What does it mean to belong?
For some people belonging means doing things together. They feel part of their community by turning up to services and meetings, taking part in projects and making things happen with a group of other people.
For some people belonging means having a good time together. They feel they belong to their community if they go to fairs, barbecues, housewarmings, football matches, baby showers, carol services, christenings and weddings.
For some people belonging means knowing lots of people - walking down the street, or going to the shops, and bumping into friends and acquaintances, or getting on well with their neighbours, or having a crowd of people they can mix with.
And for some people belonging means where they live - the place where they grew up, which shaped the way they talk, where they feel most at home.
None of these ways of belonging is better than the others. And none of us can belong in all of these ways at once.
We don’t always feel like joining in and being busy doing things. We don’t always feel like having a good time. Sometimes we can feel lonely, like an outsider without any friends. And sometimes we go to places where we feel like an outsider.
But even when we feel that we don’t belong anywhere or with anyone, we always belong to God. The people who wrote the Old Testament tried to put limits on belonging. But God always broke through the limits.
Have you ever been told not to be friends with someone because the people you hang out with don’t like them or because they’re supposed to be a bad influence? The people of Israel were told in the Bible not to be friends with anyone from Moab, but it turns out that the grandmother of Israel’s greatest King, King David, was from Moab.
The Old Testament said that all sorts of people didn’t really belong, but the Prophet Isaiah challenged that attitude. He heard God say to him, ‘I, the Lord, promise to bring my people together… and let them join with other people.’
And even in this passage from the Book of Deuteronomy, with its list of people who don’t belong, the writer concedes that Israel’s arch-enemies - the Egyptians, who had once kept them in slavery - must be made welcome and allowed to belong if they come to live in Israel. Belonging is what God is all about.
Jesus started off being just as suspicious of foreigners as many people are today. He thought they were scroungers, trying to take stuff away from his own people. Where have we heard that before? He actually uses a word that means ‘dogs’. But the woman from the Lebanon changed his mind. It was a lesson he had to learn. From then on he always drew a circle which includes people in rather than shutting them out.
Baptism is about belonging. Belonging to our family. Belonging to one another. Belonging in the wider community. Belonging to the Church. And above all belonging to God. He calls us to embrace belonging.