6 June 2021
If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.- Mark 3:24-25
Tulsa pastors have gathered this past month and week to recall and recognize the racial attack that occurred in their Oklahoma city on May 31, 1921. Attackers burned a 35-square block of a black neighborhood in the city one hundred years ago. Many have called for reparations to be paid to the ancestors of those who perished in those fires. There are thirteen still-active congregations who had to rebuild their destroyed churches after that day. It is a part of their history. They tell reporters that it is important to bring recognition to this on its centennial because they do not want to see it happen ever again. Pastor Eric Costanzo, who grew up in Tulsa, says that he did not learn about the massacre until he was attending seminary out of state. They have succeeded in getting increased recognition for it, even to the point that President Biden visited Tulsa last week. While we live in a different world today, many are afraid that if we do not remember where we have been, we may unintentionally go back there. We still read about race riots, unfair prejudice, and stereotypes, including people of color being treated differently at traffic stops. In 1921, a white pastor was quoted saying that the fires were “divinely ordained” and that the black community did not do enough to prepare for controlling such a fire. Rev. Zenobia Mayo says that many think that not talking about it is “the way to deal with it.” But perhaps the best way is to recognize that it is a problem and preach about it as Pastor Deron Spoo of the First Baptist Church of Tulsa, says: “Racism has no place in the life of a Jesus follower” (Religion News Service, Associated Press). In Manhattan on Memorial Day, an Asian woman was punched by a white American. In May, a store clerk “refused to ring up Asian American customers” in Alhambra, California. “At a school in Texas, students picked on Asian American classmates, saying that they had brought the coronavirus” and no one should go near them” (Anh Do, Los Angeles Times). New York City reports an increase in crimes against Asian-Americans of 223% in 2021. 81 percent of Asian Americans say that violence against them has been increasing (Pew Research). It is surely true that this has no place in the life of a Jesus follower. Neither does turning a blind eye.
This month, a special conference of Catholic bishops in the United States is being formed to discuss whether abortion advocates should be allowed to receive communion. President Biden, the second U.S. Catholic president, describes Catholicism as “essential in his life.” Bishop Gregory, who is Biden’s bishop in Washington, has said that he thinks a decision to withhold communion from those who support abortion would give precedent for making the rite too politicized. Although the conference itself will have no authority in enforcing whatever they decide, it can easily divide the Christian community and draw lines where they do not have to be drawn. Cardinal Luis Ladaria wrote a letter from the Vatican urging American Catholic bishops to move slowly in this matter, saying that they must “avoid elevating abortion as the only grave matter that Catholics should consider” (Michelle Borstein, The Washington Post). However, Archbishop Joseph Naumann says that Biden, as a public figure, needs to be dealt with so that Catholics are not led astray and know what Communion is all about. He says, “Biden has created a problem for himself and for the church by saying he’s a devout Catholic while advocating for choice. It’s a matter of integrity. He shouldn’t present himself for Communion.” In the face of these current events, as Christians, are we called to seek to unify Americans despite their different beliefs and cultures, or are we called to turn aside and focus on building our own relationship with God? Perhaps we need one to enable the other. Is this a political argument, or is it an argument for the sanctity of an unborn life? What do we make of being in this world? Jesus told us that we were given the word of God, but that there is also so much hate left in the world. There is division, perhaps more so now than ever. Yet when Jesus prayed over the disciples before he ascended into heaven, he asked of God, “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (John 17:14-18). We find ourselves in this world, knowing who we belong to so that the world might not defeat us. We also know that Jesus wants us here, and is praying on our behalf, that we may be sanctified, or made holy, by the truth. How do we know what is the truth? By the advocate that Jesus promised to send to us. Before he left, he promised the disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). John 16:13 tells us, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” Pentecost was the day that the new church was born, when the disciples experienced the Spirit for the first time. Now we are in the Season after Pentecost. We may refer to it as ordinary time on the calendar, but it is not the time to sit back and wait for Advent again – for this season goes all the way to Advent, to the end of the church year. It is the time, now that we have been exposed to the Holy Spirit, to explore what the Holy Spirit can do in our lives. Two weeks ago, we read in Ezekiel 37 that God can breathe new life into dry bones, and God can breathe new life into our dry spirits and our dry hopes today. Last week, we marveled about how Isaiah experienced the holiness of God in a vision, declared himself unworthy in comparison, but then after God granted him forgiveness, Isaiah was prepared to follow God’s call and said, “Here I am! Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8). We all rely on God to cleanse us and make us ready to follow God’s call. If we revel in the power and the strength that we have gained, as King Uzziah did just before the time of Isaiah’s prophecy and which we looked at last week, we are belonging to this world more than we are meant to. How can we also exclaim the glory of God, confess our unworthiness and be forgiven by God, and be made ready for God’s sending? Jesus sent us into the world, but not before we prepared ourselves by being called, then journeying close with Jesus to learn how to live during our season of Lent, then learning what we do when we are surprised by the Resurrection, and now learning how to witness to God’s glory through the power that we are given by the Holy Spirit. Jesus told us, No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above” (John 3:3). This is why over the next few weeks, we will continue to focus on understanding the Holy Spirit, and what we are to do as we gain confidence through the Holy Spirit, as Isaiah did and as so many others did when they realized that they were indeed worthy to be in God’s presence, and that they were indeed worthy to work for God. We are worthy to do God’s work because we are given the power that we need through the Spirit.
