Do you know the National News and Florida theory? Steve Ellis, who was a member of the search committee that brought me to this church I serve, First Presbyterian of Hollywood, first told me about it. He said. “Kennedy, in any national news story, you will always find a Florida connection.” I gotta admit. I doubted it. But, his theory proved true. Somewhere along the way, in any big news story, Florida always popped up.
But this week, it was ridiculous. Those bombs began arriving and Florida popped up almost immediately, and not just any part of Florida our part. Now, it looks like a Florida man sent the bombs. Heck, they caught him at a store in Plantation. He lives just down the street in Aventura.
But forget the crazy Florida connections. Just look at what happened yesterday in Pittsburgh. What is going on in our country? Some guy sending bombs all over the place. This time, the terror hit Democrats. But last year, the terror hit Republicans, nearly killed one Congressman, while he was practicing for a softball game. And now people of faith killed while they pray. Americans right and left are going at each other. And folks can disagree, sure but so much of what’s going on now, isn’t helping. It’s hurting. Now, it's even killing.
But how do you come back to some sense of community, when so many disagree so passionately, even violently? How does that happen? It happens when we realize it’s not about the nail. Hold on. What do I mean by that? Haven’t you seen the video? Maybe, you haven’t. So, here it is.
Now, what the filmmaker was saying in that video, Jesus was saying in his own way, thousands of years ago. And in those words, Jesus points to how not only Christians, but our whole nation moves towards community even when we disagree. What is that way? Let’s listen and hear what Jesus has to say.
How do you find community when division rules the day? How do you find it even when you profoundly disagree? Here, Jesus tells you. Jesus says. Community happens, when you stay rooted in the truth of what community actually is. When you root yourself there, you find community, even when you profoundly disagree.
And the first truth, you’ve got to know, Jesus tells you again and again. Do you see it? What does Jesus call folks with whom you are in relationship? Does he call them friends? Does he call them co-workers? No, he calls them brothers and sisters. Do you get what Jesus is telling you? Jesus is saying. When you become a follower of Jesus, you don’t only get Jesus. You get the whole family.
You see. You can get rid of a friendship. If you don’t like a co-worker, you can get another job. But the folks in your family, your brothers and sisters, stay your brothers and sisters, whether you like it or not. Why? Your connection has nothing to do with you. Your parents put you into that relationship. And nothing you do gets you out. They stay your brothers and sisters, whether you like it or not.
I have a great brother named Jesse. I think the world of him. But if he wasn’t my brother, we would never be friends. We have different interests. We hold different political beliefs. I’m sloppy. He’s neat. We don’t watch the same shows; even eat a lot of the same foods. But none of that matters. He’s still my brother. He always will be. And I’m grateful. His differences broaden my horizons. His neatness makes me a little less sloppy. He brings me to restaurants I wouldn’t have tried. He gives me perspectives, I otherwise wouldn’t see.
And when you become part of this family that Jesus creates, you get brothers and sisters too. And like in your family by blood, you get no choice there either. They stay your brothers and sisters, whether you like it or not. And that’s a powerful thing. That means. Even when you disagree, even when you get on each other’s nerves, you stay family. And because you’re family, Jesus says, you’ve got to find a way to make peace in conflict. You’ve got to find a way to stay in relationship even when it’s hard.
If you didn’t get how seriously Jesus want you to take this, the whole deal about leaving your gift at the altar should bring it home. Jesus says if you come to bring your gift, and remember your sister or brother has something against you, go get reconciled first. Jesus doesn’t say that the something they hold against you has to be fair or even something you agree with. You may think they’re wrong. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that you make peace. And Jesus is telling you, until you find a way to make peace there, your relationship with God will not have peace either. .
At times in my family, we’ve had conflicts. We’ve had times when siblings didn’t want to talk or see each other. Thankfully, those times have ended. But when those divisions happened, they bothered my parents. They yearned for their kids to get along. And if you have divisions like that in God’s family, why do you think God would feel differently?
But then Jesus extends that truth even further. He says. This same stance of love doesn’t just stop with sister and brother believers. This stance goes for everyone. If God loves everyone, gives good things to everyone, good and bad alike, then as God’s kids, God expects you to do the same. If God loves people that completely, that perfectly, even God’s enemies, God expects you to strive for the same.
Now if you just lived by that truth, that behavior alone would start to bring healing to the divisiveness tearing the nation apart. But Jesus doesn’t stop there. Jesus moves towards how you find common ground, even when you deeply disagree.
And in doing that, Jesus points you to two more deep truths. First, Jesus warns you, just because you believe you have the truth on your side, doesn’t mean you do. And then even, if you do have the truth, you’ve got to share it in a way others can digest.
