October 22, 2023 “Belonging in Hope”
The Venerable Rena Turnham
Year A, Proper 24 October 21, 2023
St. John’s Episcopal Church – Minneapolis
“Belonging in Hope”
In the name of the One in whom we have our being and our belonging. Amen.
This week I was feeling mentally and physically exhausted, between juggling part-time jobs, a looming family crisis on the horizon, the images coming out of Gaza, and serving two immigrant families that ‘appeared’ in my life in the last few weeks.
I couldn’t seem to catch up on rest OR my ‘to-do’ list.
My ‘piles’ seemed to get bigger, not smaller.
Sleep was restless.
My heart was heavy, and my body ached.
Throughout the week, I’d been mulling over our gospel text.
Sermons come together not just in my mind, but in my heart. I pray, study, and ponder throughout the week, trusting that the words of the text, through the help of the Holy Spirit, will work in me and through me.
What I have discovered, over and over, is that when I stop in place long enough to rest and listen to my life by being still before God, that this is when new understanding is revealed to me through clarity and peace.
I have grown to trust my daily experience of God in my relationships, as a person learning to live as Jesus did. It’s where I am reminded that I am made in the image of God and that I belong to God. That the earth belongs to God. And that we belong to one another.
Somehow, through the grace of God, this week I was able, once again, to untangle myself, rest, and recenter in this deep knowing.
This happens when I discover the gospel message that’s for me, in this particular moment. That’s when I am broken open, humbled, and renewed in hope.
And it’s a good thing that happened, otherwise I’d have nothing to share this morning!
In today’s Gospel text, we find Jesus teaching, not to his followers this time, but in the temple, to those who seek to entrap him in this question of paying taxes. They’re caught up in solving the Jesus ‘problem’, conspiring with others who also find Jesus a threat to their authority.
Jesus poses a threat to the empire and to the religious authorities because he does not speak of allegiance to authoritarian and absolute power but to our belonging to God. Even Caesar himself and his empire, belong to God.
Jesus is pointing to a different kind of kingdom, one where the power is LOVE, one where the reign is over all the earth and all its people, the sun, the moon, the stars, and the galaxies, and where belonging is not an association or a duty but an intentional daily rendering, the action of giving back to God with our whole selves, our very lives, and to one another.
Every day, moment by moment, we have our own free will to decide to act in this belonging to a larger whole.
And Jesus is the one who shows us how to do this.
The Incarnation, God made flesh in Jesus, shows us WHAT love is and HOW to love, who we belong to and how to belong to one another – by giving back to God what is God’s.
What would our communities and our world be like, if we woke up every day and asked ourselves,
“How do I choose to LIVE in the world today, believing that I BELONG to God? “
“Today, how will I GIVE to God what is God’s?”
“How will I be LOVE in the world today, believing in my own belovedness and that of all people?”
With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, it’s this action on our part that helps to create and expand the Beloved Community, the Kingdom of God. To ask these questions of ourselves is an act of belonging, believing, and living in HOPE.
Our life together as a congregation is about this very thing, dreaming and working to foster Beloved Community.
Everything we do as a congregation is to help us to practice this, inside our walls at St. John’s, as people learning to live as Jesus did. This is so we can practice living like Jesus every day, outside of our walls, in our families, neighborhoods and communities where we live. This is the ministry of BEING the church.
At St. John’s, we are seizing this moment in time as an opportunity to create a future together that is based on this; and to refocus, to recommit, and to realign our resources for the ministry of BEING the Church.
The Beloved Community is unfolding and expanding NOW. We know this because we experience glimpses of it ourselves, and we conspire with God to make it so.
At St. John’s, we do it through how we love and care for the earth and invite others to do the same.
We do this through caring of members of this faith community in times of joy and in times of sorrow and great challenge.
We do this while serving those who have no one to care for them, those who are the least in the eyes of the empire: those experiencing hunger and homelessness.
We do this when we choose our own discomfort in order to be part of racial reconciliation.
We do this through caring for those who have crossed our southern border to escape violence, oppression, and a lack of basic resources and have made their way to Minnesota. While many of these people have permission from our government to stay, our government does nothing to care for these people.
“To whom do THESE people belong?”
They belong to God.
And we belong to them, and they belong to us.
This is where the tapestry of Beloved Community grows larger, growing as it is knit around the edges, in real time. These are the very people Jesus was in relationship with, and the people he invites us into relationship with.
It’s in our belonging to God and one another that we become healed, and we become healers, and active agents in the creation of the Beloved Community. It’s where we become connective threads in the beautiful tapestry of Beloved Community.
When we dream and work to foster the Beloved Community, the world becomes smaller, stronger, and safer and a place where all human life can flourish. It’s where those at the margins of our society are drawn in because we meet them there. This is where all of creation, our island home, and all people become one, and where healing, wholeness and harmony become a reality for all.
This is our work. Thread by thread. It begins by giving back to God what is God’s with our whole selves.
For our sake and for the sake of the world.