In a Christian community everything depends upon whether each individual is an indispensible link in a chain. Only when even the smallest link is securely interlocked is the chain unbreakable. -Dietrich Bonhoeffer
September 11, 2022
“This Here Flesh”
Place and Belonging
Genesis 28: 1-5; John 14: 1-7
Rev. Dr. Heather W. McColl
Genesis 28: 1-5
So Isaac summoned Jacob, blessed him, and gave him these orders: “Don’t marry a Canaanite woman. Get up and go to Paddan-aram, to the household of Bethuel, your mother’s father, and once there, marry one of the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother. God Almighty[a] will bless you, make you fertile, and give you many descendants so that you will become a large group of peoples. He will give you and your descendants Abraham’s blessing so that you will own the land in which you are now immigrants, the land God gave to Abraham.” So Isaac sent Jacob off, and he traveled to Paddan-aram, to Laban son of Bethuel the Aramean and brother of Rebekah, Jacob and Esau’s mother.
John 14: 1-7
“Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me. My Father’s house has room to spare. If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you? When I go to prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be too. You know the way to the place I’m going.”
Place and Belonging Genesis 28:1-5; John 14:1-7
Place and Belonging…two words we like to use a lot within our faith tradition. Almost to the point where they have become automatic responses or catch phrases. We say things like Come join us and find your place here. Or things like you belong here. But then are surprised when people don’t actually find their place here or discover that they don’t find that they belong there.
Now this could be for a variety of different factors. The theology doesn’t match up or they don’t see anyone else who looks like them sitting within the pews. Or unfortunately in most cases, it usually comes down to the fact that the place and or belonging which was offered is only shared as long as the person fits into what that church, that faith tradition, that culture, that society has deemed worthy or for lack of a better term, “correct”.
I have been thinking a lot this week of what it means to find our place, to know that we belong. Because that’s just it…everyone no matter age, race, gender, or ethnicity wants to find their place, wants to know they belong, wants to know that we matter. And not just for what we can bring to the table or what we can give others but that we are seen, that we are embraced, that somehow, some way we have found our people.
This is what we all strive for in our lives. And the most frustrating thing about finding our place, about knowing we belong, about knowing that we matter is that most people stop there, meaning that once we find our place, find that we belong, embrace the knowledge that we matter, we tend to exclude or prevent others from finding this transformative wisdom as well. And that is the most damaging part of it all.
Because our culture, our society is built on the premise that if I belong then someone else must not. If this is my place then it is not for you. And I must protect it to the best of my ability, using weapons whether that be physical or verbal.
Yet as we look at our texts for this morning, they tell us of a different way to view place and belonging. They invite us to a wider vision of what it means to be in community with one another, to be in relationship with one another, to be a part of something so much bigger than us as individuals.
In our Genesis text, Jacob is told to go back..go back home, go back to family, go back to the story. This return represents connection, history and a vision of God at work in this world.
In our John text, as one commentator put it, we get a hint of something more because “Jesus’ words are not meant to offer physical security. These promised dwelling places are linked grammatically to the concept of abiding, of finding our place, our belonging, finding our oneness within the presence of God.
What our Genesis text, what our John text invites us to do is to ground ourselves…center ourselves, to reconnect not just to a specific place but to a wider vision, to a wider understanding, our texts this morning invite us to find our place in the multitude which is the Kingdom of God.
You see, we lose this grounding, this connection to a wider vision because we limit our vision, or sense of belonging to a particular place, to a particular set of people. We also spend 95 percent of our time indoors, going from house, to job, to house…all routine, blinders on.
So this morning, I want to invite us to practice grounding. We can do this in a variety of ways, the main one is directly touching the Earth. This spiritual practice is an antidote to the toxicity of modern indoor life, proven to reduce depression, lower blood pressure, and curb bad cholesterol. Grounding reminds us that our place, our belonging is found in the wider sense of Creation. The Earth, which is always there for us, becomes a docking station, a port we can plug into to receive head-to-toe inside-and-out support for our wellbeing—to ground, regroup, and heal.
Ways that we can practice grounding… ground yourself through your bare feet as you sit at a picnic table or in the cool shade, stand at an easel, or lean against a tree. Feel the deep centered creative life force of our planet rising up through your body and out through your expressive hands: finger paint, work with clay—have no goal in mind.
Or you can practice grounding by doing a body scan. It is a visual way to remind ourselves of our connection to the Earth.
We can do this by throughout the day, consciously taking notice of our body. Take 1 minute to scan your body and become aware of wherever you feel pain, tension, anxiety. Maybe your jaw is clenched, your chest is tight or you feel a little sick to your stomach.
Whatever it is, simply notice it and breathe into it. As you inhale, visualize sending breath into that space in your body. Exhale and let it pass. Just spend a few moments bringing breath to your body.
I invite everyone to get comfortable…
I am trying (breathe in), I am here (breathe out)
In our guided meditation today, we’ll be focusing our attention on different body sensations. Today we will use the sensations in our body to help anchor our awareness to our present-moment experience.
You will find that your mind frequently wanders away from your anchor, which is also known as the “object of meditation.” See if you can notice when your mind has wandered and without making judgments about yourself or your ability to do this, gently bring your attention back to the sensations in your body. It is the nature of the mind to think, and we’re not trying to stop the mind from thinking. We’re just training the mind to focus better by learning to notice when it has wandered away and gently bringing it back, over and over to our present-moment experience.
Let’s again get into our meditation position. Let your feet rest on the floor, hands resting in your lap, eyes closed. See if you can keep your spine straight while your muscles relax around it.
Let’s begin by bringing our awareness to the bottom of our feet as we notice the feeling of our feet resting against the floor. See if you can just notice the sensations in your feet where they rest against the floor…
Now, as you continue to watch the sensations in your feet, allow yourself also to become aware of your breath moving in and out of your body. See if you can imagine your breath moving in and out through the bottom of your feet…
With each inhalation, allow your awareness to sharpen; with each exhalation, allow tension and tightness to be released from your feet. Breathing in, focus your attention; breathing out, release tension…
The body scan continues in this way as you move up the body. Adjusting for time as needed, you will usually focus on the thighs, hands, belly, arms, back, shoulders and neck, jaws, muscles around the eyes, and the forehead. This meditation can be lengthened by adding more parts of the body or done fairly briefly by just picking a few.
I invite everyone to come back to this moment. I invite everyone to practice this meditative body scan as part of your daily devotions. May this practice center ourselves. May it reconnect us not just to a specific place but to a wider vision, to a wider understanding. May this practice invite us to find our place in the multitude which is the Kingdom of God. May it be so.
See also: Theology Tuesday for Sunday, September 11, 2022 – Place and Belonging Genesis 28:1-5; John 14:1-7.
This sermon is also available as a podcast.