This is Carey’s sermon at our Thanksgiving feast on Sunday, November 26:
We all long for acceptance and belonging; and to some degree human community can give that to us. We experience glimpses and tastes of human connection in all kinds of places- the grocery store, coffee shops, classrooms, at a friends house, or with family. Unfortunately, most of us have experienced the limits of people’s natural capacity to accept others. Mostly, what we know and experience is “fitting in.” Brene Brown, a social scientist and author, says, “Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are, it requires us to be who we are.” We’ve all felt this. We’ve felt the tension build and the walls go up when we broke some kind of written or unwritten rule.
The church is supposed to be empowered by the Holy Spirit and the best place to find love and acceptance and belonging. Jesus told his followers the world would know them by their love. Sadly, the church hasn’t been a place where we find those things very often. We’ve focused on the fitting in, on asking people to become something so that they can be accepted. This was not the way of Jesus. He accepted and then walked with people as they became more like him.
Jesus prayed that we might be one so that the world will believe (John 17). Now, being one doesn’t mean being the same. At Mission of the Dirt Road we have people with Master’s degrees and people who didn’t graduate from high school. There are people who have been to prison, and people who never even went to detention in school. There are people who only have a few dollars to their name, there are people living without a door to their house, and there are people with large saving accounts and brand new cars, and there are people in debt up to their eye balls. There are people who can’t remember a time they didn’t know Jesus, and there are people still wondering about Jesus. There are conservatives and liberals. There are people who have been abused and there are abusers. It would be wrong of us to expect everyone to be the same. That’s not unity, it’s conformity.
We don’t always get it right at Mission. We are all still learning to be like Jesus, all still learning how to love each other best. Because we come from very different backgrounds, it is difficult for us to understand each other sometimes. However, as we celebrate thanksgiving, it seems right to notice the ways we are learning to love each other and treat each other like Jesus. It seems that maybe there is a miracle happening. It seems that these moments of love, these new skills and ways of seeing things, this empathy and unity that is growing among us, the endurance to love each other even when someone makes a mistake or doesn’t “fit in”…it seems that these things are evidence of the Holy Spirit in our midst. It is evidence that we are becoming the church.
Paul says in Ephesians 2:
16-18 Christ brought us together through his death on the cross. The Cross got us to embrace, and that was the end of the hostility. Christ came and preached peace to you outsiders and peace to us insiders. He treated us as equals, and so made us equals. Through him we both share the same Spirit and have equal access to the Father.
19-22 That’s plain enough, isn’t it? You’re no longer wandering exiles. This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.
But that doesn’t mean that we have arrived. It means that we are just beginning this great journey of following Jesus and growing his Kingdom. It means we are becoming koinania, which is a Greek word the Bible uses to describe the intimate friendship of the church. But there is always a purpose for that communion. The church is intended to be a gift to the world around it. We are the messengers of the good news and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Because we are moving into a season that is focused on gift-giving as a symbol of the greatest gift we have ever been given, Jesus; I thought it might be a good time for us to talk about how we could be good news to our neighbors and our larger community.
We had a great conversation about how we could be good news to our neighborhood, and we’ll be announcing more details soon. One of the things we are doing is participating in the 5&2 Challenge until Christmas. If you would like to participate, email Carey.