Belong and Prosper

A Sermon by Scott Quinn based on 1 Peter 2:9-10

Preached at Companions on the Inner Way

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own possession in order that you might be the Self-declaration of the One who has brought you out of darkness into this marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people. Once you had not experienced mercy, but now you have experienced mercy.” (my translation)

I had tears in my eyes a few months ago when I learned Leonard Nimoy had died. He and his Star Trek character Mr. Spock felt like close, lifelong friends. I grew up watching endless hours of Star Trek. I had a Mr. Spock action figure, Star Trek posters. Star Trek comic books. On Halloween I dressed up as Mr. Spock with pointed rubber ears.

What I particularly loved about Spock was the paradox he lived.

  • He was half Vulcan and half human.
  • He had Vulcan logic, yet also had human compassion.
  • He was one Vulcan on a ship of over 400 hundred humans.
  • He was an important member of the crew, yet he didn’t quite fit in.

 

I imagine many of us have lived a similar paradox. Like Spock, we can be an insider, yet also feel like we don’t quite belong.

  • Sexual Orientation. Race. Gender. Ethnicity. Economic status.
  • Aspects of our identity can make us feel like an outsider even in the most welcoming of communities.

 

The author of today’s scripture addresses Christians dispersed through what is now modern-day Turkey. They find themselves in a difficult situation, a kind of exile.

  • Where they live and work, they are oppressed because of their faith.
  • Few in number, they struggle in isolation.

 

The author of our text urges them to live the paradox we’ve explored this week:

  • Be an insider and an outsider.
  • Put down roots in the land where you live, help it thrive AND
  • Let your faith shine, knowing that makes you different, an outsider.

 

What we do here at Companions is different, outside the norm.

  • We retreat for reflection, prayer and contemplation.
  • We withdraw from our materialistic, unjust, fear-driven, frenetic culture.
  • We unplug from what Wayne Mueller calls “The Tyranny of American Enormity”, and it’s addiction to more, more, more!
  • Here we tend our inner life. We create community.
  • Yet we cannot stay here.
  • Tomorrow we return to those places where we will be different, outsiders.

 

So how do we live this paradox? How do we embrace the exile?

  • First, we remember who we are, or rather Whose we are.
  • Our text says, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people. Once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
  • We belong to a God who holds all our polarities: insider and outsider, privileged and marginalized, saint and sinner.
  • We belong to a God who weaves together all our paradoxes with threads of mercy.
  • Whether an insider or an outsider, we belong to God, in God, with God. That is who we are.

 

For most of my life, I’ve felt like an outsider.

  • In high school I floated between cliques: geeks, jocks, stoners, musicians. I had friends in every group but never belonged to any group.
  • Later, as a closeted ordained minister, I had intimate spiritual moments with parishioners, yet had to hide my sexuality and lie when asked personal questions.
  • As a gay man just coming out of the closet, I went to bars searching for community but found loneliness and isolation.
  • I had a toe in many communities, but never fully belonged.

 

Not long ago, I told my partner about this feeling that I never quite fit in. He said, “Of course you don’t. You’re weird and different. That’s exactly why I love you so much.”

 

That kind of love heals.

  • My partner is calling me one of his people.
  • God is calling you one of God’s people, and that belonging heals.
  • You belong to a God whose healing love treasures what makes you different, adores what makes you not fit in.

 

In fact, not fitting in can be a positive “story turn”. Those of us locked out of “normalcy” are forced to look beyond the typical external answers: work harder, make more money, get a new partner, try a new addiction.

  • And that’s where being an outsider offers a potential gift.
  • In our emptiness and brokenness, we despair of all external balms.
  • The only place left to look is within, where we find the “more, more, more” of God.
  • We find a belonging that makes us an insider with the Divine, no matter how outside the mainstream we may be.

 

Listen again to our text and hear it as God speaking directly to you. Close your eyes if you want and let the words sink into your cells:

  • You are a chosen race.
  • You are a royal priesthood.
  • You are a holy
  • You are my own people. (Silence)

 

We belong to God.

  • Yet this is not a self-serving belonging.
  • We also belong to a purpose beyond ourselves.

 

Our text says, “You are God’s own possession in order that you might make known the mighty deeds of the One who called you out of darkness into this marvelous light.” Perhaps a better translation, “in order that you might be the Self-Declaration of the One who has brought you out of darkness into this marvelous light.”

