Oratio, Episode 3

Who Belongs?

Lectionary Readings:

Psalm 14

Ephesians 3:14-21

John 6:1-21

This Week’s Reflection:

The focus I found in these three readings, was on the question of “Who’s in, and who’s out?” Or the similar question of “Who belongs?” It discusses this concept of belonging, and boundaries within three scopes of understanding: 1) Belonging to God; 2) Belonging to community; and 3) Belonging to self.

But before we get into the ways these scriptures discuss belonging in these three facets, let me offer an observation from the first passage reading.

If you read it along with me, and clicked on the link above, Psalm 14 might’ve felt challenging or discomforting to read initially. It felt harsh, somewhat abrasive, and difficult to fit into the context of the other two scriptures, and to fit into the story of my faith and spirituality as a whole.

While I agree that morality and justice and goodness, and therefore by extension “God” (a synonym I use for those three things), is not a weak or flimsy concept, I felt challenged by the lack of space for questions in this first line of Psalms--and especially, space for doubt.

“Fools in their heart say, ‘There is no God.’”

While I understand the sentiment, personally, for me, doubt has been a cornerstone in my faith. What encourages me is that this Psalm is in the context of the Bible as a whole, and that per the New Testament writings and the Incarnation (or the “making of flesh or human” those concepts of morality and justice and goodness), in the humanity of Jesus, does leave room for doubt. Consistently, the characters of the disciples are people who are flawed and have questions; just like us. And while those questions or doubts aren’t always praised, in the New Testament, they are given space to breath and be asked.

With that said, I also believe Psalm 14 does a very important thing the context of the Psalms and the Bible as a whole, and also within the context of our three lectionary selections. Psalm 14 talks about boundaries--very clear ones. And boundaries, in fact, that I think many of us would agree with.

Psalm 14 sets up the boundaries of what it means to belong to God (and what it means to not). This passage is clearly focused on “evildoers”, and those who upload systems that hurt God’s people. And who are God’s people? The passage tells us; “the poor”. Those on the margins, who have been ousted and ignored by the people in power. Those who have been left behind by social systems and injustice, and are those that God sees and extends a hope of refuge. In God’s ideal reality, these people are the first; in our present social reality, or spiritual reality and structures, they are often the last.

Belonging to God, in the context of this Psalm, means fighting against these oppressive structures; standing against the people who uphold them; and most of all, standing with those on the margins. The people who are left forgotten and abused by our present social and spiritual structures.

Belonging to community is a second concept presented in the lectionary readings, specifically in the scripture found in Ephesians 3. The context of Ephesians as a book in the Bible is deeply important in understanding who the writer is speaking to. It is first important to name, that while Psalm 14 addressed the oppressive structures and “evildoers”, the writer of Ephesians 3 is now addressing those on the margins; those who were once outside of God’s “chosen” and outside of religious community. The writer of Ephesians speaks to Gentiles, specifically, who were once not a part of God’s chosen or God’s children. But after the coming of Jesus, the tearing of a veil of “who’s in and who’s out”, the extension of hope and truth and joy is to all people. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile,” as is stated in Galatians.

We see in Ephesians 3, that all now belong to God’s family, and are being encouraged in the principles of what it means to follow God and Jesus (“being rooted and grounded in love”). Ephesians 3 does not dissipate or take away the difference within these people groups; Jewish people have their customs and cultural practices, as do Gentiles, and while each are distinct and regarded as such (reflecting the diversity of a beautiful creation reflecting God), they are now joined, a part of one body, and working towards movement--with difference and diversity celebrated--together.

Belonging to self is that last concept presented in the lectionary readings from today, and we see this reflected in John 6. As Jesus recognizes that many have followed him due to the spiritual power he exudes, he recognizes their physical self as well. Though this may seem a minor point, or this story may be presented by some as merely a moment where Jesus’ power is meant to be shown, I think it is important to note that Jesus pays attention to physical need and existence in this moment. Because while miraculously turning a few loaves and fish into thousands, Jesus reinforces another concept too; he affirms the body of his followers. He affirms the physicality and skin they walk in. He looks at them and says “I see you are hungry”, and in a literal way, he provides physical food.

For Jesus to affirm the body is an encouragement for all, and especially those of us within communities whose bodies are not always recognized. Black, Brown, and Indigenous people have felt the deepest sting of the social and religious implications of what it means to deny one’s physical body as meaningful. LGBTQ+ people have felt these implications too.

We know what it means for someone to look at us and say; this is not something you need to acknowledge. You belong to an existence which transcends your body.

And yet.

Jesus came in a body. Jesus healed bodies. Jesus fed bodies. Jesus acknowledged the pain and the humanity in bodies.

As we read John 6, we find a deep understanding of what it means to “belong to self” - and while Jesus will continue his discourse later in John, and deepen this feeding of “bread” to a spiritual meaning, in this moment, he begins with literal bread, for literal bodies. He affirms the hunger, and says: be satisfied. He acknowledges that flourishing for humans, also begins at a bodily level.

LGBTQ+ people, People of Color: Your bodies matter to God. You are seen by God. Your body is celebrated by the Divine. May you be blessed in this. May you rest in this. May you feel it in your bones: You are seen, loved, acknowledged, and yes; you matter.

To end, John 6:16-21 caught my attention the most initially, throughout these three selections. I have saved it for last, because it steers slightly outside of the scope of “belonging” to God, community, and self, but I also think it affirms an important piece of what it means to belong to all three of these; the piece that says, sometimes, things will be lonely.

In John 6:16-21, Jesus comes, seems to calm the storm (or at least encourages the disciples within the storm, and tells them not be afraid of him), and then, Jesus leaves.

It notes that the disciples wanted to take him into the boat, but presumably reached the land they were going to in that moment. Jesus did not get in the boat, and this was significant for me. It was the first thing I noticed in all the passages, because I have felt that isolation at times; I have felt a storm calm, or I have felt a glimpse of Jesus (or hope, truth, love), and just as quickly, it has gone.

I think the importance of naming the fact that this isolation and loneliness can exist and does exist within spirituality and faith is deeply important. And naming the fact that during those times, sometimes all we get are glimpses; not affirmations or miracles. Even if we’ve just experienced the feeding of thousands, in this moments of silence, truth, love, hope, can feel as far away as any other moment.

And it is at these times, where we recognize the whispers; the glimpses; the whispers of our community quietly encouraging us; the sound of our own voices, saying to keep going; the silence and space that offers quiet, and also, maybe, hope too.

In these moments of “almost, but not yet”--or maybe just “not yet”, let us cling to the expectation that God--truth, goodness, hope--will return. That even if it’s not “today”, that it may be “one day”. Even if all we feel is “not yet”, may we hold to the glimpses of hope in our midst. May we remember the whispers of our community telling us to keep going. May we rest in the quiet of our own bodies, existing, learning to flourish, being fed, day by day.

Friends: You belong. Right here. Right now. You belong. Just as you are.

May you rest and be encouraged in your flourishing, in the ways only you can know as you interact with the Divine, with Truth, with Hope, with Love. May you flourish.

And may you know, deep in your bones, that you belong. Right here.


Grace and peace,