Belonging

A sermon preached at FBC Worcester

10/8/17

Acts 15:36-41; John 17:15-26

The Fifth Sunday of Celebrationtide

 


This past summer, Polina Aronson got married. Of course, she was already married with children, but this time was different for the sociologist.

 

She married herself.

 

In a park in Germany, she became the latest to try out sologamy, a term better read than heard—the first four letters being solo. Sologamy.  It’s a trend sweeping across Europe and Japan.

 

Sologamy as Aronson explains in her article titled “Mrs. Myself,” “promises to make us happier by celebrating commitment to the only person in this world truly worthy of a relationship investment: our precious self.”[1]

 

Embarking on this journey initially as a social experiment, she began to find herself drawn to the practices of loving herself. Yet along the way she can’t help wondering if something is missing.

 

“This seems to be radical self-indulgence masquerading as radical self-love,” she ponders. “One might be tempted to say [these practices] are entirely narcissistic.”

 

The question she is asking, that Aronson hopes we might answer with her:

 

Do we really need anyone else?

 

 

 

***

 

Looking at the exchange between Paul and Barnabas in our reading from Acts, it seems that Paul might say no.

 

Paul and Barnabas have been traveling Asia Minor together. From the beginning of Paul’s Christian journey, he and Barnabas have been partners. It was Barnabas who defended Paul to the skeptical Christians afraid he was an undercover agent of their religious opponents. It was Barnabas who traveled with Paul to Jerusalem to report back to the disciples.  It was with Barnabas that Paul extended the reach of this Good News of God being revealed in Jesus Christ.

 

And yet in this story, they have such a falling out that they part ways. And as best we know, they never reunite again.

 

Internally, Acts suggests that the argument is over a friend or possible relative of Barnabas’—Mark. He’d joined them for a time, and then left them. Paul might have felt deserted or abandoned or let down. Perhaps there were family dynamics that didn’t help their journey any.

 

Other scholars point to a reference in Galatians about a disagreement that broke out among Peter and Paul, about whether Jewish Christians could associate with Gentile Christians over supper, and about whether Gentile Christians had to take the mark on their bodies like the Jewish Christians at the time. In this comment, Paul mentions that Barnabas was led astray by this teaching. We don’t know if this was a cause of their split, or an effect of not being together.

 

Paul’s adamancy not to include Mark, or this differing interpretation of the implication of the gospel, meant an estrangement from Barnabas.

 

And sure enough, they parted ways convinced they didn’t need one another.

 

It’s a serious rift, a stark shift from what appeared to be a vital partnership.

 

 

Move over a few pages to the prayer of Jesus’ in John 17. Here, Jesus is praying for unity for his followers—not just the disciples—but those to follow after them. Us. He prays that they would be one with each other as Jesus is one with the Divine Parent.

 

Jesus is praying with the assumption that we need one another.

 

 

***

 

In an ongoing study that is approaching its 80th year, researchers at Harvard have been tracking the lives of over 250 Harvard sophomores from 1938 in an attempt to understand how we might all live a healthy and happy life. Since then, the study has expanded beyond the group of men—in 1938 the college was a male-only school.
What the researchers found to their surprise was that “our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships [emphasis added] has a powerful influence on our health.”[2]

 

Another of the researchers adds this: “Loneliness kills. It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.”

 

When you consider how lonely Jesus was at his death, how lonely he must’ve been marking his trail while the world tugged at him, it adds a whole other light to this research.

 

Jesus’ prayer was that they wouldn’t be left alone. Not by him, and not by each other.

 

Jesus yearned for a different experience for his beloved friends and future followers, that they would belong one to another. For in these relationships, we find love, and meaning, and well-being. Not in sologamy or isolation or competitiveness, but in mutual friendship and kinship. It is in belonging to one another that we find our well being.

 

Unity is thus the sign of the early followers’ belonging.

 

And it’s the sign of our belonging.

 

When we belong to one another, we find ways to work out our differences and move forward.
Together.

