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The Need to Belong
February 7, 1993

MATTHEW 23: 8-12; 1 PETER 2:9-10

“Everybody needs somebody sometime” goes the song. But, perhaps actually the need is more than sometime. It is more like all the time that we need somebody. The failure of our society, the failure of the church to meet the need of having somebody is one of the major causes for the instability, loneliness, estrangement, ruthlessness and identity crises of our day. “Once you were not a people”, Peter wrote in today's lesson, “once you were no people”. A fundamental basic drive that motivates us all is the need to belong. Freud argued that the sex drive is the basic psychological drive that motivates us all. But one of his followers, Albert Adler, parted company and developed the theory that not the sex drive, but the need to belong is the basic psychological drive—to find our place where we have identity, where we know who we are, where we feel at home.

Youth gangs can provide an identity, that sense of belonging to street youths. It is difficult for us to understand the power of the gang over its members until we understand that the need to find community, to find a home, is the fundamental drive that motivates us all. We're all looking for a community where we are accepted just as we are, where we know we are okay, where people will put up with our mistakes and idiosyncrasies, where we are encouraged and nurtured to grow, where we know who we are. People find community in many places. It's interesting to me, amazing to me how every activity has a club of enthusiasm—Motorcycle Club, bungee clubs, stamp collecting clubs, and so forth. People want community. We organize clubs around common interests. We organize clubs around locations. We go to bars looking for community, looking for companionship. People are desperate for community because it's the basic fundamental drive that motivates us all.

Peter rejoiced with fellow church members because they found community in the new Christian community. “Once you were not a people,” Peter wrote.  “Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people, a holy nation, a royal priesthood, a chosen race.” God’s own people. Now you know who you are. Now you have an identity. Now you belong.  Now you are somebody and now you have somebody all the time. God raised up a Christian community to satisfy the fundamental need to belong. God raised up the church to be a fellowship, a community where people's basic psychological needs are met.

Our church’s program this year is the Year of Community. What is Christian community? What is the church supposed to be? What does it mean to belong to God's own people? Let me suggest five characteristics this morning. Down with three-point sermons! This is a five-point sermon, Three-point sermons are good; five are better!

What is a Christian community? Number one. Two groups of your church leaders have just completed a five-week study which we have found exciting, challenging and stimulating. It will be offered again in March and perhaps several of you, more of you will be able to participate. The workbook is called Building God's People, by Thomas R. Hawkins. He defines Christian community as the process of becoming united through the common experience of a core business, which is God's revelation to us through our Lord Jesus Christ. Christian community is where people find amid their many differences a a great unity in a shared vision; community amid diversity grounded in a common vision. He contends that churches would be less divisive with less conflict if we built a consensus around the biblical vision rather than arguing whose personal perspective is better than everyone else's. Collaboration rather than competition is the norm in a true Christian community. For a church to be a Christian community requires a common commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Jesus Christ is the cause, the goal that holds us together. We discover Christian community not because we like each other, not because we have organized around a common interest, not because we market or try to sell something, not because we want to feel good. We discover Christian community when we are committed to Jesus Christ and become his body in the world. Christian community shares a common vision and commitment. That's number one.

Number two. In order to learn this vision, this common vision, and to appreciate the vision and find our identity, a Christian community tells the stories. It is our stories that give us our identity. When the Hebrew parents wanted their children to know their identity as Jews, to know who they are, they told them the stories. The Jewish people are still a people today, even after centuries of having no geographical home. They're still a people today; primarily, I think, because they tell their stories. They constantly remind each other of who they are. Their big festivals are story telling,  stories in action as their rights confirm the story.

The problem in the Christian community which our church is really addressing, is that too many Christian children don't know the stories. They aren’t at Sunday School often enough to learn the stories. The stories aren’t told in their homes. One exciting reason for our creative drama program for children on Sunday evenings is the children learn the stories by creating dramas. They'll never forget the Bible stories they learn to feel and creatively express through drama. So first, the Christian community shares a common vision. Secondly, we tell our stories.

Number three. Christian community is marked by radical mutuality. Equality, not domination, is the distinguishing characteristic. Power, status and domination are absent in a true Christian community. There is structure and organization, yes, but there is no domination of one or a few over others. Listen with fresh ears again to what Jesus said in Matthew 23. 8-12, “But you are not called to be rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father who is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” 

These are revolutionary words where all forms of status are abolished. In Christian community, the basis of competition is destroyed. The desire to control gives way to cooperation and collaboration. Equality, mutuality and childlikeness are characteristics of Christian community. Each member of the community is equal with everyone else. Each member has been given talents and skills to share. Each member has equal voice. And together, together we discern the will of God. The will of God is not decided by one or a few for the rest of us. The will of God is sought, discerned and interpreted by all of us in radical mutuality and equality.

Number four. Christian community is inclusive where everyone is welcome. Everyone is treated with respect. As one youth put it, “The church is where a guy is treated like he is really somebody.” A church is a loving, caring community where everyone who walks through the door is treated as somebody important. Everyone. The church is inclusive. One fundamental difference between the church and a lodge, a fraternal order, a civic club, a group of friends or a clique is that in the church we are not free to choose with whom we will associate. You do not choose your brothers and sisters in Christ. We do not choose our natural brothers and sisters and we do not choose our spiritual brothers and sisters. Whoever God chooses is our brother and sister. The door is wide open regardless of color, national origin, native language, cultural practices, style of dress, marital status, sexual orientation, economic level; who ever will may come and be welcomed with respect. Christian community is inclusive.

Number five. Christian community is called to action. Peter stated in today's lesson—“in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of God who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” True Christian community is not just a fellowship, not just a chance to get together, not just an opportunity to to enjoy a sport or an interest. True community satisfies the need to belong when we are engaged in a common task and action outside ourselves on behalf of others rather than ourselves. Yes, we love each other. Yes, we care for each other when there is a need. Yes, we bring meals when one is sick. Yes, we pray for one another's health. But the dominant reason for our being together is to proclaim the mighty acts of God, to do God's work and be Christ's body, Christ’s hands, Christ’s feet on this earth. 

Christian community satisfies the fundamental need to belong. Christian community shares a common vision and commitment to Jesus Christ. Christian community tells the stories. Christian community is characterized by radical mutuality and equality. Christian community is inclusive. Christian community is call to action.

© 1993 Douglas I. Norris