Sermon for February 2, 2020             Fourth of Epiphany                 “Belong”

It is a well known fact that what we say to people is what they believe about themselves. This is especially true with children. The first words of Jesus’ dad to him when he came out of the water were ‘this is my son, my love. In him I am well pleased’. The first words to the real message and core teachings of Jesus are: you are loved, you are welcome, you belong. Let these be the words people hear.

On Monday while at the gym the row of TV’s were showing the impeachment of Donald Trump, the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Concentration Camps and the death of Kobe Bryant and eight others but mostly Kobe and his daughter. I was struck with the juxtaposition and the fact they were all on at the same time. The impeachment hearings is the apex of ‘I am right you are wrong’ white elite privilege, one showed the outcome of such white elite privilege and the death of Kobe how fleeting life is no matter who you are.

From that backdrop I look at the words of Micah and the Beatitudes in Matthew. The context of Micah is that the people and the religious leaders are arguing about what God wants them to do? The conversation ranges from strict adherence to the Moses Code and the law of the Prophets to something less strict and more open to interpretation.

It could easily be argued that the same is happening today. Not only in religion but in politics and community as well.

The Beatitudes is an extension of God’s desire for us to belong to community. It is inherent in Micah and Matthew that the vision of belonging is both deeply personal and community based. Let me go back to the TV shows mentioned earlier. What is happening, most pointedly in the USA is the sharp drawing of lines about the nature of community. You are in or out. You are democrat or republican. There is little in-between and the division is sharp. Listening to a pod-cast from the On Being series, Krista Tippett interviewed Brene Brown. She said that the base of human nature is to be in community. The two examples she gave were the hurricane that ripped through Houston and Texas. The response team did not ask political or religious affiliation, they just said we are here to help and they did. The other was when the Houston Astros won the world series. The whole city was unified and belonged. She went on to explain the differences between fitting in and belonging. Fitting in is when you do something to show you fit in, buy the right clothes, root for the correct team, have the latest cell phone or keep ahead of the gossip curve. Belonging on the other hand is all about a community and their capacity to welcome you. You can have the right clothes, look like you fit in and not belong. Belonging is the individuals in a community saying and meaning you belong. She goes on to say that belonging is a deeply spiritual experience as it reaches to the core of who we are and the core of the person being invited to belong. Jesus shows this belonging in a story. He is walking along the road and folks are lining up to see him. Zacchaeus really wanted to see Jesus, he was trying hard but could not so he climbed a tree. Jesus stopped and said, Zacchaeus you belong to me, let’s get something to eat.

At St. Mark’s we hold as one of our core vision components: belong. That is not just a word, it is a constant action. It is about what we say and how we say it, it is about accompaniment with the guest, visitor and the ones who just come to the door, it is how we genuinely extent the invitation to belong, just as you are and not as we wish you were. That is the hard work of loving kindness and living the beatitudes.

The coverage of the death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others remind us that life is fleeting for all, the super-star and the homeless. The underlying truth that is seldom mentioned is the very human condition to live with justice, kindness and mercy. As a personal code and a community endeavor.

The coverage of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Nazi concentration camps was moving and stirred me to the core of my being. One of the survivors reflected on Ellie Weisel’s wisdom that from the ash heap of the concentration camps there is an Eleventh Commandment and that is: we will not tolerate indifference. Justice and Kindness here mingle and dance in the quest to not tolerate indifference. All sorts of injustice happen as the ‘in-group’ fortify indifference. Child poverty, segregation of immigrant children from parents, racial profiling, segregation and yes concentration camps. Indifference is the birthplace of injustice and cannot ever be tolerated.

Belong, a simple word, easy to say and easy to be indifferent to. At St. Mark’s as we live out the mission of Jesus to love one another, it is a call of welcome in word and action. We cannot ever be indifferent to our mandate to all, to belong.