The Rev.Cn. Jeff Martinhauk
Easter 2B, April 11, 2021
St. Paul’s Cathedral, San Diego
Acts 4:32-35; John 20:19-31
I just re-read an article from the beginning of our Sacred Ground journey. Way back in session two, for those of you who are in our anti-racism groups, we read an article by David Dean called “Roots Deeper than Whiteness.” In that article he traces the origins of racism 400 years ago.
His argument is that the creation of whiteness was an intentional manipulation by the wealthy to keep poor white people from aligning with poor people of color and overthrowing the plantation system. The wealthy were taking advantage of an emergent economic system as feudalism faded: capitalism.
The emergence of shipping technology increased business’s efficiency, and the wealthy used theology to exploit their labor force. The Protestant work ethic was born to give primacy to hard work, devalue fun and frivolity, and keep bodies working hard in mills for the primary benefit of the wealthy. Eventually, many of the peasants left desolate by the changing economy around them were rounded up and taken to Virginia, willingly or not, as indentured servants where only 50 families owned almost all of the land. They worked alongside enslaved and indentured Africans and indigenous Americans. Still, race was not a common concept, and those working the land had more in common with each other regardless of ethnicity or national origin, than they did with the landowners.
But at some point that became a threat. Beginning in the fall of 1663, the European indentured servants and the African slaves planned and carried out a series of revolts against the ruling elite. Afraid that their empires would collapse, the landowners responded by dividing and conquering the workers: creating a white identity for the Europeans that would be seen as superior to the African slaves. Ensuring they would never have enough to be a threat to their own status, the landowners gave the new “white” group just enough to let them feel like they had more freedom than the Africans, enough to feel superior and keep from aligning with the Africans to revolt. Whiteness was born, and racism was embedded into the fabric of our history.
One part of this sad piece of U.S. history is that a part of that identity manipulation was to erase the stories of suffering that caused Europeans to leave Europe and replace them with some of the same British colonial and capitalist histories that caused them to have to leave in the first place. This “glorified and sanitized” version of white American patriotism came to be a foundational part of identity for many people in this country.
And so while racism has many collaborators and causes, it began at least in large part as a wealth protection strategy for the wealthy.
In today’s passage from Acts, money is used not as a barrier, but as a tool for belonging. Rather than being divided by those who have and those who don’t have, the early community is so moved by the risen Christ, that they combine everything to care for one another.
Picture it for a moment. This early church, with a variety of people– educated and uneducated, a few rich and many poor, sinners and tax collectors, outcasts and a few respectable people. This strange assortment of people had fallen in with Jesus of Nazareth. In the days since they had witnessed life from death, they created new life in community.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made popular a term for a similar kind of community, where concern for neighbor is so strong that one might be willing to give of self for its preservation. He called it the beloved community.
In 1957, Dr. King gave the speech, Birth of a Nation where he talked about the aftermath of violence. He was opposed to the use of violence in retaliating against white oppressors, and instead advocated for the use of nonviolence, even when faced with unthinkable acts directed towards him. He believed the only outcome of violence, even when used in response to violence, was emptiness and bitterness. Dr. King believed, however, that the fruit of nonviolence was redemption and reconciliation. And the thing that comes after nonviolence, the new life that sprouts from following a different path, was the creation of the beloved community.
A year earlier after the successful completion of the nonviolent Montgomery bus boycotts, Dr. King described the kind of love that would change opponents into friends and despair into hope. “It is this love,” he said, “which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.”
The beloved community would bring about true inter-personal and inter-group living, believed King, where justice was not parceled out to individuals or groups but was the birthright of every human being.
Some think of this passage in Acts as a blueprint for a political or economic system, or an ethical yardstick for giving. But just like our early community in Acts, the beloved community for King was about so much more. Dr King said: “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 beloved community was not the same as the peaceable kingdom. It wasn’t some otherworldly realm where lions and lambs would lie down together. It was contemplated as a realistic and achievable community, where poverty and homelessness would be nonexistent because the inhumanity of those conditions would not allow it, because the members of the beloved community would give of themselves to ensure that those conditions could not exist for a fellow member of their community.
More than about money, more than about political systems, the beloved community is about belonging. Not just some touchy-feely belonging, one that just feels good. It is about belonging enough to have true equity for all persons in it, where each person is so beloved of God and beloved of each other that justice is a part of the air and love is in the water. Where my need affects you and your need affects me. Where I can celebrate your differences and you mine and they are so important to each of us that we are still of one heart and soul.
We get that story today, on this second Sunday of Easter, because this beloved community is an Easter story. This beloved community in Acts, this beloved community envisioned by Dr. King, this community where all people can share and steward the wealth of our common earth and our love for it and each other, comes in the story of Acts as a response to the resurrection of Jesus. This is what Easter looks like. This is how Easter unfolds in the church. Jesus dies. But Jesus rises. And Alleluia! Our hearts are changed! Yes with our money and our politics but not merely with our money or our politics. We are changed by our whole way of relating– to everything, and to everybody!
We are called to be Easter people! Whoever you are and wherever you find yourself on your journey of faith, you are welcome here at St. Paul’s. We are a community of belonging. Not just because we smile at strangers and shake hands. But because we strive to live into our new life, into resurrection, into Beloved Community. We work to make belonging matter.
We all have a part to play in that beloved community. Maybe it is forming a new relationship with an unlikely person. Maybe it is getting someone registered to vote or helping someone get a meal. Maybe it is taking a stand. Maybe it is as internal a thing as noticing a twinge inside when someone mentions race and paying attention to it to see how you might need to start paying attention to race differently.
You can choose to create the beloved community every day, where people look out for each other and where everyone’s humanity is respected. But in order to do that, you may have to give something up, just like the apostles did in the lesson for Acts. That is what the love of the resurrection lets us do. That’s what we are here to do, to follow Jesus in love.
Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.
Finger, Reta Halteman. “Cultural Attitudes in Western Christianity Toward the Community of Goods in Acts 2 and 4.” The Mennonite Quarterly Review. April 2004: Vol 78 p 235.
Dean, David. “Roots Deeper than Whiteness.” White Awake. Via Internet on 4/7/21. https://whiteawake.org/2018/10/27/roots-deeper-than-whiteness/