Retreat Into Your City!

For this week’s Events and Happenings, click “Download PDF” above.

For this week’s spiritual exercise “Paying Attention” led by Steve, click HERE.

For this week’s worship service, click the YouTube link above.

[This week’s sermon has no script, but is captured in the video from our service. Thank you to Reservoir members speaking in the video: Herma Parham, Mardi Fuller, Grace Watson, Lyssa Paluay.]

Dealing with Privilege in the Beloved Community

For this week’s Events and Happenings at Reservoir, click “Download PDF.”

For this week’s spiritual practice led by Vernee Wilkerson, called “Shelter,” click HERE.

To view this week’s online worship service, click the YouTube link above.


The other week I got to talk with a man who knew my maternal grandfather. I called him Pop Pop, and he died in 1997, just a few months after dancing at my wedding. I knew he loved me and was proud of me, and I miss him still. And other than family, I hadn’t talked to anyone that knew him in a long time. It surprised me how much that meant to me. 


The story my family tells of Pop Pop is that he grew up poor in Brooklyn, during the Great Depression. He served his country in the navy, worked with his brother in construction, and then set out on his own as a home builder. He worked long and hard with his hands, building house after house, creating homes for others and a good living for himself. He spent little, saved and later invested wisely. Until by the time he died, he was one of those millionaires next store you never would have guessed. And he left not just a legacy of decency and sound advice and love to his daughter and three grandsons, but he left us each enough funds to buy a house and get a debt-free, home owning start in life.


That’s one story, one I was told, again and again, and it’s all true. But it’s not the whole story. 


Pop Pop may have been poor, but he had a brother who worked as a civil engineer on public works projects, a profession that was barred to people of color and even to many recent European immigrants. So in the navy, Pop Pop worked in construction and was shielded from the danger of the front lines. After the war, he bought his first home with a basically no-interest loan from the GI bill, which gave all kinds of government handouts to white veterans. He then built houses for white families in the suburbs of New York City, at the same time white families weren’t just having babies but were fleeing from cities in fear of their new neighbors of color. Pop Pop worked for himself, but he built houses quicker because he hired working class day laborers from the city next door to the suburb he had settled in, paying them a fair day’s wage, but never keeping them long enough to pay them more or give them benefits. And on it goes. 


This story’s true too. It doesn’t make my Pop Pop an evil man, but it does reveal his privilege, that he benefitted again and again from special opportunities, often barred from or afforded at the expense of Black Americans, as well as other people of color. This is some of the systemic racism in my family line, part of why my mother, my brothers, and I got the help we did in life. 


Today, I want to explore how the gospel, the good news of Jesus, speaks to all our stories of privilege, advantages we have through no merit of ours, as well as advantages that have been taken from us, through no failing of ours. It’s one sermon, so there will always be more to say, but I want to suggest at least one way we can respond to these stories in light of the good news of Jesus. 


Let me read an excerpt from the Bible’s little letter called Philippians, written by Paul of Tarsus to the house churches of the seaside port of Philippi in the mid-first century. I’ll read a bit from the third chapter.


Philippians 3:4b-9 (NRSV)

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.7 Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8 More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.


Now this is interesting because Paul is a Jew living under the colonial Roman Empire. And he’s writing to a mixed Jewish-non Jewish audience. They all would have known that Jews like Paul were mocked constantly by Romans. Their religion, their culture, their customs were the butt of many jokes. They were scapegoated sometimes when problems occurred. Jews were expelled from Rome by one emperor around this time. So Paul could have written to Philippi and discussed his real grievances as a Jew, or as a Christian, under the empire. Paul was both of those things and at the time, being either Jewish or Christian in the Roman Empire gave you less privilege. And later in Philippians, Paul does speak to the spiritual power and perspective that help him navigate suffering. 


But privilege is intersectional. You can have more in some areas and less in others. And Paul’s aware that within his own community, his lineage, his family, his childhood, his training, and his way of life gave him access to all kinds of benefits others didn’t have. 


But now as a follower of Jesus, he questions those gains. In fact, not only does he question them, he sees them as losses. 


Paul’s accumulated privilege – whatever unearned benefits he had in life – he calls it all a pile of crap. Our Bibles usually translate this “rubbish”, sometimes politely “dung,” which is a word almost no one ever uses unless they’re at a cow farm. A “heap of crap” would catch the mood better.


Why is this? What difference has Jesus made in the way Paul sees his social location?


Well, he sees that the truly good life comes from a relationship with God in Christ. Having higher status than other people, having extra privilege others don’t can make you feel good about yourself, it can make you feel special in a way. But it can’t make you know that you are loved, that you have transcendent meaning and worth, that no matter what happens in life, you belong on this earth God made. Knowing Christ does all of that, though. It tells you that you are loved, you are worthy, you matter, your life has infinite dignity and meaning. 


And socially, we see throughout Paul’s letters, this is supposed to translate not just to belonging to God, but belonging to a community of radical equality before God. Where people who have all the privilege in the world belong, but no more than anyone else. And where people who are despised and rejected in the world’s hierarchies of privilege belong no less than anyone else. 


This is easy to talk about. It sounds beautiful to say radical equality, or beloved community, or everyone belongs, but it is way harder to do. 


Because the truth is, if you have relative privilege, you always feel you belong. And if you have a relative lack of privilege, you can see in a second all the places that are not making a home for you. 


If you have housing and a shower and clean clothes, talk to someone who doesn’t have those things. They know in a second when they enter a public place if they’re welcome or not. Almost always, not.


If you’re white, and you listen to the experience of a person of color about the neighborhoods and vacation spots where they feel safe or don’t, that highways they feel safe travelling on, well, it might be eye opening. It was for me, when after my marriage to Grace, who’s Chinese-American, we took our first trip to an all white, more homogenous pocket America and then realized based on our experiences as an interracial couple there, that most of this country’s geography wasn’t open to us, not on terms we’d want. This topic of where people of color can safely travel in America came up in our community group again this week. 


The flip side of this is true as well, for those of us with relative privilege. I learned this concept of white sprawl from the social psychologist Christena Cleveland, that white people – being taught we belong everywhere in this country – can have a tendency to go anywhere we want and not consider the well-being of other people who were there already. A few years back, I realized that was still true of me, when I showed up on a facebook page for thousands of Asian American Christians with a want ad for a position at Reservoir Church.


On the one hand, it worked out well. That’s where I met Lydia after all. On the other hand, though, people were like: yo, get out of this space. You (meaning me) rolled into someone else’s living room with a want ad, without asking if that was OK for you to do that here. 


Truthfully, I hadn’t thought to ask for permission. Obvious in retrospect. I felt bad about that and had to try to make amends. But I did it because my life in America hasn’t taught me I need permission. It’s like the modern, personalized version of Manifest Destiny. “This land is my land.”


Now what does all this have to with Paul, and the rubbish of his ethnic and religious privilege, and the importance of knowing Christ? Everything. Here’s why.


On religious terms, people of privilege are prone to pride – seeing ourselves or being seen by others as better or more important or more deserving than we really are. This is the pride of a mountain. I’m invulnerable. I’m worthy. I deserve my spot. Look how big I am.


And on religious terms, people without privilege are prone to abnegation – being negated – seeing ourselves or being seen by others as less important or less deserving than we really are. This is the negation of a valley. It is done to us by others. “Look how vulnerable you are. You’re unworthy.” Or those messages can become internalized and said to ourselves: “I deserve my lack of place. See how small I am.”


Pride and abnegation. The puffing up of a false mountain self, or the tearing down of a false valley self. 


Some theologians have called pride and abnegation the original sins. They both lie, they both keep us from God and our true selves, and they keep us from one another as well.


