Belonging: Part 1

by | Nov 1, 2023

Pastor John Dostal

Pastor John joined as lead Pastor at Concordia in Late 2021, relocating from Southern California. He nrings with him his wife Angela and two daughters.

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“Now you are the body of Christ, and each of you is a member of it.” – 1 Cor. 12:27

Membership in groups and organizations in the United States has declined precipitously in the last few decades. Fraternal organizations are only a shadow of what they used to be like. Men my age may have few, if any, close friends. I find this remarkable. Maybe you do, too.

I can remember being in high school. I so desperately wanted to be accepted. Even if I couldn’t be in the “cool crowd,” I hoped to get into a higher caste than I was in.

That changed for me when I got to college. I joined a Christian group, and everyone was my age (or close to it). That was amazing. We all shared school and faith in common. It was the first time I experienced large-scale acceptance from a group of people. I belonged.

After graduation, I moved from one place to another. I attended different churches. I felt a sense of belonging in some of them, but in others, things just didn’t “click”. It was like being a puzzle piece for the wrong puzzle.

God has made us to click with others. He has made us into social creatures. This stems from the fact that the eternal God in three persons relate to one another. The Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Father, and the Holy Spirit loves and is loved by the other two. One God in three persons in relation.

Even the Ten Commandments are about relating. How we relate to God (first part of the decalogue) and how we relate to others (second part of the decalogue). We were built to share life with others. Intrinsic in our DNA is the need to belong. To be part of a group. I need that and you need that.

When we lived in Los Angeles, belonging was a lot more difficult. Conversations are brief, people are busy, and effective use of time is a priority. It’s hard to connect with people unless you are very intentional about it.

It has been a completely different experience for me as I have moved to Kingsburg. I am connected with other leaders, pastors and people who desire these connections. I never ever went to lunch with anyone in L.A., other than family.

Now, I meet people for lunch, coffee, and in monthly meetings. I have become incorporated into the community. It’s a new but great feeling to belong and feel accepted.

I see this in our church. People genuinely connect with others (Just watch us offer the peace of the Lord at the beginning of the service!). They care about each other. And, when others come to the church, I see them greeted by others in the congregation. That is a healthy characteristic.

It doesn’t mean that all the parts of the body of Christ feel a sense of belonging. It also doesn’t mean that we don’t sin against one another. We are a group of sinners, after all. There are betrayals of confidences, gossip, manipulations (and manipulators), and emotional invalidations. In other words, real sin happens in the church, too. Sin threatens unity and the sense of belonging.

These sins aren’t just against people. Every sin is also sin against the Holy God who created you. It separates us from God. It earns us Hell. Sin is a “wedge issue” that breaks the entire decalogue. It’s road is eternal separation from God. And sin needs a real solution. Not forced or manipulated apologies. Not covering over or excusing it. Not minimizing other people’s real pain. It needs a real solution.

It must be forgiven. Finally, fully and completely. It must be absolved. There is no way to do this without the shedding of blood. Reconciliation can only happen through someone’s death.

That’s why God showed up on the scene. To reconcile the world, He became man. He lived among us, but never truly belonged in this world. He was blasphemed, gossiped about, invalidated, backstabbed and finally, He was betrayed. In short, Jesus Christ was truly sinned against His whole life. But He never sinned against others. Never. Not once. He is a righteous man.

He loved people who were unlovable. Gossips, manipulators, emotional invalidators, and betrayers. People like you and me. He loved you all the way to the cross. There, the sinless God-man gave His life for you. For your real sin. For the death road you were on.

You are reconciled to God through our Lord, Jesus Christ. His death and shedding of blood has earned the forgiveness of sin. That forgiveness produces repentance. That is why Luther said the Christian life is a life of repentance.

That great work of reconciliation through Jesus’ blood pours into our life together. It brings an awareness and tenderness of how we have sinned against others and one another.

As Jesus says in Matthew 5:

23 “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”

For those who see and hear you coming to them desiring reconciliation, it begins the healing. It demolishes wedges. It re-establishes connections. It may not undo all the damage that was done, but it’s a huge leap forward. It begins the slow process of trusting once again.

And, it ticks off the devil to no end. Sincere apologies are one of the weapons of spiritual warfare because they undo the work the work of the devil to destroy.

Finally, it reconciles us to one another. That deepens the sense of connection and belonging that we all long for.

We are all puzzle pieces looking to fit in. There are others who will come to our church looking to fit in, too. The great thing is that we are all unmatching pieces. No one fits in any other context than Christ alone.

But, through Christ’s death, reconciliation and resurrection, He has made us one body. A living organism bringing forgiveness, repentance and reconciliation. You belong here. I belong here. And, Christ is at work, continuing to reconcile.

That is our ministry. To tell the world that Christ has reconciled them, too. A world where people can’t find a place to belong. Mismatched puzzle pieces like these are now welcome to be part of Jesus’ reconciling body; our church. Amen.