David Lillejord: Why Is It So Hard to Live as One Body?

Why is it so hard to live as one body?

Well, on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, God created the heavens and the earth. At the end of each day, God looked at what was created and God said it is good. The last day of the week God created the very first human beings and, in Genesis 1:28, God said to Adam and Eve, "You have ‘dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’"

And just like that, everything went downhill. In other words, everything in creation was good until human beings were put in charge.

Why can't we live as one body?

Because of human beings. My sermon could be that short. Contractually, it has to be at least 14 minutes long. So, I go on. Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Abel. For the record, there were only four people on the face of the earth — you think that this would be manageable. They didn't even have to share a bedroom. Cain and Able have their own bedroom. Nevertheless, Cain killed his brother Abel.

Why can't you live as one body from the get go?

They couldn't. Don't worry I'm not going to go through the entire Bible, but by Genesis 6, people are so wicked and so out of control, God decides to get rid of everything except for two of every animal species and Noah and his family. What do you say we try this again?

Maybe it was just a hiccup. By the way, Noah and his family survived the flood — in case it's been a long time since confirmation. Their children have children. The world populates again. Maybe this time, things will work out better. Which brings us to today's reading [Genesis 11:1-9] where all people wanted to build a tower that reached all the way up to God.

Now here's a repeating theme alert.

The serpent in the Garden of Eden tempted Adam and Eve by saying if you eat this apple you will be like God. In this scripture text, they wanted to build a tower that would bring them to the level of God. “Hey, let's make a name for ourselves,” they said. God knew that they were getting too big for their britches. God knew that they were more than fine being the same. They all talk the same language. They all look the same. Nothing can stop us now, they thought. So God scattered the people all over creation and had them speak different languages.

Not as a penalty, rather as a gift. The only problem was apparently human beings struggle to live as one. Some things never change. I have three points.

Point #1. Even Lutherans can't seem to live with other Lutherans.

There is a town in Minnesota with a population 13,746 souls. You ready? In this town, there are eleven Lutheran churches. Eleven in one town. Population 13,746.

It is one, a business model that's flawed. Number two, it shows that we can't live as one.

One of my favorite stories? A guy is stranded on a desert island for 40 or 50 years, and this is the opposite of Castaway.

Someone finds him, comes on his Island, and says "Will you give me a tour?"
He comes to a clearing there are three buildings.
What is this building?"
"That is my home. That is where I live."
"That is lovely. Good job. How about that building right there?"
"That's where I worship." "Well, that's lovely, great job. What's that other building over there?"
"That's the church I used to attend."

Hyperbole, but close, Minnesota. Eleven congregations when there should be maybe two, at most three.

On December 18, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said "We must face the fact that in America the church is still the most segregated institution in America.” At 11 o'clock on Sunday morning, we stand saying that Christ has no east and west, we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation.

This is tragic. Nobody of honesty can overlook this. 1963 — so that was then, what about now? Here's my question for you. What is the whitest denomination in the United States of America?

Answer? We are. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is the whitest denomination in the entire United States of America.

So here's what I think about when I dare to go there.

We're diverse enough in our thinking and our beliefs and traditions to have eleven different Lutheran churches in one community. But, when all is said and done, we're not diverse in ways that I think are helpful, deep or wide.

Point #2. Christians are expected to be like Jesus.

Actually, Jesus was a rebel from the get go. Jesus hung out with outcasts and the disease-ridden. Jesus always talked about the importance of finding equal value in all people. In fact, if one was to synthesize what Jesus said in his conversations and monologues and sermons it would be as follows: Everyone is loved by God.

Everyone is God's favorite. We read the children's story Bible. We're all, you're all God's favorites. You're all my favorites. You love your children the same. Well, so does God. Nevertheless, you have power. You have created a paradigm that always has you in the catbird's seat.

But in our world, the last will be first. The first shall be last. In our world is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave or free, nor is there male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. That's the expectation, and we are expected to live and treat others like Christ did.

Point #3. Now is a time to reflect, ponder, assess, confess, make amends, and then work together to create a more just world.

I was going to quote me, but that’s a little self-serving, but that was my first thought. Speaking of confessing, I also was thinking this week: How often do people of power and note and authority ever admit they're wrong?