Pride tells us we’re less vulnerable than we are, abnegation – whether in our own eyes or others – tells us we’re more. Pride tells us we don’t need God, abnegation that we are defined by our neediness. Pride tells people they deserve it all, abnegation that they are undeserving. It’s all a lie, it’s all sin. Jesus wants to level it all.


Every valley lifted up, every mountain be made low. That the way of the Lord will be clear for us all. 


Paul saw this first hand. 


In Acts 16, when Paul travels to Philippi, the first woman he meets is named Lydia. She is a surprise.


See, Paul only went Northwest up to Philippi because he had a vision. He was having some struggles in Western Asia and had a vision of a Greek man, a Macdeonian man saying, Come and help us. So Paul did. But when he arrived in Philippi, in the heart of Macedonia, he looked for a Friday evening prayer meeting.   And in Paul’s faith and culture, you didn’t have a valid Friday evening prayer meeting without a certain number of men being present. But the book of Acts tells us that Paul found just women instead.


So Paul had to adapt his vision – it wasn’t a Macdeonian man at all with whom he’s going to start this church, it was a Macedonian woman who would be that faith community’s first leader. 


This was Lydia, likely like my grandfather, both a hard-working go getter, maybe in part a rags to riches story. But also a daughter of privilege. One who had advantages in that she was freeborn, she had access to some capital to start her business, she likely had networks among people of wealth, which helped her in her trading. 


The second woman Paul meets in Philippi isn’t really a woman at all, but a girl still, a girl who was a slave. The Roman empire had millions of slaves at the bottom of its pyramid of privilege. There were public slaves, like those that built public works or in the case of Philippi, worked the mines in the hills around the city. And there were private slaves, like this girl, who were used to support the whims and the economies of their owners.


Paul does the work of an abolitionist, helps free her, which gets him beaten and arrested and eventually driven out of the city.


All to say, though, Paul knew first hand what children of privilege looked like. In some ways, he was one himself. He saw how people of privilege could use their power for good and for justice in the world. He too did that. But he saw the spiritual danger of privilege as well – how it could give us an illusion of independence, of invulnerability, of not needing God and neighbor, how it can make us untender, ungenerous, and so not resilient when hard times come. 


And Paul knew first hand what children of suffering looked like. How they or their ancestors were robbed, used, their bodies or dignity or possessions stolen again and again. He saw the ways that can tear people down in other’s eyes, and sometimes be so internalized that we are self-abnegated, torn down, unworthy in our own eyes. 


And for all of us, Paul’s gospel invitation, his good news in Jesus was toward freedom. 


What does it mean to not be defined by the ways that this life and our history have laid us low, called us lesser or unworthy? And what does it mean where we have privilege, to treat it like the heap of crap, like the rubbish that it is? To shed ourselves of the accumulated toxins in our place in the world, to let go of that which be-fowls us, which weighs down and needs expelling? 


There’s a lot we can do, but it starts by telling the truth about ourselves and one another. 


If we lie about ourselves, or believe unexamined the lies that have been told about us, we don’t make room for an honest relationship with God and we cut ourselves off from honest connections with others too.


If I see myself as a child of merit alone, then I’ll look down on the people who haven’t got what I got. 


Truthful stories about ourselves and others, stories that admit that none of us succeeds or fails alone, that we are all tied up in generational and societal fabrics of blessing and curse, of unmerited privilege and undeserved suffering – truthful eyes that see all this let us all be people of grace. This lets us all be people who see that none of us are above needing God and one another, just as none of us are less loved or blessed by God either. 


The good news says God loves you in Christ. None of you higher or lower than the other. And with his own example, Paul tells the children of privilege that their gains are rubbish. They ought to humble themselves, tell the truth, be content with less, and use what they have to empower and liberate others. And he tells the children of suffering: God loves you in Christ as well. Rise, shine, for your light has come. Let’s tell the truth about your dignity together as well. Be free.


This fall, our community groups have been sharing a lot of stories about where we come from in an effort to tell honest stories about ourselves and to hear honest stories about one another. I hope we keep doing this as we make our way toward beloved community. 


I’m going to encourage us to pray honest prayers we well, and we’ll end with one that appeared at the end of a recent letter from Pope Francis. 

Join me in praying if you’re willing.


O God, Trinity of love,

from the profound communion of your divine life,

pour out upon us a torrent of fraternal love.

Grant us the love reflected in the actions of Jesus,

in his family of Nazareth, 

and in the early Christian community.

Grant that we Christians may live the Gospel,

discovering Christ in each human being,

recognizing him crucified

in the sufferings of the abandoned

and forgotten of our world,

and risen in each sibling, each human,

who makes a new start.

Come, Holy Spirit, show us your beauty,

reflected in all the peoples of the earth,

so that we may discover anew 

that all are important and all are necessary,

different faces of the one humanity 

that God so loves. Amen.


Overturning Injustice

For this week’s Events and Happenings at Reservoir, click “Download PDF.”

For this week’s spiritual practice led by Steve on praying the psalms, click HERE.

To view this week’s online worship service, click the YouTube link above.


Let me pray for us. 


May the meditation of our hearts and minds be pleasing to you, Oh Lord my Breath, My Rock and My Redeemer. Amen. 


I saw a meme a while ago that said, “The real miracle of Jesus is how he had 12 close friends in his 30’s.” It’s hard to make new friends in your 30’s. There was a woman I began to become friends with. She and I were about similar ages, in similar life stages and I awkwardly said to her one day, “Hey you want to hang out, like grab coffee or go for a walk together or something? If you want.” She said yes and we met up. It was delightful and nice to hang out with her. We started texting more, sending each other memes on facebook messenger, we video chatted. We dropped off cookies and goodies to each other’s houses. And then one day we had a weird text exchange. We were going back and forth on something and then I think I offended her and she withdrew and ended the conversation quickly. I had felt weird about it too. I texted her cautiously some time later, with a sheepish, “Hi! How have you been?” And she answered, “I’m ok. U?” And I replied a bit more extensively but she wrapped up the convo again quickly. After that, I thought, well I reached out. The ball’s in her court. And I didn’t hear from her for a while. I felt bad but wasn’t sure what was going on. We were a new friendship so I wasn’t sure how to move forward. 


One day, she texted me with, “We need to talk.” I was like, okay, realizing something had gone wrong and we ended up talking on the phone about the last interaction. Honestly at the beginning, the “we need to talk” felt so confrontational. But I was glad she reached out. Cause we ended up sharing, even talking about how both of us were pursuing each other as a possible new friend. She was hurt and told me how I had made her feel. I didn’t know I had hurt her that much until she shared with me. She said, that after she was hurt, she was like, oh forget her. But then she said she looked at her baby daughter and wanted her to grow up learning, “Not as I say but as I do.” That cutting people off just because of one bad interaction is not the way and that she wanted her to have relationships and so she reached out to make it right. That touched my heart deeply because she took a chance, not knowing me too well, to open herself up to me and share her hurt with me. I was grateful that she had that thought and she reached out and didn’t just cut me out of her life because of one mistake I made. Her wisdom allowed us to lean into the conflict and resolve it. 


Building a real friendship isn’t easy. It takes work and conflict is a part of it. We’ve been talking about building a Beloved Community here at Reservoir lately. This theme of beloved community is not just a cheesy lovey dovey talk but a real possibility of an open, inclusive, loving and equitable community. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr saw and spoke of this Beloved Community as the end goal to his fight.

The King Center describes it like this though,

“Dr. King’s Beloved Community was not devoid of interpersonal, group or international conflict. Instead he recognized that conflict was an inevitable part of human experience. But he believed that conflicts could be resolved peacefully and adversaries could be reconciled through a mutual, determined commitment to nonviolence. No conflict, he believed, need erupt in violence. And all conflicts in The Beloved Community should end with reconciliation of adversaries cooperating together in a spirit of friendship and goodwill.”


