You Belong: Better Together – Sermon #02

a2vc.org • Jan 19, 2020 • Rev. Donnell T. Wyche • donnell.wyche@annarborvineyard.org • (734) 649-7163 

We’re so glad you are here with us this morning. We’re grateful for you and the gifts of God that you bring with you into this space. As a church we partner with the liberating presence of God to cultivate joy, hope & belonging as Jesus invites us into freedom, keeps us free, and helps us free others. We pray that whether this is your first time with us this morning, or you’ve been a part of our community for a while, that you will feel the invitation of the Holy Spirit to join in with our vision. If you are looking for a church home, we would love to be your church home, and I, in particular would love to become your pastor.

We are in part 2 of our “You Belong” sermon series. Let’s get started with a video testimony detailing our past, present, and future as a church.

You Belong Video

Glen Hillaker

Introduction – Do I Belong?

It was at a table that I had a conversation with my biological mom about my own sense of belonging. This conversation happened near Thanksgiving as my mom and I were working on dinner together. I remember saying to my mom that I felt that no one loved me.

Now that I am older, I want to revise the story to take the edge out because I now understand the struggles that my mom was facing being a single-mom, working multiple jobs to help provide for and care for me. She was on her own. Her mom had died unexpectedly when she was a child. She had me right after high school, and she and my dad broke up after two years. She was overwhelmed too. She was struggling too. But my counselor has cautioned me about revising the way the story made me feel. I cannot recall a time where my parents ever told me that they loved me. And as I look back at third-grade Donnell, I realize that at the center of this conversation was a lack of belonging. I didn’t belong at my new school. I was being bullied. I didn’t feel like I belonged in my family. I was an only child. I was having a hard time fitting in because we had just moved which resulted in me being the new kid in a new school. I was struggling.

I want to tell you that my mom reassured me that she comforted me. Instead, my mom called my dad. After my mom told my dad the story, he asked me a simple question, He asked, “Do you want to live in a foster home?” To which I responded, “No.” That was the end of our conversation on my belonging.

As I grew up, I realized that I could experience a sense of belonging if I performed well. If I got good grades, I would receive praise and affection. When I got a scholarship to college in middle school, I learned that my parents were proud of me. When I got a job at 11, I knew that they were pleased. When I was on TV or featured in nationally syndicated newspapers, I learned from their friends just how proud they were.

It would take years before I realized that I was worthy of love and belonging whether I performed well or not. It took years to realize that my worth wasn’t tied to what I produced, achieved, or accomplished. It would be years later before I realized that I already belonged, I belonged to God.

God is Generous

You would be forgiven for believing that your relationship with God is based on your performance, your work effort. Everyday, in every way, we are being evaluated: the kind of clothes we wear, what we drive, our job performance, our grades, our looks, our manners, etc. It seems natural to just assume that God is like everyone else.

It’s an easy trap to fall into. It even shows up in the ways that we interact with each other. Take the parent who is addressing a child whose is misbehaving. You say something like,  “Stop being a naughty child!” And without someone there to remind you to separate their behavior from their identity, you are planting seeds. Only later when that child mimics back, “Daddy, I’m a naughty child,” does the impact of your words have purchase.

Your child isn’t naughty or bad. As their parent, you love them intensely. In fact your child is precious and beloved.

Many of us have inherited a false narrative about God that says since, “God is good, and we are bad, try harder.” When we uncritically marry this false narrative about God with all of the striving that Empire demands — our hard work, our excellence, our performance — we create a distorted picture of God that Jesus would find completely unrecognizable.

A performance based orientation towards God might work in the short-term, but it will ultimately bankrupt us.

Friends, our God loves us more than I can express. His love for us knows no limits, no boundaries. While the culture teaches us that we have to earn our love from God, we have to earn our favor from God, that we have to earn our forgiveness, earn our acceptance, Jesus reveals the good and beautiful God who is generous. He doesn’t trade his love, affection, provision, and forgiveness for our performance, or our effort.

We Belong to God – Because We Are His

Our understanding of belonging starts with first hearing that we belong to God, then believing what we have been told.

It’s like what Israel had to hear from God over and over again as they made their way out of captivity into a spacious land to become the people of God.

3Know that the Lord is God. He made us; we belong to him. We are his people, the sheep of his own pasture. (Psalm 100:3, CEB)

There is something powerful about being told who you truly are.

You matter.

You have worth.

You are loved.

