Do you Belong ?
3 Epiphany 22 Jan 2017 I don’t like to think a lot about high school. I guess for some it is a time they remember with fondness; for others it is best to put the entire period of time to rest. At least a good measure of the angst of high school and the bad memories years later revolves around the social structure. Yes, I know that there is virtually no place we dwell that does not have a social structure. Even someone living alone in a cave has created some type of social environment. But in high school the social constructs seem to be so sharp. Maybe they are based on looks, ethnicity, or athleticism. On one hand it is neither right nor wrong to “hang” with those who are similar to yourself. We tend to hang out with people our own age much of the time. I grew up in a neighborhood that was predominantly white, lower middle class, and protestant. There is nothing wrong with any of that until we make it “the norm” and measure others by what is familiar to us. One family in our neighbor-hood with Catholic with a big “c” and was held in suspicion. I always felt stereotyped and isolated because I was a “brain”. Not cool if you are a girl and choose not to hide the fact. We carry our tendency to flock with those “like us” to the point where that becomes the only way to be. Did you ever feel you were outside of what was the correct group? Were you one of the social insiders in high school? The good thing is that over time much of that goes by the wayside; we learn to appreciate people for who they are and how they conduct their lives. I like to go to my high school reunions because I now realize that each person had his or her struggles and felt at times as left out as I did. I also realize that they all had gifts to give and share. I hope that all of you, as you matured, were able to get past the high school mentality. Some folks don’t and I think a lot of them lived in Corinth.
Paul’s frustration and his very human response (as well as his memory lapse about whom he baptized) make this passage one with which I can identify. As a parent, educator, employer or employee, and (surprise, surprise) as a church member we have seen it all. From the mundane to truly weighty matters we break down by faction. Think about the inauguration of our 45th president one day and one of the largest protest marches every held in this country on the next. There is a larger ques-tion than the issues themselves that divided the Corinthians and that divide us. The question raised is simple: “Do I belong?” That was the issue for me in school; I have seen it play out at other times and other places in my own life. We can misidentify “belonging” with “being the favorite”. Many of the Corinthians seemed to feel their group was the best group or the true group and developed an I-am-better-than-you stance. Remember saying, “My dad (or brother or sister or whomever) can beat up your (fill in the blank)!” Pretty horrid rhetoric as I look back on it but it still identified that group think. Gangs me be one of the most virulent expressions of belonging. Paul tries desperately to pull them together. Yes, some of you hang out with the quilt group and some with the chariot racing group but that totally misses the point: You are all joined together in Christ. You are one because your baptism, not who baptized you, made you one. Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
The message of the cross is that God became one of us because God was so in love with us, all of us, and that no other condition than that of being human is what links us together. We need all be in agreement about that. The power of the cross that joins us is justice and compassion. We can see that played out in the world in many ways and some-times we disagree as to what constitutes justice and compassion, but these must be our measuring sticks for anything we do or support. For instance, I oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline because I feel it is a justice issue for landholders and those, including me, whose water would be affected were there a break or leak and because I see the only benefits accruing to the owners of the pipeline and the oil fields. I can sit down at the table with those who say that the pipeline offers benefits to many and we can listen to one another. In this case we are one in Christ because we see it as a justice issue. Whatever side of the political aisle you are on, unless you are a higher level elected official, you are being sold to those who are able to make huge monetary donations to candidates. That should be a reason to sit down together.
You may ask what that has to do with church. Well in some ways everything. We need to be united in Christ and hear the message of the cross. The bridge to Easter is the cross; there is no resurrection unless there is a crucifixion. God became human, became the anointed one, to show us how we should relate to God and to one another. The world, that is those who held power at the time, could not stand the idea that everyone belonged to one body.
That is our task, dear people of God. Our task is to keep the word “be-long” in the front of our minds. We need first to look at one another and those nearest to us and say we all belong to one body. The text from Matthew helps us answer that question of our belonging. Jesus sought out his disciples then and now. Those who feel most empowered by what the world has to offer may be the ones who feel least the call of Jesus. But the truth is that the call is out to all who want to hear it, who open their ears. There is an old hymn that begins: Earnestly, tenderly Jesus is calling, calling to me and to you. It has a line in it that says Ye who are weary come home.
At some point you hear those words; you came home. Our home as church is a place, where, like a loving and well-functioning family, all are welcome and all belong. That is the essence of salvation: we are saved because we belong to God.
For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.