“No conflict, he believed, need erupt in violence.” MLK was an advocate of non-violence. And yet he recognized that non-violence is not the absence of conflict; in the absence of conflict there is violence. There’s a difference. 


What does a beloved community look like? It’s not just unity or peace. It’s much more dynamic and real than that. It can get messy and difficult at times. Like real love, it’s not just a place where everyone gets along because everyone plays along. It’s you stepping into my space, and me getting into your head, it’s people making space for one another, it’s a beautiful dance. 


Here’s another example from their instagram post, @blackliturgies:


“Being ‘Christianly’… has all too often become synonymous with politeness.

To me, nothing is more Christian than breaking the hands of injustice that are strangling my brother. 

Don’t tell us to calm down when we’re saying I Can’t Breathe.



And they offer a prayer in this regard


Protector God, 

We confess that we have diluted what it means to be Christian (community) with a person’s (group’s) capacity for niceness. We have smothered afflicted voices with shallow proclamations of peace and unity. Instead of listening well, we police how a person cries out without hearing the very words they are crying. But we are grateful, Lord, that you don’t ask us to be nice, but to do mercy and justice. Help us to redefine our peacemaking, that it would be known as that holy kindness which brings the fire of justice and a torrential truth-telling to all in its path. Make us people more concerned with protecting life than protecting the image of Christianity, which need not be protected. Bless our screaming, our weeping, our marching, our fight– that our pain would no longer be invalidated by how it moves when we’re gasping.



Do we have the love to really hear? When someone says in a pained voice, “we need to talk” do we make space for them to tell us what they really think? 


Do we just want things nice and quiet or do we really love one another to listen to each other, especially to those that are hurting, oppressed, crying out and saying, it hurts, we’re dying, stop. 

No conflict, he believed, need erupt in violence. Jesus showed us a picture of this too, in

John 2:13-16.

Let me read it for us

13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!”


Wow, a whip out of cords? Overturned their tables? Jesus! Anger management much?


The Jewish passover was a big deal where all the people from the surrounding lands would travel to Jerusalem for temple worship. With it came over time culture and structures that some people began to exploit, those who were less fortunate, through this tradition. The cattle, sheep, and dove sellers figured out that the travelers couldn’t travel with their animal sacrifices, because the laws also required them to be fresh. So when they arrived to Jerusalem, they had no choice but to purchase the hiked up priced animals. Money exchangers gouged people with this holiday and it had become too normal. 


I’ve heard messages from this text to be about how you shouldn’t sell girl’s scouts cookies at church. That Jesus was mad because they were “turning house of prayer into a marketplace”. But it wasn’t just about neutering church from money. In fact, Jesus talks about money quite a bit. He was talking about, not forgetting about money, but economic justice and what that should look like. 


I still can’t believe this story though. Jesus has always been painted for me as the nice kind man, who welcomed children, healed, forgave. These kinds of texts where Jesus is being so extra didn’t really take the front seat. And in that sense, I think sometimes we make Jesus into a 2 dimensional character. When he was actually very fully human, with emotions, that interacted with real people. There’s a record of Jesus even crying, in public. When was the last time you’ve shown tears in public? Sometimes he didn’t answer people’s questions, which is rude. Sometimes he’d just walk away without telling anyone. Sometimes he rebuked people. In fact the text before this story in Matthew and Mark, I always like looking around the text, you will be thoroughly confused. I didn’t include it, although it kind of goes together with today’s text because I don’t have time to get into it, and well, I’m confused by it too! He tells a fig tree to die, because it didn’t bear fruit. But the text says, it wasn’t fig season. Like, Jesus, did you not know that? What’s your deal? Jesus comes off harsh in some of these texts! How do we make sense of this? 


We forget sometimes, because Christianity can feel so sweet and nice, how actually radical the message of Jesus is. Remember, Jesus was targeted and executed. We worship a God who was murdered by the state publicly. So many people followed him, and interestingly enough, they were the outcasts, the oppressed, the poor, the widow, the women, but so many also hated him, which happened to be those in power. He challenged everything, the system, the culture, the politics, the economic set up of the day. He spoke of things many people did not want to hear. 


Are we willing to listen? How has Jesus challenged you? How is the message of Jesus challenging you these days, rather than just making you happy? How is Jesus overturning things that have always been, things that are comfortable, and causing trouble? Is the message of Jesus a nice addon to your best life now or is he shaking you up a bit? 


What about the people who are doing that in our lives? Now I’m not saying just cause people hate you that you’re doing God’s work. The people that ask us the hard questions. The people who bring tears and anger, and not just pleasantries to our community group. The people who make things real and raw, and sometimes uncomfortable for us. 


And even church, if your church always makes you feel good and upbeat, if you’re always leaving at the end of worship service feeling only encouragement, I really wonder what that says about your church. Religion isn’t for feel goods. That’s a watered down version of a religion. Sometimes the message of Jesus tears our heart out and we’re left with discomfort and questions, and anger, and disappointment rather than always with hope. And God is present in the unknown, a deep dark void with no answers, only tears. Even there, I believe, God is still there. 


Do you feel that way sometimes? That God isn’t answering. Or God isn’t showing you the happy ending? What’s the good of this, God? And all you hear is silence? You see the world filled with injustice and people aren’t getting along, and it just seems uglier and uglier, and you just feel like flipping tables and you have no answers. God is there. 


We had our Reservoir’s Equity Diversity and Inclusion survey report go out this past week in our weekly emails. We call the team REDI for short. The team was commissioned by the board to think more deeply about EDI at our church and to serve as an advisory committee to the board, staff, and the leaders of our church. I’m on the team. It’s been a humbling experience because while our church is already very diverse and really a beautiful place of genuine connection and belonging for many people, it does not exist in a vacuum but within the very confines of the systemic injustice we see everywhere else, racism, sexism, discrimination, and estragement.  Can I say something you don’t want to hear? 

I’ve felt this. This is not just a criticism of our church, or organization, or our people. It’s just honestly, reality. Story of my life. 


I’ve been called chingchong in the parking lot of our church campus. I’ve been grazed on my butt creepily by a man in our chapel. I’ve been called an inappropriate sexualized term towards women that made me feel extremely uncomfortable. Those are just a few examples of more overt ones, not to mention others that are more subtle that I’m not even sure about but I go home pondering about the interactions because i’m a woman of color. Are you surprised? Do you believe me or question the context of the incidents that I’m referring to? 


I’m taking an EDI certification course online these days and it’s helpful because I realize it’s not all in my head or I’m taking things personal. Studies show that unconscious bias, bias we don’t mean, influence the way people are treated. Same behavior by a man and a woman gets evaluated differently. For example, men who speak up are rewarded with 10% more competence points whereas women get a 14% lower rating for speaking up in meetings. I could go on with facts, but I won’t. Cause you’ve heard them and you can hear them anywhere else on podcasts and stuff, but I mention it here, in a sermon. I could be overturning tables instead though. I feel uncomfortable mentioning edi data in a sermon. I’m supposed to encourage you and give you hope for your week in a sermon. But this is all a part of what it looks like to be a Beloved Community. Not just inspiring one another, but being able to bring conflict and honesty towards real equitable transformation of our community. Some of us are echoing edi facts. Some of us are crying out. Some of us are flipping tables. 

Church, are we listening? 


Let me pray for us. 

