Living in meaningful relationships with other followers of Jesus as partners of a dynamic faith community.
It really feels good to “belong” to a caring community, where people are excited to be together, are genuinely interested in each other, and are always looking out for one another. Add to that a shared belief in the transforming and unifying love of Christ, and that’s what connects us as a faith family. At OUC, we take belonging seriously.
BITS OF PRACTICAL ADVICE FOR THOSE STRIVING TO BELONG
One of the things the United Church of Canada never figured out about me, was that in the first 20 years of ministry in the Moravian Church, I was one of the “go to” resource people to that denomination’s youth ministry program, leading youth retreats and summer camps for young people across North America. To be honest, I didn’t make a big deal about it when we moved to Ottawa; it’s a ministry that’s as exhausting as it can be rewarding, and subconsciously, in my 40’s I probably figured it was about time I grew up anyway.
So, sometime in the early 90’s, in the never ending search for yet another Jr. Hi summer camp theme, I stumbled across this passage in Romans 12, a few instructions on how followers of Jesus should live their faith in everyday life. And I thought, hmmm, I could make this reading last a whole week of daily Bible teachings with the camp kids. And that’s when I reframed them as 15 Bits of Practical Advice for Christians Just Trying to Carry On. The idea was to focus on a few of them every day and encourage the teens to try to model that day’s focus for each other. I took 4 different translations of Romans 12 and wove them together into a list that I put it in a frame and also printed as mini-versions, which I rolled into little scrolls, put a rubber band around them and told the teens to keep them close by for the week (something similar to what you’re receiving right now). They actually read along with me from those little scrolls … but they were a lot younger and had better eyesight then most of us at our age.
For today I renamed them these verses from Romans: 15 Bits of Practical Advice for Believers Striving to Belong.
9 Let your love be genuine; don’t fake it.
Run for dear life from evil and hold on for dear life to good.
10 Be good friends who love each other deeply.
Work hard at honouring others and practice putting their needs first.
11 Be enthusiastic and spirited, ready to serve God by caring for others … but don’t burn out.
12 Be cheerfully expectant and patient in uncertainty.
Don’t quit in hard times; persevere in prayer.
13 Be helpful to those in need among you and inventive in hospitality, especially to strangers.
14 Ask God to help you bless those who mistreat you – not curse them.
15 Laugh with your friends when they’re happy; share their tears when they are down.
16 Work together and cooperate.
Don’t be stuck up and act like you are smarter or better than others.
Make friends with the everyday people around you.
17 Don’t mistreat someone who has mistreated you.
Discover the beauty in everyone.
18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, try to get along with everybody.
(Woven together from four different translations of
Romans 12:9-18: The New Revised Standard Version,
The Contemporary English Version, Eugene Peterson’s
The Message, and Glen Stoudt’s Storyteller’s Version)
In the verses leading up to this list, the author of Romans uses the human body as a metaphor for belonging. “For as in one body we have many parts, and not all have the same function, so we who are many are one body in Christ, individually belonging to one another.” Belonging is a basic reality of life; and being connected in Christ makes a difference in faithful living. God is with us, we are not alone; and God gives us each other as flesh and blood reminders of this sacred truth. Everybody, no matter how different and unique, is gifted with the invitation to belong, and when we feel like we belong then we don’t feel alone anymore, even when the world is hard and cruel. When we belong, we feel comforted and not ignored. When we belong, we feel cared for and not taken for granted. When we belong, we know love and to know love is to know God. And that’s what’s possible in faith community, like Orleans United, when we are being and doing what God invites us to do and be for each other.
Belonging in faith community is a spiritual value describing who we aspire to be. Not everybody in the world would say that, but we who find a home here recognize that even though we have individual spiritual experiences and faith expressions, here in this place, what we have to offer is appreciated and encouraged. And everyone is invited to welcome the unique gifts of everyone else. So that when we come together on Sunday morning we can share in the common experience of celebrating God’s goodness among us all. Our faith may be deeply personal, but it is not meant to be private; it’s meant to be shared and enjoyed among friends. I’m reminded of a sentiment I expressed in my final wedding ceremony just a few weekends ago. I said to the couple, “we pray that you will discover the blessing of doing things together, and in doing separate things but delighting to exchange experiences.” It’s the spirit of belonging and lives in faithful relationships of all kinds.
