This sermon was delivered at Cobleskill United Methodist Church on May 16, 2021.
Seventh Sunday of Easter
6 “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them in your name that[a] you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost,[b] so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves.[c] 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.[d] 16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.
Thanks to Jeff Foote for a post this week on Facebook extolling the virtues of dandelions. It’s about this time each year when the dandelions begin to outnumber the actual plants of grass in some of our yards and seem to set record growth rates with a little rain and a whole lot of sunshine. Despite the purists who may begrudge the dandelion, I’m going to again begin my sermon this morning by singing their praises. In addition to being brave and determined in their will to survive in difficult situations (see last week’s sermon), dandelions grow up in our lawns and our fields in large numbers and give a lot of nutrients back to the earth through their deep root systems and help to aerate the soil for other plants. Not to mention all the bees and other pollinators who depend on the dandelion for pollen and nectar.
As prolific as they appear, you might be surprised to know that dandelions are not a native plant to this region or this country. They have instead become what plant people called naturalized: able to survive without human help. Yet they are not considered invasive because they don’t hurt other plants, they only help.
Dandelions have become the accidental poster child for this series we’re working through right now partly because of their prominence in our yards right now and partly because they make a great metaphor for life together as the church. Jesus was all about metaphors with the natural world so why not keep in the theme?
So what is the metaphor this week?
We’re doing a little mini-study into some core concepts of our faith as we move through these middle weeks of May. I’ve hypothesized that the statements Believe, Belong and Be Transformed sum up our core identity. Last week we talked about how believing in something, feeling sure of its truth…is a profoundly brave thing to do (like a dandelion coming through the concrete). Especially brave and especially beautiful is to declare that you believe in the truth of God’s love to change you and to change the world. Believing in God is the simple yet powerful admission that love is the way and that love is stronger than any other power in the word… evil, injustice, sin and even death itself.
Believing in God’s love is stepping into a different world. A world of possibility.
Now as powerful and bold and brave as belief is as Christians, belief is not all that church is. If belief is stepping into the possibility of God’s life-changing love, belonging is the recognition that no one is in this alone. God’s kingdom of possibility just wouldn’t work if we were in this alone. Belonging is the acting like something bigger than us exists. It’s the way of being that says we are not an island. That there are others around us who will care for us and that we, ourselves, will care for other people.
Belonging is such a critical part of who we are as a church and as Christians. Who among you can imagine being a Christian or coming to church without also simultaneously thinking about the people along your journey who have made you feel like you belonged. Maybe it was the way someone greeted you at the door the first time you set foot into the church and instantaneously made you feel like you were family. Maybe it was the way an older person treated you like their own child or grandchild and took you under their wing. Or maybe it was the way you were given responsibility for the first time and allowed to find your own calling.
Belonging is about overcoming the essential challenge of isolation that faces us in the world. It’s about reorienting our lives through the possibility of God’s love away from self-interest and self-focusedness toward a togetherness that uplifts and supports through bonds that cannot be broken, the bonds of Christ himself.
The church I attended during my childhood has always been a place a remember with a great sense of belonging. I had the advantage of being the pastors’ kid and so some of this belonging came with the territory. But I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. There was a little boy who started coming when he was 7 or 8 with his mom. The little boy, Will, found the church to be a place of welcome; a place of extended “framily”; a place for fun and adventure; and learning about God. It wasn’t long after Will started coming to the church that he took it upon himself to volunteer as the greeter for Sunday services. And not only did he stand at the entrance to the front doors as most greeters do, he would go out into the parking lot and meet people at their cars, smiling and welcoming them to the church. The sense of belonging was contagious from someone like Will. He had been so welcomed that he couldn’t help but embody that welcome and show it to anyone and everyone else who parked their car in that church parking lot on any given Sunday.
This is the nature of belonging. This is the nature of God.
Our lectionary reading today from the Gospel of John is one of those passages that honestly will take several times of reading through before it begins to sink in. Hearing it in passing on a Sunday morning will leave you, if you’re like me, swimming in a bit of a word soup. But it’s a very rich passage, poetic and deep, as most of John’s writing is. The gist of this passage is that Jesus is telling God how much he has loved his flock, the beloved community he has cultivated on earth. And how he is sad that he will have to leave them behind to face the world without his protection. But he strikes a note of hope in this passage that God will help make this community one, unified and forged as a strong and cohesive group. Able to stand up against the evils of the world with an unquestionable certainty of belonging to something better.
If you’ll indulge me to return to my metaphor of the dandelions. I know they seemingly stand at odds against the well-manicured lawn, but there is something formidable and majestic about a stand of dandelions, brightly belonging to a class all by themselves amongst a sea of grass just “fitting in.” It might be a stretch to compare them to the community Jesus cultivated, but yet … with roots that go deep into the earth, and their ability to find the parts of the land that need rejuvenation and nourishment and to plant themselves there in order to make it better…. Maybe it’s not such a stretch.
Belonging to a stand of dandelions or to Jesus’ beloved community is about feeling like you are part of something bigger and better than you could ever be all on your own. It’s about being brought into the fold and made to feel so welcomed and so accepted, that you can’t help but turn around and show that same kind of welcome to someone else. I hope you aren’t offended by being compared to a weed, but take heart in knowing that this isn’t the first time God’s kingdom has been compared to a weed, and hopefully, with the way weeds spread (at least in my garden), not the last.
Let us pray.