Jesus, why did you get so mad at the temple? Did you have to resort to violence? We’ve seen to turn the other cheek, accept undeserved judgement of execution on the cross. We know you opened your arms and said, father forgive them? What are in between these stories? Help us to know you more deeply, more completely, through the stories of the Bible, to the core of your heart and your mission. Humble us to see you, to hear you, and to follow you, not a 1 dimensional Jesus that sometimes we water you down to be, but a real personal relational God who deeply engages this world, deeply cares, and deeply loves us. Give us the eyes to see, and the ears to hear we pray. Amen. 

Beloved Community, the Beatitudes and Radical Empathy

For this week’s Events and Happenings, click “Download PDF.”

For this week’s spiritual practice engaging the Beatitudes led by Josh Comas-Race, click HERE.

To watch or rewatch this week’s online worship service, click the YouTube link above.


LOVED by God: Beloved

We are in the midst of a Fall sermon series on Beloved Community, if you’ve been around the last couple of weeks – you’ve heard Lydia and Steve both speak to this.  It’s not solely a Sunday Virch experience though – our community groups have also been engaging with this idea of Beloved Community, as they meet with one another throughout the weeks. And I’d say even beyond that, the hope of us spending time exploring beloved community is so that we can take on this way of being out into the fullness of our lives, in our neighborhoods and cities. 

At the heart of beloved community is this idea…that a human community can be built on love. And that such a community can promote and establish justice, welfare, create deep belonging, and be unified even across differences.


And so this type of community – beloved community -is not just a representation found in a church community, or a cul de sac community, or a school community, or a sports community.

Its only platform really is all of humanity – stretching across and encompassing all the communities that we touch, where we worship, where we work, play and live.

It also  encompasses ALL of who we are as human beings – our failings, our short sightedness, our particular traits, behaviors, opinions, amazingness and our okay-ness.  And it has to account for our history – the experiences that have shaped us – where we’ve come from, and where we stand today.

Beloved community, then, is  pretty vast.

It is not easy to create.

And yet we need Beloved Community, more than ever.

We need help. I need help.

To live this life together.


Howard Thurman, who was a theologian and mentor to the beloved community, says that,

“The term beloved community has a soft and sentimental ring.  It conjures an image of tranquility, peace, and the utter absence of struggle and of all things that irritate and disturb.  But beloved community is far from such a utopian surmise… Disagreements will be real and germane to the  undertaking of us becoming at home in our world – under the eaves of our brother and sister’s (siblings) house.” (1966: 206)


If prophetic voices like Thurman’s are right, Beloved Community is a deep, bold, vision that will ask of us provocative fundamental questions. What do you believe of God?  Where do you stand today, where do you belong? Who do you notice?


These mentors of beloved community, say that our starting point – the only way we can even discuss  – no less vision or  BE A PART of CREATING beloved community IS TO KNOW deep in our beings, that we are loved by God. That we are God’s beloved. AND that every single person around us – is also loved by God.  This is the starting point, the belief system,  the theology that we have to buy into. If we are not close to this truth – this deep love of God for all of us – then we can not be close to co-creating this wild and messy beloved community that we are talking about this Fall.  The courage, the power, the capacity it demands of us will be too much to bear ourselves without this anchor of God’s love.


Still though, this Beloved Community can feel abstract.  So I want to help us get somewhere more concrete….the first step 1) acknowledging this deep love God has for us – the second 2) a “tool” of sorts to get us on our way- “ radical empathy” (which you’ll hear more of in a moment)… and third 3) a posture I’d like you to consider, a willingness to see that any moment where you are in time and place with other living human beings is the foreground for beloved community.  This is WHERE you move from concept of beloved community- to reality.


Scripture – Matthew 5:3-12
Jesus gives us a way into this practical, concrete picture of beloved community in the scripture we will read together today.  This is the scripture that our community groups are spending 7 weeks in – exploring the foundation by which we can create beloved community..  Here’s the starting point he gives us, and Jesus said: (follow along on slide)

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,

    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,

    for they will be comforted.

5 Blessed are the meek,

    for they will inherit the earth.

6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness/justice,

    for they will be filled.

7 Blessed are the merciful,

    for they will be shown mercy.

8 Blessed are the pure in heart,

    for they will see God.

9 Blessed are the peacemakers,

    for they will be called children of God.

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

There is a lot to draw out from these verses, the beatitudes – the first words of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount… 

I just want to mention a couple of things – one is context, which I think is informative:

  1. That the large crowds that are following and listening to Jesus come from all over.
    From Galilee, a very Jewish area, that they came from the Decapolis, (these 10 towns – a very Greek area which is not Jewish, not religious, not pure, not clean, not holy), and they also came from  Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan.”
  • All sorts of different people, from many backgrounds – races, ethnicities, non-”christian”, “christian”,  very, very, elite religious – and non-religious.
  • People who were curious to learn more from Jesus and people who thought they knew all they needed to know of Jesus.
  • People who were oppressed like Jesus himself – and people who were the oppressors.
  • This crowd is a representation of the wide, massive spectrum of humanity.
    – and JESUS is speaking to everyone, not just some of them.


And so in that vein, 

  1. There are some ways that these beatitudes have been TAUGHT that I think might miss the full spectrum of humanity. One way that I’ve heard is to take on these attributes that Jesus lays out – to lead a more godly life: Be more mournful, more poor in spirit, more meek. Or be more invested in fixing the problems of the poor, the meek, and the mourning.

But I think Jesus here is less interested in teaching us new things to do, to check off – to be more holy and in turn get his blessing. And I think he’s less interested in US fixing problems that we have no knowledge or history of – coming in from a distance to be a savior of sorts. 

I think he’s more interested in inviting us to a new way to live with one another in beloved community. 

These verses are not just platitudes, like a sweet way to go about a godly life. THEY ARE robust, disruptive, in-your-face words that shake the dominant culture. Suggesting that to inherit the riches and glory of heaven – one must unlearn all that one has known of power, authority and even of God.


This was very hard to swallow for those whose inheritance had been built on generations of religious exclusiveness.

You see, the systems of power that were at work in Jesus’ day were really good at erecting boundaries. They had an established way of being with one another in community, which is to keep people unlike them OUT. And not only OUT, but DOWN, and oppressively so. Their community is self-sufficient, separate and sacred to them.


The way of life and living, loving God that they knew had never been touched. They knew what was required of them to ‘obey’ or ‘not obey’ the commandments of God. And their  community operated this way too. 

And yet, Jesus in these verses says, here’s a different way of being in community – and it requires you to move in from the edges of the crowd, down from your hill, OUT from  your system and connect to all of these people here (those you deem unclean, impure).  Community is rooted in concrete experience –  IN REAL LIFE – natural and free. 


This is the point of beloved community  that Jesus makes. 


And Howard Thurman echoes this, saying that,

“Community cannot for long feed on itself, it can only flourish with the coming of others from beyond, our unknown and undiscovered brothers and sisters.” (Thurman 1971: 104).  

Jesus was saying the comfort, the inheritance of the earth, the mercy, the kin-dom of heaven, that everyone in that CROWD wanted (including the religious elite), could only be realized in partnership/community with the people that fill the earth.

AND THIS – THIS way of being, is to be BLESSED, blessed in relationship with those we know we despise, and those unknown and undiscovered siblings that we live among.


Radical Empathy

You see these beatitudes are a summons to live in the present, as if it is the future we vision for, dream of…to love our neighbor as ourself.  And I think there is a concrete tool by which we can embody love, and that is empathy.  RADICAL empathy.

Author and journalist, Isabel Wilkinson says,

“The missing link in our age is empathy and the recognition of the shared humanity of another who may on the surface appear different from us. Empathy is a muscle that goes flaccid with disuse. The lack of empathy is the source of division, injustice, and unnecessary suffering. The times in which we live call not just for empathy, but for radical empathy.


