The Gift Of BelongingErwin W. Lutzer | April 29, 2007
Selected highlights from this sermon
Humans are social creatures who live in communities, families, and nations—we were made to belong. In the church, there is a unity which is available nowhere else. This is good news for a world that is divided in so many ways.
What does Moody Church have to offer the city of Chicago? That is the agenda for this series. Last week I spoke about the gift of hope. We have a living hope in Jesus Christ and we have the gospel to offer the city of Chicago. Next week I am going to speak on the gift of significance and we are going to discover that significance in the scripture is very different from what we think of significance from the standpoint of the world. It is a different kind of significance entirely.
Today, however, I am going to speak to you on the topic of the gift of belonging. We all want to belong and we were created by God to belong. We are social creatures and if we don’t belong we are not going to be able to be the kind of people that God wants us to be. Never before have we needed this gift in America as greatly as we do today. We need it because of the fracturing of the family. There are people who don’t seem to belong within their families and it is from the families that we get our sense of self worth. The church needs to become the family particularly to those whose families are shattered by divorce and alcoholism.
Listen to the words of a teenager: “I am so lonely I can hardly stand it. I want to be special to someone but there is no one who cares about me. I can’t remember anyone touching me, smiling at me or wanting to be with me. I feel so empty inside.” Do you sense the loneliness and the despair, the sense of rejection and alienation that is found today in society?
In addition to that we have what I call the cult of ethnicity. No longer can we be spoken of simply as Americans. Now we are African Americans or Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans or Anglo Americans, and I suppose some of us are Canadian Americans. We all want to talk about our background. Somehow that unites us but it also divides us. Surely you agree that we are divided religiously. We are also divided politically. This nation somehow has lost its center.
But there is a kind of unity that is mentioned in the scripture that is the kind of oneness and belonging that can be found nowhere else. It is a belonging that is actually created by God and it differs from all other relationships. The reason it is so different is because it is not a unity based on a common interest. Most people are united because of their interests. Some people are united through sports; they are a Cubs fan or a Sox fan. We find also that there are those who are united because of race. Other people are united because of pleasures like skiing or some other recreation. There are all kinds of reasons for people to be together if they have a common interest.
Today I am speaking of a kind of unity that is not based on common interest. It is actually based on sharing a common life. It is a unity that is created by God, a metaphysical unity, or above the physical. God says, “It is so special that I need to create it.” The text we are going to look at today is an example of God’s creation of unity.
Take your Bibles if you would please and turn to Ephesians chapter two. The passage here describes this kind of unity created by God. A few years ago we here at The Moody Church shared with you our promise statement: “Moody Church is a trusted place where anyone can connect with God and others.” Last week I spoke on what it means to connect with God, and I shall refer to that also this week. Today however we are going to emphasize the basis of connecting with others and community within the church. We are going to see how God brought this about in Ephesians chapter two.
In fact, you can’t understand its significance unless you realize that there was a great deal of animosity between Jew and Gentile. Paul is going to say that God brought Jews and Gentiles together. You may say, “What is the big deal? Today Jews and Gentiles are friends.” Yet in those days the hostility was the same kind that you would find today between the Jews in Israel and the Palestinians. There were centuries of deep seeded animosity and differences. The Gentiles despised the Jews and the Jews despised the Gentiles, whom they often referred to as dogs.
In this passage Paul says that God broke down these differences and actually created a new person. Verse twelve of chapter one discusses the Gentiles who were, “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise.” God didn’t make the promises of Abraham to the Gentiles – he made them to the Jews! They were without hope and without God in the world.
He goes on to say, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one,” Jew and Gentile, “and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” Paul here is probably referring to the wall that kept Gentiles out of the temple area. You can imagine how they despised that wall!
God goes on to say, “This body that I am going to create is so unique that it is going to take precedence over all of your differences and it is going to kill the hostility.” What a powerful creation God brought about in the new body.
