Belonging

Making your way in the world today takes everything you've got.  
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.  
Wouldn't you like to get away? 
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name, and they're always glad you came.  
You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same. 
You wanna be where everybody knows Your name. 
That song feels great to sing, and for many of us it describes exactly why we come to church.  While these words may tell the truth about the longing of our souls, they don’t particularly describe the church.  Or at least they don't completely describe the church. 
Most of you will recognize this as the theme from the beloved sitcom about a bar named “Cheers,” and it could certainly be argued that this show was about more than a bar.  It was about a community of friends that were able to find solace in the world together.  I think it is fair to say that this is what many of us want the church to be as well, and that’s a good thing.

It’s a good thing for the church to be a place where we know and are known by others – a place where we bear our burdens and share our joys together.  It is good to feel responsible for and maintain our space and our relationships.  The question I would ask, though, is whether or not we own it?

It sure feels like it when the air conditioner goes down – again.  It sure feels like it when we put together policies and procedures.  It sure feels like it when we contribute to the building fund out of love and devotion for one another.  In fact, one of the most common descriptions of why we worship together is that it feels like home.  I even tell visitors to let us know if they are looking for a “church home.” 

But, sometimes I wonder if that’s the best approach.  Scott Dannemiller is a devout believer in Jesus who calls himself an “Accidental Missionary,” and he wrote a recent article for the Huffington Post suggesting that calling our church a home may not be the most faithful choice.  The basic idea is that he has observed in many congregations a sense of ownership that ultimately limits the church.  The problem, according to Scott, is not that we are not welcoming.  It is that we welcome people as “guests into our homes” rather than welcoming one another as people with a desire to experience God together. 
That probably sounds rather idealistic, but at the heart of it is the recognition that everything we have is a gift from God, and that no matter what we choose to do with it what God wants is ultimately what will happen. 

It was the same for the first disciples.  Imagine their realization that God’s will even embraced the choice of Judas – the one who betrayed their beloved teacher.  Judas was the one who led the soldiers to Jesus.  He was the one whose actions most directly led to the death of Jesus.  And yet, it was Jesus’ death that made everything else make sense – and not only his death, but also his resurrection. 

And Peter recognized the bigger picture and did what any good Presbyterian Ruling Elder would do – he called for a search committee.  Well, it may not say that explicitly, but he called for a replacement for Judas and “they” submitted two names.  The names were not just warm bodies or willing souls.  They were people who had witnessed the teaching and healing of Jesus first hand.  They were part of the crowds and the groups of disciples mentioned throughout the Jesus story.  But in the end, the choice had nothing to do with credibility.  They drew lots.  They drew lots, and Matthais was chosen to demonstrate that 1) they believed that God was active and present, and 2) none of their deliberations mattered without a basic trust in the choice of God. 

And so it is with you and with me in this world that seeks to own us and label us and separate us into nice, tidy categories.  While we may be encouraged by more and more avenues for personal expression, we are also terrified over shifts in cultural norms and values.  That is where the evil one hides.  That is why Jesus prayed for his disciples (Do you realize that includes you?) to be protected from the evil one.  Because each of us at any minute can just as easily support attitudes and actions that result in suffering as we could become involved in creating opportunities for healing and wholeness.

If we think that our salvation is set and our ticket is punched for the train bound for glory while our neighbors suffer, then we have misunderstood the promise of salvation.  We have misunderstood the prayer of Jesus.  We have misunderstood the fact that because of our salvation we are sent into the world to glorify the name of Jesus. 

And what does that mean?  Does that mean, “I better not be making mistakes, because Jesus is watching?”  No.  It means we create the “wow.”  It means that we do things that make people say the name of Jesus with a sense of wonder and amazement! 

It means that we have to find ways, in the midst of our longing for belonging to be the church in the world.  A Pastor friend said it to me this way the other day.  “Don’t get me wrong.  I love to preach.  I love the music and the singing.  But what I believe we are here for is building up the Kingdom of God.”

I believe that is our deepest longing.  I believe that our spiritual home is found not simply by coming to a place with people with whom we love to experience, explore, and express the love of God.  I believe it is found when we take this place with us in our hearts so that it informs our actions and reforms our relationships in every place.  I believe it is found when we open our doors and become vulnerable to others for the sake of demonstrating hope and love and forgiveness.

That sounds kind of risky, but after 135 years, we’re actually pretty good at it.  We share space with C.U.P.S. for the basket ministry.  Did you know that they took a leap of faith this Spring and made teacher appreciation baskets for Alice Boucher Elementary School, and then they partnered with Jerusalem Christian to help some needy souls make Mother’s Day baskets.  Of course we’ve also kept up our commitment for peanut butter for the U.C.O., and we’ve even started a new relationship by collecting shoes through Soles 4 Souls! 

There’s lots more to come.  A new Outreach and Service Committee was formed last week, and Youth Parents are meeting tonight to make plans for the Fall!  But in all of these things, we have to remember that we are not building, naming and claiming something for ourselves.  And we have to be sure that we are not just adding more and more commitments to our plates. 

Instead, the things we do must flow from a sense of place and of purpose, from a sense of being and a sense of longing.  Jesus said that we do not belong to the world.  We belong to God – heart, mind, and soul.  Our location – our place to move from and to – is found within the embrace of God.  Our purpose – our deepest longing – is found when we share the transformative truth that God is active and present here and now.  Only when we realize that God is active and present can we demonstrate God’s Kingdom which is both present and yet to come. 

If we can do that, if we can be that, then we will be so much more than a place where everybody knows your name.  For we are a people of God, and through us in all of our perplexity and simplicity, God has chosen to be known again and again and again.  I suppose that if God can even use Judas, God can use you and me.  But let us be sure to follow Jesus as our example.

More than that, let us be transformed by what God has done through him.  Kenda Creasy Dean, author of Almost Christian : What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church, says it this way, “Faith does not mean mimicking Jesus, but participating in his self-giving love—not because we have somehow chosen to be like him, but because, incredibly, God has chosen to become like us.”


In choosing to become like us, God has redeemed us.  God did not become less than God was, and God did not remain like us. Instead, God has given us the opportunity to demonstrate who God is and what God is about. Let us, then, live as a people transformed again and again by God’s self-giving love.  For that is what it means to be the church, which is the body of Christ.  Amen.
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