We Are Family

July 04, 2021 homily on 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10

“We Are Family”

Several years ago our family had the opportunity to attend the “International Zook Reunion” which was held in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. 

Unlike most family reunions that I had been to in the past that generally involved a small gathering of close relatives, this international Zook reunion was open to anyone whose last name was Zook, as well as anyone who was even remotely related or descended from one of the 3 Zook brothers who immigrated from Holland back in 1742. 

There were Amish Zooks at the reunion who had preserved the original religion and lifestyle of those 3 Zook brothers from Holland. And there were Swiss Zauggs (who retained the original spelling of the name) and who had travelled all the way from Switzerland for the reunion. They even treated us to some alphorn music! The reunion was a sort of 3-day festival, with hot air balloon rides, cotton candy and soft pretzels. Oh yes, and I even met another Galen Zook at the reunion!

Now with all the different types of Zooks who were at the reunion, there wasn’t a whole lot that we all had in common. But somehow the fact that we had some distant common ancestor was enough to make us feel that we were connected. 

12 Tribes of Israel

In 2nd Samuel chapter 5, the various tribes of Israel had been fighting for quite a few years. After King Saul died, at least half of the twelve tribes were ruled by King Saul’s son, Ish-Bosheth, who ruled for 2 years. The tribes in the southern part of the kingdom, however, had banded together with David as their ruler. 

But after Ish-Bosheth was killed, the northern tribes came to David and appealed to him to be their king as well, saying, “we are your flesh and blood.” In other words, “we are family! 

They say,

In the past, while Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel on their military campaigns. And the Lord said to you, ‘You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler.’”

And so 2nd Samuel tells us that all the elders of Israel came to King David at Hebron, and “the king made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel.”

The 12 tribes of Israel who had been at war with each other decided together to put their differences behind them. They appealed to their common ancestry and they united together with David as their king. 

Now I know it may not seem that remarkable to us that the 12 tribes of Israel were able to unite together in recognition of their common ancestry, since we normally think of Israel as a cohesive, collective whole. 

But the reality is that the twelve tribes of Israel were an extremely diverse and multiethnic group. Yes, they were all descended from one common ancestor, Jacob – whose name was later changed to Israel. But by some estimates upwards of 800 years had passed between Jacob and King David.

And not only that, but the twelve tribes of Israel were really a multiethnic group of people, since their common ancestor’s 12 sons were born to four different wives, and each of those sons had married women from different cultures. We know, for example, that Judah married a young Canaanite woman named Shua (Gen. 38:2), and Joseph’s wife was from Egypt (Gen. 41:45). Later on of course we know that Moses married a woman from Ethiopia, Rahab was a Canaanite woman who joined the Israelies, and that Ruth was from Moab. Even when they fled from slavery in Egypt the Bible says that “a mixed multitude also went up with them” (Ex. 12:38). So the Israelites truly were an international people.

But here in 2 Samuel 5, they leveraged the fact that they were related by blood, albeit long ago in the distant past, and they united together making David their King. David made Jerusalem the capital city, and 2 Samuel tells us that “David became greater and greater, for the LORD, the God of hosts, was with him.”

Out of Many, One

My understanding is that something similar happened here in the Hampden community many years ago. When it was founded, Hampden was its own little village, about two miles north of the city limits of Baltimore City. Of course Hampden was annexed to Baltimore city over 130 years ago, but even to this day our neighborhood still retains a lot of its independent identity. When it was founded, people moved to Hampden from around the United States – primarily Kentucky, West Virginia, and Western Pennsylvania – due to the abundance of jobs at the mills here in Hampden and Woodberry. 

While they were mostly of European heritage, religiously and culturally they would have been quite diverse. And so they found a way to unite together around their common citizenship as Americans.

This was one of the reasons why the Fourth of July was always such a major holiday here in Hampden, and often it was celebrated even here in church. For many, the flag was seen as a symbol of unity, meant to bring people together, to remind them of their common heritage, despite their religious and cultural diversity. 