  • You are God’s Self-Declaration.
  • It’s through you and as you that God shines a beacon of light midst dysfunction, discrimination, dissipation and despair.
  • Through you the world comes to know the Light of the World.
  • Through you oppressive communities see themselves in a new light.
  • The community of the awakened expands when you dare shine the merciful Essence of the One to Whom you belong.
  • The Light shines on you for a purpose larger than you.

 

In my favorite moment from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Mr. Spock has saved the ship but has suffered a lethal dose of radiation in the process. A grief-stricken Admiral Kirk grapples with why Spock has made this choice. With his dying words, Spock replies, “Do not grieve Admiral. It is logical. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few… or the one…I have been and always shall be your friend. Live long and prosper.”

 

When we belong, we belong to something bigger than ourselves.

  • For Spock it was his ship and shipmates.
  • For us, we belong to a race, a priesthood, a nation, a people who serve the Light of the World, the One who gave himself for the many.
  • And we also belong to the world itself.
  • We belong to those who live in darkness so that through us they might see a great Light.
  • What light can you shine where you live?

We belong to a purpose: to shine God’s Light into dark corners where we live.

 

And because it’s hard to shine in isolation, we belong to each other.

  • When I resigned from being the assistant pastor at my Lutheran church in Texas, I was lost and devastated. I was in exile. I had come out of the closet only to find an empty room.
  • I started attending a gay-friendly church in Dallas and they sponsored a Christian concert featuring singer Cynthia Clawson.
  • During the performance her pianist shared that he was the gay son of a Lutheran minister.
  • So, of course, I had to talk with him after the concert.
  • He told me how Cynthia had stood by him in his darkest hour as his partner lay in a hospital dying of AIDS. It was her prayers and unconditional love that saved him.
  • Just then I turned around and saw Cynthia. We spoke for only two minutes, but almost 20 years later, the encounter still lives with me.
  • I told her about having recently left the ministry because I could no longer live a lie. A look of pain swept across her face, almost immediately followed by immense love.
  • She took my hand, looked me in the eye and said, “You will minister again. It will be a different kind of setting and congregation, but you will minister again.”
  • I didn’t hear this as patronizing words from a kind woman.
  • I heard a prophetic voice. I don’t know how I knew, but I knew God was speaking directly through her to me in my dark hour.
  • For the first time in my exile, I felt hope.
  • And I’m happy to say that her prophecy has been fulfilled many times over, including the honor of preaching here today.
  • She was the Light of the World for me in my darkness.

 

We belong to each other. We need each other. We get dismembered by “isms”: racism, sexism, ageism, classism, capitalism.

  • We get re-membered, put back together, in community.
  • Together we recall Whose we are and the purpose to which we belong.
  • We encourage, that is, we infuse courage into each other to let our little Gospel lights shine.
  • We belong to each other. And just as the one sacrifices for the community so also the community sacrifices for the one.

 

In science fiction, death is never final. It’s only a setup for the next sequel.

  • In Star Trek III, Spock’s friends find a way to revive him.
  • When he asks why they would risk their lives to do such a foolish thing, they respond, “Because the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the few or the many.”
  • Jesus said that the 99 are left behind for the sake of the one.
  • That’s how God’s community works. Each one is precious enough for the entire community to sacrifice on his or her behalf.
  • Because we all belong, each one is precious, and particularly precious in God’s economy are those who are in exile, left out, left behind, and who don’t fit in.

 

In the first episode of Star Trek’s second season, Spock travels home to the planet Vulcan. Leonard Nimoy wanted to give his character a greeting that would impart peace and blessing to his own people. He created the Vulcan salute and along with it a benediction: “Live long and prosper”.

 

Leonard Nimoy got the idea from attending synagogue as a child. On high holy days, the Kohanim, the descendants of the high priests of Israel, would pronounce the blessing of God on the people. All the people turned their backs to the priest, honoring the tradition that the Spirit of God was too beautiful to look upon and live.

 

Of course, being a curious boy, little Leonard turned around to peek at what was happening. He saw the priest hold up two hands with thumbs touching, creating the Hebrew letter shin, which stood for both Shaddai, the Almighty, and Shekinah, the feminine presence of God. Jewish tradition is that the Divine presence shines through the priest’s fingers to bless the people.

 

The light of Divine blessing shines on you today.

  • You belong to God.
  • You belong to a purpose beyond yourself.
  • You belong to each other.

 

You have been called into the marvelous light of God’s love. In that Light, even midst exile, there are no insiders or outsiders, but one family of God. Belong and prosper. Amen.

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