Sacred Journeys - The Belonging Stream

"For some followers of Jesus, the most important expression of their faith is belonging", said our preacher in the fourth of our series on the Sacred Streams in our Braided River of Faith. Their way of connecting with God is not truth found in Bible study or tangible experience of Gods presence or serving God's purpose with one's gifts and work. These are folk who have been nurtured in to Christ-like living, and are used by God to nurture others in the same way. Timothy is a good example; he was profoundly influenced by his mother and grandmother,  and as his teachable spirit was revealed to his  mentor Paul, he was called into long-term service as a leader of  God's people.

The braided river metaphor has reminded us of the different channels of doing faith, that may diverge or converge, but in the end arrive at the same destination - God's kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven.  Doing faith by belonging sounds like a second-class journey but it is actually based on an idea that is  foundational to the gospel, that "being saved" is belonging to Gods family for ever. Jesus' starting point of mission was to establish a radical community of belonging centred in himself. Disciples were called to go with him. 

We often think of mission as Christians stepping out beyond their familiar family and work culture to tell others about Jesus, perhaps in a distant place.  "Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you." (Matt 28: 19 - 20). But that kind of mission was not the start point, Jesus' first faith community was where mission happened organically, in a small band of followers that grew to 120 after three years. It was not at that stage a planned cross-cultural mission, but rather an alternative community, empowered by the Spirit to do what Jesus did. Planned mission came later. The book of Acts portrays a community who held things in common, caring for others in need, and spending time together with glad and generous hearts. Through worship and relationships, these people of the Way explored what Jesus' risen presence meant. The resulting community was deeply attractive, and people poured in (Acts 2: 42 - 47). This was predicted by Isaiah centuries before:

 "In the last days, the mountain of the LORD’s house 
      will be the highest of all— 
      the most important place on earth. 
    It will be raised above the other hills, 
      and people from all over the world will stream there to worship. 
   People from many nations will come and say, 
    “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, 
      to the house of Jacob’s God. 
    There he will teach us his ways, and we will walk in his paths.”
(Isaiah 2: 2 - 3) 

That experience has been repeated historically in many situations down the years, especially when the Church is  new, weak, or under threat;  it becomes a radical community centered on Jesus, and mission starts there.

One of our youth leaders gave a short testimony of serving with Urban Vision on a two week internship. In that placement in inner city Wellington, she joined an intentional redemptive community, who did life together,  practised rhythms to sustain them, and shared prayer and worship worship es they built relationships with people of the inner city. The members of the team offered hospitality, were generous with time and resources, and dreamed that their lives could see Gods kingdom come, on earth as in heaven. 

The church is held together by belonging. This fourth group of people people tie the faith community together by living out their faith, by belonging themselves and by enabling others to belong. They have often been nurtured into faith by their own family and find the experience of community is their way of connecting with God. They are characterised by loyalty, compassion and caring, they turn up when others are hurt, and hurt when others leave. Every believer of course is called to care for others, but this group are people who feel closest to God when they are nursing someone back to health, fixing a car for a family in need or supporting a friend who has lost a job. They are background people who notice gaps and make a place for those who don't automatically fit in.  A great Bible example is Barnabas, who was friendly and generous, one who encouraged others and smoothed over conflicts. 

Our preacher took a side road here to explain how the Bible's view of family is very different from the mental model of 'mum dad and kids'  we carry round in our own time. That is probably a topic for another post but the bottom line is that Jesus' view of family was much wider and more diverse than our 21st century Western experience.  He was interested in an extended family based on the kingdom of God,  where water (baptism) is thicker than blood. Our preacher then told a couple of his own stories to demonstrate how a nurturing person enfolded a lonely or disabled person into the faith community, and into faith. "Those who belong to Jesus", he said, "belong to each other". 

I will finish with the story of one of my favourite modem saints, Edwina Gately. As a young Catholic woman, Edwina founded an organisation to recruit, prepare and send missionaries to work in countries of the developing world. The international Volunteer Missionary Movement has sent over 1700 workers to serve in cross-cultural missions,  a sort of VSA. But in 1981 Edwina went back to America with a sense that God was calling her on to something different. She completed theological training and began to write, using a cabin out in a forest as her hermitage. During that time she wrote poetry, as a means of paying attention to the call of God in this new stage of her life. Surprisingly, the call was to go to Chicago’s streets and work with prostitutes there. The story of how she actually did this is quite amazing and very funny. She never pretended to be anything other than who she was, a Christian woman called to live alongside them, and the love she expressed in practical ways developed into true friendships. She made her home available to these women, many of whom were abused and wounded, and together they discovered the power of the spirit for building community. 
“We who have received the gift of faith, calling us to personal conversion and transformation, are also impelled to share that love. We who have received the love of Christ through the spirit cannot contain it. It must reach out to others, spilling out and touching the world in which we live. We are first called and moved by the very love that lives within us.”
Sounds like a very important stream in the braided river of God's purpose. 

To Chew Over: Our weekly bulletin suggested we deliberately increase our level of belonging and connectedness to others in our church by joining in one of our monthly friendship building activities, by inviting someone home to our place or by joining the crèche roster. How could you experience more of the Church family this week?

I love this family of God 
so closely knitted into one 
They've taken me into their hearts
 and I'm so glad to be a part
of this great family.
(80's chorus)