Totality of Belonging
April 28, 2019
Rev. Fritz Nelson
Text: Revelation 1:8
In life, and in death, we belong to God.
Of all the words ever been written about our relationship with God, I find I return to these time and time again. They’re not scripture – although they represent a broad summary of scripture. Nor are they old – while the words have their roots in the Heidelberg Catechism – written in the 16th century – the words I’ve internalized were written less than 40 years ago. They open A Brief Statement of Faith, an outline of fundamental Christian principles written to celebrate the merger of the northern and southern Presbyterian churches in the early 1980’s.
We belong to God.
I dedicate Friday mornings to sermon writing – and on this Friday as sheets of rain fall outside domestic tranquility reigns inside. Figero, one of our cats, lies curled up on top of the papers on my desk. Rosie, our younger dog, has flopped on the floor near by. Sir Hops A-lot, our bunny, happily munches hay while rearranging the cardboard boxes in his cage. Outside the creek runs near flood and the yard is underwater. Inside there is peace, contentment, belonging. No need to worry, to fear, to be on guard. The walls of the house protect us. The people of the house ensure each animal gets what it needs as they need it.
We belong to God. In life and in death we belong.
My grandfather died when my grandmother was relatively young – in her late 50’s or early 60’s. She would go on to live well into her 80’s, a full, joy filled and very independent life. So I was surprised when, one day, over a decade after his death, she shared how she still regularly talked with my grandfather. He comes at nights, she said. Stands over there – pointing to a corner of her bedroom. We sit together, talk things over – especially when I’m struggling with something or have a hard decision to make. They’d met when he was a graduate student and she was an undergraduate at the same university. They’d lived a full life together – raised two girls, spoiled several grandchildren, traveled all over the world. It wasn’t a perfect marriage, but it wasn’t a bad one either. In life they’d belonged together. In his death there was still belonging.
In life and in death we belong to God. From the beginning – from before our first breath – to beyond the end – or at least what we think of as the end. From A to beyond Z. Translate that into Greek and you get from Alpha to Omega, the first and the last, a God who embraces all that has been and all that is yet to come. A God whose belonging starts with his creating. Continues with his loving. Is solidified with his giving. And made continuous by his divine promise to accept us as his people and to be our God.
Jasper, our other dog, is now so old he can’t make it down the basement stairs to our home office. As I work on this sermon (and probably as I’m preaching it) he’s curled up on the living room couch. One night, years ago when Jasper was a puppy, he got out. Elisabeth was gone for the evening. I panicked. Jasper was both very fast – he’s a racing dog – and a total idiot around cars (did I mention he was a racing dog?) I imagined my wife’s firstborn over a mile away squished on a dark country road. I grabbed a flashlight, grabbed my father (at the time we lived in an apartment above my parents’) and we began to search.
Belonging. The shepherd leaves the flock to search for the one sheep that is lost. Belonging. Our loving God frees us, and his creation, from the sin, the evil, the hurt, the hate, the injustice, the darkness binding us by the divine blood and raises us with him to be a divine kingdom. A kingdom of belonging. A community of belonging, A people of belonging whose God, whose savior, is so connected, so engaged, he comes down to rescue us from the brokenness we create.
Because we belong to God, our God comes for us. I can’t tell you how radical this realization is. I can’t stress enough how, when our ancient spiritual ancestors were telling the story of our God around desert campfires, how different these stories were from those being told by their neighbors; how when the apostles told the stories of Jesus in the urban marketplaces of the Roman Empire how these stories stood apart from those contained in the ancient Greco/Roman myths and legends.
That God would care. That God would intervene. That God would come down. That God would love. The gods of the ancient Egyptians didn’t love. The gods of the Canaanites – the ancient neighbors of the Israelites – didn’t love. The gods of the Greeks and the Romans didn’t love. To them humans were just pawns in their games, subject to their whims, to the fates. But our spiritual ancestors knew what we know. We belong. We belong. In life and in death we belong.
It only took about twenty minutes for my father and I to find Jasper. He wasn’t far away. On his morning walk he had noticed some bit of discarded food and decided to go out for an evening snack. Over time we would learn – if Jasper got out, the first place to check was the last bit of food litter we’d passed. He could precisely remember the location of a rotting piece of pizza for days. My dad and I snapped on a leash and led Jasper back to his place of belonging. As I closed the gate on the landing and took off Jasper’s leash, he gave me a look of self-satisfaction, trotted up the rest of the stairs, got a drink from his water dish, and curled up on the couch. I covered him with his blanket, glad to have him safe, sound and home.
Our God is the beginning and the end, stretching divine love across the eons. So immense in scope so as to embrace all of creation. So devoted each one of us is wrapped up personally in the divine embrace. We belong. So our God has come for us. Will come for us. Continually comes for us. Not to smash us down into the pit, but to free us, to rescue us, to save us so we can fully, live.