But for those of us who struggle with belonging or with the fear of not belonging, we have to remind ourselves of who we are and to whom we belong. This is why I like this passage in Isaiah 43. Israel is in exile because of their failure to be faithful to God, but listen to how God describes who they are.

But now, this is what the Lord says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. 2When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. 3For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. 4Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give nations in exchange for you, and peoples in exchange for your life. 5Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. 6I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth— 7everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” (Isaiah 43:1-7)

God reminds the people just who they are. Even though they are held in bondage–in captivity in Babylon, it doesn’t change who they are. They belong to God. We belong to God. Since we all struggle with belonging, we have to activate faith and trust that what God says about us is true. (Romans 10:17 – Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.)

Let me give you a working definition of trust to consider: “choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to another person’s actions.” This is what we do when surrender to God. We intentionally risk our lives to God’s grace, mercy, care, and provision.

We believe the lie of the Empire that we are out here alone in a universe that couldn’t care less about us. But behind the scenes of the universe is a Creator who is tapping us on the shoulder, wooing us, drawing us, choosing us, loving us. Reassuring us that we belong to him.

16You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17This is my command: Love each other. (John 15:16)

Before moving on, I want to also acknowledge that there are some of us for whom it may not be enough to just hear it. We have to see it demonstrated. We have to experience belonging. This is where the community of God comes in. This happens as we risk making what we value vulnerable to another person’s action. Whether we do this with our time, our material possessions, our ourselves. When we enact that we belong, we make visible, the invisible by doing what Jesus has commanded us to do: love our neighbors, love our enemies, forgive each other, and do good to those who mistreat you. But we won’t even attempt any of this until we know to whom we belong.

Our invitation to die is like one those dreaded trust-fall exercises, the one where you have to trust your classmates, teammates, or fellow staff to catch you. Accepting God’s kindness, forgiveness, patience, and acceptance is just like that, except you can’t see who is going to catch you. This is a very active letting go, you’ve been holding onto a rope for dear life and then Jesus says, “trust me” so you have to let go.

You have to let go

of fear,

of your false self,

of control,

of power,

and fall into powerlessness and vulnerability suspending your disbelief and trust that you are falling up into God’s love, kindness, forgiveness, and acceptance.

Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin? (Romans 2:4)

We develop our trust in God by accepting that what God says is true.

We develop our trust in God by having faith in God’s ability to come through.

We develop our trust in God by believing that God is competent.

We develop our trust in God through the testimony of others.

As you surrender, consider that you are surrendering to the God that Jesus trusted with his life and said was always good and at work for you and your benefit.

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:31-32; 37)

That’s what God is asking us to believe and trust — that belong to God.

Just as my son Sebastian knows that I love him. He knows he belongs. Why does he know this? Because every day I say,

“Sebastian, Guess what?”

When he answers,

“What?”

I say,

“I love you.”

Often he will say,

“I knew you were going to say that.”

I say,

“How do you know?”

In reply, he offers,

“Because you always say that.”

And I say,

“But do you believe it?”

“Yes, because you tell me everyday, and you do things with me, and you talk to me, and you’re here for me.”

And that is what God wants to hear. He wants to say, “Guess what? I love you!”

And because you know you belong to him, you say, “I know, you always say that.”

And you believe it because you belong to him.

Prayer Senses

Perseverance for those about to give up hope. The Lord is keeping you. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Know that the Lord is with you.  Abandonment and confusion are not your portion. The Lord is calling you out of that old identity. He is giving you a new name. He is calling you into the life He has planned for you. Read John 11 – the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead by Jesus is for you. Healing from divorce. The Lord will suture the wound and make you whole. 

Deliverance from condemnation. The Lord sees you beating yourself up. He died on the cross to set you free from the lie that you’ll never be good enough. Liberation is the Father’s business. Physical healing: kidneys and nephritis (If this is relevant to you or someone you know, please come receive prayer.) Encouragement. Don’t settle for less than God’s best. 

Repentance. The Lord is calling you to repent of unforgiveness. Even if you are mad at God, He can take it. Healing is on the other side of forgiveness and processing your hurt with God. He will not let you down. Transparency in your struggle. The Lord is giving you courage to seek help, to tell the truth, and to seek Him. Performance reviews. Ask the Lord to evaluate you. 

Scriptures. John 14:27 – Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. Jeremiah 29:13 – And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. Acts 3:19 – Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord. Matthew 6:33 –  But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.