Tensions Part 8: Scattering and Gathering

It's the beginning of Thanksgiving week and many people have already skipped town to enjoy their long holiday. Some individuals will be spending time with family, others with friends, and still others will simply use the time to get some needed isolation watching sports or indulging their latest Netflix binge. However you celebrate, one thing remains the same among all Americans - a shared history of coming together.

Ecclesiastes 3:5 starts by communicating about the season by which we throw stones and gather them. Some scholars would suggest these stones refer to building materials - as in clearing the stones from a field and then building a new structure in its place - but because tearing down and building up was discussed in a previous sister verse, I think it's safe to say the scattering and gathering of verse 5 constitutes another message entirely for the sake of not being redundant.

1 Peter 2:5 calls people who follow Jesus "living stones" that are being built into a spiritual house. Paul echoes this same sentiment in Ephesians 2:20-22 that we are stones being built on top of each other with Jesus being our chief cornerstone. Even in the Old Testament, Israel was represented by twelve precious stones attached to the priest's ephod. It is rather easy to see that stones throughout Scripture are a frequent metaphor regarding people, especially those who belong to the Lord.

So, if we understand that Ecclesiastes 3:5 is about people and not just building materials, why would there be seasons of scattering them and seasons of gathering them? To gain a little understanding in hopes to answer this question accurately, we have to go back in history and talk briefly about the Jewish people.

They started as one family under Israel (Jacob) as their patriarch. Traveling to Egypt with hopes to escape famine, the one family grew into hundreds, rivaling the Egyptian population. Forced into slavery and then subject to genocide via mass abortion by the pharaoh, Israel was under attack. God led them out of Egypt and gathered them into the wilderness promising a land to call their own. They wandered forty years before they finally received the promise, but once they laid claim to it, their numbers grew for centuries. However, the more they grew, the further they drifted from God and demanded their independence from him with their actions. Because of the many years going back and forth in their loyalty to the Lord, he finally ordained a scattering to take place which would last seventy years after Jerusalem was first destroyed. Upon the completion of that seventy years, Israel was gathered once more back to their homeland because of a promise God gave them.

Fast forward and Israel would experience the desolation of their homeland again and again, eventually scattering them into the far reaches of the world. The scattering always took place as a result of Israel's sin and complacency, but God always promised to bring them back. Fast forward even more to the twentieth century and the events leading up to Word War II. Jewish people - among other fringe groups differentiating from Hitler's master race - were being slaughtered by the millions. Even though they were under intense persecution, the Jewish people still had the promise of God and started to return to their homeland. The decades leading up to the war, and the years on which it waged, saw such a rise in Jewish people coming back to Israel that it became a recognized nation again in 1948. And in 1967, it's original borders were established via a six day war thus fulfilling the word of the Lord.

So, why would there be seasons of scattering people and gathering people? The short answer is this - "godliness makes a nation great, but sin is a disgrace to any people (Proverbs 14:34 NLT)." A family or a nation that exercises godliness (love, truth, honor, humility, forgiveness) will stay together, even through difficult seasons. A family or nation that habitually embraces sin (selfishness, pride, lust, greed, fear, lies) will eventually crumble and be scattered. We see this dichotomy to be true with the family and nation of Israel, and we see it to be true among our family and nation of America today.

The original Thanksgiving was a gathering of people - ninety Native Americans and fifty-three pilgrims - honoring each other and sharing in their commonalities of humanity. For far too many families, Thanksgiving today means drama and bitterness. People unfortunately feel more scattered than ever before. They don't feel like they are gathered to anything other than other people's power struggles. The feeling is true among American families and it is especially true for America as our nation.

While I rather enjoy keeping up with politics and religion, and I have my opinions like everybody else, my prayer for this week is that the news networks and social media trolls would put aside their differences and they too would share in their commonalities of humanity. If Native Americans and Pilgrims - who literally came from two different worlds - could come together in peace, than truly Americans who share common history can come together and accept we are all one nation, despite how polarizing our ideologies might be. We've had too long a season of scattering Americans to the far reaches of the political spectrum. It is time for a season of gathering to start so that our United States will no longer be divided, and what better reminder for this to happen than the holiday that is distinct only to America?

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