Faithlife Sermons

Belonging

He Gets Us. Jesus.  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Prayer
Need to Belong
The other week I listened to an interview with a woman named Helena. She grew up, living a fairly ordinary life as a young girl, but started experiencing social and emotional difficulties as she entered her teenage years.
Gradually, over time, she became convinced that she was actually a boy and began slowly the transition to live as a transgender male. As soon as she turned 18, she began taking strong doses of steroids in order to do that.
Long story short, she realized those steroids were causing her great mental and emotional harm (violently angry), so she weaned herself off and detransitioned, living as the biological female that she is.
I share her story because part of her story involves how she strongly she was encouraged to transition in the first place through relationships she developed on social media. Every time she made a move toward living as a transgender male, she was applauded and affirmed (sadly the reverse did not happen when she detransitioned). Helena readily acknowledges that constant encouragement from her online community of friends was a huge part of why she continued in the transgender process.
This is often referred to as a “social contagion” - like a real disease it spreads, but does so through the affirmation and encouragement of others. It speaks to how powerful our desire to belong is, to feel that we fit in.
I believe that this is an basic human question everyone asks - where do I belong? We all have a need to connect, to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, to have a community.
C.S. Lewis, in his essay, the Four Loves, writes about the four types of love as used by Greeks - one of those loves being storge, which is affection. We develop deep affection for people and things that are familiar - Lewis describes it as the natural bond born of fondness and familiarity (between mother and child, man and his dog, favorite sweater, comfort food)
This is the part that may be a little hard for you to hear - it’s not that all these people and places and things in our lives are so unique and special that we develop such affection for them, it’s that familiarity and fondness - which is why most everyone has storge for their family, their community, their alma mater, their home state, country - sense of belonging to “Steeler Nation”, “We Are…Marshall”, singing “Country Roads” at the end of WVU games, arms around shoulders. As much as I hate to admit it, I’d probably feel a lot of affection for Texas A&M if I’d gone to school there (but I didn’t, so “Hook ‘em, Horns!).
This actually is a gift from God, this natural bond that forms, because it helps to satisfy that deep need to feel connected, to belong. Because we were made to belong.
And as we’ve been talking about through this entire sermon series, here, too, Jesus Gets Us. He gets our need to belong. It was central aspect of his ministry, inviting others to enter into the Kingdom of God, to come under the reign and rule of God. Jesus wanted everyone to know, you belong here. You are welcome.
That’s what I want you to see this morning, God’s heart as it’s revealed in the broadness of the Kingdom - open invitation to all. And not just the broadness, but the depth - how completely you are received into the kingdom. You belong here, this is your true home.
Kingdom of Belonging
A great example of this comes in Gospel of Luke - Jesus has been invited to a dinner party, and he notices how the guests are vying for the most prominent seats, motivated by this sense of self importance. Jesus takes the opportunity to make it a teachable moment, this is what he says, Luke 14:12-14...
Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
This is kind of fascinating teaching if you think about it, because it goes so contrary to our normal way of operating. Think about it - who hosts a lunch or dinner and doesn’t invite friends or family? That’s who we always invite.
But Jesus is telling us, no, invite the least of the least, the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind. But who makes a point of explicitly hosting a group of these people - and why would you? What’s the point here, what is Jesus trying to teach, instill in his guests - and us?
It has to do with the chance that you may get invited back - and in doing so, be repaid. It’s why Jesus includes inviting your rich neighbors. Point of Jesus’ teaching isn’t that it’s wrong to invite friends or family or even wealthy people, Jesus is inviting us to check our motives, our hearts - why we do things we do, even in something as ordinary as a dinner invitation.
So much of my motives in social interactions can be rooted in how it benefits me - how it makes me look or feel about myself, what I enjoy (based on who I enjoy). Why we often pursue relationship with some and avoid others (you can’t do anything for me). It’s why we work hard to look good in front of others - we want something from them - their approval or admiration.
With some people, we might not care what they think - which isn’t necessarily a virtue, if it reflects the fact that we don’t really care about them.
