This Lenten Season at Church of the Good Shepherd, UCC, we will be focusing on “Belonging.” Pastor Ken Wilson, one of the co-pastors of Blue Ocean Faith in Ann Arbor, writes in his book, A Letter to My Congregation: An Evangelical Pastor’s Path to Embracing People Who Are Gay, Lesbian and Transgender, “The question of belonging is the question addressed by the gospel…. The gospel is an exciting experiment in belonging and belonging is the deepest ache in the human heart.”
Starting on Ash Wednesday (March 1st) and going through Holy Week, we will be reflecting on what it means to be a community that seeks to address this basic human desire…belonging. This understanding seems even more important today as the political discourse continues to demonize and alienate whole groups of people and hate crimes and microaggressions are on the rise in the US.
In this spirit, I invite you to give up something this Lent. I don’t usually invite people to give up things for Lent as I am not always sure this habit brings us closer to God.
But this Lent, I would like to invite you to give up on hopelessness and/or helplessness. Give up feeling overwhelmed or frightened.
Don’t get me wrong…the world is less secure today. I am not trying to negate this fact nor am I trying to minimize our fears and frustrations. What I am hoping to do is remind us, myself included, that the gospel of Jesus seeks to address exactly what we are experiencing right now. The gospel of Jesus was forged in the deepest of oppression and struggle. His vision of community was sharpened in the face demonization and alienation. All the prophets of our biblical tradition rose up in the direst of times and spoke of God’s desire for justice and equity.
We are seeing unspeakable violence and hatred in our world. For years, much of this was underground, but over the last 15 years, civility and respectfulness has died a painful death. There is explicit and implicit permission for people to “own” their prejudices. Now we have preschoolers being ushered out of their buildings because of bomb threats (here in Ann Arbor!). Now we have sacred burial grounds vandalized. Now we have hijabs being ripped off women’s heads (here in Ann Arbor). Now we have immigrants being held in dog kennels and being hauled out of hospitals when seeking life-saving procedures. And the list goes on and on…
It may seem like all the forces are aligning to work against the deepest human need of all…belonging. It may seem like the world is being carved up into insiders and outsiders, the powerful and the powerless. But see, God has given us a mentor and a friend who actively shows us how to build a movement of compassion and love. Everything that Jesus did in his time was an “exciting experiment” in belonging. And if he can build a movement in the face of the Roman Empire, we can build a movement in 21st Century America. Jesus felt pain and grief and anger, but he NEVER gave in to hopelessness.
So for Lent, give up hopelessness, and hold onto the gospel understanding of belonging. You will be in fine company with our ancestors AND our contemporary brothers and sisters of faith. God is not done with this world. Thank God for that.