When I was around the age of ten, as my mom and I were riding in the car together, I finally decided to speak up about something that had been on my mind for the past few months. As we pulled into the driveway I said, “Mom can I talk to you about something?” She looked over, nervous that something was seriously wrong. I told her I wanted to make a decision to follow Jesus. I wanted to get baptized. She was no longer worried, now there was only excitement.
Baptism is a big deal in my family and the church where I grew up. This is the point when you make a decision that you’re serious about following Jesus.
When I made this decision my mom was so happy. She knew this was a life changing decision. It’s something she had been hoping and praying would happen for a long time.
I’m glad I made this decision but as I look back I realize I felt like I couldn’t belong. I had to first behave and belief before I could belong.
I first had to behave:
I needed to come to church every Sunday and Wednesday. Whenever there was anything going on at the church I needed be there because you can never have too much Jesus. It was about having the right answers and asking the right questions, but not too many questions. To make this decision of baptism I needed to have the right behavior.
Then I needed to believe:
This consisted of Bible study. It was the hope and prayer that during these times of Bible study I would learn the “right” beliefs of the Christian faith. Leaders in the church taught me the “correct” things. If I didn’t have this “correct” belief then I couldn’t belong.
Finally, after all this, I could belong:
The main way to belong was to get serious about Jesus and baptism is a huge part of this. It’s like getting into any other group or club, I had to do A (behave) and B (belief) and then I could C (belong).
Is Jesus really like a country club? Is Christianity about jumping through the right hoops to belong? I’ve thought, Is it about doing A, B, and then I can have C. Or Maybe I’ve gotten this Jesus thing all wrong?
Jesus tells a story which is what He seems to do over and over again. In this story, a King sends out invitations to the most important people in a town. These people don’t think this party is as important as the King does and they don’t show up. So he sends out more invitations. These people show up but the king looks around to see there’s still room. He wants no one on the outside. He sends out invitations to everyone. The dinner party isn’t for just a few but everyone belongs at the table.
When I think of the story of the dinner party I’m reminded about Communion. Communion within some Christian circles is something that you can only do if you behave (act in the right way) and believe the right things (agree to a certain set of beliefs/rules). It’s like baptism, it’s a way to finally belong.
I don’t think Jesus meant for Communion to be something you had to do to belong. The act of breaking bread with His disciples was to show them they all belonged. The Disciples didn’t believe the “right things”. They didn’t behave in the “right” way.
Days after Jesus died the disciples gathered in a room because they were fearful for their lives. Jesus had just been crucified and the disciples were sure they were next. Even though Jesus talked until he was blue in the face about His resurrection, the disciples didn’t get it. They didn’t believe Him.
All Jesus says during the first Communion was do this in remembrance of me. There’s not a list of things you need to believe. There’s no outline of everything you need to do to be worthy. Jesus says you belong. One of the people sitting around that table was Judas, who would betray Jesus. Judas still belongs and he’s welcome at the table just as much as everyone else. For Jesus belonging was first, not believing or even behaving.
I’ve come to the realization that it’s not about having the all the right answers. Instead, it’s about belonging to Jesus. Jesus isn’t going to be angry or disappointed with me because I didn’t have the correct behavior or belief.
We all want to be part of a community. This was the original plan for the church. The church should be the place where people can be who they really are, the questions, doubts, and uncertainties included, but often times people feel like they have to act like everyone else.
Sunday morning is the most robotic time of the week. It’s easy to believe that we need to have the same beliefs as everyone else to find acceptance. I thought this for a long time. Belonging is what matters because without it there is no relationship. Without belonging Christianity becomes a list of do’s and don’ts.
I realized as I was searching for the right, correct, and true answers Jesus was looking for me. Just me, not all-the-right-answers Clayton, but Clayton in all my flaws and failures. In my questions and doubts. In being wrong and sometimes being right, Jesus wanted me to belong. Then we could figure everything else out together.
You belong! How can you welcome everyone just like Jesus?