The Ancient Israelites have been wandering in the wilderness complaining about hunger and thirst and God continues to provide—just as he provided their release from captivity under the Egyptians tortuous demands and punishments. Now they are free and they must begin to learn just what that freedom means and how to live as free persons.
A few weeks ago, we struggled with the Israelites to understand that freedom is not the opposite of oppression. Rather it is about identity and that identity assumes a sense of belonging. So, this week as we continue to wrestle with what it means to be free, I wonder if we might also should wrestle with what it means to belong?
Belonging does not mean that we are all the same or that we like all the same things or that we agree on everything. Belonging is not really about commonality or agreement. It’s about inclusion.
Belonging comes with responsibilities and accountability. When we belong to a community, we cannot isolate ourselves or believe ourselves above the norms and accepted behaviors of that community. Instead we discover that the way in which we live is bond with the way in which the community has identified what is acceptable behavior. A community that understands itself to be free, identifies and legitimizes rules in order to support the acceptable behavior and trust that their freedom is ensured through those rules.
The ancient Israelites, having been released from captivity and made a community that is free has the freedom to trust their heritage: they belong to God and no other. They can honor their heritage: Honor your father and your mother. They can affirm the life of their community: do not murder, do not commit adultery. They can trust that God will provide: do not steal, do not lie and cheat, do not covet. They are free to interpret the law not in terms of what they cannot do—even if that is what the words say—but to see all the things they can do. Their freedom allows them to establish laws that encourage inclusivity rather than an exclusive community. The commandments allow them to live in such a way that is fulfilling to the individual and the community they belong too.
How we tend to our relationships with one another is a direct correlation to how we tend to our relationship with God. The Ten Commandments help us to understand our responsibilities and the accountability we have in belonging to a community. They are the bases for all the rules and laws every community that considers itself free are built upon. They are meant not to restrict us but to offer us boundaries in which we might grow in greater esteem of one another and our own self-actualization. They help us to release the fears that bind and restrict us and allow us to invite others into relationship with us.
In the midst of dealing with the pandemic or “The Great Pause” we have had to find new ways and establish new rules of behavior in order to build up our community. We wear masks and social distance, meet outside and wash our hands in order to encourage the health of the community and stop the spread—not simply for our own sake but for the benefit of others. This focus on community over the individual has even seeped into our language of “togetherness”. “Better together” has become our mantra in a time in which we must stay apart. In this time of pandemic, social upheaval, natural disaster, and political strife, we recognize that our suffering has made us one and the rules established around that suffering have lent not to our differences, but our commonalities. It has reminded us about what it means to truly belong.
Belonging is sacramental and it is fundamental to our understanding of what it means to be a baptized Christian. This morning we will baptize Dorothy McNair and receive her into the household of God. She will belong to us and we will belong to her. We will affirm our commitment to help her grow into the full stature of Christ through our prayers and witness. We do this as an outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace of belonging to the Body of Christ. As Episcopalians, we won’t tell her what she can and can’t do or weigh her down with a list of rules she must follow. Instead, we will invite her into the mystery of being a child of God, loved by her Creator, and redeemed through the actions of the Divine. We will teach her about love, not judgment.
God’s love is the unconditional love and nothing can separate us from that love. God’s rules are not about restricting us but empowering us. They do not limit us but encourage our creativity. They need not be chiseled in rock and placed in the courthouse doors, but chiseled on our hearts and carried out into the world as a light for all to see. The Ten Commandments offer us the freedom of belonging to a community. But God sums them up to simply, love God and love your neighbor as yourself—that is all it takes to belong to the Kingdom of God.
18 Pentecost 22A: Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20; Psalm 19; Philippians 3:4b-14; Matthew 21:33-46
The Episcopal Church of the Ascension, Montgomery, AL
Sunday, October 4, 2020
The Rev. Candice B. Frazer