Jesus is teaching us here to intentional invite those who cannot repay us, who have little or nothing to offer because this enlarges our hearts. We are being for others simply for the sake of being for them, for who they are. It is a love that is freely and fully given, with no expectation of return.
It’s the love Jesus has for us. It’s what we mean by grace. Love freely given. It is the love of the Kingdom, it’s very heart. That all are welcome. This desire for any and all to belong, to come and be a part of the Kingdom of God.
Right after this Jesus goes on to tell a parable that reveals heart of the Kingdom, this desire for any and all to belong, Luke 14:15-24...
When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.” Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’ “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’ “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’ 
Jesus is comparing the Kingdom of God to a great banquet - invitations go out to guests far and wide. But when the servants go out to tell the invited guests that everything is ready, they come up with a myriad of lame excuses - after all, who buys property unseen or doesn’t check out cattle before purchasing them (I’ve never bought cattle before checking them out)? Let’s see what the master does in response.
“The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’ “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’ “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”
So the master’s angry about all the rejections. But he’s determined to share the abundance of this great banquet with any and all, so the servants are commanded to go out and invite anyone and everyone - go into the streets, the back alleys, find those folks who are so easy to miss, the people who are often invisible to us - poor, crippled, blind, lame.
He so wants all the goodness he has to offer to be enjoyed that he commands them to go out a second time, even further - to the roads and country lands and compel them to come in. Because there will be those who insist that they don’t belong, surely such a great banquet would never be for them. But the master’s heart is - it is, it absolutely is, come - you belong here.
This is Jesus’ whole point, that this is heart of the Kingdom, all the goodness of God, and it’s offered to any and all - you belong here, with me, with us. I want you to be a part of everything we have here.
Helpful here to stop for a moment to consider what it means to belong. To truly be a part of something. And this is vital - essential human need, to belong.
Erik Carter, a professor of special education at Vanderbilt University, speaks about the 10 dimensions of belonging, how full and robust it is to truly belong, to be a part, an essential part of something
Present...invited...welcomed...known...accepted...supported...cared for...befriended...needed...loved
If you’ve ever heard of Henri Nouwen, highly regarded Catholic priest and theologian who taught at Notre Dame, Yale & Harvard (not too shabby), wrote numerous books. At one point in his career he felt God calling him to another ministry - he moved out of the world of academia to live and work at Daybreak, a home for mentally disabled that was part of the L’Arche community.
He wrote about his experience there in a book called “In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership.” He wrote about how moving there revealed how much his heart clung to the accolades he received in the world of academia - the prestige of being known, celebrated - it was a world where invitations mattered and where you are seated mattered. But at Daybreak, none of that mattered. To the residents there he was just Henri.
In the epilogue of the book Henri shares a story about an experience he had with Bill, one of the residents. Henri had been invited to speak at a large conference in Washington D.C. Event was a fancy hotel, large conference room. L’Arche community felt that they should put into practice what Jesus taught - sending out disciples two-by-two. So Bill, one of the Daybreak residents, was chosen to fly to D.C. with Henri so they could “do it together,” though Henri wasn’t quite sure what that meant, as it was his writings he was speaking on - he had been the one who received the invitation.
Well Bill had an idea of what “doing it together” meant. As Henri began his opening remarks he realized that Bill had left his seat and was standing right behind him at the podium. And every time Henri finished reading a page, Bill would set it down on the small table next to them. Then Bill began to share some comments - when Henri would speak about something that Bill was familiar with, “I’ve heard that before!” And Bill continued with his interjections. Henri realized something wonderful was happening, he described it like this: Bill’s intervention created a new atmosphere in the ballroom: lighter, easier, and more playful. Somehow Bill had taken away the seriousness of the occasion and had brought to it some homespun normality. As I continued my presentation, I felt more and more that we were indeed doing it together. And it felt good.
