by Ruling Elder James Parks,
June 10, 2018 I Samuel 8: 4-11, 16-20; Mark 3: 20-35
Since we last worshipped in this house, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, two icons of American culture, two people who had everything we’re told we should aspire to—wealth, fame, security—committed suicide. The leader of the Baltimore Police Department’s elite Gun Trace Task Force, who was sworn to protect us, was sentenced to 25 years in jail for corruption that the prosecutor called “breathtaking” in its scope. We commemorated the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Robert Kennedy. The Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy separated immigrant children from their parents at the border herding them into shelters.
It’s enough for me to join with Marvin Gaye when he proclaimed:
“make me wanna holler,
And throw up both my hands”
It’s as if we have lost our way, as if our moral values have become unhinged. What’s worse is that we have become used to this moral quagmire. We seem to be in a time when it is acceptable to openly and proudly display your anger, fears and hatreds as if they are badges of honor. We are living in a house divided by race, by sex, by politics, by wealth. We accept the brokenness of our society as an everyday thing and we put our heads down and hope the bombs flying around us somehow don’t hit us.
Our spiritual houses are divided, crumbling around us and we don’t know what to do. I remember one Sunday morning several years ago when Pastor Deborah asked the children a question and one young boy shouted out “Jesus.” That wasn’t the answer, but Pastor Deborah prophetically said “Jesus is the right answer to every question.” And Jesus is the answer to what we do to put our divided house back together.
In a few words in our text today Jesus puts the whole world on notice that it must be transformed. “Whoever does the will of God is my brother, my sister and my mother.” The world is turned upside down. Old relationships built on biological kinship, economies built on accumulation of wealth, power and status no longer had top value. What mattered most was doing the will of God. And what is the will of God? Jesus says:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
That’s it. That’s the will of God. That’s what Jesus spent his ministry teaching us. That’s how we put our divided houses back together.
But before we can put our national house together we have to admit that our individual lives are often divided into pieces. Behavior, beliefs, and ethics have become situational. There is the work life, the family life, the prayer life, the personal life, the social life. Pretty soon we’re left with a bunch of pieces in our lives that don’t connect.
As Mark leads up to today’s text Jesus has been dealing with those whose lives have broken up into pieces. He has cast out demons, healed Peter’s mother-in-law, cleansed a leper, and caused a paralytic to walk. The lives of these people were divided. Their lives were not their own. They lived with spiritual and physical turmoil.
That turmoil has been around since Adam and Eve separated themselves from God and hid in the garden. It is seen in our text in Samuel where Israel wants a king so it can be like all the other nations; forgetting that it has a unique calling, that it is to be different from other nations, that it is through Israel, the people of God, that God will act for the benefit of all people. Sometimes we forget that through Jesus we too are called to be the light that shines in the dark days in which we are living.
Our division and inner conflict, I believe, comes because we know deep down in our souls of souls that we are called to a better life than the one we are living. We know God has created us to be beacons of light while we hide our light under a guise of respectability, tradition, piety and mind-our-own business.
God through Jesus knows better. The African theologian St. Augustine prayed, telling God
For you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless, til we find their rest in you.
Thomas Kelly, a Pennsylvania Quaker, writes in Testament of Devotion:
Deep within us all there is an amazing sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a Divine Center, a speaking voice, to which we may continuously return. Eternity is at our hearts pressing upon our time-worn lives, warming us with intimations of an astounding destiny, calling us home unto itself.
But too often, we let the realities of our daily lives replace our spiritual destiny. We let life divide us from God. A marriage divided is a divorce. A nation divided results in vitriolic, mean-spirited, take-no-prisoners politics peppered with hateful, vicious texts. An economy divided yields poverty and injustice. Yet Jesus calls us to rebuild this divided house through love.
A community divided becomes individualism and tribalism, prejudice and violence. A community divided lives in fear of each other. Rather than trying to show our love to one another, a people divided try like the scribes to hold onto power, threatening to construct walls to keep others from enjoying the same freedoms we have, and actually building walls to separate families in Palestine and Korea. All the while Jesus stands in the background crying out: “Love your neighbor as yourself!”
