A truth that has been present in every context in which I have served, is that for the most part, we all just want to belong. It has been true in working with college students and congregants who have spent decades in their communities; it’s been true in working with our neighbors experiencing homelessness and it was even true in the preschool classrooms in which I taught long before becoming a priest. Belonging is such a key piece to not only being able to give and receive love, but also to be able to become better people. It is a crucial part of any effort to improve ourselves and the world around us. Because when belonging isn’t there, it is easy to feel untethered, and it is easy for our worldview to become egocentric when we don’t belong to something greater than ourselves.
In our gospel passage today, we get the reminder from Jesus that in our faith we have access to the greatest belonging. That because we follow the Christ, we don’t have to let our sense of belonging, of which we so deeply crave, rest in anything but in the crucified and resurrected Christ. Our belonging doesn’t have to reside in the broken, painful places, but instead gets to set up camp in the unrelenting hope of the resurrection. This, my friends, is no small gift, but to be quite honest, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows either.
Because what we do with this gift matters; we aren’t given this sense of belonging and love and not required to do anything else with it. Jesus names here in this passage from John that this belonging is the groundwork for our sanctification. Now, I love the saints, but one of the downfalls of such a rich tradition is that we hold those followers of Christ who are named as saints as something greater than us; that what they did with their life far exceeds anything we could hope to do. One of my favorite hymns is I Sing a Song of the Saints of God, particularly the line “for the saints of God are just folks like me, and I mean to be one, too.” Sanctification can have the air around it that makes it feel so far out of our reach.
But folks, the saints of God are just like me and you. Our belovedness that rests in God alone is the foundation upon which we stand, and sanctification is the long process of following Christ to the best of our ability. Sanctification doesn’t happen in an instant at our baptism, but is rather the long journey from the font to the grave; it is a process and an unfolding, much like the life we live as we walk about our daily routines. Sanctification doesn’t just happen in a dessert 1,700 years ago, it happens on an average Wednesday, when we aren’t quite sure what will come next. It happens no matter how long or windy our journey has been. And it happens to folks like you and me when we lean into our beloved belonging.
So, my friends, remember that this life is short and that we do not have long to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us. So, may you be swift to love, make haste to be kind, and make no peace with oppression, and may the blessing of God Almighty, Father Son and Holy Spirit be with you now and always.
A mid-week reflection for the people of Christ Episcopal Church in Bowling Green, Kentucky on John 17:11-19 for May 27, 2020.