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Posted on Jan 14, 2018

The puzzle of belonging—sermon for 14 January 2018

The puzzle of belonging


Photo Credit: joeldinda Flickr via Compfight cc

January 14, Second Sunday after Epiphany:

Psalm 139:1-5,12-17
1 Samuel 3:1-10(11-20)1 Corinthians 6:12-20John 1:43-51

Draft text of the homily, it may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please pardon any typos, and do not cite without permission.


These are the first two sentences in the parish profile that was used to call me as your rector four years ago.

“When parishioners at All Saints are asked what they most value, the word “community” comes up time and again. It is what brings us to All Saints as well as what keep us at All Saints.” 

Back in 2013, I had to trust the truth of that statement, and four years later, I can say that I have experienced it’s truth. Community is a value we hold here. I value this community that my family and I have grown to be a part of.

I also know that “community” is one of those Big Meaningful Words that gets used a lot in church, like “Mission,” and “Stewardship,” and “Formation.” “Community” sounds less churchy than those, but it’s still one of Those Words that means very different things to different people…but it sounds good so we use it…a lot!

But what do we really mean when we claim to be a community?

Community is really about an experience of belonging…when we say “I’m part of this community”…or when we say, “what we love about All Saints is that it’s a community”… that’s a confession of belonging…

We’re saying, “I feel like I belong here.”

And that’s wonderful.

But it also means that there have to be others who don’t feel that way…who don’t belong…

Peter Block, who has written extensively on community formation and engagement says: this communal sense of belonging is “the opposite of thinking that wherever I am, I would be better off somewhere else.” [1] The opposite of belonging is feeling isolated. We feel like that way too often in our world. There are plenty of places you can go and feel like you don’t belong… to feel isolated…Where are those places where we feel like we do belong? And how do people come to feel like they belong here? What’s that process?

I mean be honest, you didn’t always feel like you belonged here. There was a time when you didn’t belong, and there was probably a period when you weren’t sure whether you belonged or not? But something happened…and you came to feel like, “I belong here.” What’s that process for others?

It’s totally normal to go through periods of feeling more or less connected to various communities. It’s very possible that some of you here today, aren’t sure whether you belong or not. Maybe this is just a place you come for an hour or so a week, and that’s fine, but you don’t really feel like you belong…and when you hear things like “Community is what brings us to All Saints,” you might think, “that’s true for you…but for me…meh.” What do we do with that?

We have an awful lot of people who come through this building every week who fall into that category. The 12 step groups…the kids and parents of the Corner Co-Op, the Evergreen Korean church, all the choral groups, and clubs that meet here…Are they part of our community? Do they belong to us? Do we belong to them?

Peter Block points out that belonging carries a couple of different meanings: Belonging as membership…and belonging as ownership. This iPad belongs to me. Those hymnals belong to the church. To be part of a community…to really belong to a community…means more than simply showing up…it means becoming co-owners and co-creators. It means committing my time, my gifts, my resources to something that I think is important…something bigger than me…something that is necessary for all of us to build and nurture…not just for my sake…but for the sake of others…for the sake of the community…

To be part of a Christian community means more than simply showing up…it means becoming co-owners and co-creators with God, and one another, of the kind of communities that God dreams of. But how do we do that? What does that look like?

Our scriptures over the next several weeks are filled with call narratives…Samuel, Jonah, Phillip, Andrew, Peter, James and John. It’s important to hear those…important to let them resonate with your own call narratives…with your own sense of how God is calling you into this larger project that we’re engaged in…but the lectionary also pairs these multiple call narratives with snippets from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians…which is really interesting.

Because First Corinthians is all about the difficulties faith communities face as they try to figure out what God is really calling them to do and to be. It’s what happens after the call narrative…after we say, “yes”…after we show up…now what? How do we really come to belong to one another? How are we supposed to relate to others in our community? How do we engage a world that doesn’t necessarily share our values? How do we tolerate, or appreciate, or even celebrate differences in our own community? What does it mean to be a community? To belong?

First Corinthians is a great example of a community trying to figure all this out…largely without a map. Remember Paul’s letters are the earliest writings we have of the new Jesus movement. The only scriptures they had were the Hebrew scriptures…none of what came to be the four canonical gospels had been written. Mark, the earliest gospel account was still twenty years or so in the future when Paul was writing to the Corinthians. This letter shows Paul wrestling with these real world questions.

For the next few weeks, I’ll be using 1st Corinthians to help us reflect on these same questions: what does it mean to belong to a community? How do people come to feel like they belong…what gets in the way? How do we hold our differences without letting them tear us apart? What is necessary after responding to the call, after we say, “I believe?” What kind of community does God need us to become?

It’s not necessary, but it wouldn’t hurt if you sat down and read all of First Corinthians. Along with the audio and text of this sermon, I’ll post some really good, short video and study guides on 1st Corinthians.

[Here’s a great, short, series put out by Yale Divinity School]

Peter Block says that there is a third meaning to belonging. It can also be thought of, he says, “as a longing to be. [And] being is our capacity to find our deeper purpose in all that we do. It is the capacity to be present, and to discover our authenticity and whole selves…Community is the container within which our longing to be is fulfilled.” [2] It seems to me, that whatever else we mean by it, that’s a pretty good core definition for what we mean when we talk about “community” here, we want All Saints to be the container for people to discover their whole selves, find their deeper purpose, and share in the co-creation of God’s dream.

[1]  Block, Peter (2009-09-01). Community: The Structure of Belonging . Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.

[2] Block, Peter (2009-09-01). Community: The Structure of Belonging . Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.