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Aug 01, 2021

Belonging

Belonging

Speaker: Rob McClellan

Series: August 2021

Category: So-called Christian Values

Today's Scripture: John 6:37-40



Today's Sermon

 

"Belonging"

 

John 6:37-40

            37Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; 38for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. 39And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.’  THIS IS HOLY WISDOM, HOLY WORD.  THANKS BE TO GOD.

Belonging

            In an interview Irish poet and prayer book writer Padraig O’Tuama recalled a concept he found in the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It is the Buddhist word “mu,” which means, “Un-ask the question because there’s a better question to be asked.”[1]When Jesus says “This…is the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life…”  many Christians have treated this as the answer to the question, “What is the only path to God?” or “What is the only way to heaven?” or “How do I know who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’?”  To that I say, “mu.”

            I don’t believe those were the questions the people for whom John was writing were carrying.  These were a people who had been expelled from their religious community and were wondering if that meant they were shut out from God or God’s love, and to that question, Jesus speaks a healing word, “anyone who comes to me I will never drive away…all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life” (Jn. 6:37, 40). In other words, you don’t have to comply with your former community’s requirements.  Through Jesus you are welcomed in directly.  Jesus is not setting up a bar people must clear; he’s unbarring a door people fear had been locked to them.  It is a word of belonging not excluding.

            Sadly, many of our rituals similarly developed to promote a deep sense of belonging have been twisted into rituals of excluding.  I am fine on one level with groups retaining their own rules around their rituals, who can participate and how, but as for us, let me be clear the two most precious rituals we have, our only two sacraments, baptism and communion, are about inviting in and equipping for not keeping out.  Today is a special day, because it is the rare day on which we celebrate both sacraments.  In baptism, we recall John the Baptizer standing and the neighborhood stream, saying, “This is for you if you want to be on this journey..and this is for you...and you…and you too can be freed for this journey, and you…”  When we baptize babies, like we will with little Zella today, we are saying, “You belong here, and you belong in God’s kingdom, and we will promise to help you feel that belonging as you grow up.”  In communion, we remember that Jesus said “This is my body which is for you,” you plural, you including his betrayer.  If you want to be at this table of Christ, you belong at this table.  Full stop.

            Belonging is powerful.  Those of you who have felt it, know it’s power.  Those of you who have not or do not presently, perhaps know its power even more.  When we belong, we say we have found our people; we are accepted.  That is not to say belonging exists only to reinforce who you are.  That would be bringing the wrong question, “Where can I go where I don’t have to change or grow.”  That’s a rather stale form of belonging.  A more faithful question is, “Where can I go that will nurture my growth?”  We should take seriously the question of whether we are here to evolve or not.

            Padraig O’Tuama says “belonging creates us and undoes us.”[2]He doesn’t explain exactly what he means by that, at least where I read it, but I take it to mean that through belonging we come into the fullest sense of who we are.  We form our identity, crystalize our commitments and values, establish a way of making meaning of the world.  That’s the part of belonging we’re perhaps most familiar with.  It’s this “undoing part” that I think we forget to ask about. Belonging both creates us, forms us, and it undoes us.  It helps us take apart the pieces of ourselves that need examining, maybe refashioning, reconfiguring, or recycling.  Belonging reminds us that this happens best within healthy spaces and relationships.  You have to trust people if you are going to take yourself apart in their presence.  There are very few spaces where it’s safe to change…to acknowledge you want to be or be about something else. 

            That’s the power of belonging.  That’s a gift we have to offer a world of people looking not primarily for answers, or even good questions, but a place where they can be accepted for who they are, loved enough to ignite a desire in them to grow, and sheltered that they might do it in safety.  Belonging provides the safe place needed for people to do this without fear they’ll be exposed or exploited while in a vulnerable state.  Have you ever experienced the grace of a group that allowed you to voice an opinion at which you would later shutter?  What a gift, because in allowing you to be there fully, they gave you the opportunity to examine yourself and perhaps reconsider who you are or what you’re about. 

            I thought about this after we did our first series of reemergence conversations on the Sunday before I went away, just how precious it is for people a space to be unafraid to share what they’re carrying not only so they might be reinforced, but also so they might be encouraged to evolve and be exposed to new perspectives. I could see what it meant to the participants. 

            We will have many more of these conversations throughout the year along with other chances to be in community, circles of belonging, and it raises two questions to me that are better than the one question churches will be tempted to ask as we head into this next season.  Churches will be tempted to ask is, “Coming off of a pandemic and accompanying economic hardship, how will we get people to come here and support this.”  To that question, Christ says, “mu.”  The better two questions are 1) How can we create a relational space where people feel safe enough to be and brave enough to grow—that belonging might create us, and 2) How can we invite in and truly host enough different voices that this belonging might also undo and recreate us into a closer likeness of Christ?

            If we answer those questions well, all the other questions will answer themselves. 

            Amen.

 

Worship Note:  Two questions to take with you -

1) How can we create a relational space where people feel safe enough to be and brave enough to grow—that belonging might create us, and 2) How can we invite in and truly host enough different voices that this belonging might also undo and recreate us?

 

[1]https://onbeing.org/programs/padraig-o-tuama-belonging-creates-and-undoes-us/

[2]https://onbeing.org/programs/padraig-o-tuama-belonging-creates-and-undoes-us/

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