You Belong: Better Together – Sermon #03
a2vc.org • Jan 26, 2020 • Rev. Donnell T. Wyche • firstname.lastname@example.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.
Let’s get started with a video testimony detailing our past, present, and future as a church.
When we believe that we earn our way into favor with God, we become susceptible to believing other false narratives that short-circuit our transformation and distort our lives. Since we have been hurt, mistreated, ignored, or marginalized by others, we falsely believe that we don’t need and can’t trust anyone else. We start to sound like a petulant two-year old, as we declare to God:
“Me, myself, and I. That’s all I need.”
I understand where this comes from. It’s this idea that was made into a song, play, and movie, “I can do bad all by myself.” I don’t need anyone else. This is the lie of individualism. We tell ourselves this lie hoping against hope that it is true because at our core we are reacting to our fears. Our fear of rejection, pain, suffering, and disappointment. We don’t want to be let down. We don’t want to depend on others. We don’t want to be taken advantage of. Or worse, it’s our active participation in the on-going rebellion. Our rejection of God and his provision and care–his invitation to live life in concert with him and others. So let’s reject this idea that we don’t need others, we do life alone. Let’s collectively repent, and turn our backs on this idea. Let’s consider instead another way forward. A path that is perilous and risky, but with dividends that pay out beyond our wildest hopes and dreams.
Throughout our existence, we have gathered together in tribes. We see this reflected in every major people group on earth because we are safer, healthier, and happier when we do life together. This is echoed in scripture from the very beginning, through the story of Israel–12 tribes from 12 brothers–to the early church. As Jesus enters history, he introduces a new type of tribe, one that doesn’t recognize accomplishment, achievement, race, gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status as reasons of inclusion (or exclusion for that matter). Jesus gathers together a witnessing community centered around himself, and his work on the cross. We call this new tribe, the church.
Our Lives Are Better Together
Jesus came and turned our understanding of the world upside-down, the old social order was reversed. Belief in him granted us unconditional belonging in his tribe. We belong in a way that we can’t ever destroy, in a way that we can’t ever fully opt out of. So why do we still feel so lonely? Why do we still feel “far off”? I think it is because we haven’t contended with individualism so we alienate ourselves from the reality of our collective belovedness. Simply put we agree that loneliness is bad, but we haven’t contended with the demands that individualism require of us. We become so afraid of what it will cost us that we hold ourselves apart from real belonging, we hold ourselves apart from each other, dreaming of the day when our idealized community will saunter into our lives and make everything easy.
Being in community with others is wrought with challenges — sometimes it’s great and you are the better for it and sometimes it seems like a pit that you aren’t able to emerge from. This is our shared story with the early church. Much like our current fellowship, they were a rag tag bunch of folks gathered around their surrender, belief, loyalty, and love for Jesus. As they came together into this new tribe, they worshiped and prayed together. They shared their resources, fed, and supported each other. As they learned of the needs of the community, they responded, ensuring that no one was left behind. Of course, they had disagreements, arguments, fights, and disputes. And on occasion they fell out with each other.
Like the early church, community has had a rocky place in my life. It’s been challenging figuring out what it means for me to be in true community with others, but I’ve been learning that in order to be a disciple, I need to nurture a community of faith to help me live. All of my growth and development has occurred in intentional community alongside other believers listening, talking, learning, sharing, and being myself. Finding a group of people who welcome and accept you is like
“a treasure buried in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” Matthew 13:44
Let’s look in on a community of faith in action. It’s a short story in Mark, chapter 2:
A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:1-5)
Community Creates Welcome and Acceptance:
Healing, friendship, community, and forgiveness, it’s all there. We don’t have the details about how this guy was paralyzed, but we can infer that he was a part of a wider community of friends. Someone knew him, his name, his story, otherwise he would have died. In the ancient world, your illness, diseases, and disabilities were thought to be God’s punishment for your sin or worse, the sins of your relatives. And surely that guilt was passed on by association. But it seems like the paralytic had a community of faith that was at work caring for him–ensuring his survival. Our communities of faith create welcome and acceptance allowing us to be known and loved.
Community Creates Loyalty:
Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. (Mark 2:3)
The text implies that this man wasn’t the recipient of a passing group of do-gooders, no, I infer from the text that these were friends of the paralyzed man, and they were loyal to him. They are enduring this hardship with him. The first step in his healing was getting him in front of Jesus. This group of friends, hearing the rumors about Jesus, take a risk. They concoct a plan. If they can just get their friend before Jesus maybe he could get healed. Can you imagine having a community of faith willing to risk so much for you? This happens as we share our lives with others, lowering our defenses, exposing our true selves. As we experience welcome and acceptance, we are willing to invite others into our stories, allowing us to be fully loved as we share our burdens and create faith networks that are loyal.
Creating this kind of loyalty takes sacrifice. “To feel loved, to experience the reality of your belonging takes a fair bit of courage. It takes the painful denial of our fantasized communities in favor of the one right in front of you. It takes being willing to see belonging to each other as a sheer gift of grace and mercy. And it takes a heck of a lot of trust that Jesus really knows what he’s doing.”
