Lessons: Revelation 7:2-17, 1 John 3:1-3, Matthew 5:1-12
Hymns: LSB 909, 676, 649, 677, 838
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today, as we observe All Saints’ Day, I am going to address the concept of belonging as drawn from our Scripture readings, but especially our Epistle reading from 1 John 3:1-3.
Most people have a sense and a desire for belonging. We like to sense belonging with our peers, our neighbors, our community, our country, our family, and our church.
It can be work to foster a sense of belonging, but the outcome is usually rewarding. We may not always feel immediately welcome when we move into a new community, start a new school or job, join a club, or even visit a church. But our natural drive is to put off those initial impressions and seek to establish belonging. We get to know our neighbors, classmates, and coworkers. We establish friendships. We band together with others who share similar interests, abilities, and values. This creates a sense of belonging, and this usually results in healthier living and greater happiness, along with lower anxiety, less loneliness, and less depression.
Sometimes, though, we are driven to belong in ways that are not so healthy or good. An extreme example is the group who wants to be glorified by belonging to the list of those who have committed mass murders. The news obsesses with these tragic events so much that a lonely guy who has no sense of belonging in his community is drawn to belong to that group. In a sick and twisted way, he sees how he can finally belong, somewhere. And so he goes on a demented rampage.
Another example is the transgender cult. There are many teens who feel out of place. That’s somewhat normal as they grow from childhood to adulthood. It’s a confusing and difficult time in their lives. Like other humans, they want to belong. But they may have difficulty as they face a range of emotions, including coming to terms with their God-given sexual drive. Their peers can be volatile, quickly going from loyalty to betrayal. In their effort to feel like they belong, they may go online. There, they can find communities to affirm anything and everything. So if someone is questioning his sexual orientation or his gender identity, he can quickly find what he cannot easily find in person—an entire community who embraces him, encourages him, and tells him everything he thinks he should hear. Believing he has come home—that he now belongs somewhere—he becomes even more isolated as he is lied to by his online community. He is told how much he will be hated by his family as he adopts a new gender identity or sexual orientation. He is told his true belonging is with them. As a result, some travel into harm’s way and are abused by those they met online who were supposed to be affirming.
The online world is no place for true belonging. It is a cesspool, where vice is visualized as virtue, deviancy is disguised as diversity, and iniquity is illuminated as innocence. Online, children are targeted and preyed upon. Giving children smartphones means they have constant access to that sordid world. It ushers them into the latest epidemic hurting our society—loneliness, which leads to depression and even suicide. The constant screen time, especially from social media, brings about skyrocketing rates of depression as they are being entertained into numbness and lured into pornography. Seeking to find acceptance, they find temptation to sin. Seeking to advance in knowledge, they remember less. Seeking to belong, they become isolated. Parents need to think long and hard before they give their children smartphones. Children do not need a portal into depression, mind-numbness, or sin. If parents want to communicate with their children, a cell phone that only does calls and texts will do the job.
Of course, the Internet is not purely evil. Some do find meaningful community, especially as families and friends separated by distance can share pictures or visit with each other through a video call. Hobbyists can find others who share the same passions. And many now learn how to do important things through helpful videos (such as fixing or creating things). But we should view the Internet as a tool to learn or communicate—not to find belonging.
God has placed us in the here and now so that we find belonging within our community and vocations. God has established churches which give us belonging. In Church, God’s people grow together in faith and piety. Their beliefs are shaped by the Word of God. As we will soon sing, “1 Blest be the tie that binds Our hearts in Christian love; The fellowship of kindred minds Is like to that above. 2 Before our Father’s throne We pour our ardent prayers; Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one, Our comforts and our cares. 3 We share our mutual woes, Our mutual burdens bear, And often for each other flows The sympathizing tear” (LSB 649). What a beautiful depiction of community—of belonging—that we have as brothers and sisters in Christ! We are joined together, not merely by culture or tradition, but by Christ Jesus our Head, who unites us by adoption into His family through Baptism.
Remember the words of our Epistle, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” What stronger bond can we have, what greater sense of belonging, what greater community can we be a part of than to belong in God’s holy family, redeemed by Christ, and declared innocent? In fact, God out of His great mercy, now calls us saints—holy ones—beloved in the Lord—children of God! We belong to Him because He baptized us into Christ and kept us in union with Him by grace through faith. God has graciously justified us (forgiven us) and sanctified us (made us holy). We are righteous in His sight, for He has clothed with the garments of salvation and given us the robes of His righteousness.
By being redeemed, restored, and forgiven, we have the greatest belonging possible—we belong to our Savior, our Lord, our Creator. We belong as members of the Body of Christ. We are Christ’s holy bride—the Church. The Bible says, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27). Clearly, we belong in the presence of Christ as His Bride.
As a result, you are truly blessed. In our Gospel, Jesus speaks of various stations in life—even crosses and trials—that His people will face. And as you live your daily lives as Christians, Jesus repeatedly says, “Blessed are [you].” For yours is the kingdom of Heaven. You shall be comforted. You shall inherit the Earth. You shall be satisfied. You shall receive mercy. You shall see God. You shall be called sons of God. Great is your reward in Heaven.
We see that reward in our reading from Revelation 7. In it, St. John receives a glimpse into Heaven. The multitude of saints are there. They have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb. They have passed through death to life, coming through the great tribulation. They are singing the praises of God. They belong to the Lord. They are with Him in paradise. Their tears are wiped away forever. The Lamb is in the midst of them. Jesus is their Good Shepherd. They are before the throne of God. It is where they belong.
Through Christ’s all-sufficient sacrifice on the cross, all sin of all people is atoned for. There is no sin too great that our Lord will not forgive. There is nothing too horrible that someone could have done that Jesus left out when He died on the cross. For He desires to draw all unto Himself, offering them the gift of eternal life and salvation.
Yet, some do not feel like they belong to Christ or to His Holy Christian Church. They may not be allowed yet to commune at this altar. They are, of course, still welcome to attend. And they certainly belong here. It takes work to be received as a guest at the Lord’s altar, namely, to learn repentance and a shared confession of the Faith. Others look at their past sins, and conclude they are not good enough. They feel like they are being judged by the saints who have gathered here in God’s House. They may be uncomfortable because they haven’t been in God’s house for ages. Others figure they are unworthy; they don’t think they measure up to what is fitting for being a true Christian. All this makes them think they don’t belong—that they aren’t good enough to be here—that they shouldn’t be here.
But that is not so. The Church is a hospital for sinners. It is a sanctuary—a refuge for the weary. It is exactly where sinners need to be. Those who are tempted, those who are ashamed, those who keep on doing the same wrongs over and over—they need to be here. It is where Jesus tenderly invites, receives, and forgives. It is where He declares that we sinners are holy saints of God. Whenever we sense that we do not belong here, it is Satan lying to us, trying to use against us the very sins he tempted us into committing in the first place. Satan wants us to reject our Savior’s generous offer to forgive us.
So, know this, dear brothers and sisters in Christ: here is where you belong. Here Jesus receives sinners, declaring them to be saints. He receives you. In Christ, you have peace with God.
But when you have peace with God, the world will not have peace with you. When you belong to Christ, you will find that you do not belong to the sinful ways of the world. So be it. You are still blessed even if “others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on [Christ’s] account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in Heaven” (Matt. 5:11-12). Belonging to Christ and His family is what you need as saints. It is your great treasure. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen