Second Sunday after Epiphany, Year A 2020
When Jesus turned and saw them following him, he said to them,
“What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi, teacher, where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” The invitation of a lifetime, “Come and see.” And they followed him.
I am a big believer in the power of belonging. When I was the principal of a middle school, my main focus was on helping create an environment where every child feels like they belong. Not just fit in, or tolerated, but truly belong. Like “everyone missed you when you weren’t there,” kind of belonging. Creating this kind of inclusive environment is not the kind of goal where one day you say, great, I’m done. What’s next?
This is more of aiming in a direction, constantly aware of how well we’re doing, when we’re off target, and then re-centering and trying again…creating a sense of belonging is always a work in progress.
Some days at my school, we did better than others. There’s the day, for example, when the baseball team was just starting their spring practices. They were excited, working on their team building, and the captains decided that they needed to bond in some way. At least this is what they told me…
I’ll tell you what happened. You see, each day in the middle school we had a 20-minute morning break. Students could get a snack in the cafeteria, throw the frisbee outside, sit and relax with some friends, ask a teacher for help, any number of things.
At the end of break this day, some boys came scrambling back into the building to make it to class on time. I figured they’d been outside and lost track of time; they ran by the office, and I went back to my desk.
A few minutes later a teacher came into my office with one of baseball boys. This boy, Trey, had his team hat on. We had rules about hats on in the building, of course, but I knew this teacher wasn’t bringing him to me about that. She could handle a hat.
Still, they came in, and she told him to take his hat off. “I’m pretty sure,” the teacher said as this boy slowly removed his hat, “Trey’s hair did not look like this before break.”
Oh my, was all I could reply. Trey’s head was half bald, the bare side all patchy and red, the other side, a full head of hair. “The clippers got clogged,” he said. It was clear to me that our team got the idea of belonging, maybe too well. As they’d decided to shave one another’s hair off at school!
I had the delight of calling Trey’s mom that afternoon to give her the news.
The team wanted to mark themselves as one in the spirit…of baseball. They were taking on an identity marker…bad haircuts.
This is funny, but the truth is we all do this, mark ourselves, take on identity markers… Wearing Wildcat t-shirts or silver crosses around our necks. Putting bumper stickers on our cars to say we are animal lovers or crazy about coffee. As a child I thought my father’s bumper sticker was pretty lame: It said, “I Break for Coffee.”
Golfers have their favorites, “Who’s your Caddy?” And runners too, though I think they are more serious, with simple round stickers with the numbers 26.2, 13.1, or as my friend from seminary loves to say, her favorite, 0.0
We talk about marking ourselves on this day when we hear once again the story of Jesus’ baptism and we prepare to say the ancient words of our tradition, marking this young man, Leonidas, as Christ’s own…forever belonging to the body of Christ.
I’m a believer in the power belonging because first, it is how God made us. We are made for community, to love and support one another.
It is not good that you alone, God said in Genesis, and God created a companion for Adam. We humans thrive when surrounded by a healthy community, and we struggle with feelings of unworthiness or humiliation or fear when we are left out and alone.
Secondly, community is what we are called into by Christ. Jesus models this for us, calling others to join him, including those who were deemed outcasts by society; Jesus taught, ate, prayed, and walked with a community, helping them and us to understand that we are part of something greater than ourselves…
When Jesus said simply, “Come and see,” he began building a community to serve others, to learn about God’s gracious goodness, and to resist the powers that be who it seemed cared more about rules than people.
Jesus gave this group of followers a new identity, a new commandment— that you love one another, as I have loved you.
We are Christ’s body now, a community called to love in the face of all odds. As Jesus’ disciples we are to be about the work of creating a real belonging in opposition to a culture that insists we divide, take sides, and keep distance from those unlike ourselves.
How do we best prepare ourselves to do this? For years now, I’ve been fascinated by the social science researcher, Brene Brown. She’s studied vulnerability, shame and her recent work is about true belonging…in her research she’s visited middle schools and studied group bonding…and what she learned surprised her.
Brene learned that an important part of the practice of belonging is being able to stand alone, to be authentic. We ourselves, cannot belong, unless we are willing to be true to ourselves.
It seems to be contradictory…a paradox, but she’s saying that in order to belong, to truly belong, we cannot pretend to be someone we’re not. Playing at it, acting like others in order to feel more included doesn’t create true belonging.
If we want to create belonging for ourselves and others, we must be willing to stand alone, to stand up for what we believe, like Jesus did in teaching that each and every person is loved by God,
God’s love and forgiveness is for all of us.
If we want to create belonging in this world, that so desperately needs it, we must be true to who God made us to be, because it is only in being authentic, that we can allow others to do the same.
In a few minutes we will say together our baptismal covenant. This is a statement of faith and a statement of how we’ll live out that faith:
Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship,
will you seek and serve Christ in all persons,
will you respect the dignity of every human being?
These questions state our commitment to carry on Jesus’ work of belonging, as the priesthood of all believers.
Leonidas, today you are joining the great big family of God—the Church. This family needs you and your work. And today we remind ourselves of our work.
We remind ourselves of the ancient vision of the Church that we are a priestly people, set apart for ministry in our baptism, strengthened in our worship together, and given the power of the Holy Spirit to make Christ’s love manifest, to make Christ’s love REAL in the world.
In your baptism, you join the priesthood of all believers, each of us ordained by God to share our gifts, each with different strengths. Some of your new family members preach the grace of Christ every week by taking meals to hungry persons in their homes or working with recovery programs.
Some of them are healers, visiting with those who are sick or suffering, volunteering at the hospital, or going on medical mission trips.
Some are teachers, offering their skills to help shape and encourage curiosity and learning in young people.
Others reach out to offer a kind word to a stranger, or donate to causes that help the poor, or call a friend who needs a ray of hope.
They may not even know it, but they are all priests in this way, and today we welcome you into this priesthood ready to share with you in Christ’s eternal priesthood, ready to say as Christ did so long ago, “Come and see.”
Thanks be to God.