Mark uses what literary experts call a “sandwich: technique where he puts one story about the scribes attacking Jesus in between two parts of the story about his family. He does this to point out that there is a similar theme to both stories. What Mark is trying to tell us is that Jesus changes everything. One reality has fallen and a new one is ready to rise.
The crowd followed Jesus because they were hungry for him to help them to put the pieces of their lives together. They can sense Jesus is about changing the quality of their inside and outside. But the religious authorities, afraid of losing their power over the people, try to demonize Jesus. They have already begun plans to betray and kill him, but first they have to make him out to be something he’s not—they claim he is Satan, evil incarnate. But Jesus easily knocks down that argument by asking how can Satan cast out Satan? A house divided will fall.
His family, on the other hand, is worried that the oldest son has lost it. They care about Jesus and they are afraid he is going to embarrass them. His mother and brothers try to pull him in the house, saying “you know the boy’s not right in the head. Come on, bro, come get something to eat and lie down.”
Jesus’ family does not understand the transformative nature of Jesus’ ministry. They don’t understand that God through Jesus is showing us how to live a life where all the pieces are connected. “Whoever does the will of God is my family” changes forever our relationships. We who follow Jesus can no longer claim that we only care about our immediate family and folks like us.
When asked to explain the meaning of life, Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury said:
…all of human life is being drawn to that place where we can with freedom, love and trust, look into the face of God so His glory shines back. And that means every human face is potentially alive with that glory.
Meaning comes as you look around and you see all those varied human faces—beautiful, ugly, attractive, grieving, joyful. And you think each one of those is capable of reflecting God’s glory. And that changes how you relate to everybody.
When we allow our lives to be shattered and broken, we project that brokenness onto everything we connect with—every person, every situation, every relationship. It’s like building a wall between us and God brick by brick every time we deny our connection to each other, every time we ignore the needs of others and attend to our selfish needs instead, every time we could fight for justice and stand silent instead.
Jesus calls us to break down that wall. “A house divided will not stand.”
The only way to knock down that wall is through love. There is nothing about our lives that cannot be put back together by the love of God through the example of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. We are healed by the power of love. Just as we project brokenness onto every situation, we can project love. The divisions in our world can be healed by that love.
We all remember the beautiful words of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry at the royal wedding three weeks ago:
…imagine a world where love is the way.
Imagine our homes and families when love is the way.
Imagine neighborhoods and communities when love is the way.
Imagine our governments and nations when love is the way.
Imagine business and commerce when love is the way.
Imagine this tired old world when love is the way.
When love is the way, unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive.
When love is the way, then no child would go to bed hungry in this world ever again.
When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook.
When love is the way, poverty would become history.
When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary.
When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields down by the riverside
to study war no more.
When love is the way, there’s plenty good room. Plenty good room. For all of God’s children.
And when love is the way, we actually treat each other – well, like we’re actually family.
When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all, and we are brothers and sisters.
A house divided will not stand. A house built on love cannot fall.
What does love look like? For that answer I turn to Bruno Mars’ song “Love”:
Love is not what you see in the movies..true love is sacrifice. Love is thinking about others before you think about yourself. Love is selfless not selfish. Love is God and God is love. Love is when you lay down your life for another whether for your brother, your mother, your father or your sister. It’s even laying down your life for your enemies that’s unthinkable but think about that. Love is true. Think…Do you have love?
Love looks like what happened two Sundays ago when we all shared in the impact of one of the largest rainfalls and floods in history in Baltimore, Catonsville and Ellicott City. Some of us are still drying out our basements. No matter your position, your wealth, your education, you weren’t spared the threat of rushing or rising water. We all suffered together. And that suffering created for a short while a community of the whole. Everybody was in the same boat and everybody was willing to help everybody else. That’s just a taste of the power of love. You identify with and feel the same things that other people feel. You do that by meeting people on their own terms, in their world and accepting that they too have a right to a better life simply because they are God’s child just like you.
And you spread that love everywhere you go—to those contemplating suicide, to those victimized by corrupt police, including the good cops, to immigrants, to all your neighbors. As Gregory Porter says in song:
Well the death of love is everywhere
But I won’t let it be
There will be no love that’s dying here for me.
Our house is divided. Only love can rebuild it. Do you have love? Will you let love die here for you? Do you? Will you?