31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
February 5, 2017
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
There is a divide that runs through the state of Connecticut. It runs right through my house. It’s not a natural fault line. It’s not a political divide. It’s baseball – Yankees versus the Red Sox.
Some of you may know that when Stu and I decided to have children, we made an agreement. I could raise Jack as a Christian if Stu could raise him as a Yankees fan. My seminary classmates from Boston University tell me I chose wrong. Stu tells me – now – that I could have gotten both.
So there is this divide in my house. I wear my pink Red Sox hat, and Stu wears his Yankees cap – out in public, together! I dutifully donate perfectly good Red Sox hand me downs and smile when Stu buys Jack Yankee clothes. I even read Jack Good Night Yankees at bedtime. We watch each other’s games, but we don’t say anything – and we are especially quiet when the Yankees play the Red Sox.
There is a divide in our house, but it is good-natured, and it is respectful. I can’t say the same for the division in our gospel passage this morning.
Jesus is walking through a grain field with his disciples. As they walk along, the disciples reach out, pluck the heads of the grain, and eat it.
The controversy here isn’t about stealing. This isn’t like the person who eats the grapes off the grocery store display before paying for them. The problem here is that the disciples are “harvesting”. They are “working” on the Sabbath, on the holy day of worship and rest, and work is against the rules.
As is healing a man. Healing is working and that too is against the rules on the Sabbath.
And here is where we get to the divide. Keeping the Sabbath holy versus caring for your neighbor, feeding those who are hungry and healing those who are disabled. If you know the story, it’s the age-old tale of Mary and Martha. Will we be like Mary sitting at the foot of our Savior, worshipping God? Or will we be like Martha, a body in motion, taking care of the needs of her fellow person? Do we choose the Holy or do we choose the human? What takes precedence?
It is so easy to set Jesus up against the Pharisees, so easy to draw a line with Jesus, the kind, the open-minded, the caring on one side, and those stiff, legalistic, power hungry, angry Pharisees on the other.
But as is the case whenever we draw a line in the sand or pick sides, we are not really seeing the other for who they truly are. The Pharisees were not stiff and legalistic. They were “the liberal mainline Protestants of first century Judaism” (O. Wesley Allen Jr., workingpreacher.org). They believed and taught that you did not need the Temple in Jerusalem and the priesthood to connect with God. You could connect with God on your own. Sounds very Protestant, doesn’t it?
But just because the Pharisees believed you did not need the “trappings” to worship God, just because they were talking about a “new” way, does not mean they were any less devoted or serious about God. I find I have to explain that about myself. Just because I am open-minded and respectful of others does not mean I am not also a very devoted follower of Jesus Christ.
The Pharisees were trying to help people connect with God, to place God first in their lives, to honor God and keep God’s commandments.
What perhaps the Pharisees did not understand was that Jesus was trying to do the same thing. Jesus was a Jew as well. Jesus, of all people, honored God and kept God’s commandments. Jesus spent lots of time in prayer. Jesus, too, believed in keeping the Sabbath holy. He says, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” calling himself the keeper of the Sabbath.
Jesus, too, believed that ‘keeping Sabbath’ was an important way we honor God, but so is doing good. Feeding the hungry and healing the sick and disabled are also ways we honor and praise God.
The Holy or the human? Love of God or love of neighbor?
Honestly, how can we love God without love of our neighbor? As Christians, we want to choose both. We should choose both, but it is not always possible to choose both.
Throughout history, the Church of Jesus Christ has divided time and time again over love of God or love of neighbor. Do we keep worship and the Bible in Latin or in a language the people can understand? Do we wear robes and suits, dresses, hats, and gloves or do we dress more comfortably? Do we hold to the formal ways that honor God and keep God’s house and God’s worship holy? Or do we change to better connect people to God?
Life is filled with choices. We are pro-life; we are pro-choice. We are Republican, Green Party, Democrat, and Independent. Some of us like chunky peanut butter and others, the smart ones, think why would you want to ruin perfectly good peanut butter by leaving bumps in it.
Tonight, some of us will cheer for the Patriots, and some of us will route for the Atlanta Falcons, simply because they are not the Patriots, and still others will say, ‘There’s a game on today other than the Lady Huskies?”
We pick sides. It’s not a bad thing. It’s not a good thing. It’s just something we do. God has created each of us differently, and God has created each of us with our own opinions. And so wherever two or three are gathered, Jesus is going to be there and so is a difference of opinion.
It’s not diversity that is bad. It’s not conflict that is bad. It’s how we respond to differences that is good or bad.
It’s about fair and respectful fighting. It’s about refusing to call others names; refusing to label them in ways that deny their humanity; refusing to act out in violence, Refusing to become so furious that when someone disagrees with you, you plot their downfall, as the Pharisees did with Jesus.
Diversity isn’t bad. Making a choice, picking a side isn’t bad. Even conflict and disagreement are not bad. It’s all about how we handle them, how we behave.
It’s all about walking in the way of Jesus, behaving like a Christian, loving God by loving our neighbor, and looking past the jersey. Looking past the face paint. Looking past the labels. Looking past the divide – and seeing the child of God. Seeing the face of Jesus Christ in your brother and sister. And caring for your neighbor as you sing praises to our God, Most High.