And she makes this distinction by saying:


“Empathy is putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and imagining how you would feel. This is not true empathy. It’s role playing. And it still centers yourself. It’s a good start, but not enough for the dangerously fragmented world we live in.  Radical empathy on the other hand, means putting in the work to learn and to listen with a heart wide open, to understand another’s experience well enough to know how they are feeling it, not as we imagine we would feel. It is not about you and what you think you would do in a situation you have never been in and perhaps never will.” 


 As I mentioned many of our community groups are engaging with Beloved Community content – The Beatitudes are one part – but another part of the content actually set tracks for this radical empathy.  By sharing with one another childhood stories of experiences of passion, strong emotion, of your town, of what has been passed down to you.  And the aim of these story sharing times – is to know more of your context, your history – what shaped you – formed you – what memories or moments stung, still reverberate in your bones and body.  These are not just frivolous icebreakers, they are not just community-building prompts.  THEY ARE active inroads to know one another deeply, to tap beneath the perspectives and opinions that might be so quick to fall out of our mouths – and tap the well of the abundant love of God that comprises that person, that is so recognizable in our own beings, that becomes visible and impossible to ignore in them.



I find that these days that the margins of my kindness are eclipsed by compounding bad news, hard conversations and pain in my heart.  And when I’m confronted with differing opinions or perspectives that I don’t agree with or understand – I’M SO QUICK TO DOUBLE DOWN. I double down on the point I want to drive home, to stand my ground.  

And in that doubling down – I can feel myself narrow, where everything in me constricts, becomes rigid from my jaw, all the way to my heart. 

I do this enough that I’ve learned that this doubling down is often an invitation to PAUSE with God for a second. God often asks,  “Where are you standing Ivy?” “Are you on some hill of isolation?”  “You’ve climbed really far.”

I often realize that I’ve come very close to the issue or subject of what it is I’m in discussion over, which isn’t bad, but I’m often really far from the PERSON I’m having it with – and far from that sense of God’s love for me.


The further out of focus people become – the further their landscape, their life… the further they are from being real to us. 

We have to tap back to God’s generous spirit in these constricting moments.. It takes such supernatural loosening to stay engaged with a heart that’s wide open. With radical empathy.


Wilkerson says,

“It is the generosity of spirit that opens your heart to the true experience and pain and perspective of another.  And, radical empathy does not necessarily mean that you agree, but that you understand from a place of deep knowing. In fact, empathy may hold more power when tested against someone with whom you do not agree and may be the strongest path to connection with someone you might otherwise oppose.” 

It may be really helpful in building beloved community.


THIS IS THE POWER OF these beatitudes. It’s why Jesus didn’t use individuals to identify who the “Poor in spirit” were – or say the names of those who were meek that he had met, or point to the faces in the crowd that were mourning.  He left it open, descriptors for us to wrestle with, to define.

Because the invitation the Beatitudes lay out is the invitation of beloved community. And it is for YOU and I to fill out the names, the faces, the stories of the individuals who we encounter – all around us.  Everywhere.  And it is to see not only the people who we might perceive on the surface as completely different from ourselves, but to see ourselves in those people.



Beloved Community, is an ancient spiritual call….

That Jesus responded to…

That philosophers have pontificated about…(Josiah Royce)

That Civil rights leaders, have laid bricks in building.
That churches respond to – like ours –  with vision…


This Fall, we are in a moment of POLARITY and PROMISE…  We are in the largest antiracism movement (many of us), have seen in our lifetimes, and we are in the most deadly pandemic any of us have encountered. 


The polarity is obvious.


The promise is “beloved community. ” A spiritual, personal, collective call to all of us.  A call to the human heart.


Jesus said in the verses to follow the beatitudes that “he came not to destroy the law,  -that laws are necessary for structure and guidance of society – but they aren’t always sufficient – so he said he came to fulfill the law” – to give dimension to it. To puff it out – to give it texture – to give it heart – and that heart is US. 

Us – as living, breathing beings.

So let us with radical empathy fill out justice to be a living breathing thing , and love to be a living breathing thing, and mercy to be a living breathing thing….  WE, humans are the ones who populate this earth with these values. 

They can not stay locked up in systems.



As I close, I want to say that beloved community has always and will always be a life-long pursuit. 

An ever-evolving way of being, living, and responding to the people around us.

AND YET – it is a compelling vision ….

It is, as any true vision is – one that will always guide us to deeper belonging with one another – and into LIVED wisdom.

BUT it’s one that can not be contained, or claimed, or printed on a “BANNER”, declaring:


Because it will be up to those who have been most left out – marginalized and oppressed to reflect back to us whether that’s true or not… did they find comfort? Experience the kin-dom of God in beloved community with us?


“BELOVED community – can never be achieved as an end in itself.  It must emerge as an experience after the fact of coming together” – Thurman


And so we must come together – before we declare ourselves anything we are not.

We must come together and join with the spirit of God, that is still in the making, still on the move…
WE THE PEOPLE, are needed to help create a beloved community – to form a more perfect union … 

WE THE PEOPLE, need to promote the general welfare and develop a culture of radical empathy. 

WE THE PEOPLE  must establish justice as we do the ongoing work of fulfilling the law of love.

It is on us, to greet one another across difference with the blessings of the image of God in each of us. 

We are ……who we have been waiting for. 




Blessed are those who come down off their hills, for they will be in godly company.

Blessed are those who pause when they double down, for their hearts will be loosened by the spirit.

Blessed are those who breathe life into vacant forms, for they will create beloved community,  rather than destroy it.

Blessed are WE, for we need each other.

The Power of Befriending

For this week’s Events and Happenings, click “Download PDF.”

For the spiritual practice led by Ivy Anthony, related to Steve’s sermon, click HERE.

To view the online service and sermon, click the YouTube link above.


Hi, Friends. 

Yesterday was Samaritans’ annual 5K for suicide prevention. Though I captained a team again, I did not technically run the 5K, or even walk it. It was a virtual event, so nobody knew whether I ran or not, until now, that is. But I promise, I will jog my 5K before the month ends, likely on my birthday, this Wednesday. And since that too will be virtual, you are all invited to my birthday party, in your hearts.


Anyway, some of you did in fact run the Samaritans 5K yesterday. It was Adam Bakun’s first 5K ever – go, Adam! And many more of you contributed to one of our teams, helping fund Samaritans suicide prevention work. Reservoir Church sponsored the event. Butcher Box, a company founded by a Reservoir member, also sponsored the event. We at Reservoir have in fact been connected to the work of Samaritans for years now. 


It’s partly because of suicide. Sadly, death by suicide has touched our community before, as it has almost every community, and Reservoir loves life. The joy of living is part of our mission because we love God revealed in Christ who said: I came that you may have life abundantly. So Reservoir loves Samaritans mission of helping us find hope and resilience no matter what we’re facing. 


But there’s another thing I love about Samaritans work. It’s that they believe in and practice befriending. Offering friendship to everyone. Samaritans volunteers are trained to recognize the risks of suicide and to encourage life and safety, but they are especially trained to be good friends, even to strangers. To offer respectful, non-judgmental listening and support to everyone. 


This particular form of love, befriending, is at the heart of the good news of Jesus expressed in Beloved Community. We all need a few good friends in our lives. And it’s good to have a good friend and to be a good friend to a few people in your circles. But I’m talking about something bigger and deeper than that. To befriend widely, to befriend across difference, to befriend in private and in public, to grow ever-widening circles of befriending that touch more and more people – this heals lives and communities and reveals the goodness of God.  


I’ve been praying about what I have to say in this Beloved Community series. You’ll hear from Lydia again as well as Ivy, but with two more sermons to give myself, as I pray and search the scriptures, I have realized I have two things to say, one sermon on power and privilege which I’ll give in a couple more weeks and one today on befriending. 