At the end of his speech, after the crowd’s applause, Bill then turned to Henri and asked if he could say something. Henri froze. What would he say? Would he ramble on? Then Henri realized that he was working off of the presumption that Bill had nothing of importance to say. So he asked the crowd to please sit down again, gave Bill the microphone, and Bill, in his stuttering speech told the crowd that last time Henri had gone to speak he’d taken John Smeltzer, but this time he chose Bill and he was very glad to be there with them. And that was it. He got applause as well.
On their return trip, as they talked about how wonderful a trip it had been, Bill turned to Henri and asked, “And we did it together, didn’t we?” Henri realized in that moment that most of what he shared with the crowd would not be long remembered - but that he and Bill had done it together - would not be easily forgotten.
Such a great picture of what it means to belong: Present...invited...welcomed...known...accepted...supported...cared for...befriended...needed...loved. This is what Jesus is inviting us into when he invites us into the Kingdom. We matter, we have something to offer, we belong.
Heart of the Kingdom, that we work to invite others, make them feel like belong (people are looking for a place to belong, essential need). Is our heart being enlarged to reflect the Kingdom?
And I want you to consider this very practically in terms of the Neighborhood cookout we just hosted. A primary purpose of the cookout (besides eating lots of good food) was to connect with our neighbors…after all, we invited them! So I want to ask you a few questions to reflect a bit on how well we did in helping others have a sense of belonging?
First of all, did you meet any of our neighbors at the cookout?
Beyond that, did you take the initiative to meet one of the neighbors at the cookout? Did you engage them in conversation, learn anything about them? Did you meet or talk with Vicki, Tessa or young girl with her, Kaylee, Jeremy’s daughter, who lives next door? Natalie or her sister, Kaylee, or Emma, Waylon (the small one), Abby, or other Tessa or Emma? Did you engage with Ricky or Waylon (the tall one)?
How well do you think we did in making them feel like they belonged as part of our gathering…present, invited, welcomed, known, accepted...Get them something to eat…sat down and talked with them…played with them (whether or not you’re any good at corn hole!).
I think this is what it means to have heart of Kingdom, God’s heart - invitational heart, heart for others to belong, to be included in his great Kingdom.
Spiritual Disciplines
Jesus’ invitational heart came out of his own sense of identity, as son of the heavenly Father, being a part of the Kingdom (it would feel awkward inviting someone to something you yourself don’t fully feel a part of)
I read an essay on the idea of Invitation by Kristy Fox, she wrote about the beauty of invitation and how our life in Christ begins with Jesus inviting us: “Come WITH me. Follow me. YOU are invited.” And she shared some wisdom from a mentor of hers, “Who you are in Christ is more important than what you do for Him.” She says, “I have held on to those words as Christ’s invitation to me in my life to be WITH Him first and foremost — to follow Him and all else will flow from that. This is the invitation of Jesus — to be with Him.”
Accept that invitation. Be with Jesus this week. Do it as a response to Jesus, hear him say to you, “Come follow me. Be with me. You are invited.” Jesus wants you to know that you belong to him…time of solitude, time of reading Scripture, prayer…“I come.”
Invite the lame, blind, poor - Put the Kingdom of belonging into practice
Neighborhood cookout
Visitors to worship, those who are newer here, with one another
Working toward fullness of belonging (accepted, supported, cared for, known, loved…)
Inspiration - Beauty of Kingdom, invitation really is for all to come and belong
On Thursday evening I went and watched the Challengers Baseball league playing their “Championship” - baseball league for those with special needs, young children all the way through adults. It was an absolute delight, every one of them getting a chance to play, didn’t matter if they could hardly swing a bat (someone would swing it with them), or if they were in a wheelchair, the volunteers were right there with them. They had an announcer calling the play by play as the crowd cheered them on.
The poor. The crippled. The blind. The lame. Compel them to come in. It was such a beautiful image of the Kingdom of God, what God intends, his desire for any and all to be a part of this Kingdom. Doesn’t matter your ability level. Your socio-economic status, the color of your skin, what language you speak, what you look like, where you come from…God wants you.
Image of the Kingdom of God, Revelation 7:9...After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.
May our hearts reflect God’s heart as its revealed in the broadness of the Kingdom - everyone is invited. Everyone belongs.
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