“A Place to Belong”
July 22, 2018*
by Pastor John Partridge
2 Samuel 7:1-14a Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 Ephesians 2:11-22
What does it mean to belong?
Last week we talked a lot about belonging, and that resurfaces again today, but what does that mean? How do we know when we belong somewhere? What is it about a place that tells us that we have found a place to belong? What is it about our families, or places of business, or our communities, or our churches, that help us to know, or to feel, that we belong? And even more than that, who is it that can belong there? Can anyone belong? Or can only certain kinds of people belong there?
These are tough questions, so let’s take them in smaller bites and walk through it just a step at a time. We begin this morning once again in the story of David. This time as David realizes that his house is a lot nicer than the tent in which God “lives” after his arrival in Jerusalem. (2 Samuel 7:1-14a)
7:1 After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, 2 he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”
3 Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.”
4 But that night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, saying:
5 “Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? 6 I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. 7 Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’
8 “Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. 9 I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth. 10 And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning 11 and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies.
“‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: 12 When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son.
There are several points that are worth noting from this passage this morning. First, as much as David has loved God and been passionate about following and worshipping him, and as joyful as it made him to welcome God into Jerusalem, it only now occurs to David that God’s house isn’t nearly as nice as his own. And so, David begins planning a new home for God so that God can belong. To David’s way of thinking, having a home is a part of belonging, but God sets David straight. For God, having a nice house among his people has never been a priority nor has it ever been a part of belonging. God says, I have never once lived in a nice house, but I have always been a part of my people. They have always belonged to me, and I have always belonged to them.
We also notice that God sometimes says no, even to the people that he loves the most. Remember, this is David, one of the Bible’s greatest heroes and the one who was described as “a man after God’s own heart.” But God tells David, “No.” David wants to build a temple for God and God says, “No, not yet. No, not you.” But if we continue to read, we discover that God says “No” because God wants something that is even better than what David wants. God intends to give David something better than what David had planned, and God also intends to give a great blessing to David’s son, and to David’s descendants.
From this we can understand two things about belonging. First, belonging isn’t about a specific place, or about money, or about power. Instead, belonging is about our relationships with one another. Second, if we follow the example of God, we know we belong when we discover a place where the people want what is best for us, and we become a place of belonging when we desire what is best for others.
But what does that look like? What does it look like to be a people who want what is best for others?
And to answer that question, we can have no better example than to look at the life of Jesus. In Mark 6:30-34, 53-56, we read these words:
30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. 31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
32 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. 33 But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
53 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. 54 As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. 55 They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.
John Wesley once said:
“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”
And that’s exactly what we see here. Jesus was doing ministry. He was doing all the good he could, for all the people he could, as often as he could. They were so busy, they didn’t even have a chance to eat. And even though Jesus was trying to take care of himself, and his disciples were trying to care for him, by taking him to a quiet place to take a break and get some rest, people guessed where he was going and got there ahead of him. And so, even when he really needed a break to get some rest, and to pray, and to be refreshed, he still had compassion and taught them anyway. Everywhere Jesus went, people recognized him, and they brought the sick to him. And even the people who could only reach out and touch the fringe on his robe, were healed.
These are remarkable stories. But once again, the Apostle Paul teaches us what these stories mean to the church, to us, in the twenty-first century. In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul says (Ephesians 2:11-22):
11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Paul reminds us that all the healing, and all the crowds, and all the ministry of Jesus was a part of God’s invasion of the earth and our culture. The arrival of Jesus was a demonstration of how God intended for the church to radically upend the culture of the world. Jesus came to tear down the walls the separated people so that there would no longer be insiders and outsiders, citizens and foreigners, members and strangers. Each one of us was once a stranger, or a foreigner, or an outsider, and every one of us was invited in by Jesus so that we could belong. We were invited in to belong to Jesus’ family, belong to Jesus’ church, and belong to Jesus’ mission. Jesus tore down the barriers that divided people between Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, black and white, the ‘in’ crowd and the outsiders, the ‘A-list’ and the ‘B-list,’ and any other division between us.
Jesus invited all of us to a place where we could belong.
And Jesus intended for the church to be that place.
Paul said that in Jesus Christ we are being built together so that we can become a place where God lives.
This is a big deal.
You see, last week’s message reminded us that we were adopted into God’s kingdom and had been given a place to belong. But this week’s scriptures remind us that not only were we invited to belong, our mission, as the church of Jesus Christ, is to create a place where others can belong.
But how do we do that? How do we make our church, our homes, our community, our very lives, a place of belonging? Let’s review what we already heard today.
First, the story of King David reminds us that we need to start by inviting God to be at the center of our lives and at the center of all that we do.
Second, we need to remember that belonging isn’t about a specific place, or money, or power but it is about relationships with one another. We become a place of belonging when we build relationships with the people outside the church.
Third, a place of belonging is a place where the people want what is best for us and where we desire what is best for others. We become a place of belonging when we reach out and help others, lift them up, and help them to become a better version of themselves.
Jesus and John Wesley both taught that while we need to care for ourselves, we need to do all we can, for all the people we can, in all the ways that we can, as often, and as long, as we can.
But Jesus’ life also teaches us that we can’t make distinctions that divide people. Paul said Jesus came to tear down the walls that divide us and invite the outcasts, and the outsiders, the strangers, and the foreigners, to come in, be a part, and belong.
Our job, our mission, is to become the kind of people, and the kind of church, invites and attracts the community in which we live and the people around us to come in, to belong, and to be adopted, like we were, into God’s family.
My prayer, and I hope yours is too, is that we would all be passionate about becoming the place of belonging that Jesus has called us to be.
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online). These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.