I’ve been reading the letters of the Bible’s New Testament a lot this year, notes to little house churches from a founder or a coach, encouraging them to keep discovering and living the good news of Jesus. These letters have lots to say about power and privilege (more on that next time). And they have an awful lot to say about Jesus’ vision of the Beloved Community and the importance of a deeper and wider befriending than many of us have yet practiced or experienced.


Let me read a couple excerpts from the end of the letter called Romans.


Romans 12:1-5, 9-18, 21; 15:7 (NRSV)

12 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 

9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.


Romans 15:7 (NRSV)

7 Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.


I lead a Saturday morning Bible study, one of Reservoir’s community groups. Yesterday, we were in person here on the church property to share communion together. But most weeks, we talk and pray and read the Bible while gathered online. And last year, we read Romans together, all year. One of the many bits of scholarship that helped me prepare was a little book called Reading Romans Backwards. The idea there is that in Romans, and in some of the other letters that Paul – the author – wrote if you only read them forwards, you can think they’re little works of theology – abstract ideas about the God we see in Jesus Christ – and that at the end, they have some random instructions, dos and don’ts for life together. 


But if you read these letters backwards, if you start reading them with their end in mind, you realize that the main thing Paul is doing is coaching these early churches to be healthier communities, to be the kind of places of love and belonging where people and communities will live better and discover what God is like. 


These communities were super diverse, best as we can tell, probably the most diverse community gatherings in the first century Roman empire. Like our own times, their society was enormously divided, people stratified and separated by culture, creed, class, sex, power, money. The pyramid of privilege in the Roman empire was clear and powerful. 


And so these house churches were some of the only places in the whole empire where men and women, migrant day laborers and wealthy landlords, people of opposing culture and religion came together on equal terms. Which, as you could guess, would have been as complicated and hard for them as it would be for us. 


Romans 14 and 15 are a long discourse on making right an old, painful story of injustice and exclusion. Roman house churches would have likely been majority Gentile, minority Jewish. And Jews were an often persecuted, oppressed minority in Rome. Not long before this letter was written, Jews had just been allowed back into the city, after a previous emperor had scapegoated them and kicked them all out. Now that they were back, these house churches probably didn’t know what to do with their Jewish members, who were like them in faith, but had some their own customs and practices and values. 


And Paul gives them a roadmap, which is so much deeper than “be nice” or “try to get along.” He talks about even-ing out the power dynamics, about honoring people who have experienced exclusion and dishonor, about living with difference respectfully, lovingly. At the heart of these instructions is the verse I read: Welcome one another, just as Christ has welcomed you. Include one another, as Christ has included you. Embrace one another, as Christ has embraced you. 


When we welcome, include, embrace another, we reveal to the other and ourselves and anyone that is watching what God is like, the one who welcomes and includes and embraces us all. And when we welcome, include, and embrace the one who leasts expects that from us, we especially reveal the welcoming, including, embracing love of God. 


Before this, Romans 12 and 13 talk about the healing power of the good news of Jesus, as it is lived out in community. Every time we read the word “you” in Romans, or pretty much anywhere in the Bible, it’s the plural you – you all, not just an individual. The Bible, after all, was written to communities, not to individuals. And that is especially explicit here. 


The transformation that Paul has in mind for followers of Jesus is to be active participants in a community  that loves God by moving from coldness to kindness, by finding and practicing love in a world of division and hate, by countering enmity and hostility with wave after wave of befriending. 


There’s a lot of texture in here, again way beyond calls to be nice. The privileged are to learn to be humble, we are all to honor people who in other places are dishonored. In a world where touch and affection are used to manipulate and abuse, we’re told practice safe and holy affection,  and to be radically hospitable and to counter hate with love, evil with goodness. 


Let me zone in for a minute on just one line, the line that tells us that love is built on empathy. That says friends rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.


It sounds basic, right? When your friend is happy, celebrate with them. When your friend is sad, share in their sadness. But remember, Romans is not a private letter teaching us how to be nice to our best friends and family. 


It’s a call to love in public. It’s a message to a community of people that will not be able to hold together without the power of God and the healing love of community. 


Friends, we do not do this well. When people who are unlike us weep, we ignore it. We secretly or not so secretly say or at least think: it is their fault. Or if we have some measure of power or privilege, if in any way, it’s our fault, we get defensive. This is more the American way. I read a powerful piece of Israeli journalism this morning, written for the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur which begins tonight. On the eve of this holiday of atonement and forgiveness, which encourages even forgiveness of enemies, the author was like: can we take a pass this year? Because our enemies are truly awful now. Beyond forgiveness. We all feel that way these days. For good reason. This is the way of our world now.


But God is not like this. God who is revealed in Christ rejoices with those who rejoice, and weeps with those of us who weep. God lives in radical, loving empathy with all God’s children. So when we befriend, when we offer the best non-judgemental, compassionate, listening ear that we have to offer, we reveal what God is like. That’s what happens every time Samaritans practices befriending. Every time Samaritans listens kindly to a lonely old man living by himself, and shows him he is not alone, they show him what God is like. Everytime Samaritans encourages a scared, depressed kid wondering how to come out to his parents or friends, and let him know he’s going to be OK, they show him what God is like. Everytime Samaritans listens to someone who’s cut herself, or hated herself, or given up on herself, that she is worth listening to and knowing, just as she is, they show her what God is like. Without a single word of theology or religion. 


The healing power of befriending shows us the nature of God. 


We find this healing power even among our friends, when we share our stories truly, and rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. My wife Grace and I met up with friends outdoor for dinner the other week, and prompted by an issue one of us had had with a parent, we each for the first time shared the stories of the families we came from. There was a lot of good there, but oceans of hurt too. 


And as we shared our sadness, as we celebrated the impossible joy of who we’ve become despite our pains, this thing happened. A month that for me had been a real bummer – lots of desolation – started to turn from despair to hope, from lifelessness to energy. There is healing power in beloved community. 


Friends, there is so much invitation here, but let me just name three.


When I see American citizens joining undocumented neighbors working to get them drivers licenses so they’ll have safety and security, I see beloved community. When I see my daughter, busy with herself in college, spending time every week in friendship and tutoring with a peer of hers in the slums of Delhi, India, I see beloved community. 


The befriending of Beloved Community encourages new levels of empathy and solidarity. If you are not learning to advocate for the needs of others unlike yourself, if you have not found a way to be in meaningful relationship across significant difference, if you can’t share the tears of people whose sadness is not your own, then the good news of Jesus hasn’t fully found you yet. Pray that it will. Beloved community invites us into the life of Jesus, where we learn to understand and love those who we used to misunderstand or ignore or reject.


Secondly, beloved community utterly rejects scapegoating. Scroll your social media, talk to some friends about the state of the world, and you’ll be convinced that everything that is wrong with the world is someone else’s fault. Often some particular person or group of people. And there’s an irony that the faith – Christianity – that in Rome was constantly scapegoated has now become an serious force of scapegoating. Christians are sometimes the worst at this, blaming things on other people all the time. We can’t do this. Whether heaping our rejection on innocent but powerless people, or even thinking that if we can just get rid of such and such person or such and such group of people, we’ll be good. This is always a lie, and it’s not part of the Beloved community Jesus calls us to. 


Lastly, beloved community invites us to find God and offer a reflection of God by growing a local version of beloved community among ourselves. By actively participating in growing community of powerful love and belonging, as we read about today. 

We’re paying attention at Reservoir to becoming a community of befriending, to making sure this church is a safe place to befriend. We invite you to be part of that journey. The body of Christ needs you. 