 

This church, like any other church, is only as strong as our connectedness to one another. You can belong to a church like it’s an institution, a membership you add to your resume. Or you can belong to this living, breathing, moving organism that is made up of other living, breathing people like yourselves. People who will argue sometimes, but also people who are committed to listening. People who won’t be unanimous or uniform, but will be united in their love for one another and this God we worship.

 

Friends, you belong. To God, to this church

. You matter. You are a part of one another.

 

In our time, when tragedy seems to come at us every single week, when the noise of bickering in the news is incessant, when we are tempted to sever relationships with those people we disagree with, there could be nothing more important than belonging to one another.

 

If you belong to this church, you don’t belong to an institution. You belong to one another. You are to be committed to one another. That’s the whole point of this venture. It’s not to become prominent in the community. It’s to love one another by committing to one another, and together making a difference in the world we live in.

 

As the Church, that means we don’t cut people out; we don’t leave people out. It means our age, history, money, ethnicity, politics; none of it places us higher than anyone else in this church. But each of those things is a part of who each of us are, and thus, a part of us as a whole.

 

By the ways we support and listen and encourage one another, we show that we belong to one another; we show that we belong to this Way of Jesus.

 

 

***

 

So, children and youth.

Listen to me for a second.

You are not the future of this church.

You are a part of this church right now.

You belong.

 

Those of you who aren’t able to come in person,

but you listen online,

or you read the sermons you receive in the mail each week,

Hear me now:

you are still a part of this church.

You belong.

 

Those of you who aren’t able to give as much money as you used to because you have entered a different phase of your lives;

you are still a part of this church,

as much as you ever were.

You belong.

 

Those of you who can’t attend as regularly as you used to,

whose orbit has grown a little wider in circumference;

you are still a part of this church.

You belong.

 

Those of you who voted for the President,

you are a part of this church,

and you belong.

 

Those of you who voted for the previous President,

you are a part of this church,

and you belong.

 

Those of you who are Red Sox or Patriots or Chiefs fans,

Or even the one Yankees fan,

You are also part of this church.

You belong.

 

Those of you who were born in the US,

and those of you who were born in your own country;

you are a part of this church,

and you belong.

 

Those of you who are straight or queer;

those of you who are cisgender, transgender, or genderqueer,

you are a part of this church;

you belong.

 

Those of you who serve at the Mustard Seed,

or knit shawls,

or who pour your efforts into organizations that help others like the YMCA or the Boys and Girls Club or Big Brothers and Big Sisters,

those of you who are faithful members of the prayer fellowship,

or who give money to those in the path of hurricanes,

or who stand and pass out orders of worship

or run the sound system

or take pictures

or play the organ

or sing in the choir

or place your energy and focus on greeting those who might not know they belong here yet,

Those of you who are here every single week,

or those who take the chancel flowers to our homebound members,

those of you who take the time to visit or write or call or give rides to our members who haven’t been in a while,

those of you who send me notes and emails and cards and pies and casseroles and gift cards,

those of you who celebrate each of our individual awards and victories,

those of you who help in the kitchen,

or the front desk,

or the bathroom,

or the library,

or the nursery,

or the youth Sunday School,

 

Those who believe that God was revealed in Jesus,

and those who don’t believe God exists,

and all of you in between,

each and every last one of you,

hear this good news:

You belong.

 

We walk this journey together.

We need one another.

 

Jesus knew this.

 

Harvard research proves this.

 

Even Paul eventually learned this when he ended up recruiting new partners in ministry after Barnabas.

 

Even our sologamist friend, Polina Aronson has come to this realization. “Regardless of the context, practicing attachment means being empathetic, being ready to experience pain, and acknowledging that we need others to be fully human.”

 

We need one another, indeed.

 

Beloved, let us belong to one another.

 

Amen.

[1] https://aeon.co/essays/does-self-marriage-challenge-romantic-ideals-or-just-cave-to-them

[2]https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2017/04/over-nearly-80-years-harvard-study-has-been-showing-how-to-live-a-healthy-and-happy-life/

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