Let us now look at three figures of speech that Paul uses to show the unity and the belongingness of the people of God. The first is the metaphor of body. God says he has created one body from the two warring factions through the cross.
Why the word body? First of all, the body stresses diversity. My toe is not my hand and my ear is not my tongue. Think of the diversity of the body. There are some parts of the body that we always keep covered and there are other parts that we never cover. Yet the body has a sense of unity and a diversity that we can celebrate. Thank God that I have only one tongue and not three! Thank God that you only have two ears and not six. You are hearing enough as it is.
Thank God that The Moody Church has stressed diversity. Not diversity in terms of lifestyle but diversity in terms of personhood. We had a missionary conference not too long ago and one missionary said that as he looked out over the congregation he noticed that there was not a single row that he could see where everyone in that row belonged to the same ethnic class. That is the kind of diversity we like.
A few years ago we took a survey here at The Moody Church and discovered that we have more than 50 different countries of origin. There are 50 different kinds of ethnicity represented here at The Moody Church. We want The Moody Church to be as diverse as our community and we want The Moody Church to be as diverse as heaven. If you are not into that kind of diversity you are not ready for heaven, where there are going to be people from every tongue and people and nation gathered together all singing praise to the Lamb.
The body also represents interdependence. We need one another. The foot cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of thee.” After this service I will be going for lunch and my feet will take me where I want to go and when I get there my hands are going to have to pay for the food and to eat the food my mouth will have to be involved in the process at some point. We are all interdependent.
Paul also says that even the weak members of the body are necessary. Sometimes here at The Moody Church we have people who may lack a lot of the gifts that we think are necessary. There may be weaker members of the body going through their own struggle. Paul does not tell us to simply put up with them. He says instead that they are necessary. We are all interdependent; we need each other. The weakest among us is needed by the rest of us.
There is also the unity of the body. I thank God that my body is coordinated. When my mind gives direction to my feet, my hands cooperate and it all works together. Think of all of the cooperation that is happening right now as I speak to you. My tongue is cooperating with my mind, my hands are cooperating with my mind, and there is a sense of unity with the body.
Now what would happen if I wanted to go in one direction and one foot follows but the other foot will not follow? What if my hand said, “I’m not going because I’m tired of you lifting me up all the time and I am sick of people seeing me and I am not going to do it anymore.” You can understand that I would have problems in the body.
We also have problems in the body of Christ when members are renegades and say, “I want to do my own thing independently of the body. I don’t need to be part of the community.” The body illustration signifies that we share a common life. We are members of his body, his flesh, and his bones. Jesus is the head of the church and as best we can we take our orders from him. We are coordinated as a spiritual body that God created uniquely that is different from any other relationship.
The Apostle Paul says in verse eighteen that, “Through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” God does not have one Holy Spirit for Africans and another Holy Spirit for Asian Americans and another Holy Spirit for Anglo Americans. It is through one Spirit that we all have access to the Father. Why? Because he created a brand new entity called the church, the body of Jesus Christ, and we represent him in this world.
There is another image that I will comment on briefly. It says in verse nineteen, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens.” Let me comment on this passage. He is saying that God created a new nation. In fact, Paul says that we are a new nation created by God. That new nation means that we have an identity of citizenship that transcends our country of origin and it transcends our racial, economic and educational backgrounds and vocations. It is found in the brand new nation which God created. Right from the beginning God wanted to say, “That is what I am up to – creating a transnational community.”
Think of this in the book of Acts. An Ethiopian is converted in Acts chapter eight and he is a descendant of Ham. There were three sons of Noah that basically populated the world. There were the sons of Ham, who went down to Egypt, the sons of Shem, who were the Jewish people, and then the sons of Japheth were the Indo-European people.
In Acts chapter eight an Ethiopian is converted. In chapter nine a Shemite is converted; a Jewish man by the name of Paul is converted on his way to Damascus. In chapter ten a Gentile representing Japheth is converted. God is saying that right from the beginning the gospel is for everyone and it unites anyone who trusts in Christ, who come by way of the blood as is mentioned here, and there is a unity that is created and a brand new nation.
