Sermon 1-15-2017 – ‘The Beloved Community’

Isaiah 11:1-9

Lois Hackney, Freedom School, The Advocate, November/December 2016, United Society of Friends Women, Belvidere, NC.

Parker Palmer Essay:

Ruthie Tippin, Pastor – Indianapolis First Friends Meeting



Today, January 15th, means an awful lot to Jon and me.  It’s the day we became parents.  The day someone would eventually call us ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’.  It’s amazing how much difference a child can make in your life. It’s amazing how much difference one person’s life can make.


I’m sure Alberta and Martin felt the same way when Christine was born, and then again, on January 15th when Martin Jr. came into the world.  It’s amazing how much difference a child can make in your life. It’s amazing how much difference one person’s life can make.


Matthew Brooke Tippin turns 38 years old today.  He is a Senior Business Analysis Manager for T-Mobile in Bellevue, WA; a husband, a new father, a brother, an uncle, a friend, a Washington State Cougar, a model railroader, a very sweet kid, and a young man with great integrity.  It’s amazing how much difference one person’s life can make.


Martin Luther King Jr. would be 88 years old today.  From The King Center website: ‘During the less than 13 years of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s leadership of the modern American Civil Rights Movement, from December, 1955 until April 4, 1968, African Americans achieved more genuine progress toward racial equality in America than the previous 350 years had produced. Dr. King is widely regarded as America’s pre-eminent advocate of nonviolence and one of the greatest nonviolent leaders in world history.


Drawing inspiration from both his Christian faith and the peaceful teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. King led a nonviolent movement in the late 1950’s and ‘60s to achieve legal equality for African-Americans in the United States. While others were advocating for freedom by “any means necessary,” including violence, Martin Luther King, Jr. used the power of words and acts of nonviolent resistance, such as protests, grassroots organizing, and civil disobedience to achieve seemingly-impossible goals. He went on to lead similar campaigns against poverty and international conflict, always maintaining fidelity to his principles that men and women everywhere, regardless of color or creed, are equal members of the human family.’  It’s amazing how much difference one person’s life can make.



When Edward Hicks considered the scripture reading today from Isaiah, he didn’t just read it.  He painted it 62 times, and he named each painting the same thing every time – ‘The Peaceable Kingdom’.   Hicks was an American folk painter and distinguished religious minister of the Society of Friends.  His cousin Elias was a more controversial figure among Quakers, and the Hicksite branch of Friends is named for him.  Edward became a Quaker icon because of his paintings.


Although it’s not considered a religious image, Hicks' Peaceable Kingdom exemplifies Quaker ideals.  The animals and children are taken from Isaiah 11:6.  ‘The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.’ 


Isaiah’s prophecy speaks of a child – a young shoot coming from the stump of Jesse’s lineage.   Jesse was King David’s father.  David, the King chosen by God to lead the Hebrew people.  David – the ‘man after God’s own heart’. [Acts 13:22]  Now, this young shoot, this child would come – a new descendant from this same Davidic line, full of God’s spirit, wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge… and would lead creation into peace.  It’s amazing how much difference a child can make in our lives. It’s amazing how much difference one person’s life can make.

Hicks' portrayal was influenced by the Quaker belief in the Inner Light.  George Fox and other founding Quakers had established and preached the Inner Light doctrine, yielding one's self-will to the divine power of Christ and "Christ within" – the Inner Light.  Hicks depicted humans and animals to represent the Inner Light's idea of breaking physical barriers (of difference between two individuals) to working and living together in peace.  The lion and the lamb were now brought into peace by the Child.  The Christ.  The Light.

This peaceable kingdom is discovered again and again in our own lives, often set in the midst of turmoil and hatred.  In a recent run of the United Society of Friends Women’s journal, there is a story of a beloved community formed, in a community torn apart by disagreement and distrust.

Lois Hackney writes: ‘In 1956, we might have thought that the desegregation of public schools was only an issue in the South.  There was quite the fight going on north of the Mason/Dixon Line, too.”  A new school building had been built in Hillsboro, Ohio but the school board decided it wasn’t big enough to house the entire school population.  The kids who had attended Lincoln – the all black school – would have to return there until other arrangements would be made.  When school began that fall, the Lincoln School parents made a choice – they would home school their children.  “Every morning they marched with their children to the new school carrying signs.  One example was: “OUR CHILDREN PLAY TOGETHER.  WHY CAN’T THEY LEARN TOGETHER?”