Consider this story from my friend about her connection here at our church:
“When I first got to the church, I knew no one. It took a very long time to move from the introductions every week to actually making a friend (Nigel!). Looking back on it now, I think about the multiple people I met one week who I didn’t see again because they were also searching for community and weren’t finding it. My relationship at the church changed when I started providing what I was looking for to others, even if I didn’t feel like I fully “belonged” at the church yet. Some days I still feel this way, but belonging and accepting love is a continuous journey, especially for a perfectionist!”
Community Creates Hope:
They get there, where Jesus is, but they can’t get in. But this was their one shot to help their buddy, undeterred, they don’t give up. They get creative and find another way.
This is my favorite part of the text. These guys were home wreckers, in the literal sense. What hope, faith, and willingness to push through obstacles to lay hold of what was before them! Having heard the rumors, they wanted to see if Jesus was for real, did he really have access to the Kingdom of God? If they got their friend in front of Jesus, would he get healed? Would he be transformed, changed? When we nurture faith networks, we create hope.
Community Creates Forgiveness:
They have broken the roof apart, littering the inside of the house and Jesus, himself, with debris. Why? Because they care for their friend. Imagine with me as people move out of the way as these friends lower their buddy in front of Jesus. Looking around at what has happened, Jesus, maybe a little surprised, sizes up the scene before him and understands exactly what has happened. He looks up at his destroyed roof, finding timid smiles on the faces of these determined friends. You can imagine him giving them a knowing look. “It’s okay,” the look communicates.
Looking down on this beloved friend,
this exiled friend,
this hurting friend,
this desperate friend,
Jesus says the words,
“your sins are forgiven.”
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:5)
We hear this assuming that Jesus is activating his Son of God superpowers–knowing the thoughts, deeds, aspirations of those around him.
Let me offer an alternative: He sees their faith. He sees their hope. He sees that they want the kingdom. And so he offers it. By offering the paralytic forgiveness, Jesus was announcing the end of his exile, he was declaring that he was no longer excluded and that the kingdom was near. As Miroslav Volf, in his book, Exclusion & Embrace says, “forgiveness is the boundary between exclusion and embrace.”
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:5)
It was the faith of his friends that activated his healing. In community, we are better able to resist sin and also find forgiveness for our sins. The paralytic came to Jesus with his friends carrying him — they were literally carrying the burden. When Jesus spoke and said, “your sins are forgiven,” his friends no longer had to carry the burden, and he was healed.”
Community Creates Healing:
Along with forgiveness is healing, restoration, and welcome. This is good news.
“Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” (Mark 2:6-12)
If the paralytic was in need of physical healing, why does Jesus forgive his sins first? Is Jesus confirming that our diseases, illnesses, and disabilities are God’s punishment for our sins? I don’t think so. Since he was paralyzed, he was excluded from the place where he could be forgiven, the Temple. His disability excluded him from participation in the larger faith community. If the Temple was the place of forgiveness, and he was excluded, then he couldn’t get his sins forgiven–forever exiled from God. So, Jesus becomes for him a mobile temple. By forgiving him, Jesus acknowledges his humanity, his need for God, and offers him restoration and welcome into community.
And that’s why Jesus leaves behind, a “witnessing community,” not a creed, a book, or set of rules. And in this “witnessing community,” our burdens are carried, we are welcomed and accepted, we can confess our sins and be forgiven and receive our healing and restoration.
Hear Jesus again,
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30
Together, let’s turn our backs on the this idea that we can do life alone. Jesus tells us that our lives are better together. Let’s listen to Jesus.
Level up. The Lord is calling some of you to spiritual maturity. It’s time to put what you’ve been taught into practice. You’re not called to sit on the sidelines. Don’t mistake passivity for waiting on the Lord.
Chrysalis. The caterpillar gets broken down in a cocoon where it is being reorganized into what will later be a butterfly. You’re in a season of transformation. Don’t be discouraged. Sometimes when things seem messy, the Lord is putting things together in HIS order.
Wisdom for financial mismanagement. Ask the Lord where He wants His money to go. The Lord is faithful. Every need He will supply. He’s giving you courage to trust Him with less right now.
Freedom from shame (sex, addiction, greed) and your past. (John 4 is for you.) Don’t let shame and the past keep you from talking to or giving your life to Jesus. Repent and rejoice and know that the Lord is with you. (John 4 is for you.)
Peace in exchange for discord. Bitterness, resentment, and the reluctance to let go of old grudges are keeping you from hearing how God wants to deal with conflict in your relationships.
Anxiety about school. The Lord will provide. Put Him first and receive peace.
Not sure who this is for or what it pertains to: Sometimes the breakthrough is PERSEVERANCE.
Romans 10:11 – As the Scripture says, “anyone who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.”
Matthew 17:21 – But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.
1 Corinthians 13:11 – when I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; now that I have become a man, I am done with childish ways and have put them aside.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 – Do you not know that your body is the temple (the very sanctuary) of the Holy Spirit Who lives within you, Whom you have received as a Gift from God? You are not your own. You were bought with a price and paid for, made His own. So then, honor God and bring glory to Him in your body.