Two is the Loneliest Number: A House Divided

Genesis 3:8–15 ESV

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

The Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this,

cursed are you above all livestock

and above all beasts of the field;

on your belly you shall go,

and dust you shall eat

all the days of your life.

I will put enmity between you and the woman,

and between your offspring and her offspring;

he shall bruise your head,

and you shall bruise his heel.”


Mark 3:20–35 ESV

Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”

And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.

“Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”

And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”


Two is the Loneliest number

It’s a lonely world out there.

There’s a Three Dog Night song that says “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.” This line is pretty self explanatory: It sucks to feel lonely. The next line is where this song gets really interesting. Does anyone remember it? “Two can be as bad as one. It’s the loneliest number since the number one.”
I not only love this particular line, I think it should go a little further: two can be WORSE than one. Just this week, two well-loved public figures – Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain – died from a disease that damages a person’s ability to feel connection to others and to the world. They were surrounded by a world that, by and large, adored them, and yet they were so lonely it killed them.
See, we were made to be one. Not one as in alone or lonely one, but one as in we are so connected, we are one unit. Real “one” is the ultimate end to loneliness. Real “oneness” is communion with God and one another and even with our own selves.
I would argue that one is the least lonely number when it’s done right: when we are able to embrace our connections to God, to one another, and to the world around us.
But we’re in a world of twos and it’s just getting lonelier out there by the day. People are defined and separated by their opinions on topics like gun control or LGBTQ rights, their neighborhoods, their income levels, their online personality quiz results, their political affiliation. And we’re terrible at having discussions about these sorts of things. Oh, we talk about them at length, but it’s usually more talking “at” than talking “with”. And in our talking “at” one another, the divide between each of us and the people around us just grows wider. We are a lonely two, not a holy one.

This is not a new thing.

