When I was in Jr. High, my mom had separated from my stepdad and we moved in next door to my grandparents. They had built a new house next to their old house and we could live there rent free, or at least rent cheap.
My dad did give child support, but in those days, it wasn’t much. Each month it may have covered some groceries and once in a while, a new pair of sneakers. We didn’t have much, but that wasn’t too new for us. We had a roof over our head and clothes on our body.
I should say, I had clothe on my body. While I had enough clothes for a week of school, I only had one brand name shirt, and I thought it was the only appropriate thing to wear. It was a purple Champion sweatshirt. Purple wasn’t even my favorite color; we just found it on sale one day. I am pretty sure I wore it everyday. It was my attempt to fit in.
That’s our desperation, as young people, and as not so young people, to fit in, to belong, to be together with other people, to form some sort of a whole. At a fundamental level, we humans need to belong and have a sense of purpose.
Belonging is the heart of our Gospel message today. Belonging is something Jesus prayed for, hoping that his followers would stick together, hoping that people would be known through him, hoping people would love other people because of him, hoping people would find their sense of belonging and purpose in him, wanting us to share in the love of God that has been present from the foundation of the world.
Truth be told, it seems we have opted for brand names over the name of names. We have sought out what makes us better as individuals instead of the one who makes us whole. We too often hold onto what sets us apart from others. It’s only human. And it’s stitched into the fabric of our lives.
Or, more concretely, into the fabric of our clothes.
Recently the CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch, a popular clothing line for young people, came under fire for refusing to make clothes for larger women and girls. Their largest pant size is 10 and largest shirt size is Large. For men and boys: XL and XXL.
In response, CEO Michael Jeffries said this:
“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. We go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong in our clothes, and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.
“That’s why we hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that.”
“A lot of people don’t belong in our clothes, and they can’t belong.”
The message sent is that you are only as good as your looks; That you are worth the sum total of your clothing; That you have something to offer only if you are cool and popular; That you do not belong, on a basic, fundamental level. How many have felt this way? How many are sick of the bullying? How many are glad that there is finally outrage?
But maybe you wear Abercrombie and Fitch and like Abercrombie and Fitch and don’t quite feel like you fit into this sermon or belong to this place. I assure you, you do. Just like everyone else, but not because of your looks or your clothing.
Last week Colin and I took a trip to LA, him for a conference, me to enjoy some sun, some friends, and some family. In this modern day and age travel to LA is as easy as getting on a plane and heading west for four hours.
Thanks to our mobile app we knew that we’d have a full plane and so we hurried from one gate to the other to board on time. We weren’t the only ones. We were trying to get to some seats at the gate so that I could drop my bags and head to the bathroom, which for some reason is a very large part of my life these days.
The gate was jammed with people. We waited in line to maneuver around people, patient and kind, when all of a sudden, a sharp looking man in nice clothes and his ear buds in brushes past us. Not so patiently and not so kindly I mumbled that we were all in line. It was textbook passive aggressive because I didn’t think he could hear me given that he had his ear buds in.
But they weren’t playing music. His ear buds were in so that no one would bother him. He in fact did hear me, and then asked, doubtfully, “Oh, are you in first class?” No, but I am standing here and trying to move through the same crowd you are. Jerk.
On the way back home at LAX you have to get into a line to get into the security line. You get to the top of the escalator and you think, oh, it’s not so bad, but then you are ushered to a whole different room where you stand single file in a labyrinth of people, all waiting to be scanned for safety.
But there was another line, the Sky Priority line, the line that went around everyone else. If you had the right class stamped on your ticket, you could stream ahead of everyone else. No matter when you got there.
We intrinsically value people who have more. We believe somehow that rich people are entitled to more privileges. Will we wake up to see that all human life is valuable no matter what class?
In the news this week there was a haunting picture out of Dhaka, Bangladesh of a man and woman, dead, crushed under a collapsed building, two of over 1,000 people. They were found holding each other under the rubble. Powerful. The building was used by companies we buy our clothing from at everyday low prices, cheap labor so we can have cheap goods. The man and woman in the photo were not disposable, but we often treat those who stitch our clothing as such.
But maybe you are a person who flies First Class or gets by with everyday low prices, and maybe you’re starting to get the sense that you might just not fit in to this sermon or belong to this place. I assure you, you do. Just like everyone else, but not because of your economic class or where you shop.
We often define belonging by who is cool and popular, or who is rich, or who is ethically and morally responsible. We form clubs and churches, tribes and troops around our beliefs and intentions. We draw lines in the sand to say who is in and who is out, who belongs and who doesn’t. And sometimes we call it holiness.
But the truth of our belonging is that we already belong. We have since the foundation of the world. We belong before we can differentiate ourselves. Before we can say what we believe. Before we know what we will become. Belonging is not ours to gain. Belonging is not ours to give.
You belong to this world, to this church, to this community not because of who you are, or what you are, or how you are, but because of whose you are. You belong to Christ, who is our unity, the one who brings us together, the one who reveals the love of the Father to all:
rich and poor
gay and straight
single and married
queen bee and wannabe
male and female
white skin and brown skin
faith and no faith
mother and father
divorced and newlywed
young and old
You have been loved since the foundation of the world. May you be known by this love, be found in Christ Jesus, and live in the unshakable truth that we all belong, in Christ, our Beautiful Savior, together. Amen.