I’ve talked to people who try to work with Palestinian Christians and Messianic Jews. In fact, I attended a conference where it emphasized the Palestinian side of the equation. Do they get together with their Jewish brothers and sisters? Yes, but I have been told that what they need to do is to put on the shelf all of their political agendas. They can still come together as brothers and sisters in Christ because they have a unity that is even greater than their political and historical differences. Only God can create that kind of unity.
Then there is the image of a new family. It says that we are members of the household of God; a brand new family. Why? We are a new family because we share the same father. God is our father and that is what Jesus was trying to communicate to Mary when he said, “I ascend to my father and your father.” If God is the father of Jesus and of Mary Magdalene, it is clear that Mary Magdalene and Jesus are brother and sister. God is our father and Jesus is our brother and the Holy Spirit is our companion.
It is this relationship that at times transcends our earthly family relationships. I have had more than one person, usually a single mother say to me, “Moody Church is my only family.” In the lives of those who perhaps do not have a family and in the lives of broken homes, may this be their family. We share the same brother, we have the same father, and we have the same companion. May it be said that Moody Church is the family and the community of God.
What the Apostle Paul is saying is very, very clear. Always remember that if you belong to a club like a sports club or a music club you give a part of yourself. But when you belong to Jesus you are giving everything to him and to one another.
What does Moody Church have to say to the city of Chicago? How are we able to give them the gift of belonging? Remember the words of the teenager that I read? He said,
“I would like to belong to someone but there is nobody out there for me.” How do we give the city this gift of belonging?
First of all, let me speak candidly for a moment. If we are like bushels of apples that roll into Moody Church on Sunday morning and roll out Sunday afternoon and never see each other and never have community, we really can’t be the people of God in the way in which God envisioned. It is not living out the unity which I spoke about today. God doesn’t want us to simply be independent apples. He wants to make applesauce and that is going to take something more than simply connecting in a worship service.
You can praise God and you can worship with 2,000 people or more but you can’t have fellowship with 2,000 people. You can’t overcome sin unless you belong to some kind of a small group. For some here at The Moody Church, the small group might be the choir. For me it is my prayer partners with whom I met yesterday morning for two hours to share requests and pray for one another. I have often thought to myself, “Where would I be without my prayer partners who are part of my group, who help me and pray for me, who exhort me and encourage me?” We can’t overcome sin and we can’t influence the world unless we have community.
It seems as if from our standpoint that the early church overdid this business of community. The Bible says in Acts that they sold everything that they had and they gave it to the Apostles. They said, “We trust the Apostle’s to look after us and to do right by us.” The scripture said that they had everything in common. I don’t think we could do that in our society, but that is what they did. They always had community.
In fact, the Bible says that they went from house to house breaking bread. That doesn’t just mean communion. That means that every night they had potluck and they ate in somebody else’s home. Tonight it is going to be in your home and I am going to bring the lentils, you bring the bagels and somebody else will bring the meat and we are going to eat together.
The church in Jerusalem was watched by the world and the world said, “Where in the world are they getting all that love from? When there is a widow they take care of her, when there is an abandoned child they fight over who will take care of it, when there is sickness the church gathers around and prays.” They became a family and a community living out what Jesus created when he said, “I have created a new body, a new family and even a new temple,” as mentioned in this passage. In living out community the early church had a great impact because they were seen by the world caring for one another in a way that the world can never copy. They had a unity and a concern created by God.
I need to say that we live in a society where people don’t want to belong to anything. That is why some of you aren’t members of Moody Church. You love Moody Church and you come to Moody Church but you don’t want to belong. You want to keep your options open. That is the American way but it is not the biblical way. The biblical way is to say, “If I belong, I belong. I become a part of what is happening and I join the family.”
