A New Unity Sunday Gathering
Amid darkness and cold, we come to find light and warmth
We have come for the bright gleam of hope
We have come for the warm glow of relationship
We have come to find a way together toward a more benevolent and just world
We have come to bring light
to the gloom of this season;
to the shadowed places in our own lives;
and to a world clouded by conflict
There is a bright light that shines when we come together
May it drive shadows from the earth
Martin Luther King Jr., from a speech in 1956
the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption;
the end is the creation of the Beloved Community.
It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends.
It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age.
It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.
From the Tao Te Ching, attributed to Lao Tzu
If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.
If there is to be peace in the nations,
There must be peace in the cities.
If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbors.
If there is to be peace between neighbors,
There must be peace in the home.
If there is to be peace in the home,
There must be peace in the heart.
Message, by Andy Pakula
Over the past week, although I was comfortably in London, my thoughts were very often drawn to a tiny Greek island called Leros.
Leros is one of the places where refugees from dangerous, war-torn nations like Syria and Afghanistan have landed in their dangerous struggle to find safety. Just seven miles off the coast of Turkey with a population of only about 7,000 people - Leros has been at the front line of this enormous humanitarian crisis as thousands of refugees have flowed in.
All this week, two of our brave, courageous, caring friends - Kirby Costa-Campos and Sophie Yau - have been in Leros. We have had the opportunity to be with them in a way through their public posts on social media - all of which are available through our Facebook group.
Through Kirby and Sophie, the somewhat abstract images of a refugee crisis became more real and very immediate to me and to many of you.
We saw hundreds of desperate people crammed in a motorised rubber boat arrive in the middle of the night. Many of them are children. They are freezing cold - wearing the water-soaked clothes they had on when they swam to shore a few days earlier. They are weak with hunger - having spent three days without any provisions or shelter on a Greek military island.
There is the young girl who lost her glasses in the waters and is trapped in world of blurs and fear. There is the broken family who fled Afghanistan when the father was murdered by the Taliban. There is the woman who collapsed and stopped breathing. There is the family whose life savings lie at the bottom of the sea because smugglers deemed them too heavy to bring along.
Happily, these people and more were helped by Kirby and Sophie - thanks to several thousand pounds of donations from you and others around the world.
Many more have not been helped. Many more have been left to the cruelty of smugglers and Greek officials. Too many have not made it through this leg of their epic journey toward freedom - left drowned in the waters of the Aegean sea. The refugees who made it to Leros seem to receive no help whatsoever from Greek or European governments. No help from NGOs. It is down to just a few volunteers to cope with a flood of human suffering and need.
These stories are just a few of the thousands from Leros - and just a tiny sample of the lives that form part of what we call “the refugee crisis.”
This is part of our world. As much as our relief at the progress in the Paris climate talks, as much as our revulsion at the hateful words coming from people like Donald Trump, as much as our worries about housing costs, as much as our own struggles and joys at this festive season - Leros is a part of our world.
It is at times like this - when the realities of the world are thrust upon us - that we think once again of what kind of world we live in and what it might be. We wonder what part we are and should be playing in this world.
Perhaps we vacillate between trying to hide from the reality and knowing we need to confront it.
We may be torn between hope and despair as we sense that our great dreams for the future are being consumed by the fires of fear and hatred or by neglect from those who can not accept our common humanity.
And we may feel an essential conflict between two great objectives: creating life-sustaining and nurturing relationships where we are and joining in the struggle and the battle for greater justice.
I have watched this latter conflict play out in my own heart. I have heard in the words of people I admire. Some speak in glowing and poetic terms of the communities they long for and are creating. They speak of love for others and an interdependence that manifests in a real and day-to-day way. Their dreams are of a community that builds us up, helps us find joy, strengthens us, and nurtures our growth.
And others speak with outrage at the injustices of the world. They point to those who harm others and those who perpetuate oppression. They may feel that the desire for community is too self-serving a goal for a world such as ours - a world with too much pain.
Today, I want to speak for a third way - a way that rejects the polarisation of these voices as false and unhelpful.
Martin Luther King spoke of the dream of the Beloved Community. The Beloved Community is not heaven - it is not other-worldly. He meant it to be a real and achievable state of society. King spoke of love as a power for justice. He did not mean romantic love. He did not mean the weak greeting-card version of love, but a powerful love that is based in our human interdependence and mutuality. It is a love that, in King’s own words, “is a willingness to go to any length to restore community. It doesn't stop at the first mile, but goes the second mile to restore community…”
The Taoist writing we heard earlier tells us that peace in the world is dependent on a peace that lives more locally - in our hearts and our communities. A heart at war cannot participate in peace.
The Taoists were not alone in understanding that peace begins with a personal transformation.
In the Qur'an, it is said “Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.”
Great Buddhist teachers have long recognised that cultivating loving kindness within ourselves is a necessary foundation of a more just society.
Martin Luther King did not tell his followers to take their very justified anger to the streets. He did not organise angry protests or encourage others to attack their oppressors.
His approach began with inner transformation - with creating an understanding and a belief in the power of love and of human interdependence. He taught that injustice is a blight on the oppressor as well as the oppressed. Therefore securing justice is a loving act achieved through the application of love.
Love is not separate from the struggle for peace and justice. Love is at the very heart of that struggle.
We do not learn to love on our own. It is not automatic.
As feminist theologian Carter Heyward reminds us,
“...loving involves commitment. We are not automatic lovers of self, others, world, or God. Love does not just happen. We are not love machines, puppets on the strings of a deity called 'love.' Love is a choice -- not simply, or necessarily, a rational choice, but rather a willingness to be present to others without pretense or guile. Love is a conversion to humanity -- a willingness to participate with others in the healing of a broken world and broken lives. Love is the choice to experience life as a member of the human family, a partner in the dance of life…”
We do not learn to love those we find difficult and troublesome from a book or a TED talk or a Youtube video or even by contemplation, meditation, or prayer.
We learn in the powerful and transformative environment of relationship in community. It is in community that we are held close to one another. It is through the challenge of relationship - not despite that challenge - that we learn what it is to understand another person. It is there that we come to grow as loving beings - not in the abstract - but in the real, tested, true, and trying relationships with which we are presented each day.
There is no option to choose between love and justice - to focus on the local community as an alternative to the world community. They are inextricable and one strengthens the other.
So let us be one with each other - offering a love that recognises our interdependence, our mutuality, and our shared humanity. And let us be one with the world - seeking to change it not at a distance - not as something that is other - but recognising all as kin and beloved.
Here and everywhere, let us work to build the beloved community.
May it be so.
Let love grow in our hearts
Let love grow in the relationships between us
Let love grow in this community
Let love grow in the cities and in the nations
Let a love that creates justice be among us all