No, really, I'm serious. The last time you heard a confession? It's always justified somehow. It's all something like, "Well, I was misunderstood."

When was the last time someone of any kind of import just said, "I was wrong and I want to change."

When I thought about that, I thought about the semester I interned at a treatment center for addicts. On my first day, it was Family Day. I thought Family Day was going to be great because all the addicts are there. I imagined the wife or husband or significant other and the kids coming and they would all hug. It was not that at all.

Instead, they had a big room and everyone invited the people closest to them, and they all, the addicts and their families sat in a big circle. And then it would be one person's turn. Let's just say the addict is a guy, a husband and a father, and he would take his chair pre-COVID and sit knee-to-knee with, in this case, his wife, the mother of their children.

And there were two rules.

Number one, the wife in this case, could say anything she wanted for as long as she felt necessary. And the second rule was the addict, in this case, the husband and father could say nothing.

I'm 100% Norwegian, grew up in a house that if you didn't like something, you kept it to yourself, and you told your therapist later.

And then all of a sudden, those wives and mothers would talk for half an hour about this scoundrel and all the things that he had done to her and their children and their lives. “This is what you did repeatedly: You lied. You cheated. You stole."

And he, in this case, had to sit there, saying nothing. When there was a break in the action, I went up to the therapist and I said, "This is ugly. This is carnage. This is terrible. You got to change the flow of this." And the therapist says "You're new here." and I said, "Mhm."

In order for there to be change, the people who were not heard, in this case the wife, needed to speak and be heard. Finally. And the one who caused the damage, or allowed it to occur, had to listen and learn.
I'm no longer talking about chemical addiction. I'm talking about life and race and gender and all things to deal with being equitable and just.

It's time for people like me, in my station in life, and the hue of my skin to sit in that chair and listen. Not speak, not justify, not explain it away. Now is the time to reflect and ponder, assess, confess, make amends and then work together to create a more just world.

This week, Congressman John Lewis died. I tend not to pay a lot of attention to politicians. I'm sorry. This is only my opinion. There are not many I hold in high esteem. But this week, Congressman Lewis died. Mr. Lewis was a civil rights leader, and he served in Congress for the great State of Georgia from 1987 to his death. I've been reading the three blogs a week from our Church Anew Blog as I have encouraged you to do too. We have contributors from all across the world, the nation who are writing, and I'm following and reading each week just like you.

This past week, in a blog entitled "Dwelling in the Cathedral of John Lewis' Spirit" by Paul Raushenbush, here is one of the many things that jumped out at me: Mr. Lewis was attacked by a group of white men in 1961. Fifty years later, 50 years later — it's never too late — one of the men and that man's son came to Mr. Lewis' office in Congress and said, "Mr. Lewis, I beat you, I attacked you. I want to apologize. Will you forgive me?" The man's son, who had been encouraging his father to do this for some time, gave Mr. Lewis a hug. So did the father, and then father and the son both started to cry.

Mr. Lewis hugged them back and said, "Yes, I forgive you." They all cried together, and from that moment on, they continued to see one another and when they did, they would call one another "brother."

Oh, and one more thing.

As Mr. Lewis reflected upon that moment and what it really means, he said in 2011, let me say it again, in 2011, this is what he said:

"That is what this movement is all about. We are one people. We are one family. We are one house. One Love."

If we didn't have to be quiet due to being in this small in-person worship gathering during COVID-19, I would have all of you stand up and shout and celebrate words that are still true and yet to be fulfilled. But may they also be grafted on our hearts and our minds.

That is what this movement is all about. We are one people. We are one family. We are one house, one love.

For those of you who are seated here at church, for those of you who are seated or laying in your bed at home watching on-line, I want you to look, and I want you to say these words to yourself. Great in theory. Let's put it to practice and practice so long that it becomes habit in the way that we are.

So help us God, Amen.


This sermon, part of a series themed “Hard Questions”, has been adapted from its original delivery during worship on Sunday, July 26th, 2020 at St. Andrew Lutheran Church, Eden Prairie, MN.


Pastor David Lillejord
Senior Pastor | St. Andrew Lutheran Church | Eden Prairie, MN


Used with permission. Originally posted on Church Anew, a ministry of St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Eden Prairie, MN.

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