Rise up, build the Beloved Community, says Easterling

Bishop LaTrelle Miller Easterling delivers the first sermon of her Week One series dedicated to friendship with God — a series that concluded Friday morning — on Sunday in the Amphitheater. HG Biggs/Staff Photographer

Column by Mary Lee Talbot

“God created community for the purpose of increasing blessings on the earth, for purity without shame, a covenant of trust and cooperation until egotism destroyed the equilibrium,” said Bishop Latrelle Miller Easterling. She preached at the 9:15 a.m. Friday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. 

Her sermon title was “I Am a Friend of God: Being the Beloved Community.” The scripture lesson was Ephesians 4:1-6. 

God’s vision for the cosmos was symbiotic, a unity of harmony, humility, justice and shalom, she said. Situational morality and egotism caused a fracture that is antithetical to God’s nature and being. Every instance of war and violence is turning away from deep communion with God. Self interest shattered the peace of the garden (of Eden).

“God’s desire is always for blessing and community. God intended equality and justice for all, not for ‘just us,’” Easterling said. She acknowledged that there are extremists in every religious body, who read the sacred texts for their own ends and have a malformed sense of entitlement.

She continued, “But all who pray earnestly ­— to God, Allah, Buddha, Gaia — do so in peace, compassion and seeking the highest for all humans. God desires a contrite heart because a contrite heart is the will to do God’s holy will.”

Easterling gave a recap of the journey her sermon series took this week. She told the congregation that they began the journey in humility, that they either “mean it or you don’t;” the kind of love needed is not a greeting card kind of love; the love needed includes self, neighbors and enemies; there is no future without forgiveness; and they need to reconcile their faith with their finances. 

“We serve a generous God and we are called to be a generous people. We are called to dismantle poverty because we have one destination — the Beloved Community,” she said. “This is God’s design, given to us by Martin Luther King Jr. so that all are treated with love, dignity and equality and we become the embodiment of love, justice and equality.”

All people are created in the image of God and all people are heirs to God’s promises. “Everyone is created in the image of God and when we don’t respect others, we do it to God,” she said. “We are called to stand together and achieve all that is right. We have experienced a foretaste of the divine kingdom this week. We intend to work to bring about a more just society.” 

She quoted the day’s scripture, Ephesians 4:1-6, from pastor and theologian Eugene Peterson’s The Message. 

“In light of all this, here’s what I want you to do. While I’m locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get out there and walk — better yet, run! — on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline — not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences. You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness.”

Easterling told the congregation, “As friends of God, we walk together to build community. We don’t know or understand how to fix it by ourselves, so we have to leave room for the Holy Ghost. We will be disappointed, disillusioned and hurt, and we will disappoint, disillusion and hurt others. But on the road of life we will perish together as fools if we don’t live together as human beings.”

The Beloved Community is right here in Chautauqua. It is not perfect but “we have demonstrated what is possible,” she said. “We have lived the resurrection and we can extend it into the world beyond the grounds. We are not called to change the entire world, but to make a difference where we can.”

Easterling shared a song by Andra Day, “Rise Up,” that gives her comfort. The lyrics describe what is needed when people are tired of living on a merry-go-round. 

“You’re broken down and tired / Of living life on a merry-go-round / And you can’t find the fighter / But I see it in you, so we gonna walk it out / And move mountains / We gonna walk it out / And move mountains / And I’ll rise up / I’ll rise like the day / I’ll rise up / I’ll rise unafraid / I’ll rise up / And I’ll do it a thousand times again / And I’ll rise up / High like the waves / I’ll rise up / In spite of the ache / I’ll rise up / And I’ll do it a thousand times again.

“When the silence isn’t quiet / And it feels like it’s getting hard to breathe / And I know you feel like dying / But I promise we’ll take the world to its feet / And move mountains / Bring it to its feet / And move mountains / And I’ll rise up / I’ll rise like the day / I’ll rise up / I’ll rise unafraid / I’ll rise up / And I’ll do it a thousand times again.

“All we need is hope,” Easterling said. “Chautauqua, rise up, and hate evil and do good, live into grace. When we are weary, all we need is each other. Rise up and stare down the dark. Rise up and build community. Rise up and work for real shalom. Rise up and teach the truth. Rise up and use wealth to create a just society. Rise up, Chautauqua, and be the Beloved Community.”

The congregation rose and gave her a standing ovation.

The Rev. George Wirth, a retired Presbyterian minister from Atlanta, presided. Welling Hall, a member of the Motet Choir, read the scripture. Nicholas Stigall, organ scholar, played “Set Me as a Seal Upon Thy Heart” by Margaret Sandresky for the prelude. The Motet Choir sang “Set Me as a Seal,” by René Clausen, under the direction of Joshua Stafford, director of sacred music and Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist and accompanied by Stigall on the Massey Memorial Organ. The postlude was “Toccata” from Symphony No. 5 by Charles-Marie Widor, played by Stafford. Support for this week’s chaplaincy and preaching was provided by the J. Everett Hall Memorial Chaplaincy and the Geraldine M. and Frank E. McElree, Jr. Chaplaincy Fund.


The author Mary Lee Talbot

Mary Lee Talbot writes the recap of the morning worship service. A life-long Chautauquan, she is a Presbyterian minister, author of Chautauqua’s Heart: 100 Years of Beauty and a history of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. She edited The Streets Where We Live and Shalom Chautauqua. She lives in Chautauqua year-round with her Stabyhoun, Sammi.