I am a part of a ministry in my church where we facilitate a safe space to have hard conversations about current events, political matters and race. Did I just hear you cringe a little? Maybe you’re thinking, “Why on earth would a church intentionally talk about these topics; why stir the pot?” Well, contrary to popular belief, it’s not because we’re crazy…it’s because we are a diverse church, and we love Jesus.
The first thing a visitor may comment on when they walk in our church, are the beautiful shades of color throughout the congregation. I am not talking about floral dresses or button-ups, I am talking about skin color. If you were looking down from Heaven, you would see a beautiful sight. We represent different countries, cultures and colors. It’s a stunning mosaic. However, this beauty comes with a cost. We have to talk about hard things… a lot.
Our next topic we are set to discuss is “Belonging.” Now, you might be thinking this isn’t a tough or rough topic to flesh out, but maybe that’s because you’ve always felt like you have belonged. Have you ever walked into a room and just thought, “I do NOT belong here”? Can you imagine feeling that every time you walked into a room? Now, for the zinger, can you imagine feeling like you don’t belong in a church body? Well, unbeknownst to a lot of us church-folk, that is the feeling millions of individuals feel every single Sunday morning.
When I think about what it means to belong, I think of Romans 16. Now, if you go and read Romans 16, you might be a little confused…it’s just a list of names. But it’s so much more than a list of names! Let’s try an experiment. Come on, it’ll be fun! What do you think of when I list out these names: Dan, Tom, Bill, Bob, Cliff, Ron?
I’ll go first! I think of three things: old, mature, white, men! Now what do you hear when you read THESE names: Josephina, Toya, Tonya, Jose, Tran, Jamal?
Now, this list, I not only see names, but I see color! I see a mosaic of culture and backgrounds. This is a list of diversified people! This list of names is what it would feel like reading the names in Romans 16.
You see, Paul wrote Romans to the Church of Rome which was a collective body of people who BELONGED. This church body and leadership was not just a bunch of men who all looked alike! No, instead we seea colorful, diversified, mosaic of the early church coming together despite their differences, to unite on a mission. This is a community of believers who BELONGED. This was a time where the political climate was dangerous and segregated. There was a consequence for those who broke tradition and accepted norms. To forego stereotype and break bread with the Roman Christians, Jews and Gentiles, was to go against society. But we find this list of people doing just that; who worshiped and loved together. They shared their homes, finances, resources and “labored in the Lord” together. This is a belonging. We see in Romans 16, womenin leadership, spiritual mothers, married power couples, twin sisters, single men, widows and widowers, young and old, Jews and gentiles, Roman Christians and servants opening up their lives, hearts and homesto the mission of Christ and community. This is how it was always supposed to be!
Belonging is not easy. It will cost you something. It takes work, sacrifice, repentance, forgiveness, and letting go of pride. It takes inviting people who don’t look like you to share their stories and experiences. Paul talks about all who “labored in the Lord” in Romans 16. He talks about sacrifice in this list. He talks about the cost. Belonging in community is costly, but the reward is priceless. The church is the body of Christ; the literal hands and feet. We cannot hope to fulfill our purpose if we exclude any part of His body. We do the work of the Lord when we join hands with our diverse community, as the spirit of belonging will ripple out to impact the world.
Today, I invite you to think about what it means to belong. Is your community a safe place for all? Is it a beautiful tapestry of different generations and cultures? Do you invite the poor and broken? We all belong in the community of the King and it’s our duty to make it welcoming, safe and loving. Let’s be the list of names in Romans 16!
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant[a] of the church at Cenchreae, 2 that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.
3 Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 4 who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. 5 Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert[b] to Christ in Asia. 6 Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. 7 Greet Andronicus and Junia,[c] my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles,[d] and they were in Christ before me. 8 Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. 9 Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys. 10 Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus. 11 Greet my kinsman Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus. 12 Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord. 13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well. 14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas,and the brothers[e] who are with them. 15 Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. 16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.
Romans 16: 1-16