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June 19, 2022 - Cobleskill United Methodist Church, Pastor Anna Blinn Cole

Psalm 42; Galatians 3:23-29

Second Sunday after Pentecost

Psalm 42

As a deer longs for flowing streams,

   so my soul longs for you, O God.

My soul thirsts for God,

   for the living God.

When shall I come and behold

   the face of God?

My tears have been my food

   day and night,

while people say to me continually,

   ‘Where is your God?’

These things I remember,

   as I pour out my soul:

how I went with the throng,

   and led them in procession to the house of God,

with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,

   a multitude keeping festival.

Why are you cast down, O my soul,

   and why are you disquieted within me?

Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,

   my help and my God.

My soul is cast down within me;

   therefore I remember you

from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,

   from Mount Mizar.

Deep calls to deep

   at the thunder of your cataracts;

all your waves and your billows

   have gone over me.

By day the LORD commands his steadfast love,

   and at night his song is with me,

   a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God, my rock,

   ‘Why have you forgotten me?

Why must I walk about mournfully

   because the enemy oppresses me?’

As with a deadly wound in my body,

   my adversaries taunt me,

while they say to me continually,

   ‘Where is your God?’

Why are you cast down, O my soul,

   and why are you disquieted within me?

Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,

   my help and my God.

Galatians 3:23-29

Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

Did you ever have a time in your life when all you wanted to do was to fit in?

Yearbooks came in this week for the elementary students and that reminded me that I still had my old elementary school yearbooks somewhere in a dust-covered box. June was super curious to see them so I dug them out. They’re black and white and assembled with a cut, paste and copy technique. Real fancy stuff. It took only one look at those pictures to be taken back to a season in life when my whole world felt like it depended on getting my socks rolled the right way and my over-sized t-shirt tied in the most acceptable side knot. Life was hard. It seemed like everything started to fall apart when you felt like you didn’t fit in.

Enough of us in this room are far enough away from our awkward elementary and middle school years to know that there’s more to life than getting one’s socks styled in the appropriate way. The hard truth is, though, that as we get older there never really stops being a deep longing to be “in.”

Psalm 42 is an ancient, ancient song yet its poetry is arresting because it speaks to emotions we still have. A painful life of tears and longing, a vacancy where you expected to find God. The taunting of bullies who make fun of you for the longing you have for what is right and the great distance between present realities and that future hope. To be human—whether you lived in the ancient days of the Psalmist, or you live in the year 2022—to be human, it seems is to long to be included in something bigger than oneself and to be disappointed when it feels out of reach.

Today we’re talking about belonging. And not just the desire to make yourself fit in to someone else’s version of cool and right, but the deep longing to be seen and included in something bigger than yourself. A belonging that allows you to show up in your authentic and true self without changing a thing.

This conversation is the second part in a series where we’re talking about what we want this community to be like here at Cobleskill UMC. We have summed up our new vision for the church in three statements. Be loved. Belong. Be the difference. Last week we talked about how it’s the church’s job to counteract messages the world and sometimes our own denomination hand us that say we aren’t loved and that we aren’t enough. Who are we to stand in the way of God’s love? It should be our job as a church to do everything we can to remind everyone who has ever forgotten or never known, that they are a beloved child of God and that that love has no strings attached.

Today we move one step further in that conversation to say not only are you loved for you who are, we want you, whoever you are, to belong in this community not because you squeeze yourself to fit into some narrow box. No, we want you to belong here because you are you. Unique and amazing. You being authentically you in our community makes us ultimately a more perfect reflection of the image of God.

A few of us did a book group in February in which we read Brenè Brown’s book Braving the Wilderness in which she says this about belonging: “True Belonging doesn’t require us to change who we are, it requires us to be who we are.” I’m going to say that again. “True Belonging doesn’t require us to change who we are, it requires us to be who we are.” That is such an important vision for the church to embody. So often we, like other organizations, get caught up in the rules and requirements needed to be “in” that we become too focused on keeping people out than welcoming them in. When it comes to a community of people centered on the gospel of Jesus Christ, the man who ate with sinners and made friends with foreigners and welcomed outsiders to his table, the only possible condition for belonging to a community built around Jesus must be that you bring your full self and leave nothing behind. All it takes to belong is a desire to belong. It doesn’t need to be more complicated than that.

