“Belonging” – 07-07-13 – Proper 9 – Cycle C

Listen to the sermon here:

Scripture: Isaiah 66:10-14 Psalm 66:1-9 Galatians 6:1-16 Luke 10:1-20

Are you a joiner or a loner? Which do you want to be? Have you tried both ways? Which is the most comfortable? Are you okay in groups but you need to be alone to become refreshed? Or does refreshing happen when you are with people? If you enjoy any groups, which are they? Do you like a group which is just chatting? Or do you need a group that has a purpose? Book clubs have a purpose but perhaps you are natured to like a group that is more service-oriented.

Maybe you like being part of a purpose which does not have meetings. Individuals are working toward a goal without being required to actually be together ever. How does such a group look? Well, for example, relief organizations offer this semi-togetherness – almost but not quite being physically together. There is a common purpose – to care for other people. We probably do not know the organization personnel personally. We trust the organization and therefore we trust the current personnel. Perhaps the original founder or founders is still the head of the organization. Perhaps the organization is part of our own church denomination. Maybe the organization is nationally known and we see it advertised in magazines and on TV and by radio.

I am thinking of relief groups to which we contribute goods. Contributing money is fine also, but when we make something or actually buy the item, we seem to be more involved – part of the endeavor. When we read the report about so many items or so many pounds going on a truck or an airplane to places near and far, we assume that our donated pounds are included.

Did you ever spend a day going to a big warehouse to assemble kits or pack the kits into boxes or load the boxes on a truck? Well, here is a good example of being in a temporary group. It feels good to work together, to be together, to break a simple lunch together.

Maybe you sponsor a child somewhere in the world, maybe even here in the United States. No meetings are required. Letters may be easier than meetings for you. Yet, you are part of something outside yourself. You are serving. You are belonging to this endeavor. You are making the world a better place.

Some caution must be established when we choose to participate in a group – even in a little way. Choosing to participate? Sometimes we do not have a choice about belonging. Most of us belong to families. We don’t need to be friends with our family members but it is better if we are. Without being asked, we belong to ethnic groups, to a certain race. Having a tiny bit of choice, we belong to an economic level and to groups based on our skills.

You are probably waiting for me to get to the group that is religious. By birth, we may be linked to a certain kind of worship. By choice, we may have found a congregation that fits better than our birth style of worship or, more than style, maybe we have moved far from the faith of our family of origin. Or, maybe you have moved beyond organized worship. Maybe you were hurt badly in a particular religious experience. You may have moved from God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit or you may have moved outside any god, any stated belief. You are moving from one kind of philosophy and trend to another. But, after a time, these trends seem shallow.

Have I reached your spot yet? Where are you? Where are the people you love? Why do many of us cling to the faith in this Trinitarian God – the God whom we believe separated the chaos and created our working universe and endless possibilities beyond? The God who is both jealous and positively firm and yet positively loving and gentle and always present. What is wrong with believing in this God by ourselves? We can prepare a quiet place in our own home. We can walk on a glorious day and set our minds and hearts on God and open our hearts for God to come to us. We can give our burdens to God in despair wherever we are.

I cry to God. I say, “My God, oh my God, I am wrapped in this blanket that is you. Yes, if I close the door and lock the world outside my little inner world, you are with me but do you want me to be a hermit? Is that why Jesus called the disciples from their fishing boats and their small worlds; is that why Jesus sent the disciples out of their roles as followers and told them to go into the world to reach people and to invite them to belong? Jesus did not allow them to be hermits.”

Yes, we can cry to God in our aloneness. But Jesus sent the disciples in pairs. Jesus told them to look for willing people, open people, people ready to find fulfilment for their lives.

This action was the beginning of the church. Trust developed because Jesus was with these original disciples. Their passion for Jesus led them to share the good news with earnestness, with believability. Do you wonder if this passion lessened as the good news passed from person to person. How could this belief stay strong? Think of the ripples in a pond when a small stone is cast into it. The ripples become less strong, less vivid, less convincing as they move out and out. This could happen to the good news of Jesus Christ and what he brings to the world as one of the persons of God. How will this belief be kept strong? How can faith be developed in something that was not experienced first hand?

Even today, two thousand years after Jesus walked the earth, we experience God working in our lives, but should this be kept to ourselves or shared? We could write about it. We could send an e-mail about it. We could broadcast the news on radio or even appear on television so an image is added to the words. But, “in person” is the best way. There is something vital about face-to-face sharing. We could have a person appear for a one-time presentation in a huge stadium or a tiny church building. That is good! But, the faith becomes even stronger and more real as we build community in a group. We feed on each other’s expressions of faith – of those moments when God is so real to us, of the co-incidents that we know were God and not coincidence.

In groups, we can feel God ministering to us through our sisters and brothers in the faith. In groups, we are led to do the ministering in turn. A gentleness spreads through the group. Paul says in Galatians 6:1, “ My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. … Bear one another’s burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

In Isaiah 66, God is saying to us, through Isaiah, that God nurtures us as a mother; there is comfort as a mother gives and there is nourishment as a mother gives. Even though God was addressing the people of Israel and how Jerusalem, through God, will provide this motherly nourishment, God goes on to say, “I will extend prosperity to her like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream; … ”

This gentleness is a good thing. It is like catching flies with honey. It is like praising children instead of scolding to achieve desired behavior. But I heard the word “law” in Galatians 6:1. Law and gentleness? Do thy compute? Yes, they do. A firm line of behavior needs to be developed and accepted. The way to help each other to stay with the law and do what is “right” is to apply gentleness, compassion, our own self-control. Then, what is the reward or is there no reward?

The reward is joy. We shall rejoice with each other. Joy is multiplied. We can lead each other to become new creations. New creation in God brings us ever closer to God’s self. The powers and authorities and scary, creepy creatures of this world, and of our imaginations, are not in control. We don’t need to be part of the problem. We, as new creations in God, will be part of the solution.

We may sit at a computer and send endless communications and use websites and social media, as long as we want, to reach people but until we are face-to-face with each other we are not using the fullness of being new creations. We need to belong to each other and to God. We need to get close enough to see the color of the other person’s eyes, not the skin. We need to use Google to translate so that we can understand each other. We need to stop judging and instead begin to affirm the God in each other.

Am I talking about a congregation, a religious congregation, a Christian congregation? Well, yes, for a start I am saying that we need to congregate to praise this Creator God, this reconciling God, this compassionate God, this God who has provided law but sent Jesus to show how love works. We need to gather to give occasion for the Holy Spirit to whip through the assembly to inspire us, to sustain us, to give us passion for the cause of sharing the good news but more than that – to share the joy. Gathered worship shall multiply the nourishment of joy. We shall go into the world full of rejoicing. How soon will we lose this joy? We shall lose the joy, just as we shall use the love of God in our hearts because in gathered worship both joy and love should be replenished.

You may be remembering the closed hearts that you found in congregations. Think of the closed doors that the disciples found as they went out in pairs to spread the good news. Remember what God said? Shake the dust off our sandals and move on. Look for the open doors! If our joy and love is not welcome, we shall not push it under the door with all our might. Leave the door closed and go find welcome hearts. Invite them to join the group – the congregation of God in our neighborhood, in our own country, in the whole world. Imagine the joy of the Lord if nations were to rejoice with each other! “Be joyful in God, all you lands; be joyful, all the earth,” said the Psalmist. Amen