Sermon,  Sermons

We Belong

7th Sunday after Pentecost

Humble and Kind, Ginny Dietmeier
Psalm 139:1-12; 23-24; Romans 8:12-25

sermon video

The writer, Nina MacLaughlin, asked the question, “What is the word for Sky?” and again, “How many languages does the rain speak? Is anyone fluent in all of them?” She was speaking to the problem of fully communicating when we can’t do so in person. So much is lost across a computer screen, through a phone speaker.

Yet there is so much we share in experience that when we seek to understand that experience, we can begin to imagine a new kind of language to use. We can forge ahead – intentionally – to find a new way to more fully live, to be community – in our present.

“Where can I go from your spirit?
   Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
   if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.”

Psalm 139

Jesus was raised up on the cross, died, filled every space of hell, was raised up again in perfected form, and went on to fill every space in the heavens.

Don’t you know yet that there is no place you can go where God is not already there? Don’t you know that even the places you go in your mind, the Spirit of God is already there?

That last point might be more scary than comforting for many of us.

Romans 8, “When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ Oma! Papi! Madre! Baba!  it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”

How do we speak of this God who is also parent? Redemption and friend? Fire and comforter? What language do we use to communicate these things – and to live the reality that there is such a God? To live like we believe in a reality that there is such a God?

It may have something to do with hope. Which has everything to do with imagination. Which can only happen upon reflection.

MacLaughlin continues:

Sky. Rhymes with high and fly and why. Rhymes with eye and bye and die. Stay with me.

“There’s a breath in the word. Each one of its three letters makes itself known. S hisses with space and air, curves like cloud, like the paths of the wind, the sound of shifting leaves against streets and sidewalks. Which leads to the tall stalk of the K, like the edge of a cliff falling into the sky. K—every edge that the sky comes up against. Skyscrapers, peaks, the bark on all the trunks, each rock. K—the craters where the sky sinks in. K—the kaleidoscope. The cliff and the kaleidoscope, the hard edge and all the colors spinning. And Y, eye, I. Like the S, the Y keeps coming. It lasts out the mouth, cold and hot at once. Eye for all-seeing sky, eye that absorbs its light, its sun god, its glowing, pearly moon. Eye that strains to see as far as the eye can see. And also I. I and sky. I and all. I am yours, Sky. I belong to you. I am in you.”

Nina MacLaughlin

When we cry out to God, to a parent that nurtures; takes on the grief and horror of all that we continue to choose to do, yet allows us to know some of the consequences of that; fills us with power and assurance, the knowledge of that Spirit in us, comforts us while convicting to do something about the grief and horrors in which we are complicit.

When I cry out in my own language, my spirit knows – my spirit knows that God’s spirit accepts me. Not only does God’s Spirit accept me, I belong to God. Craters where the sky sinks in; the Spirit sinking into the craters of my soul.

         And this same spirit testifies to yours – the very same thing. And you belong. And together we belong to this God that cannot be adequately described with words, but whom we can experience in our own way with our own language – and find a way to communicate, create a new language that needs a bit of time to reflect on the Word, on the Being that is God.

MacLaughlin realizes:

“We can’t always alter what’s outside, but we can alter our perspective on it.” When before, she could express something powerful, wordless, with a grasp of a hand, in a hug – “the press of your chest against [mine],”

“I thought of words as distancers, approximations, but I had to change my thinking, could not feel the press of your chest against my body, so how could I touch you this way with words? Words as biological. Language from the body.”

Our faith tradition already intuits this when John begins to speak about Jesus: “In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God. And the Word was God.” Jesus, Word as biological. Language as Body. And now, we are called the Body of Christ. What came into being is life, the light. Language as Life.

And so when we speak with each other across the screen – not just at each other, but, in sharing the same Spirit, the same Life force, the same primordial Language – we have this power to speak life and light into one another. To notice what we can in the visual, sure, and to breathe in this Spirit who helps us see in a different way: wow, your anger is really more about your grief. To tell the truth about how you feel neglected and that we belong to this God who knows what we want even before we think it. With words.

Do I dare invite God, as the psalmist does, to search me, know my heart, test it and see if there’s anything unloving in it? Do I dare invite God to open my eyes, give me spirit-sight to know your heart?

Rabbi Jeffry Myers, of Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue where 12 worshipers were killed on October 27, 2018, says he’s eliminated the “h word” from his vocabulary.

‘“I was mulling over what I could say that has not yet been said,” Myers recalls. “And that’s when the divine inspiration came to me: This is all about language.”’ He recognized that hatred is an obscenity, so he vowed to never say it again.

‘“We can’t legislate it away,” Myers says. “We have to be consciously willing to say: I am willing to change how I talk.”’ 

And something fundamental happens when we are intentional about our speech. Removing a word that is thrown around so easily, essential in the vernacular (I hate strawberry ice cream! I really hate it when you do that! I. Hate. Zoom!) makes us stop for a moment. Consider – what do I really mean? What does this attitude say about me? What am I really communicating to the one to whom I am speaking?

Search me, O God. Know my heart. See if there’s anything unloving in it.

It is hard to feel like we belong anywhere when we cannot meet in our usual ways. But I wonder.

I wonder if rethinking what meeting in other ways can do for someone else’s sense of belonging to a community that will do anything to make sure that no one is at risk of contracting the novel virus, and that you want to be in her company, you want him to know he belongs. So I will do a thing I said I wouldn’t when I used to say an obscenity. So you are safe. And you know you belong.

Of course, when I suggested giving our sermon the title, “We Belong,” Howie pulled out his guitar and some chords and started singing the Pat Benatar song by that name. and I thought, yes! – and said it too. What a great song about relationship and belonging to each other – the responsibility of it, and reframing the way that we see each other.

So this will be our offertory. I want to hear all you 80s-music-lovers belting this out all the way to Freemont st!

         First, listen to some of the words:

We Belong

Many times I tried to tell you
Many times I cried alone
Always I’m surprised how well you cut my feelings to the bone
Don’t want to leave you really
I’ve invested too much time to give you up that easy
To the doubts that complicate your mind

We belong to the light, we belong to the thunder
We belong to the sound of the words we’ve both fallen under
Whatever we deny or embrace for worse or for better
We belong, we belong, we belong together

Maybe it’s a sign of weakness when I don’t know what to say
Maybe I just wouldn’t know what to do with my strength anyway
Have we become a habit? Do we distort the facts?
Now there’s no looking forward
Now there’s no turning back
When you say

We belong to the light, we belong to the thunder
We belong to the sound of the words we’ve both fallen under
Whatever we deny or embrace for worse or for better
We belong, we belong, we belong together

Close your eyes and try to sleep now
Close your eyes and try to dream
Clear your mind and do your best to try and wash the palette clean
We can’t begin to know it, how much we really care
I hear your voice inside me, I see your face everywhere
Still you say

We belong to the light, we belong to the thunder
We belong to the sound of the words we’ve both fallen under
Whatever we deny or embrace for worse or for better
We belong, we belong, we belong together

We belong to the light, we belong to the thunder
We belong to the sound of the words we’ve both fallen under
Whatever we deny or embrace for worse or for better
We belong, we belong, we belong together
We belong to the light, we belong to the thunder

Songwriters: Daniel Anthony Navarro / David Eric Lowen We Belong lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

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