In the terrible loneliness of a spiritually poor and hostile world – to practice and experience beloved community, the befriending of God and our reflection of that befriending to others, this will save us. Beloved community will heal us all. 

Love One Another, As I Have

For this week’s Events and Happenings at Reservoir, click “Download PDF.”

To view this week’s “Virch” worship service, click the YouTube link above.

For this week’s spiritual practice on Beloved Community, Click HERE.



Our text today comes from John 13:34. Let me read it for us, pray before I share the message.


A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all human beings will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.


In these unique times of unprecedented social environment, the pandemic, reminders of racial injustice issues, among other states of our nation and our lives these days…. Our church Reservoir is leaning into this theme called “Beloved Community”. It’s a way we’re asking ourselves who are we? Who do we want to be? Who do we need to be in these times? What is the church? A lots changed, for example, not being able to meet in person Sunday morning for a worship service for starters, so to ask these questions right now is critical. 

Ask yourself, who do you want to be? What should the church be in this world? 

Who do you want your church to be? What is our church being called to be in these times? (and within that, how do you want to be a part of that, what do you need to do, who are you being called to be?-because you are the church and what you do personally in relation to and with this community is what’s going to shape this community!)

The pastors, staff and the leaders of our church, and from listening to our people through various modes like the Community Group visioning process, Redi Team survey, and Member care we’ve been engaging in through one on one calls, just to name a few–think that maybe, maybe what we want and who we need is– one another. How do we need one another? With deep radical love for one another. So hence the theme: Beloved Community. The gift of community has always been an important part of our ethos. And so we ask, how do we deepen this Beloved Community? What do we mean by that? What does that look like? –that’s what we want to explore in the next 6 weeks as a church in our sermons and in our community groups. 


I’ll start here though, first of all. I’ll just say, it’s not a mushy concept okay. Sometimes church talk can feel like this. You know some Christianese lingo that sometimes gets lost in the real meaning, with phrases like, “let’s just love on one another”, like what does that mean? Or like, “are you plugged in to a life group?”, like what’s a life group and what does it mean to be plugged in? So what do you meaaaaan by Beloved Community? Well we’re not talking about soft flowers feel good love. Beloved Community is embodied by bold, strong love that stands in the way of anything that threats justice. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr imagined and spoke of this Beloved Community. He said, “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.” So we’re not just talking about lovey dovey, we’re also talking about power and justice. 


For me, even when I think about love though, like attraction love, this aspect of power and justice is important to me. My first memory of a crush, for example, we’ll start with small imaginations and move into more robust ones, but I still think it exemplifies what I think is a snapshot of what I believe love is. I have a memory of when I was a little girl in Korea, in elementary school, one day I was coming out of the bathroom and as I walked down the stairs I saw some boys at the top of the stairs laughing at me. I turned around and one of the boys walked down the steps, turned me around and told me that my skirt was tucked into my pantyhose. I was mortified and so embarrassed. Being laughed at is like the worst feeling but this guy, he decided to not just laugh from afar but walk down the steps to me, away from his friends, to tell me the truth and include me in the secret, thereby giving me power to make changes to my wardrobe and essentially standing up to the boys who were bullying me! I mean I didn’t process it that way initially of course. For me then, it just turned into a huge crush on this guy who was bold and did the right thing. My respect for him turned into melting on the wall whenever he passed by in the hallway after that. Because, you know, I think we recognize how powerful justice is, even at a young age. But you know, I was a little girl, I only knew how to express that through a dreamy crush. 


Now that I’m older, I have different ideas of a dreamy crush. Part of it is that I already found one that I captured and married. But I have a dreamy crush on this imagination of a world, a society, a neighborhood, a community that has… no more bullying, no more fighting, no more killing, no more inequality where some have a lot and some have barely to survive on, a place, a people where there’s mutual love, respect, and justice. Where everyone has dignity and a voice and power. How do we get there?


A biblical picture of this can be seen with what it calls the kingdom of heaven or kingdom of God. But even that has morphed into some idealized future, when Jesus said the kingdom of God is near, not as just a warning call but an urgent invitation to what’s right about to happen. I remember in seminary my Greek teacher literally bouncing up and down describing this word “near”, how the english word ‘near’ doesn’t nearly describe what it’s trying to get at, but it’s more like ‘right before you nose’! Jesus also said in Luke 17:21, “the kingdom of God is within you!” It’s already here and is coming in fullness. And that’s how Martin Luther King saw it too. As not some far off thing but a real possible picture of what the global community can be now, must be right now. 


The kingdom language was an imagination of the ancient world in which there were kings and lords. It was meant to describe a realm where God is king, but like a king you never seen, that turned upside any notion of a hierarchical power structure. Which is why recently many Christians have tried to reclaim this notion with a slight change in the word to kin-dom, where it’s not about a king but kins, family, as brothers and sisters and siblings living equitably and justly with one another. Yes a beloved Community does not operate like the world does in hierarchical structures but more like familial. And I don’t mean patriarchal family like I see in my own korean culture, where the father really is the one who is to be most respected and honored. But it’s more like what the new Mulan movie freshly captured. Although, I hear Mulan’s screenplay writers were white, looks like some were Jewish descent, anyways, let’s just say the movie’s got some complicated reviews from both fans and critics from Asians. But in a very light surface level personal review, it’s interesting to me that in the beginning, Mulan is chastised by her parents to bring honor, to know her role, and at the end of the movie Mulan’s father hugs her and says he’s sorry? I don’t know, it’s a nice ending but that’s pretty remarkable message for an old traditional asian man to express emotion like that and not be stubborn. But I think that is why it’s a beautiful story that captures us because it flips the power dynamic. It might not be an accurate portrayal of what actually might happen, but it is inspiring to see the young girl empowered and bringing honor in a new elevated way I might say. It’s a picture of a non-patriarchal family, not relying on the traditional hierarchy but a new way where every member of the family is able to deeply and boldly care for one another. 


It took even Jesus many various parables to describe this kingdom, this counterintuitive upside downness of this newly imagined world. The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. The kingdom of God is like yeast a woman works into her dough. The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who hires workers at different hours and gives them the same pay! It’s a scandalous picture to be honest, that’s harder for us to reckon with than we’d like. We may think yes, I want Jesus’ kin-dom of God he describes, but be honest, do you really? Do we really want this? Cause it might not look like what we imagined. It might challenge us. Require more. Cause God’s vision is much bigger than our own. It’s not utopia. It might even look dystopian to you. It’s like how Billie Ellish said, “I had a dream, I got everything I wanted, Not what you’d think, And if I’m being honest it might’ve been a nightmare.” 


In John 13:34 Jesus says

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all human beings will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

He says this in the context of his impending death. He says here, love one another, as I have loved you, which is to be noted, different from, ‘love your neighbor as yourself”. As I have loved you. And what is that like? Look around the text. I always love reading the text around the text. What was he doing earlier before he said this? And what does it do after? Well a few other things happen in chapter 13 that I think it’s interesting to note. In the beginning of Chapter 13 is when Jesus washes the feet of his disciples.  This was a picture of how Jesus loved, doing something that was common at that time but a only servant or a slave would’ve done. And might I add, that in the previous chapter, in chapter 12, is the story of Mary wiping his feet, which makes this washing reminiscent or redefining of what happened in that context when Jesus was chastised for letting a sinful woman touch him. Okay, back to chapter 13, after the feet washing, Jesus predicts his betrayal and calls out Judas basically. Man that must’ve been an awkward dinner, like, hey all of youguys are great, I’m gonna die soon, I’ll miss you, oh and by the except for one of you, whom I will not say the name of, but he’s dipping bread with me right now, yeah this guy right here, you betrayer! This is how he loved them, by calling out publicly one who was going to betray him. And then, Jesus predicts Peter’s Denial. Again, oh you too. You say you love me but you just watch, let’s just watch what you end up doing. As I have loved you, which is truth telling. Jesus told the truth. He was prophetic. This love is not what we expect…. And I’ll say more about nonviolence and conflict the next time I speak in this series, as MLK pointed out as a cornerstone to the Beloved Community. 