Actually, we see this same sentiment expressed in a lot of the mottos and symbols of our nation. E pluribus unum – Latin for “Out of many, one” – is a traditional motto of the United States, appearing on the Great Seal. We see a similar sentiment expressed in the poem inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty: Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” We hear this sentiment expressed in the American Pledge of Allegiance: “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Drawing the Circle Wider

Unfortunately our nation has often failed to live up to our own ideals, and not everyone has been included in these visions of unity. But I have to say that these are all wonderful aspirational statements – and I am very grateful to live in a country that is as diverse as our nation is. And when these statements and symbols are employed to bring people together from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, that’s a good thing. 

The problem is that quite frequently throughout history, national – and often even religious – symbols have often been used, not to bring people together and remind us of our shared humanity, but rather to separate people out, or sadly even to push others away. Think about how frequently the cross, for example, has often been used more as a bludgeon to beat other people down, rather than as the reminder that it is supposed to be – of our common need and dependence on God’s grace and mercy. 

How Should We Then Live?

How then, should we live as Christians, and as citizens of a nation so diverse as the United States? How can we rally together around our shared kindredness – whether that be as members of the same family, or nation, or members together of the Church – the Body of Christ – without ostracizing and pushing away those who aren’t members of the same group?

#1. Like the Israelites in 2 Samuel, we can try to draw the circle as widely as possible. The Israelites included all twelve tribes of Israel in their nation, despite their vast ethnic and cultural diversity – and also included any foreigners who were living among them. They could have focused on their differences and distinctions, going back only to their own original tribal leaders, but instead they went back even further, highlighting their common ancestry in Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob, Rachel, and Leah, Bilhah and Zilpah.

Like them, we draw the circle as widely as possible. We pray not just for our own nation, but for all nations, regonzigin that a nation is only good as long as it’s values and practices line up with the ideals that are set forth for us in God’s Word. And so we pray for our nation and for all nations to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8). We pray for all nations to love their enemies, as Jesus taught. We pray for our nation and all nations to look out for the marginalized, the downtrodden, and all those who are tired and poor, homeless, and tempest-tossed.

#2. We recognize along with all people throughout the world our common need and dependence on God, which we were reminded of in our New Testament and Gospel lessons this morning. In 2 Corinthians 12:2-10 Paul talked about the “thorn in the flesh” that he was given in order to keep him from becoming prideful. This “thorn in the flesh” – whatever it was – reminded him of his weakness and of the power and grace of God. And in Mark 6 Jesus sent out the disciples two by two, without food or money or a bag, completely dependent on God and the generosity and hospitality of others. 

Recognizing our common need and dependence on God for our daily provision and for every breath that we take should unite us together with people all around the world, since everyone in the world is dependent on God, whether they realize it or not. 

#3. We recognize that because of Christ, as members of the Church and the body of Christ, we are family. And yes, like family members we will sometimes argue and perhaps even fight, but it’s important for us to extend grace and forgiveness to one another, and seek the grace and mercy and forgiveness of God. This is why each Sunday we pass the peace to one another, and why when we take communion we pray a prayer of confession to God and one another. 

And so this morning let us remember that we are family. And let us remember that our family is a whole lot more international and diverse than we could ever dream or imagine! Let us draw the circle as widely as possible, uniting together around our common need and dependence on God for our daily provision and for each breath that we take. Uniting together around our interdependence on one another and our common need for God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness. 

Let us Pray:

God of gods and King of kings; you called and anointed David,

you called and blessed Paul, and through your Son Jesus, you called the twelve to follow.

In our time you have called us.Enable us to trust you above all voices, beyond all of our prejudices and fears. Give us courage to follow and serve you among all of our neighbors and with one another in the body of Christ.

God of every nation, hear our prayer.

Published by Galen Zook

I am an artist, preacher, minister, and aspiring theologian

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