Proper 11B Sermon Notes (2018)

SERMON NOTES — July 22, 2018


“Tribalism” seems to have become the word for our time, hasn’t it? It’s hard to watch the news these days without someone commenting that our problem is tribalism. Our politics are surely mired in it. Republicans and Democrats treat one another as warring tribes. And the rest of us are similarly divided on all the important issues of our time: Supreme Court justices, immigration, health care, economics, what-have-you. If you find yourself on one side of the issue, we tend to look for folks in our own tribe to discuss it with, while considering those on the other side of the issue as an enemy tribe.

Even if it seems way more pronounced right now, tribalism, of course, isn’t a new problem. As a matter of fact, I propose to you this morning that tribalism is exactly the number one problem of humankind that Jesus Christ came to save us from. It’s right there in our Second Reading from Ephesians 2.

So when we talk about salvation how do we miss this? We need a New Reformation because the first one simply fell into another form of tribalism: Protestant vs. Catholic.

We can see the problem with a wider reading of Ephesians 2. Lutherans have gotten stuck on:

Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God —

Grace is important! But it’s not the whole deal. If we read on in Ephesians 2, beyond the “therefore,” we are blessed to hear the point of grace: creating one new humanity out of two. In other words, healing tribalism.

Go back to the story of falling into sin — the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Extemporaneous explanation of how disobedience is not the main point of the sin. Thinking we can know how to distinguish good and evil is the chief sin. It is the root of all tribalistic thinking: we are good and they are bad.

Where do we see signs of God healing the tribalism in our still-broken world? When we reach across usual human us-them boundaries in love.

I’d also like to conclude with a story from Chris Hedges’ book War is a force that gives us meaning. Hedges is a war correspondent who covered the Bosnian war extensively, and he tells of meeting the Soraks, a Bosnian Serb couple in a largely Muslim enclave. The couple had been largely indifferent to the nationalist propaganda of the Bosnian Serb leadership. But when the Serbs started to bomb their town, Goražde, the Muslim leadership in the town became hostile to them, and eventually the Soraks lost their two sons to Muslim forces. One of their sons was a few months shy of becoming a father. In the city under siege, conditions got worse and worse, and in the midst of this Rosa Sorak’s widowed daughter-in-law gave birth to a baby girl.

With the food shortages, the elderly and infants were dying in droves, and after a short time, the baby, given only tea to drink, began to fade. Meanwhile, on the eastern edge of Goražde, Fadil Fejziæ, an illiterate Muslim farmer, kept his cow, milking her by night so as to avoid Serbian snipers. On the fifth day of the baby having only tea, just before dawn, Fejziæ appeared at the door with half a litre of milk for the baby. He refused money. He came back with milk every day for 442 days, until the daughter in law and granddaughter left for Serbia. During this time he never said anything. Other families in the street started to insult him, telling him to give his milk to Muslims and let the Chetnik (the pejorative term for Serbs) die. But he did not relent.

Later the Soraks moved, and lost touch with Fejziæ. But Hedges went and sought him out. The cow had been slaughtered for meat before the end of the siege, and Fejziæ had fallen on hard times. But, as Hedges says:

When I told him I had seen the Soraks, his eyes brightened. “And the baby?” he asked “How is she?”

Paul J. Nuechterlein
Lutheran Church of the Savior,
Kalamazoo, MI

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