Division, separation, being apart, loneliness – that is the crux of sin and that’s been happening since the beginning of humankind.
Sin is separation from one another.We see in our passage from Genesis this morning, that as soon as Adam and Eve realize they’ve been found out – God knows they did something they shouldn’t have, they begin blaming others. When they embraced the tree they were told to avoid, the problem was not so much the eating as it was their willful separation of themselves from God. They knew right away that they were fractured in some way, but instead of coming together to work to a solution, Adam turns and points at his wife and Eve turns and points at the snake.
In their sin, Adam and Eve are separated from one another. They are no longer one in the way humanity was meant to be.
Two was certainly a lonely number for Adam and Eve in the garden.
If what we are doing is driving people apart, rather than together, it is sinful.
Got that? That is really uncomfortable, friends. It’s super hard to find diplomatic and Christ-like ways to say things sometimes. I’ve deleted facebook posts that I posted with the best of intentions because they turned out – often to my great surprise – to be so contentious and cause so much division between two groups of people I love that I had to admit leaving it posted and letting the fight go on was sinful. Having an opinion is not a sin. Letting that opinion cause fights and division – sin.
Yes. Jesus said some pretty bold things that angered people. But notice that he said those things to people who were already the perpetrators of injustice and division in the world.
And we will disagree with one another – I’m not saying this means we all become one-minded automatons. That sounds terrible. A few of us had a great discussion the other day about how some people love to sing the Apostle’s Creed, some people HATE IT when we sing the Apostle’s Creed and would prefer to recite it all the time. The sinful solution is to respond to a conversation like that with the old “My way or the highway” response. God’s way is to remember that we are all a family and sometimes in family, you bend and share and compromise and shake it up – which is where that conversation ultimately landed. In other words, those who love the sung version made a loving decision to honor those who like to recite the spoken version and to embrace it when we recite it that way. And those who love the spoken version made a loving decision to honor those who like to sing it and to embrace it when we do that.
In our sin, we are not just separated from one another, we are separated from God.
As soon as Adam and Eve heard God walking in the garden, they hid. Here they are in the most beautiful place created, and instead of savoring the presence of God in that place, they hide from God’s presence. Their first sin was not trusting God when they were told to avoid that one tree. Their second sin was avoiding God.
If what we are doing is keeping us (or others) away from God, it’s sinful.
Guess what! That means that if the church is doing something that chases people away – it’s sinful. I’m not saying we have to cater to the masses and have some sort of peppy rock concert and self-help seminar every week on Sunday morning. It’s not about numbers of butts in seats. You can have a church full of people who are hiding from God’s presence.
But I am saying that I’ve seen churches sin by having bad music that chases people away. I’ve seen churches sin because they preach against certain groups of people rather than for God’s glory. I’ve been to churches whose greatest sin is boring worship that nobody new is ever going to want to stick around for. (This week, if anyone asks what your preacher said at church, you can tell them that she told you being boring is a sin.)
I had someone tell me that they went to church once – their first time ever – and they sat down and were told by a very grouchy regular that they were in their seat and had to move. That person walked right out and never came back to church. What a petty thing to do that drove that person away for good.
Thank God the story doesn’t end with Adam and Eve hiding from God and one another.
I’m going to be very honest with you – I really wrestled with the gospel passage this week. It’s a weird one, am I right? Demons and blasphemy: Jesus saying, “Who are my mother and brothers”.
Then you have this doozy: “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.” That very section of this passage has been so misused throughout church history. It’s been used wrongly to eternally condemn anyone from suicide victims to people who swear at or curse God.
This Mark passage is the sort of passage that lectionary preachers look at and wonder if it’s worth taking on this week. I just did not feel like doing the work necessary to figure out what is going in the passage. I wondered if this was a good week to start an off-lectionary sermon series. Sometimes our sin is separating ourselves from God by separating ourselves from the passages of scripture we struggle to understand. And just last week, I preached about how God messes with our comfort zones and routines. (Hilarious, God.) So here we are in Mark 3.
It was the Genesis passage that saved the gospel passage for me. Which is weird, because it’s not like the Genesis passage is all that cheerful either, right? But it gives us the traction we need to get into where Jesus is going here. This is all about unity – being one, not two. It’s about bridging the gaps that sin made at the very beginning of time.
Jesus says that all around him are his family. He’s not rejecting his actual mother and siblings, but he’s extending the definition. He’s issuing a statement of unity. He’s redefining the idea of family – he’s broadening it to mean so much more than biology. It is possible to escape twoness and experience oneness with one another. He’s saying, “Your definitions of who is part of you are too narrow.”
We don’t have to live in “twoness”: We can live as a house united. We can live together with one another.
We are so much stronger this way!
One of my favorite movies ever is “Finding Nemo”. In it, a small clown fish named Nemo gets scooped up by a diver and taken away to live in a fancy saltwater tank in a dentist’s office. Nemo’s mother and siblings had all been eaten by a big, scary fish at the very beginning of the movie, so of course Nemo’s dad, Marlin, freaks out when Nemo is taken. His only son, his one child left, his only real family, is gone.
Marlin goes on this wild journey to find Nemo and bring him home. He swims with sea turtles, goes to a recovery meeting with vegetarian sharks, and even goes for a ride in a pelican’s mouth.
It’s just such a great parable for how God will go to any lengths to find us and bring us back. There is no separation – not even the great, wide ocean – that can keep God’s love for us away.
It’s also a great companion parable for Jesus’ statement that “these are my mother and my brothers.” Along the way, Marlin meets a blue fish named Dory. Dory has short term memory loss and is constantly forgetting what they are doing and why. But she’s also eternally optimistic and cheerful and is hands down my favorite character in the movie. By the end of the movie, Dory has become part of Marlin and Nemo’s family. While she’s a huge pain to keep track of and drives Marlin nuts, because of what they’ve been through together, they are family.
Finally, one of the best scenes in the movie is one that sums this all up very neatly. Just as Marlin and Nemo are dramatically reunited, a fishing net drops and scoops up a huge school of fish right next to them. Poor, clueless Dory is scooped right up in the net with them. Marlin has to set his fear aside to allow little Nemo to slip through the net and rally the other fish. You see, in order to save their friend Dory, they have to get all the fish to work together. Instead of flailing in fear and swimming in whatever direction they thought might get them out, all the fish had to work together and swim in one direction. So, Marlin swims around the outside of the net, and Nemo swims around inside and they spread the message, “SWIM DOWN! Everyone WORK TOGETHER and SWIM DOWN!”
The weight of all the fish swimming together in the same direction breaks the net and frees all the fish – including Dory. Their unity in action facilitates their freedom.
There is so much freedom in being one – in acting together and showing a unified presence.

  • If you or a loved one is suffering from thoughts of self-harm or suicide, please call the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit them at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/.
  • Remember that many who are suffering from depression are not able to fully express their need for help. If you suspect a loved one has withdrawn or might be in danger, reach out to them.