So I mentioned a few things, what this beloved community is. What the kin-dom of God might look like, but it’s hard to describe. Like I said, even Jesus used so many parables that his disciples were confused by and scholars and Jesus followers are still trying to unpack and figure out what he was trying to say. So here’s a few more images, because when definitions fail, images and parables can be a gift that keeps on giving…. Like Steve mentioned in our midweek newsletter about a sermon Michaiah preached. Beloved Community is like a community of trees, roots entangled, standing together, and sometimes these forests get stronger through a fire, crazy to think about and so much metaphor there…. Or one that one of our staff members, Trecia, keeps referring to as an image that’s been a helpful picture for me, we are the vine. The branches. Again intertwined, bearing fruit, entangled with one another. Another one is from St. Paul in Corinthians, describing the church as a body with many different parts. Whether you are Jew or Gentile, slave or free, having one spirit. The body also has so many metaphors too. How it needs each other, how different the parts are, how it suffers and shares joys. Trees. Vines. A body. 


Dearly beloveds, who will we be? Can we imagine a community like no other that we could possibly be? Do we want that? Do we expect that from ourselves? If not, what are we doing, just playing house? Let’s explore and dream together, our Beloved Community, how can we be and what must each of us do to make us more so? Jesus be our guide. Helps us to love as you have loved us. Show us your love. Amen. 

We need beloved community. Thank God it is the purpose of salvation.

For this week’s events and happenings at Reservoir, click “Download PDF.”

Click this link for today’s Spiritual practice, “Rock of Ages,” led by Vernee Wilkerson.

To watch the online worship service, click the YouTube link above.


Last month, I was taking a walk and I was praying. I was telling God how I didn’t know how to be a parent and I didn’t know how to be a pastor this year. Which is a big deal for me because being a parent and being a pastor is a lot of what I do. It’s a lot of who I am. 


What you don’t know how to do this year is likely different, but I bet there’s something. I bet there’s something important that you find strange, scary, hard, or overwhelming. So much happening this year that it’s not surprising life feels strange, scary, hard, or overwhelming, and that if we pray, we’re going to say things like I was saying to God: that we don’t know how to do the things that are important to us. We don’t know how to be the people we need to be.


So I’m walking along a side street, saying this to God, and I have this sense of what God is saying back to me. I feel like God is saying to me: Steve, I think what you really mean is that you don’t know how to do these by yourself. You’re scared of being alone. You mean that you need partnership, you need help.


And I was like, that is so true. I don’t need to know how to be an amazing pastor for a church that doesn’t gather in person for worship. No one knows how to do that yet. And I don’t need to know how to be the kind of parent I want to be for three teenagers, living through all the disruptions and losses and changes of a pandemic. No one knows how to do that


What I want, what I need, is to not be alone in the most important things I am and that I do. I need to know that God is in it with me, for sure. But I also need to know that I have shoulders I can lean on, partners I can ask for advice and help, allies who will have my back, encouragers who will say: you got this, Steve, and who can help me be true to the best of who I’m supposed to be. I need a community.


So I stopped talking to God about trying to figure everything out or how to be a perfect pastor or perfect parent. That’s all out of reach. I started talking with God about how to be more together, more partnered, less alone in these things.


I’m trying to all the parts of my life not alone, to be part of what we call Beloved Community.


Let me read today’s Bible, just three verses.


Matthew 18:20 (NRSV)

For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.


Jesus said this while talking about how hard but how important it is to forgive people. And he said don’t try it by yourselves. Ask for help. Pray together. Forgive together. 


Anytime even two or three people are together in the name of Jesus – meaning just they trust Jesus is with them, Jesus is like, Bam, I’m showing up. I am especially there.


Jesus says: friends, you can do hard things. But you mostly don’t have to do them alone. I’m there in special ways when you’re together.


John 17:21 (NRSV)

that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.


As Jesus prayed for his future followers – you and me included – he prayed that we’ll do this together, that we’ll foster and experience connection, unity. And Jesus was super mystical about what would happen there – that as One as God and Jesus are, as One as God the Father/Mother and God the Son of God are, as one as Creator and Christ are, may our oneness with God – our being at home with God and knowing God is at home with us, be like this. Jesus prayed: God, help your kids be together in loving connection, so we feel that God is with us like this. And so other people will see God is with us.


We hear that verse in big-picture, super abstract ways, like if all of humanity, or at least all followers of Jesus would have some kind of unity, that would be awesome. Which, sounds great, but sounds so far from our experience, and I don’t know how to do that. But we can at least start small scale. To give ourselves to the kind of loving, interdependent, interconnected relationships that help us know and show that none of us are alone and God is with us. 


I Corinthians 12:27 (NRSV)

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.


God had a body that was the person of Jesus of Nazareth. That Jesus’ body was God on earth. And Jesus and his first followers said to everyone else who lived somewhere else at the time and all of us who’d come later: it’s good it’s not like this anymore, because now God is around as a Spirit that you can feel but can’t see. And now God has a much bigger body. It’s called the body of Christ, and it’s made up of all of the followers of Jesus. 


What does it mean to be part of God’s body now? What does it mean to know the names of other people who are part of God’s body? What does it mean to live on earth as if together, as if we are mainly how God will do anything good? 


There’s a phrase for all of this, the phrase “Beloved community.” It’s a phrase that was popularized by Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 60s, to describe the just, inclusive, sisterhood and brotherhood of all humanity. 


Beloved community is central to our faith. It is central to the purpose of what we call salvation. God wants us to not be alone. God’s plan for us to know that we are loved and we are important is to be part of relationships that show us that. God’s plan to love the world is for God’s children to show people they are loved and they are important. And God’s plan to bring greater healing and justice to the world is for inclusive, loving communities to do what is just and merciful, to help more people fully flourish. 


We’re going to explore this experience of the Beloved community this fall in everything we do at Reservoir. We want us each to welcome our place as part of community that’s meant to help us know we’re not alone, that we have each other.


We want to experience that more, when the circumstances of our times are trying to rip us apart from one another, to isolate us, to make us alone and scared and helpless. 


Friends, that will kill us. But God in Christ means to save us all, and Beloved Community is at the heart of how that will happen.


More in the weeks to come. But for today: 


We’re going to show you a video that Trecia Reavis produced. There’s a lot of me in it – sorry. And there’s a lot of our physical sanctuary and property in it to represent what we’re missing and losing right now. But it’s really about God’s work among us, and about the opportunity to be church in a new way in this season, to live beloved community. 


Then I’ll pop back on for a second and mention two specific ways we’re trying to promote an experience of beloved community for us all. 


Reservoir Church is a beautiful church, but the church isn’t the building, it’s us. And we’re going to be the Beloved community for one another and for our city and world. It’s going to be beautiful.


Before our closing song, we want to see two more, much shorter videos about two ways we’ll make this so this fall.


The second one is about our programs for kids and youth. We recognize that families come in many shapes, sizes, and configurations. Today, we would like to highlight programming for families with youth and young children. We want all the kids and youth around Reservoir to know their important part in the Beloved community, so you’ll hear about that. 


And before that, you’ll hear about our community groups – smaller groups of people that meet online and sometimes in person too to experience beloved community together. This is the heart of where the best things at Reservoir happen. And they’re so important that I’m leading or co-leading two of these groups this year. And I’d love for you to be part of one. 

[Videos shown.]