This past November I had the opportunity to return to my home congregation and preach during the Sunday worship services. Unfortunately with my seminary schedule and family commitments I do not frequently have the opportunity to return home and spend time with my home congregation community. I have frequently thought about how I belong to that community even though I am now mostly absent from it while I am present in my seminary community here at Wartburg Theological Seminary. The gospel text for the day was John 18.33-37, ending with “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice” brought me to that questioning place again as I pondered what it means to belong to the truth.
As I contemplated what word I was called to share that morning, the word “belonging” echoed through my mind. What does it mean to belong? Many of us know it when we experience belonging. The experience of belonging is felt in the depths of our being. There are moments when we know for certain “yes, I belong here.” There are also moments we know without doubt when another belongs. It seems more of a feeling than an objective description.
When I witness a strong sense of belonging in others I reflect on what communities I belong to. Who knows me and loves me anyway? What communities count me as their own? How do I contribute to the sense of belonging within those communities.
It is often during reunion moments that the sense of belonging to a community is strongest. When you return to a place and it feels like home, or if not home, then a comfort away from home. Those times hearts and eyes light up as individuals are reunited.
Or, we feel the pain of not belonging. The pain and longing of wanting to belong or possibly wondering if you belong to a group or a place — as humans, we know what that feels like in the very depths of our being.
As Christians we belong to Christ. And we are called to work within and belong to specific communities within the body of Christ.
Each community exists in the midst of constant transition. Some communities, such as a seminary community where students are being called and sent to new places each year, transition in predictable ways while other communities experience change in more unpredictable ways. Yet, through our shared relationships we belong to each other. Our stories are entwined.
We also are called to actively write some of the story of a community that belongs to Christ and to each other. In our relationships with each other we are invited to share in relationship with one another, we are also invited (dared?) to share in the truth as experienced in Jesus Christ.
Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice
Indeed we need to actively listen — to seek, to understand. To live our lives in community with one another, to belong to one another is a gift best actively received. Together we actively seek to understand as we belong to each other and not of this world. These shared communities are not limited by the observed boundaries of the world — All are welcome.
We look to our loving God to begin to understand this gift of belonging as part of reconciled relationships lived out in response to the new reality created in Christ as we are restored to right relationship with God and humanity. Faith gives us the vision for this new reality as we act differently. We listen. We seek to understand. We acknowledge and live out relationships with God and each other. We act differently because God’s love frees us and restores us to love in right relationship with God and others — to belong.