The Rev. Casey dunsworth

serves as Associate Campus Pastor to the Belfry, the Lutheran-Episcopal Campus Ministry to UC Davis

and as Program Director for LEVN, the Lutheran Episcopal Volunteer Network.

Belong—A Sermon of Promises

Grace and peace from God our Creator, Hope in our Redeemer Jesus the Christ, and the promised gifts of the Holy Spirit are with you always.

The lectionary is weird. We’re in the seventh week of Easter, but the Gospel lesson today is from the night before Jesus died. At first glance, it’s backward and disorienting. But the people who put the readings together are professionals, so I’ve decided to trust them.

Scholars, like the people who assembled the lectionary, call these chapters of John’s Gospel the “Farewell Discourses.” Jesus is saying a lengthy goodbye to his friends and disciples. In it, he sums up a lot of the things he has said before; he reiterates the most important details; he makes new promises. This week’s text is a prayer he says in the Garden of Gethsemane—just after the Last Supper, just before he’s arrested. That’s quite a moment in the life of his community. He prays “on behalf of these”—the disciples—“but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.” That's us! 

The fun thing about being Christians so many generations removed from Jesus is that there is no way that the Church looks like what Jesus thought his followers would look like. Millions of people, across the globe, organized together because of the love of God through Jesus. Except, more often than thought, we’re not very good at being “together.” We have this nasty habit of dividing ourselves on all sorts of lines—denominations, languages, races, classes, nations. 

Even when there were just the dozen or so disciples, it seems Jesus had a hunch that they’d struggle to stay together. I think the lectionary assemblers new that, just like Jesus' friends needed to be reminded of all the ways in which God would remain with them after Jesus' departure, we too need that reminder after we've celebrated Easter. We need to be reminded of the promises that were made, that are still being kept.

Karoline Lewis is a preacher I want to be like when I grow up. She wrote this about this week’s Gospel story: “...God counts on us to embody God’s promise in a world of broken ones. God needs us to give witness to the ultimate promise kept when our experience….knows only empty promises. God invites us to live in the promise that is truly ours forever—that is the resurrection difference.”

Since we are living in the world after the resurrection, there is a whole new range of possibilities open to us. But I think I speak for a lot of us when I confess that the logistics of the resurrection are distracting, and I never really get past that. Karoline continues:

“Resurrection is often relegated to a belief of the church to which we simply comply and that which we by rote confess. We go through the motions each Easter, each time the creed is said, but how often do we stop and say that resurrection makes a difference for how I live my day today? What might it feel like to know that the promise of the resurrection is mine now?”

What might it feel like to be open to the newness of resurrection? What might it feel like to try being church a completely different way? How might it change what we do and what we believe?

Let’s step back a second. What does it even mean to believe? What are some synonyms you can think of? Audience participation! 

When you google the word believe, as you might do, casually and hypothetically, the primary definition is “feel sure of the truth of.” You know those words of the creed we say before the Eucharist? “I believe in God, the father almighty…”

What if we said “I feel sure of the truth of God the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I feel sure of the truth of Jesus Christ, his only son, our Lord...” and then “I feel sure of the truth of the Holy Spirit…”

I think that, like the resurrection, we get stuck on the word “believe” a lot, because we worry about whether our beliefs are “right” or not. And often, especially on a college campus, it can be challenging to respond when people push you on your beliefs, right? And when you’re still sort of working them out, that can be a big roadblock.

There’s an Episcopal author named Diana Butler Bass who has written several books about church. She wrote one called Christianity After Religion that looks at what we’re going to be in this age of “spiritual but not religious”-ness. It’s an interesting book, and it has one part that I’ve carried with me since I read it. She says that in the old way of being church, there were three B’s: Believe, behave, belong.

You went to a church because you believed the things they believed (or wanted to) and then learned from them how to behave according to those beliefs, and then once you’d gotten all of that squared away, you could “join” the church officially. You could really belong there. That probably sounds familiar, and maybe doesn’t sound entirely problematic to you.

But what if we flipped it? She asks. What if instead, we belong and then behave and then believe? What if we are invited and welcomed into a community, no questions asked? What if, then, we see how others act and we learn new ways to love ourselves and our neighbors? What if, then, we come to believe the truths they teach?

Here at the Belfry, I hope you feel like you are part of something. I hope you feel like you are invited and welcome to be all of who you are, whether you’re even sure who you are. I hope you feel like the other people here are learning alongside you, and that you--as individuals and as a community--are growing. I hope you feel like, as we talk and learn and read and sing and laugh, that these promises that God makes are promises to you.

And I promise you that, while you’re here and after you leave here—whether you graduate or study abroad or finish your service with LEVN—that you will always belong here.

If you discern that you’re Lutheran or that you aren’t; if you discern that you’re Episcopalian or that you aren’t; if you discern that you’re queer or that you aren’t; if you discern that you’re called to be a pastor or that you aren’t; if you discern that you’re going to graduate or that you aren’t.

Whoever you are, you belong here.

You don’t have to sit in this chapel every Wednesday to belong here. You don’t have to show up for Bible study every week, or for Tapping Into Theology every month, or for book club, or for Prov, or for anything. I like you, and so I hope you want to show up to all those things and create other spaces for other folks to feel like they belong here, too! That’s the behave part. That can come next.

You are part of the Belfry and you are part of God’s family at all times and in all places. I promise.


Breathe — An Audience-Participation-Required Sermon on Peace