April 17, 2016 Believing and Belonging

Posted on April 12, 2016 by faithlens

Chris Heavner, Clemson, SC

 

Warm-up Question

What do you value about your best friend which makes you consider them as your best friend?

Believing and Belonging

Once a year, usually near the end of the year, we play a game at our mid-week gathering of college students.  They call it the “BFF Bowl.”  It is sort of a mix between the old Newlywed Game and a college bowl game.  Best Friends Forever (BFF’s) answer questions which show how well they know the other.  Last year, Alexa refused to answer the final question.  Looking back, it was a rather insensitive question, asking whether the other’s BFF had ever had a crush on another student in the group.  Alexa immediately shook her head; “There is no way I am going to tell you that about my best friend!”  Without a doubt, Jenna and Alexa were crowned “BFF’s.”  The integrity of their relationship was more important than winning some silly game.

shutterstock_192165875 Perhaps you have a BFF.  Maybe you are a BFF for someone else in your small group.  Being a best friend means understanding what is of value to them and knowing what it is that they consider to be important.   It means knowing the other person and being known by them.

I have a BFF.  We don’t get to see each other all that often any more.  There are many things happening in his life that we never get around to talking about.  There are a lot of things that happen in my life which I don’t bother telling him.  When we talk, there are more important things for us to say.  Important things like affirming how grateful we are to have each other; and we thank each other for this precious relationship in which we are able to look past all the things happening and see each other as we truly are.

Discussion Questions

  • Having a “best friend forever” isn’t simple. What are some of the reasons many of us don’t have a BFF?
  • How would to describe the difference between knowing something about another person and knowing that person?
  • How do we learn to trust another person enough to let them see us for who we truly are?

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Acts 9:36-43

Revelation 7:9-17

John 10:22-30

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

 

Gospel Reflection

Jesus has been in Jerusalem for some two and a half months.  He has taught in the Temple, intervened to prevent an angry crowd from murdering a woman, and healed a man who was blind from birth.  All of this has happened openly and among the very persons who come to Jesus and demand “tell us plainly” whether you are Messiah.

In the eighth chapter, verses 21ff, Jesus tells them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am he.”  (Note: Some versions omit that final pronoun.  Thus, Jesus says “you will realize that I am.”  For the significance of that, look back to the call of Moses, when Moses asks “Who shall I say has sent me?”  God says “I am.” – Exodus 3:14)

Jesus’ actions were a very clear statement of who he is and what he came to teach.  What more could he say?

In considering this passage, make sure not to overlook the possibility that those asking him to speak plainly may not have been looking for an answer.  They may have been looking for an opportunity to entrap him.  If Jesus were to commit blasphemy by claiming to be God, that would be to their advantage.  They may have come to Jesus looking for a way to condemn him, rather than looking for clearly stated information.

Of those who are unable to “hear” what Jesus has said so plainly, the gospel writer says they “do not believe.”  Jesus says, “You do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.” They do not believe; they also don’t seem to belong.  Believing and belonging are yoked.  One seems not to be possible without the other.  There are some things about Jesus we can only hear when we listen with believing ears.  There are some beliefs we can only hold when we understand ourselves as belonging.

This is a good time for us to pull out our copy of  Martin Luther’s Small Catechism and refresh our memory of the explanation to the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed.  It is not our own understanding or strength which leads to our belonging.  We are called, gathered, and enlightened by the Holy Spirit.  Flip forward a few pages to the Third Petition of the Lord’s Prayer.  Here, we are once again reminded that it is “God who strengthens us and keeps us steadfast in his word and in faith until the end of our lives.”

This encounter between Jesus and those who want him to tell them plainly occurs at the time of the Festival of the Dedication.  This festival (known more readily among us as Hanukkah) commemorated the re-dedication of the Temple in 164 BC.  The Temple stood as a reminder of the relationship God has with God’s people.  Unlike too many of our modern-day gathering houses which look more like huge lecture halls where those with deep secrets share their wisdom, the Temple served to remind us that at Mount Sinai a covenant was established between God and God’s people.  That covenant meant the people belonged to God.  They can hear and learn and understand and even believe because they belong.  They belong in God’s heart and their image is in God’s family photo album.

Amid the questions which ask whether Jesus is Messiah, John 10 encourages us to interject in the discussion our belonging to Jesus.  There are things about Jesus we may never be able to believe, until after we have realized that we belong to him.

Discussion Questions

  • One belongs in the symphony if you can play an instrument. One belongs in the chess club if you know the difference between a knight and a pawn.  One belongs to Jesus because Jesus says you belong.  Have you heard this affirmation from Jesus?  Clearly? And powerfully enough that you have come to accept it?
  • Why are there things which can only be known about Jesus by those who believe in him?
  • Are there persons who continue to try trap Jesus? Or trap those who speak the words of Jesus?In some faith communities, there is a strong encouragement to “make a decision” for Jesus. What comfort do you receive in the Catechism’s insistence that Jesus is the one who has decided on us?

Activity Suggestions

  • Plan your own version of a BFF Bowl. Whether or not you actually have a “Bowl,” arrive at the questions you would ask of the players.
  • Make a list of all the places where you “belong.” With differing colors of highlighters, note those which have requirements (like being on the math team) and those where you belong because someone says you are welcome (like the youth group at church).
  • Are there ever informal, unspoken conditions for being part of a religious community?
  • Have a look at a Jewish calendar. Most Christians remember that Hanukkah is in latter December, but do we know when the other festivals occur?

Closing Prayer

Gracious and loving God, we thank you for making it crystal clear that we belong to you.  Our inclusion as your children makes it possible for us to trust in your promises and to believe.  Send us forth into the world to share with others the good news of your love.  Amen.

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