Belonging is a Practice: Belief during confusing times
Belonging as a practice is not unlike travelling in convoy. We do it for protection, for direction and for support; and we do it of course to ensure that we arrive at our destination.
Most of us are familiar with stories of Naval convoys, made famous by the WW2 North Atlantic convoys from North America to Great Britain avoiding German subs. But Convoys aren’t limited to war. I’ve travelled in a convoy of cars in Greece and in Africa. Both were crazy experiences.
Cheryl and I were in a convoy of four cars travelling in Greece from a resort town Glifa to Athens. Andy our Greek friend took the lead, followed by two more team cars with me at the end.
I did not have the address, name or phone number of the hotel: Nor did I have a reliable phone number for Andy.
Everything was fine on the highway journey south; the challenge began as we neared Athens, a city of many millions. The traffic was completely unlike anything I had ever experienced in North America; The most important traffic rule seemed to be: The larger the vehicle, the greater the right of way,
But you could overcome this handicap by being aggressive and very quick. Andy of course was familiar the city of Athens,
And he drove like a Greek. To make matters worse, he drove as though no one was following. I got the feeling that using a turn signal was a sign of weakness, and red lights were like waving a flag at a bull
I became very Pentecostal, calling out to Jesus, then jamming my foot to the floor, screaming through red lights. Andy sped down narrow side streets built hundreds of years ago for foot travel, I followed in blind faith.
Then he turned on to one busier street. When it was my turn there was simply no room I was le5 behind, lost in Athens. Hours later, prayer and good sense reunited us. And we learned we were within minutes of our destination.
Belonging is a Practice: Belief during confusing times
The days immediately after Christ’s resurrection were exhilarating times for those first followers of Jesus, despite this exhilaration there was also a great deal of confusion, fear, doubt and danger.
As Charles Dickens wrote in the Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…,”1
It is in this time of exhilaration, confusion, doubt, fear and danger where the disciples come to value belonging like never before.
The Apostle John writes: When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” later he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” John 20: 19–31 NRS
We are critical of Thomas for his doubt, yet if we look more closely we see another side to him. Thomas was only asking for what Jesus had offered the other disciples.
Why was Thomas not present at Christ’s first appearance? Could it be that he was having serious doubts about Jesus’ claim to be Christ, the Messiah Could it be that Thomas wanted to believe but he just couldn’t bring himself to do so?
Why does he show up later? I believe it was his need to belong? We are social creatures, it was the hunger to belong that drove him to community.
It is the hunger to belong that drives us to community
Do you know what I think? I think this second meeting where Christ appeared to the disciples was just for Thomas.
It is as though Jesus was saying, “Thomas I am honouring your commitment to belong. Despite your doubts and fears and confusion; despite a real and present danger from those who stand against me; you have chosen to show up, to belong.
The practice of belonging is an essential part of our faith and belonging does carry us through confusion and doubt.
The practice of belonging to the body of Christ addresses our need to participate in something bigger than us, it should take our attention away from a potentially selfish desire to meet our needs only.
In the practice of belonging to the body of Christ we experience his purpose and plan not so much for our lives but something greater, for Christ’s purpose.
Often mysterious, sometimes confusing and at times dangerous it is in the practice of belonging where we find clarity for our lives through his purpose.
European Starlings come together in the hundreds of thousands in what is called a murmuration. Though the whole purpose of murmurations is a mystery we can say without a doubt that if fills a greater, and awe-inspiring purpose.
Thomas, who no longer doubted continued the practice of belonging to the church, the body of Christ, travelling in obedience beyond the Roman Empire as far as India where preaching the Gospel and making disciples, he was martyred. 3