Love and Belonging

Mud Hen or American Coot (Fulica americana) feeding her babyCreative Commons Image by Peggy2012CREATIVELENZ on Flickr.

“We need to be a community of love and belonging.” That’s my paraphrase of Jesus’ desire to gather together Jerusalem’s children, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings. And if you add Psalm 27 into the mix, it all makes sense. Communities of love and belonging are beautiful yet rare; necessary, yet elusive; desired, yet seem always met with stipulations. You know what I mean, right? Communities of love and belonging are those places and spaces of gathered folks that give you life, that nourish your soul, that remind you of who you truly are. Because there is no love and belonging when there is no regard and respect. There is no love and belonging when you are overlooked and dismissed. There is no love and belonging when you are told you don’t measure up, don’t meet expectations, or that you are not enough.

I spent this weekend leading a women’s retreat on the topic, “Five Keys to Living as a Woman of Faith.” We talked about how important it is to have a biblical imagination for how you understand and see yourself in God’s kingdom as a believer, a disciple, a follower, a witness, a minister. As a result, we talked about a theological rationale for the uniqueness of our gender and our bodies, that women are made in the image of God just as much men. Why? Because that is still called into question. And, if you rarely, if ever, hear about God’s femininity, female images for God, or female characteristics of God, then even that biblical truth will be hard to believe. And, if God is mostly assumed to be male, referred to with male pronouns, and described as male, then it will be more difficult and take more energy to imagine God in female categories — and to believe that you have a place in the kingdom of God.

This is an opportunity, preachers — Jesus, God, as a hen gathering her brood. To claim an image so very rarely preached, not for the sake of an agenda, but for the sake of those in your pews who need to hear themselves in the Bible, need to see themselves in the Bible. Why? Because, there are only 93 women who speak in the Bible, 49 of whom are named. These women speak a total of 14,056 words collectively — roughly 1.1 percent of the Bible. Mary, the mother of Jesus, speaks 191 words; Mary Magdalene gets 61; Sarah, 141 (Freeman, Bible Women: All Their Words and Why They Matter).

I realize this column is a bit of a digression from the usual, but this is what happens when the Word gets lodged, incarnated in your life. And Lent should be about preaching like this if we take the incarnation seriously.

So, these women this weekend? They pulled me under their wing and gave me shelter. Because teachers of preachers, you preachers, need that kind of care, that feeling, as well. I had no idea how much I needed such brooding. You know what I mean. You go on with your life, you do your thing, and you tend to put to the side your needs, your wants — that which you know you need for abundant life. And then, these moments of transfigurative, transformative care come when you least expect it. God’s love, grace upon grace — in the small details, the constant touch, the joy of entering into new relationships.

What a blessing. I was invited to draw pictures in illustrated Bibles. I was gifted with one, and I cannot wait to start illustrating my faith in the margins of God’s living Word. One of the women crocheted potholders for me. The pastor wore a rainbow stole at our closing service to symbolize God’s promise to us, and the ways in which the uniqueness of us all come together. We shared communion from a chalice that had a twisted stem, to help us remember that we are not perfect, that that is not the goal of discipleship.

This is Jesus’ wish, Jesus’ invitation — a community of love and belonging under Jesus’ wing; knowing the safety and protection of such a place which then invites you to imagine and live in to the person God has called you to be.

Because here is the truth. How can you know who you are, even one known by God, if you don’t have the safe space to explore what that means? How can you know your truth if no one is willing to listen? How can you believe that your unique self matters for the proclamation of God’s Word, in preaching, in presiding at the sacraments if you don’t hear that the particularity of you matters when it comes to the incarnation of God’s Word?

Do we create these spaces in our sermons? Do we create these spaces in our exegesis of texts? Or, do we shut down invitation for the sake of certainty, for the purpose of something, anything to say, for the goal of securing membership, loyalty, and commitment?

I sense that this is Jesus’ call this week. Calling all of us into the security of God’s love so that we might know we are safe as well. Safe from the harm of ridicule. Safe from the harm of rejection. Safe from the harm of dismissal. That is, at its heart, Jesus’ promise this week. Jesus envelops us, brings us under his wing, protects us. Why? So that we can give witness when it’s hard. So that we can preach when we know rejection will be the result. So that we can live into our authentic selves even though so many will continue to say you need to be someone else. So that we can live into the person Jesus sees.

You are loved and you belong, Dear Working Preachers. Preach out of, because of, and for the sake of that truth.