Summary: This sermon on breaking down draws its primary illustration from Dr. Seuss's story "The Sneetches". This story was read to the children and congregation during the Children's Sermon immediately prior to the sermon.
All Means All
Tribalism is defined as the state or fact of being organized in a tribe or tribes and the resulting behaviors and attitudes that stem from loyalty to this tribe. On the surface, that doesn’t sound too bad. Human beings naturally migrate into groups of like-minded people. Tribes may be formed around particular hobbies, or interests, or views, or locations, or even having a star on your belly. We naturally form into groups – into tribes - it’s what we do politically, socially, educationally.
In our culture, the phrase “My Tribe” has become a popular way to describe a person’s closest circle of friends. Those people whom you could call at any time day or night and they’d be there for you that is your “tribe.”
But, what happens when tribalism is taken to the extreme? What happens when our individual groups become more important than the common good? What happens when one’s loyalty to her tribe takes priority over all else? No plain-bellied Sneetches were invited to the weenie roasts on the beaches. Why? Toxic tribalism.
Toxic Tribalism promotes an “us vs. them” mentality. It elevates one’s tribe above all other groups of people. Saying, “My tribe is right and everyone else in wrong.” Sound familiar? It’s not just among the Sneetches, is it?
We don’t really discuss the characteristics of individuals anymore – instead we lump them together into tribes… all of group X must believe this and all of group Y must believe that and there is no middle ground. You are simply a Republican or you are Democrat (with all the baggage those terms carry in our current society) regardless of where you actually fall the political spectrum. And woe to those who identify as Independents and the not party affiliated ones …for you are just tribe-less ones who don’t care about what’s important.
Now, is that what I actually believe? No. But isn’t that the message that we send the world. In our tribes, our tribes become what is most important. And in a culture where we identify ourselves as members of certain tribes, we easily forget our personhood and the personhood of those in other tribes. Toxic tribalism is intent on keeping us all separate and vilifying the ‘other,’ whether we are Sneetches or people.
After his time in Lydda (where he healed Aeneas’ paralysis, and after his time in Joppa (where he raised Tabitha from the dead), and after many hours spent preaching and teaching in these areas and beyond with many people coming into the faith, Peter returned to Jerusalem. But upon his return, his tribe was not happy. They didn’t seem to care that God had performed miracles through Peter. They didn’t seem to have joy in the number of people who came into the faith through Peter’s actions and words. What they cared about was that Peter had crossed tribal boundaries.
If Peter had been a Star-Bellied Sneetch he would have left the weenie roast and gone to share food with the Plain-Bellied Sneetches. And in a tribal mindset – that’s…not…okay.
Peter was a member of the “circumcised” meaning that he was a Jew. And what Peter’s tribe of fellow Jews who believed in Christ, expected from Peter and from others in the tribe was that no one would associate, let alone eat with, those who were uncircumcised (or the Gentiles). So Peter comes back to Jerusalem after this AMAZING and POWERFUL, GOD-INSPIRED missionary trip and he receives no “atta boys,” he receives no accolades or congratulations, what Peter gets is accusations animosity for breaking the tribal barriers. YOU! You went into the home of the uncircumcised and you! ate with them!
That’s not allowed. You can’t associate with “those people.” We don’t like “them” because they are not us. Toxic tribalism in the early church. Toxic tribalism seeking to withhold the gospel from God’s children. Toxic tribalism – you can’t associate with them.
But that’s not God’s message, is it? God is more like Sylvester McMonkay McBean’s machine in the Sneetches story – putting on stars and taking off stars until no one can remember who had and hadn’t stars upon thars! God’s message is we are more alike than we are different.
God’s message is that there no one individual, no one group of people, that is “unclean.”
God’s message is that we need to break down and break through those tribal barriers that separate us so that we can BE the BODY of CHRIST in the world.
Imagine yourself as Peter… imagine seeing a large linen sheet being lowered from the heavens…who or what do you see on that sheet? Who is God saying to you, “Break down this barrier, it’s okay.”
Maybe it’s a specific person – someone to whom you need to be reconciled.