But as much as the idea of belonging might capture our imagination, the practice of belonging takes a little more work. And that’s where this list from Romans might be helpful to us. I’m not going to reflect on all 15, but do encourage each of you to take them with you as homework, and practice some of them daily to see if they don’t inspire your sense of commitment and participation in community.
First, I want to observe that even though Christ is not mentioned directly in any of these bits of practical advice, I recognize every one of them in Jesus’ life. He is the living example who we follow in our faith journey.
So let’s begin with verse 10. “Be good friends who love each other deeply. Work hard at honouring others and practice putting their needs first.” In a community of faith the size of ours, it’s virtually impossible to know everyone, so how could we possibly be good friends with everyone here? But the exercise of extending your friendships at church by even one person, would have a surprising ripple effect on strengthening the bonds of God’s goodness shared here. To this end I borrow another bit of advice from verse 16, “Make friends with the everyday people around you.” Take a look around. All around us are good everyday people here … and getting to know them is to honour them, and to honour them is to try to put their needs before our own, and to care for them in this way is to fill up this pool of grace around which God’s love ripples in our faith community. And all of this begins by extending our friendships at church by just one person at a time. Good advice for believers striving to belong.
I also want to pause for a minute on verse 13: “Be helpful to those in need among you and inventive in hospitality, especially to strangers.” I’ve gone through most of my ministry with a simple offer of God’s loving-kindness. I ask, “How can I be helpful?” I learned this as a child many years ago from my father when I accompanied him on one of his “good turns” he was doing for a neighbour in need. When I asked him why, he told me “once a scout always a scout – do a good turn daily.” He went on to explain that when he heard someone was having trouble, he’d ask, “How can I be helpful.” Then he confided to me, “Try not to pretend you know what they need; just ask and if they can tell you, and you can help then everybody’s good.” I thought my dad’s little formula was very inventive and I still do today. For believers who are striving to build belonging community, it’s solid advice and a blessing to friend and stranger alike. Nothing makes someone feel more like they belong, that when they feel cared for.
Verse 16 begins, “Work together and cooperate. Don’t be stuck up and act like you are smarter or better than others.” When I imagine a healthy community where belonging is accentuated, I see people cooperating and working together side by side. It’s how Molly, Scott, Kim and I try to work as your paid accountable staff, and it’s what we have been trying to encourage within and among our many vital ministry teams here. We understand it as an “equal, collaborative partnership” in which no one is considered smarter or better than anyone else; where everyone offers their best and together we try to include everyone’s gift equally. People who belong believe they are partners with God and each other, and when they do, our faith community is the ultimate beneficiary.
Finally, I love the phrase in the New Revised Standard for verse 18: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, try to get along with everybody.” I can picture Jesus whispering to himself when encountering a group of simple fishermen, or a Pharisee, or a Roman Centurion, or a Samaritan woman, or a prostitute, or a slave, or tax collector … I imagine Jesus whispering to himself, “so far as it depends on you.” None of us can control how others will behave, but we do have some measure of control over how we ourselves approach relationships. And as much as possible, when we can reflect Christ’s attitude with others, the more included they will feel. “Trying to get along with everyone” is another way of inviting them into your space, your circle of influence, your community. The Spirit of belonging is animated by one simple gracious act after another until critical mass is reached within a community of faith; and that’s when God’s love is at work.
In our Spiritual Values here at Orleans United we claim to belong … by living in meaningful relationships with other followers of Jesus … as partners of a dynamic faith community. And we are able to give ourselves to each other in community because God has created us to live this way. By God’s good will “we are people (together) on a journey, fellow travellers on the road, (and) we’re here to help each other walk the mile and bear the load.” (We Are Pilgrims on a Journey)
May this faith community continue to be known as a people who travel together through life’s journey, sharing the love of Christ with all we meet.