Jim Zazzera, Faith Presbyterian Church
In 1966 I was in the 7th grade at Madison #1Elementary School in PhoenixArizona. My family had just moved from the east coast, and I had no friends, no familiar surroundings, no sense of where I fit in.
I still have one enduring image in my mind from that time at school. Because of a chronic childhood illness, my physical exertion was restricted and I was not allowed to participate in sports (which I loved). What that meant is that during our physical education class, when everyone else was throwing softballs, hitting volleyballs, or running track, I was relegated to a bench. While everyone else was moving, laughing, playing. I was left alone with my thoughts.
Now I know for some of you, an escape from P.E. Class might have been a real gift, but for me it was extremely isolating. My exclusion from this activity served to remind me even more that I was a newcomer, an outsider, and that I really didn’t fit in. In my 11 year old mind this was huge. I wanted to be accepted, I wanted to belong.
Isn’t that true for all of us? Don’t we all want to belong?
Think about it this way. Why else do we break out our Niner or Raider (or for some of us) our Red Sox gear? We talk about how much WE want to pay Tim Lincecum, we reflect on how WE won the World Series, how Colin Kapernick is OUR best player, how WE were so much better when Al Davis was at the helm. You see, sports in our society is a powerful manifestation of our deep desire to belong. Remember the slogan, “Here we stay!” as people in Sacramento battled to keep the Kings here? Remember the suggestion from the SF Giants’ marketing staff, “Together we’re Giant!”?
We want to belong. We want to be as important as the power forward, the catcher, the tight end. We want to be part of things. We spend good money on a number 7 jersey, a fitted baseball cap, or a purple shirt with a royal logo so that we might be on the team. We all seek to find our place.
Or look at belonging from a more negative angle. Think about the tragedy of bullying in our society in this era. There are children, youth and adults are harassed relentlessly. They are told they don’t fit in. They are abused physically as unworthy. They are taunted verbally as outsiders. They are hounded across the internet to the breaking point. It is remarkable the damage that bullying can do to people. We have all heard reports of the links between cyberbullying and suicide.
You see, few things are more devastating to any of us than to be told that we don’t belong. Even more painful is being pushed to the edges of our society, and shown that we are outsiders. We all need to belong.
In the face of all this, we come to our text for today. As is often the case with Jesus’ words in this part of John, the first reading leaves us a little confused. In fact, one thing that comes to mind for me after reading something like “All mine are yours, and yours are mine” in verse 10 are the silly words lines from and old Beatles’ song: “I am he as you are he as you are me, and we are all together” For me, it is just a little hard to get a handle on this passage at first glance.
Yet in this gospel (especially in this section), Jesus keeps repeating some very important ideas. There are, in fact, a number of important themes here. But before we look at what Jesus is saying let’s consider the context in which he is saying them.
As Jeff reminded us last week, Jesus’ words here are spoken on the eve of his death. Whether anyone else knew it or not, Jesus knew that his time was coming. Think about how this influences how we hear his words here. What word would you want your closest friends to hear if you knew you only had a few hours to live? That is Jesus’ situation here.
Perhaps more importantly, Jesus is not simply speaking to his disciples here. Jesus is praying. He is speaking to the one he called Father. At best, the disciples (and we ourselves) are “listening in” and “overhearing” his words.
These are not commands or directions, but an intimate conversation between two members of the Trinity. Think about that for a moment, we are privileged in these words to overhear a discussion at the very heart of God! So these two things give heightened importance to the words—spoken on the eve of Jesus’ death. Spoken in conversation with the Father. These two things shine a light on what we a about to hear.
Though there are many thoughts and ideas here—one major theme runs through the whole of this passage for me. Here, when Jesus prays for his disciples, he affirms that they belong. Listen to the unrelenting refrain: The disciples are “those whom you gave me.” “They were yours,” Jesus tells the Father, “and you gave them to me.” Jesus continues, [I am] praying on “on behalf of those whom you gave me…because they are yours.” Then he says to the Father, “All mine are yours, and yours are mine…” And finally, to make the point in a negative way, Jesus twice repeats this phrase: “They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.”
The message is simple and inescapable. In Jesus final hour, he was doing the most important thing,
he was praying for his followers. And in his intimate conversation with the Father, Jesus asserts boldly, “these followers do not belong to the world, but they belong to us.” Jesus’ disciples belong to him, Jesus’ disciples belong to the Father. And if we reach back and consider Jesus’ message from the previous chapter, Jesus’ disciples most assuredly belong to the Spirit.
So the question we began with, that fundamental question of belonging is truly answered here—Jesus disciples belong to God, Father, Son, & Spirit! And that is good news.
One more thing. If we take the liberty of skipping ahead just one more verse, we will hear some news that is most important for us today. Look at verse 20: “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word…”
This message is not just for a few folks gathered in an ancient upper room, but this message is given to all who follow him, the message is given to us! Even thousand of years ago, our Savior held us in his mind and heart. We belong to Jesus. We belong to the Father. We belong to the Spirit! We belong to God!
So what does that mean for you and me? What does that mean for us as individuals? What does this mean for us a community? What does is mean to belong to God? Is it that we are we owned and controlled by our God like some robot or slave? Well, if you know anything about Jesus and how he related to people and communicated God’s presence you know that “belonging to God” can be nothing like that.
Belonging to God means several things that are hinted at in this passage. I would like to mention each one briefly.
