On a beautiful spring day, sunny and bring, Pastor Jean and I go to hang out Sugar Creek Bible Camp, at our synod’s Spring Theological Conference, connecting with colleagues and enjoying the camp setting.
(By the way, later this afternoon we found out we have another young “Bible camper” for this summer, bringing us up to 25 for the year, busting our budget! Hey, isn’t that a GREAT problem to have???)
But back to the conference. Before the program, several ministries shared a bit. Pastor Ben Morris thanked the synod for embracing campus ministry and making it happen (and another by-the-way – Our Savior’s is a leader in supporting campus ministry, so thanks to you all for making ministry happen on college campuses in La Crosse.)
Then there was Pastor Dave Bersagel, our former pastor. He stood up, and declared, “World hunger. Sheep.” And sat down. He made his point – we all knew about the sheep project for Synod Assembly – each plywood sheep brought to assembly represents $500 toward the World Hunger Appeal). Now, it’s time for us at Our Savior’s to get to work and get our sheep in line! (And yet another by-the-way – Our Savior’s was fourth in the synod last year in support for the work against hunger, and that does NOT include the food pantry and the summer lunch program. So thank you yet again for your ministry on behalf of those in hunger.)
And finally, a chaplain from the Wisconsin National Guard made a pitch for pastors to consider becoming a chaplain in the Guard. Great idea! Don’t you think Pastor Jean would look good in fatigues?
Seriously, that’s not happening. But he share something interesting. He said that hears a constant theme from soldiers, typically younger men and women – “I believe, but I don’t belong.” He said, “My response to that is, ‘If you believe, then you already belong.’
“If you believe, then you already belong.”
Great words for those who have found the institution of the church to be less than helpful. They understand the presence of God, perhaps even Jesus. They know that God is active in their lives, and to some extent they might even have a sense of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. For whatever reason (and there are a lot of possibilities) the just don’t see the church as being a place where their faith can be nurtured and their discipleship strengthened. And they don’t see the community in the church as a community they need to belong to. So, they believe, they just don’t belong.
The chaplain’s response, however, redefines the conversation. This is not about the church, as in “Our Savior’s,” or any other congregational body. It’s about something bigger. It’s about Jesus. Or more properly, it’s about the Body of Christ.
“If you believe, then you already belong.”
Those who profess faith in Jesus have experienced something. “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3b). We can’t profess faith without the Holy Spirit working in our lives.
But…the Holy Spirit is hardly satisfied with me, all by myself, off on my own. And so the Holy Spirit connects me with others, weaving me into the fabric of the Body of Christ, so that, whether I realize it or not, “I belong.”
Which means, for the young soldier, or the college student, or the young adults in our midst, “If you believe, you belong.” And not just the young folk – the older folk too – all ages. Young, old, and everything in between, “If you believe, you belong.”
Realize it or not, like it or not, “You belong.” Not because you choose to belong, or did the right stuff, or signed the right papers. You belong because the Holy Spirit has embraced you and connected you with the community, with the Body of Christ.
Now, I know – I’m probably preaching to the choir on this one. But hear me out on this.
We know that we belong. Most of us, maybe all, are members of Our Savior’s, or another congregation. We are a part of an outward sign of our unity in the gospel, gathered by the Holy Spirit in the community of the faithful, woven into the Body of Christ. We gather with others around the Word and the Sacraments, we find our life and hope in the crucified and risen Jesus, and we work together to proclaim good news to a broken world. Together – we belong!
But what if something happened, and you become immensely disillusioned with congregational life. What if you decided to leave the congregation, even formally cutting ties? God forbid, of course, but it does happen…what then?
Sorry, you’re not getting off that easily. If you believe, you still belong!
No, perhaps not to the congregation, but the congregation is not the point. We don’t gather together each week in worship, we don’t teach and sing, feed and sew, for the purpose of bringing glory and honor to Our Savior’s. We do it for Jesus!
The point is very simple – what we do as disciples is not about us (as individuals), nor is it about us (the congregation.) Rather, it is about us – the Body of Christ!
Or more simply, its about Jesus!
Someone once said that the church (and the congregation), does not have a mission. God does. We have a role in that mission.
We have that role, not because we are incorporated under the laws of the State of Wisconsin. We have it because are a part of the Body of Christ. That role, that calling, that “belonging” transcends our organizational lines. It is what we have, and in the end, it focuses us on what we are – mission. We are mission because we are the Body of Christ, and we are the Body of Christ because we belong.
And we belong simply because we believe.
Believe it, or not.