You see. When Jesus talks about not judging, Jesus isn’t talking about not making judgments. In life, you need to make judgments all the time. Food was good or bad. The hotel is nice or not so nice. Stuff like that. No. When Jesus talks about judging, he is talking about a judging that delivers a sentence, that condemns. Jesus is talking about the judging the man was doing in the video.
Now, how was that man judging? He was assuming. He knew what would solve his friend’s problem. Just pull the nail out. You might even think he’s right. But do you know, really know, he’s right? The woman doesn’t deny the nail is there, after all. But for reasons we don’t know, she’s decided to not pull it out. Maybe pulling the nail out will kill her. Maybe the nail serves a purpose we don’t even know. Sometimes, you can think you know exactly what someone else’s problem is. But here’s your problem. You could be wrong. And beyond that, your smug and self-righteous certainty about their problem may be the bigger problem, a plank compared to their sawdust.
Have you ever heard the saying? If your only answer is a hammer, then every problem become a nail. Christians fall into this. Yes, everybody needs a relationship with Jesus. But maybe what people need in a crisis isn’t a lecture on Jesus. Maybe they need help given in his name. Maybe they need a hug that carries your love and God’s. First give the love, and the rest will come when it needs to come.
But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He tells you. Even when you have the truth, and you know it’s the truth, that is not enough. For years, I misunderstood what Jesus was saying when he talked about pearls before swine. I thought that he meant that the truth was just too good for some people. Those people you had to ignore. But does that sound like the Jesus who said pray for your enemies; do good to those who hate you? I don’t think so.
The problem with pearls for pigs isn’t that the pigs aren’t worthy of pearls. It’s that pearls do nothing for pigs. They may be pretty but they’re sure not helpful. Pigs can’t digest pearls, any more than a dog could munch on a Bible. And if you keep feeding pigs stuff that does them no good, then eventually they’ll come after you. At least, they can eat you.
Do you see how that relates to the video? That guy thought he was giving something valuable, even true to his friend. You’ve got a nail stuck in your head. But he wasn’t giving her what she needed at all. He wasn’t even listening to her, at least at first. But hey why do you need to listen, when you already know.
Twenty years or so ago, farmworkers began to organize in South Florida, demanding higher pay from the farms that hired them. They were right. What they got in pay hadn’t changed in 40 years. And on top of that, supervisors often abused them. Some contractors even enslaved them. But when they went to the farmers, they got nowhere. You see. The farmers saw the problem too. But they didn’t know how to solve it either. Big companies demanded cheap prices for their produce. And if they didn’t get it, these companies threatened to go elsewhere. So, the farmworkers started to listen, and then they got it. They went after the big companies with a powerful campaign. They said if these companies paid just one penny more a pound for their tomatoes, the farmers could give a dramatic pay raise to workers in their fields. It took a while, but this truth both farmers and a lot of companies could digest. And Taco Bell and Burger King and McDonald’s signed up for a penny more per pound. Then Whole Foods and Walmart and Trader Joe's joined them. And the largest coalition of tomato farms in South Florida signed up too. But it happened when everybody stopped “knowing” and started listening. Now Wendy’s and Publix are still trying to digest this truth, but hopefully, they’ll find a way to get there too.
And when it comes to what we do with our sister churches in Bold Justice, it works the same way. We get things done because we listen in order to know. We listen to folks in the pews as they share what bothers them. Then when that process leads to an issue. We listen to those who know the issue well. We discover things government leaders can do that are actually doable, that they can digest. They may not realize they can, but when we come and share and listen, we lead our leaders to solutions and changes they didn’t see before.'
That is what builds real community. It’s not the knowing. It’s the listening. And when you listen, together you discover truths that everyone can digest, that help everyone to grow and be nourished.
Isn’t that how God built his community in us? God didn’t just deliver the truth from on high. In Jesus, God came and became that truth, a truth that you could see and touch. When your brokenness prevented you from digesting how much God loved you. God listened. And in Jesus God gave you a love you could see and touch and hear and feel. And that love was actually all about the nails. In fact, it was the nails hat showed you God’s love like nothing else could.
If God could give you that much to show his love to you, to give his love to you, you can do the same. You can give up your certainty, to listen and hear what others are saying. You can face up to the pearls of truth you’re serving up, whether it be in your family or on Facebook or wherever that aren’t helping anyone. And when you do that, when you love and listen like that, see what Jesus will do. Jesus will bring healing, understanding, even community in the midst of deep disagreement, not only in your families, not only in this church, but in this community, in this nation, even in this world.