The principal met them at the door saying ‘nothing has changed’.  The mothers returned to their homes.  The students were separated by grade levels, and they met around kitchen tables in different homes.  The parents tried teaching their children but soon saw they needed help.  They needed guidance from experienced teachers.  They came to Wilmington College for help.  The parents spoke to Ralph Rose, director of FWCC on campus, and active in Wilmington Yearly Meeting, who took the issue to their Race Relations Committee.  Four men.  All married to state certified teachers, who due to family circumstances, were not teaching at the time.  These four Quaker women agreed to travel to Hillsboro, OH every Monday and conduct a class.  Freedom School began. 


Years before, in 1754 and 1762 respectively, Friend John Woolman published the first and second parts of Some Considerations on the Keeping of Negroes, in which he argued for the connection between Christianity and freedom. The idea that men and women are created equal in the image of God leads directly to "an idea of general brotherhood and a disposition easy to be touched with a feeling of each other's afflictions."


Each Monday morning, the four ladies met and carpooled to Hillsboro.  The children were divided into four groups, and still met around kitchen tables in homes.  There were no snow days.  When the weather was bad, they would use the heaviest car they had, as it wouldn’t slide off the road as quickly.  They went each week, and each had a volunteer aide from the group of mothers.  They left detailed lesson plans for the aides to use for the remaining four days. 

At the end of the school year, the administration of the Hillsboro Schools said the children from Freedom School, would need to take an achievement test.  Research has shown that across-the-board testing was not done in Ohio in 1956.  The school administration wanted to show objectivity, so the tests were ordered from Chicago.  Employees from the state Department of Education supervised the test.  This upset the Quaker teachers, as they felt the children would do better if they were being supervised by teachers they knew.  In spite of this, the children performed well.  In 1957, the US Supreme Court ruled that all schools must be integrated, ending school segregation in Ohio.  It’s amazing what a small group of parents, teachers and children can do. 

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.”  If a beloved community, one where a wolf and lamb, a lion and a fatling – an animal who’s been fattened for slaughter - a cow with a bear, natural enemies who prey on one another, is to live together in peace, King teaches us that the quality of our souls must change AND the quantity – the wholeness – of our lives must also change.  Like these women in Ohio in the 1950’s, we will need to sacrifice our Monday’s for a year.  Like the early Quaker slave-holders in the 1700’s, we will need to allow the Light of Christ to burn within our souls and challenge our holding of persons as property, giving them their freedom.  What is it today that you and I are asked to sacrifice in the quality of our souls and the quantity of our lives for the sake of our beloved community?  Of this beloved community?  Of any of the many beloved communities we hold dear?  It’s amazing how much difference one person’s life can make.


Forging a beloved community takes time.  It is hard work – often heart-breaking work.  Friend Parker Palmer says: “… the great traditions [of the Church] at their best, aim at helping us hold tensions and the suffering it brings in ways that enhance spiritual creativity and build the beloved community.  They do so by focusing on the inevitable experience of heartbreak.  There is no way to be human without having one’s heart broken.”  What shall we do with the heartbreak around us?  With the fear, anxiety, hatred, bitterness, confusion?  Parker Palmer teaches that the heart either breaks apart into wounded and wounding shards, or breaks open into a ‘greater capacity to hold one’s own and the world’s pain and joy.’   


How is it with your heart today?  Are you in a place that is quiet enough to notice the wolves and lambs around you, the cows and bears, the lions and the fatlings?  The blacks and whites, the Muslims and the Jews, the gays and straights, the poor and the rich, the conservatives and liberals, the grieving and the joyful?  Do you see the Child together among them?  The Light?  The very small, the very tender, the very strong beam of light there, in the midst of then all?  There, where heart and soul come together… do you see it? 


The Light of Christ, the Inner Light does not lead us to separation or differences.  Instead, it calls us to openness, to oneness, to break ourselves open to each other in care and concern and action that will restore each one of us individually and corporately, that will build and bless life together, and bring about the blessed community of hope this world needs so desperately. 


We need not pray for each other, as much as we need to pray with each other.  Let us consider how God is speaking to our condition this morning, individually and corporately in the silence of waiting worship.  How, and to what purpose, is the Light of God’s loving spirit leading us today?