Do you have a relative in your family that refuses to join the family? Even on Thanksgiving he goes off alone because he doesn’t want to connect? That is what weakens the family. It also weakens the family of God. We could do anything we wanted in the city of Chicago in advancing the gospel if we had more people who said, “This is my church, this is where I commit and this is where I connect.” Remember that our promise statement is that anyone can connect with God and others.
Providentially God has brought us to this hour because soon we are going to be dedicating the Christian Life Center. What will the Christian Life Center contribute to connecting, to community, and to family? As you may know, at the back of your bulletin we have nine ABF’s. ABF stands for Adult Bible Fellowships. What you should do is try one out and find the class that is right for you. This means that with more space we are going to be able to have more options. We are going to be able to more easily facilitate small groups. It might be encouraging for you to know that we have 35 small groups. Many people become involved in a small group as they attend an ABF. We are also going to have more Sunday School space.
Our vision statement also governed things related to the new building. We believe that there needs to be places at The Moody Church where people can just hang out together having lunch and connecting. Would you believe that in the new CLC there are seven places that could be spoken of as connecting places? People can also connect on the rooftop, where 250 to 300 people can gather for wedding receptions and ABF’s can use it for parties. I only suggest that you not book it in the winter.
But when you walk out on the roof of this building and you are looking at the city of Chicago, it is so exciting that I feel a little like the spies who got to see the Promise Land and came back to tell the people how wonderful it was. The only difference is that we are not turning back, are we? We are going to keep going in and we are going to have the opportunity of seeing the building.
When we sat down to build it we wanted to have a God honoring vision because we didn’t build it to build. We built it for people so that we might not be so much a purpose driven church but a people driven church. Therefore, what we wanted to do was to have a place that was friendly. I look at it as a handshake to the city of Chicago and the neighborhood, to have people come in who are observing us, wondering who we are and seeing our love. The CLC is an equipping center and a connecting center so that together we might be able to say to the city, “We care about you and your relationship with God, but also your relationship with others.”
The CLC has been built at great personal cost with blood, sweat, and tears because of the larger vision of what we believe God wants to do in this city. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were the church who could change the city, in a city that could change the world? God has brought us to this moment, to this hour, to this opportunity to extend the glory of the gospel to many others.
But let’s remember where this all began. In Ephesians chapter two the Apostle Paul says that God brought us together through the blood of Christ. To put it very clearly, it is not until you are connected with God that you experience the in depth connection with one another. The gospel actually has that kind of connection.
I was reminded of that this past week. I was meeting with some workmen and over a period of 10 to 15 minutes two of them came to me and said that they listened to our broadcast. I discovered that they were believers and so I introduced the two men to each other. They had been working together but they didn’t know that they both were believers. A few moments later they went off to the corner and talked.
There is something about meeting a Christian that no matter where you meet them you immediately have that sense of oneness and you understand one another. Why? It is because you are members of the same body, the same nation, the same family, and the same temple. But it begins with responding to Christ, receiving him as Savior and believing in him, coming to him and experiencing the redemption that Jesus brought us through his death.
You can put your faith in him even as you are seated here or even as you are listening on the radio or on the internet. You can say to him, “Today I receive Christ as Savior.” There are some of you whose hearts God is opening, and you know who you are, and you can respond to that message of grace and be saved. You can connect with God and then connect with others.
Great days and great opportunities are ahead for our church but also great sacrifices. Let us say to this city, “This is a place where you can connect, where you can belong, and somebody is going to care about you.”
Let us pray. “Our father we thank you today for everyone who is here. We pray for those who are on the margin, so to speak. There are those who say to themselves, “If this is the place where God has brought me, if this is the place where I am to serve and to connect, father grant me that sense of commitment.” We ask that you shall lead people here with the same sense of urgency and commitment as members of the staff or the elders whom you have led here. Grant, oh God, that this shall be a place where many people have the opportunity of connecting with you and with one another because you have created a body, a family, and a temple. Grant that to us Father we pray, in Jesus name, amen.”