And yet true belonging is really hard. It has historically been very difficult to be brave enough to show up with your full authentic self in a world and a church that has often judged you for being you. We have a checkered history around belonging, to say the least. Commenting on the plot that has been our human history thus far, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr once said it like this: “We have inherited a large house, a great ‘world house’ in which we have to live together—black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Muslim and Hindu—a family unduly separated in ideas, culture and interest, who, because we can never again live apart, must learn somehow to live with each other in peace.” Dr. King added, “The choice is chaos or community.” The choice is chaos or community.

Today we mark Juneteenth, commemorated now as a federal holiday. For some, this holiday has been observed in close community for a long time. For others of us, this is a new observance.

Juneteenth remembers the day when, on June 19, 1865, federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to bring to the farthest corner of the Confederacy word of the formal end of the Civil War in April. This was not new news. The Emancipation Proclamation had been issued 30 months earlier. The Confederacy had surrendered two months before. But the presence of those troops and the accompanying edict established that those earlier events could no longer be disregarded by the powers that be. Chaos had gone on too long. Ignorance (real or faked) by those in power, oblivion, obstructionism, wishful thinking--none of these was to be justification for ignoring the reality of emancipation any longer. Those who had been cruelly enslaved for no other reason than the color of their skin, were now equal in standing with their former masters.

Juneteenth is a reminder that even when change and progress seem to be ignored and hidden away and long overdue, the light of a new day can still come when even the farthest corners of the earth will see the justice of God shine through.

To me it’s a poetic coincidence that Juneteenth, a day for shedding light on justice that could not be delayed any longer comes so close to the solstice, the day with the most light of the entire year.

This is the power of true belonging. It shines its warmth on the cold and chaotic places of our world where differences between people causes hatred and cruelty. Belonging is the warmth from a bright solstice sun at the center of God’s creation that gives us space to be open and authentic, real and unhidden.

Each day, we have a choice to make. To choose community over chaos. We can be a church where people come to belong, not be judged. We can be a church where relationships get deep enough for one person to know another person’s true and authentic story. A community where you celebrate what I celebrate, and I mourn what you mourn. We can be a church where we know each well enough to hold each other accountable for actions that are not Christ-like, and stand in solidarity together with those who are fighting hard battles, especially the battle against racism that continues to this day. We can be a church where what makes us different and unique is a celebration, not a barrier. A church where divisions that exist out there instead become part of the mosaic that makes us colorful in here. A place where everyone can belong. This is who we are called to be.

Will you help us be a church where everyone belongs? Here are some ways you can help.

  • Be part of a small group. Small groups in this church are the best way to get to know people better. We laugh together, cry together and learn how to be better people in the name of Jesus together. We have a summer small group starting soon reading a justice-oriented book together. And toward the end of the summer small groups for the fall will be forming. If you have an idea for a group, a hiking group, a knitting group, a parents group, etc, let us know!

  • Another way you can help us become a community of true belonging is help us celebrate diversity, not judge it. We believe all people are created in the image of God and, as the Galatians scripture today said, in Christ we all belong. We want to grow and expand our children’s and youth ministries for the coming academic year so that these programs are at least one place in every young person’s life where they do not feel like they have to fit in, but where they can be their true self and still belong. We need volunteers who have a heart for creating spacing of belonging to join our children’s and youth ministries in the coming year. Please pray about that.

  • Finally, this. Keep showing up. Keeping longing for a God you can see and feel in the midst of community. Your presence here matters. When you show up to worship or a small group or a rally or a party or Tuesday morning coffee group, you make an investment in community with your presence. Don’t let it ever feel insignificant to show up for your community. After the years of isolation we’ve been through, we can never take that for granted again.

This community’s choice to be a place of true belonging will have ripple effects that reach far out into the corners of our neighborhood where the warmth and light of God’s love has not yet been felt or seen. May it be so. Amen.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Anna

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