First, belonging to God means being given God’s word. Verse 8 talks about “the words that you gave me I have given to them…” Jesus’ disciples know God by direct communication. Jesus’ disciples have a choice to follow that communication or not. Like a daughter on her way to school, given instructions by her caring mother, we are guided by a loving God—but not controlled.
Second, belonging to God means being protected. Just as we would keep our own children out of harms way—God seeks to offer us protection. You might remember the words of the prophet Isaiah:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
We are guarded, precious to God.
Third, belonging to God means (contrary to what you might think) that we are called to be in this world. Jesus says to his Father, “I am not asking you to take them out of this world,” He continues, “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” Make no mistake about, we were meant to be in this world, it is just that we were not meant to BELONG to it. We were not meant to get caught up in its addictions and live by its values. One question to regularly ask ourselves is “Do I love this world as God loves it?”
Finally (and this may be the hardest one), belonging to God means we belong to each other. In one of his most profound assertions Jesus prays that his disciples “may be one” as he and the Father are one. We are meant to be one with our brothers and sisters. Another important question to ask ourselves, “Do I think I can live the Christian life alone or am I seeking the love, help, and challenge of others who belong to Jesus?”
So don’t miss this…To listen to God’s word. To seek God’s protection. To live deeply in this world. To offer ourselves to each other. All of this is what is means to belong to God.
Some of you might remember the original Toy Story movie, Pixar’s computer animated classic from 1995.
(If you have never seen it – do yourself a favor and rent it today…) Early in the film —Woody (a plush toy cowboy) confronts Buzz Lightyear (a toy astronaut) with the fact that he is only an action figure and not really a space hero. Buzz thinks he’s real, fighting aliens and saving the galaxy. But Woody shouts at him, “You’re not a space ranger! You’re an action figure—a child’s plaything.”
Later, and only after failing to fly, Buzz realizes the truth of Woody’s statement. Grief-stricken and disillusioned, Buzz hangs his head in despair and remarks, “I’m just a stupid, little, insignificant toy.”
Yet in the face of this, Woody sees a bit deeper and seeks to comfort his friend by highlighting the love of the boy who owns them both. “You must not be thinking clearly.” Woody says, “Look, over in that house, there’s a kid who thinks you’re the greatest, and it’s not because you’re a space ranger; it’s because you’re his.”
Buzz then lifts his foot, and sees something written on the bottom of his little space boot. There in black permanent ink is the word “Andy,” the name of the little boy to whom he belongs. When Buzz sees this mark of his owner, he breaks into a smile. He knows he belongs. He is ready to take on his life with meaning and purpose.
So what about us? Once we know we belong to Jesus the Messiah, what difference does it make for us? What does it mean to live out our belonging to God? And where is the arena where our belonging really shows?
Perhaps it is in this place and time—in the church— where we begin to get a handle on what it means to belong to God.
Think about it, where do you hear God’s word? Where do you find yourself directed by God? I hope it begins here in the fellowship of those who gather around the story that we hear week after week from the book we call the Bible.
And where do you seek God’s protection? I hope it begins here, and in your life groups, and in prayer gatherings, and at hospital bedsides, as we seek the very real presence of a powerful God.
And where do you seek to live deeply in this world? I hope it begins here, as you discover new ways to serve in this world. As you find yourself empowered to reflect God’s loving presence in your workplace, your school, your home.
And where do we offer ourselves to one another? I hope it begins here, at this table, as we break the bread of Christ’s self-giving. And maybe we get a taste of what it means to give ourselves as well. For the symbols is not just Christ’s body broken & given, but our bodies broken and given for the world.
There is another way of taking about belonging. Paul the Apostle called it the “body of Christ.” Let me end with a poem from Theresa of Avila, a sixteenth century Spanish Mystic, who writes about that very idea. The poem is called “Christ has No Body.” Listen to the words of this Christ follower…
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
Do we belong? Do we belong to God? Yes we do.
The Next Step
A resource for Life Groups and/or personal application
Read the passage again slowly. Perhaps try it in a different version. What is the one thing that really stands out to you? What questions rise up for you?
Can you remember a time in your life when you felt you did not belong? What was that like? How did you ultimately to find a place where you “belonged?”
This passage takes place on the night of Jesus arrest. This was his last time with his friends before his death. How might that have affected what he was saying?
This passage is also a prayer, a conversation between the Son (Jesus) and the Father. These are not words directly addressed to the disciples but words between Jesus and the one he called Father. How does knowing that influence how you view these words?
What does it mean to you to “belong” to someone? What is the positive side of belonging? What is the negative side?
Have you ever described yourself as belonging to God? Why or why not? What does it mean to you?
In the sermon Jim points out that belonging to God means:
We are given God’s word
We are being protected
We are sent into this world
We belong to each other
Do you agree? Which one of these ideas is easiest to embrace? Which one is hardest?
In our worship service we sometime offer the ritual of anointing with oil. The words we generally use at the time of anointing are, “You are God’s beloved son/daughter. God is pleased with you.” Do you believe these words when you hear them? Why or why not?
 From “I Am The Walrus.”
 John 17: 6, NRSV.
 John 17:9, NRSV.
 John 17:10, NRSV.
 John 17:14,16, NRSV.
 Isaiah 43:1-2, NRSV.
 John 17:15, NRSV.
 John 17:18, NRSV.