Jesus caused quite a stir when he was beginning his ministry. In Mark 3, Jesus is described healing a man with a withered hand in the synagogue before going out to the sea. But “a great multitude from Galilee followed him, hearing all that he was doing, they came to him in great numbers from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan, and the region around Tyre and Sidon. He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him; for he had cured many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him” (Mark 3:7-10). The Jewish authorities did not like this attention that he was receiving, curing people on the Sabbath and teaching what they believed to be fallacies. Many of them were trying to keep the peace in Jerusalem and in all of Judea in order not to give the Romans who controlled the province reason to interfere. For all the people who loved Jesus and followed him, there were many, including his own family, who believed that he had gone crazy. If your son or daughter or brother started walking around the land declaring to cast out demons in the name of God, would you think he or she had gone crazy? What about in a time where no one was known to do such a thing or even teach such a thing? Jesus had caught the attention of scribes who came down from Jerusalem to see for themselves what was happening (this was before he had met the Pharisees who had more jurisdiction in relegating Jewish religious laws). Jesus assured them that it would not be possible for Satan or a demon to cast out a demon, since that would be a kingdom divided against itself and a kingdom divided cannot stand. Abraham Lincoln believed the same as he tried to keep a nation unified during the Civil War, when the young nation was still under a hundred years old. Samuel knew that appointing a king to serve the people instead of God might divide the people between the king and God. God even said to Samuel that by appointing a king, the people were rejecting God: God said, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them” (1 Samuel 8:7). Today, we stand divided between Democrat and Republican, Protestant or Catholic, pro-life or pro-choice, and there are countless new divisions still being formed today. We are seeing new division among Catholic bishops, some who believe that communion should be restricted only to those who adhere to strict principles, and others who are afraid of making a sacred rite political. Some think that focus on Black Lives Matter movements are too much, so some create a White Lives Matter movement or even an All Lives Matter movement. We stand in a divided world, and we hear Jesus when he tells us that “if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand” (Mark 3:25). Is this the world that Jesus has sent us into?
It is an impossible task for just a few of us to cause nation not to be divided against nation, and person against person. Yet we do control who we associate ourselves with and what we will not let ourselves forget. Today is the 77th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy. A divided army will not break the lines on the beach, or hold the lines behind it. The landing forces were told to keep going no matter what happened, no matter that your commanding officer was shot in front of you, no matter that a member of the 116th with you was calling out for his mother to bring him home, as D-Day veteran Arden Earll recounts. We will remember the racial divisions that have rocked this world, during the Civil War, during the Tulsa riot, during World War II, and even today. Yet, more than remembering, we are called to do something about it. We are called not to sow division. We are all unified in the Holy Spirit, seeking one truth, and seeking to be close to one God. If we are doing God’s work, we are not sowing division, but we are teaching those in our church and those in our family to love one another despite our differences. We can agree to disagree on some things. The greatest commandment, after all, is to love one another. We love by not turning a blind eye. We love by including our neighbors who are different than us. We love by wanting the best for our neighbor as we would for ourselves. The power of the Spirit gives you the power to stand up and be on God’s side; we do not find our salvation anywhere else.
Some call the work of God’s Holy Spirit evil. The scribes thought that Jesus could be working in the name of evil rather than the name of good. It is then that he tells the people that “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:29). Because we accept Christ, we are givers of the Spirit. We are all one family, all born of the Spirit, and all seeking to be spreaders of good. Let us, therefore, spread good. The world may try to break us, our enemies of doubt, fear, worry, and others will try to break us, but united, a house does not fall. Jesus looked around with those who sat with him, saying, “Here are my mothers and my brothers!” (Mark 3:34). Thanks be to God. Amen.
1 Samuel 8:4-20
8:4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah,
8:5 and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.”
8:6 But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the LORD,
8:7 and the LORD said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.
8:8 Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you.
8:9 Now then, listen to their voice; only–you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”
8:10 So Samuel reported all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king.
8:11 He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots;
8:12 and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots.
8:13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers.
8:14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers.
8:15 He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers.
8:16 He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work.
8:17 He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves.
8:18 And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the LORD will not answer you in that day.
8:19 But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said “No! but we are determined to have a king over us,
8:20 so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.”
3:20 and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat.
3:21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.”
3:22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.”
3:23 And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan?
3:24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.
3:25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.
3:26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come.
3:27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.
3:28 “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter
3:29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”–
3:30 for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
3:31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him.
3:32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.”
3:33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”
3:34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!
3:35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”