The Rev. Casey dunsworth

serves as Associate Campus Pastor to the Belfry, the Lutheran-Episcopal Campus Ministry to UC Davis

and as Program Director for LEVN, the Lutheran Episcopal Volunteer Network.

Love Your Housemate as Yourself—A Sermon at the end of a Program Year

Wow, here we are, on our final Monday night in the Belfry together. What a year it has been!

When I look at your faces and think back to the first week we spent together in this room, 11 months ago, I remember the infamous group photo, now plastered all over our social media and marketing. I remember our first retreat to Camp Noel Porter in Lake Tahoe; the adventures you went on around town, the murder mystery film you made. I remember the long car ride to and from Diocesan Convention, and all the hard work you did to such praise from the event coordinators. I remember our Reformation Day games, pinning the theses on the door, lovingly painted by a handful of you for years of future Belfry students to roll their eyes about. I remember our Advent craft party and the Star of Bethlehem collage we made out of advertising, which I am keeping in my office forever. I remember our Liberation Theology retreat at the Bishop’s Ranch, a heavy weekend of films and essays and hard conversations. I remember sending Pastor Jocelynn off on her sabbatical, and wondering what the hell I’d gotten myself into. :) I remember the Monday we tried and failed to make rosaries, and then the other Monday where we tried again, and still didn’t really manage to get it just right. I remember Holy Week and Easter, where we were sadly not together, since it was also Spring Break. I remember our spring retreat to my beloved Berkeley, where we wondered aloud about the movement of the Holy Spirit.

It was certainly the movement of the Holy Spirit that brought you here, to this yellow house. You probably wondered a few times about what you’d gotten yourself into, and it may be still quite some time before you figure out what this year even was.

From my perspective, this year has been one learning experience after another. I am blessed beyond measure to be in community with the eight of you, here in this place. This is not to say that it has been a walk in the park. Y’all have challenged each other. Y’all have challenged me. Y’all have challenged yourselves.

Working in ecumenical ministry, in general, is full of challenges for me. For example: we Lutherans do not have the same relationship with saints that Episcopalians have. I had to spend some time noodling around online, and eventually just texting a friend, to find out what it meant that today we celebrate Saint Bartolomé de las Casas—let alone if there was anything problematic about him. He lived in 16th-century Spain, and is considered a human rights activist, but didn’t have it totally together. He was opposed to the developing practice of enslavement of the native people on the island of Hispaniola, currently the Dominican Republic and Haiti. However, he advocated for the enslavement of Africans instead, so, not really a winner. Once he became a priest—the first one ordained in the Americas—he realized he’d been wrong, and that slavery of any kind was contrary to the Gospel. So deep was his conviction, Saint Bartolomé spent 50 years of his life arguing for the full humanity and emancipation of enslaved people, and went so far as to refuse absolution—the forgiveness of confessed sins—to slave-owning Catholics. It is for this that he is celebrated. [1]

Like Saint Bartolomé, we’re all learning on a spectrum. There’s a steep curve sometimes, especially when it comes to matters of deep human suffering and our personal convictions. Sometimes, we take what we believe to be principled stands, only to discover that we’ve inadvertently excluded or offended someone. We can also learn from Saint Bartolomé, though, just how strong we are when we stand on the Gospel. When we look out into this messy society, and read tonight’s lessons, words repeated throughout scripture—“love your neighbor as yourself”—we can see that it doesn’t match up. We can see that our neighbors are not listening, and our neighbors are not being heard, and our neighbors are not loving, and our neighbors are not being loved.

This Gospel text is part of the Sunday lectionary during the season of Lent. During Lent, we are prepared and we are preparing. Sacrifice, discipline, work, prayer. We sit in the desert and wallow in our existential desperation, right? Though we are far from Lent, the world around us these last few months has been dreadful. Terrorism at home and abroad have relentlessly overwhelmed our television screens and twitter feeds. The epidemic of gun violence in this country has somehow worsened from the last time we thought it was as bad as it could get. We have been flooded with anxiety as a nation, as a church, as a community here in this room. All of us are operating, maybe even without noticing completely, with an added layer of fear and distrust of our neighbors. This generalized anxiety rubs off on even our smallest interactions, whether it’s with a barista or our coworkers or our housemates. We bristle, and we put up walls, and we protect ourselves.

We know, though, that living in community cannot, fundamentally, be done alone. Eight isolated human persons do not make an intentional Christian community. Renita Weems, a womanist scholar, reminds us that “As human beings, we are all mutually connected to each other and dependent on one another for our emancipation and our survival.” [2]

Eight people who are learning together, struggling together, eating together, praying together, laughing together, arguing together, singing together—that’s what you’re made of.

And conflict in community is unavoidable. Never has there been a community without conflict—never has there been even a singular human being without an internal conflict! When we read these words of the Apostle Paul, written millennia ago to a community in Rome, we might ask, “What are the lessons for those of us who are church today?” Well, “conflict in the church is not a scandal or a shame; rather, living that conflict, together in love, has been the work of the church from its beginning.” [3]

Every time we read the letters in the New Testament, there’s some issue that the Apostle Paul is trying to help a community solve. Their problems aren’t all unique to the first century—though some are—and our problems are not all unique to the 21st-century—though some are.

The questions continue. “How do we live when we hurt and anger each other? How do we live the gospel daily?”

This is what you’ve been working on all year. What does it look like when we talk the talk and walk the walk of Christian life? What does it look like when we don’t agree about all the ways we talk and walk the Christian life? We go back to our fundamentals. We listen to the words of Jesus, quoting the Torah, cited by Paul: love your neighbor as yourself.

Show up for your neighbor. Commit to your neighborhood. Commit to your common life. Be present, here, in this chapel, at this table. Shelley Douglas puts it beautifully when she writes:

“We maintain our common meal, our sign of unity and redemption. We love each other and follow God’s commands. When relationships break down, we do our best to resolve conflicts in love….We are reminded here that as a community we are not only to nurture and affirm each other, but also to guide, teach, and remonstrate. Behind every action, however, must always be the rule of love.” [4]

When you leave this yellow house next week—though you may come back—you will be leaving the community specific to the 2015-2016 LEVN program year. Never again will all eight of you live and work right here in this place. You have one week left to love these neighbors in this way. You have been doing it, for the most part, for the better part of a year. After next week, you’ll never again have the opportunity to live this particular common life with these particular beloved children of God.

But you’ll have the opportunity—for the rest of your life—to forge Christian community with your new neighbors. Your new housemates. Your new coworkers. Your new friends. Your new siblings in the family of God. Every time you come to the table, you’ll be in community with everyone else who has ever and will ever.

I am so grateful to have been in this particular community with you for this year, and I look so excitedly forward to how I’ll continue to be in community with you after you leave this place. Keep up the good work, dear friends. Continue to nurture and be nurtured; continue to affirm and be affirmed; continue to guide and be guided; and when you continue to protest each other’s actions and to have your actions protested, remember the love that underlies your life. Love and be loved.

Amen.

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[2] Renita J. Weems, "Womanist Reflections on Biblical Hermeneutics," in Black Theology: A Documentary History, ed. James H. Cone and Gayraud Wilmore (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1993).

The Baptism of OCS—a BFD

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