Eve of Pentecost
PM: Psalm 33
Exodus 19:3-8, 16-20
1 Peter 2:4-10
Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy. – 1 Peter 2:10
I remember my first day at college. After over 12 years of going to school with kids I had grown up with, here I was, 250 miles from home, sitting in a dorm room with two people I didn’t know from Adam’s pussycat. It didn’t help that they had grown up together and had their own common experiences and conversational shorthand. It was probably one of the loneliest days of my life. It got better when I made my own friends and we began to build our own common experiences, but I still faced going back to my room and not really being part of the conversation.
There are times when it is lovely being alone: there isn’t anyone else that has to be accommodated, a person can spend the whole day in pajamas and nobody cares, dinner can be a peanut butter sandwiches rather than meat and two veggies, and there are no fights over what TV program to watch. The flip side is that there’s no one else to pick up the clothes at the dry cleaner, take the cat to the vet, run to the store for a forgotten item, or get out the ladder and change a light bulb. It’s also more dangerous being alone; safety can depend on being more careful about locking doors and being more alert while walking to a car after dark. It’s not as much fun going to a movie or dinner alone, and people isolated from others are more at risk for health problems, anxiety and depression. For every upside there’s a downside, and for every in there’s an out somewhere.
In Biblical times, to not belong was unthinkable. That was one reason people could recite their genealogy: to prove they belonged to a family or tribe or clan and precisely where they fit on the family tree. Everybody had a place and knew it. Strangers could mean danger, possibly attack, so caution around unknown or unrelated persons was advisable.
We aren’t 100% certain who wrote 1 Peter, but it was written to Christians who were Gentiles rather than Jews. Jews had been considered as belonging to God since the time of Abraham, even when they forgot about the covenant and forgot about God. Gentiles, however, were a different story; they didn’t have the historical connection with God that the Jews did and so they didn’t “belong” in the same way. The writer, however, wanted them to know that just because they weren’t Jewish didn’t make any difference to God. They were Christians, followers of Christ, and, as such they were God’s people. They may not have been part of the root stock of Christianity but they had been successfully grafted. And that graft flourished.
We are all God’s people. We belong to God but we also belong to each other. We have to be careful, though, because we might feel our belonging is only for us and that isn’t necessarily so. People go to a specific church or denomination because they think and feel it is the right one, the one with the answers to their questions and with the right connection to God. Jesus reminds us that “I have other sheep, not of this fold” (John 10:16), so in our quest for belonging we might exclude others who also belong but perhaps not our particular church or denomination or even faith.
I’ve had a number of times in my life when I felt I didn’t belong, beginning from early childhood through last week. One thing I sometimes feel is that I don’t know if I truly belong to God, but I always come back to the realization that I do and always have.
I also have to remember that God gets to choose who belongs to God and who doesn’t. It’s way above my pay grade to make that decision. Thanks be to God for that!