matter of seeing things more clearly. Rather, it is like perceiving the universe in a different color.”
Perhaps Jesus was not so much an idealist as he was a paradigm shifter. He was as much a realist as anyone. But those of us who are followers of Jesus sometimes shift back to the old paradigm, the one that is so different from Jesus’ view, the one that believes it is the only realistic view. Luckily, there are those that remind us of Jesus’ view.
William Sloan Coffin was one: “’Am I my brother’s keeper?’ No, I am my brother’s brother or sister. Human unity is not something we are called upon to create, only to recognize.”
Is this true? What if this paradigm shift occurred? How would our world and our society be different?
Another paradigm shifter was Martin Luther King. He said that we are all in this together. In his sermon, “The Man Who Was a Fool”, he said: “All people are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.”
If we are all “tied in a single garment of destiny”, it means we must look at things very differently. It means we must see how much we are interdependent on one another. King also once said: “As long as there is poverty in the world I can never be rich, even if I have a billion dollars. As long as diseases are rampant and millions of people in this world cannot expect to live more than twenty-eight or thirty years, I can never be totally healthy even if I just got a good checkup at Mayo Clinic. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way our world is made. No individual or nation can stand out boasting of being independent. We are interdependent.”
This is why Dr. King said that he must “stand with the poor, with the messed up, with the beaten up, with the downtrodden.” King understood that Jesus called for a view of reality that was different, a view that saw every person as a child of God.
In the very parochial Jewish world into which Jesus was born, he startled his followers and his enemies both, by including outsiders as children of God: women and children, not full people; Samaritans, Gentiles and other non-believers; lepers and lunatics, the poor, those who were sick and filthy; tax collectors and traitors, prostitutes and zealots, people on the fringe of society.
If we accept this view of reality, it means that if there is one person, no matter who they are, who needs help, then we cannot rest until we give it to them.
Gaynelle Wethers, president of the American Association of University Women, wrote a guest editorial in the Democrat and Chronicle in December. She wrote:
I felt it important to reread Dr. King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. A profound quote states: “I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with a narrow, provincial ‘outsider agitator’ idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.”
Viola Luizzo understood and took to heart King’s message. A housewife and mother of five, she was an active NAACP member in Detroit. Shocked at watching black protesters being brutalized on television, she took action. She decided to join the four-day, 54-mile walk from Selma to Montgomery. With her bags packed, she told her husband, “It’s everybody’s fight.”
Luizzo was murdered by a car full of Klansmen who pulled alongside her vehicle and opened fire. She was shot in the head and died instantly. She was 39 years old, murdered because she marched supporting voting rights in Alabama in 1965.
Sometimes I am shocked at how much progress we have made in creating the beloved community in our nation; and sometimes I am shocked at how little progress we have made in our nation. But Martin Luther King understood this all.
We must realize that we can make a difference, each of us in our own way, the way of love. It will not be easy or quick. These next words of Martin Luther King are as appropriate today as when he spoke them:
Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. Even a superficial look at history reveals that no social advance rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals. Without persistent effort, time itself becomes an ally of the insurgent and primitive forces of irrational emotionalism and social destruction. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.
As much as in King’s time, this is a time for vigorous and positive action. And as King cautioned, we must avoid “a superficial optimism” on the one hand, and “a crippling pessimism” on the other. The solution to the problems we face is not going to be easy, nor will it happen quickly. But the reality to which Jesus calls us is the only true reality. The interdependence, the mutuality, the bigger inner circle causes us to see the world differently.
As followers of Jesus, we view the world much differently, partly because we are a part of a wider community and not just on our own. We are a part of a “beloved community”, as Dr. King calls it, a church family trying to reach out to the larger beloved community of our world. As our church family tackles the horrendous issues of our world together, we can foster creativity and help each other.
As William Sloan Coffin once wrote:
It seems to me that in joining a church you leave home and home town to join a larger world. The whole world is your new neighborhood and all who dwell therein – black, white, yellow, red, stuffed and starving, smart and stupid, mighty and lowly, criminal and self-respecting, American or Russian — all become your sisters and brothers in the new family formed in Jesus. By joining a church, you declare your individuality in the most radical way in order to affirm community on the widest possible scale.
As we work together, and learn together, and grow in our faith together, and respect each other’s differences, and supplement each other’s skills, and give each other an arm to lean on or a shoulder to cry on, we are living out in this Finger Lakes town the beloved community. Let us challenge each other, and support each other and love each other, as we follow this radical realist, Jesus Christ, who came to us to reveal God’s love and called us to love one another.
And may we continue to expand our inner circle, continue to expand our understanding of the beloved community. As we follow this radical paradigm shifter and doer named Jesus, may we shift our views and do our best to follow him.
May we do all that we can to recognize this single garment of destiny and create a beloved community, a place of love – realistic, tough, powerful, all-encompassing love.
We are followers of the one who said: “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
In A Passion for the Possible, William Sloan Coffin puts it as well as anyone I know. I will close with what he wrote:
The challenge today is to seek a unity that celebrates diversity, to unite the particular with the universal, to recognize the need for roots while insisting that the point of roots is to put forth branches. What is intolerable is for difference to become idolatrous. When absolutized, nationalism, ethnicity, race, and gender are reactionary impulses. They become pseudo-religions, brittle and small, without the power to make people great. No human being’s identity is exhausted by his or her gender, race, ethnic origin, or national loyalty. Human beings are fully human only when they find the universal in the particular, when they recognize that all people have more in common than they have in conflict, and that it is precisely when what they have in conflict seems overriding that what they have in common needs most to be affirmed. Human rights are more important than the politics of identity, and religious people should be notorious boundary crossers.
Perhaps, if we can do this, we can move one step closer to the Beloved Community- in this church, and in our world.