A House Divided
On June 16th, 1858 on the steps of the state capitol building in Springfield, Ill. Abraham Lincoln gave one of the greatest speeches in the history of American politics. It was a speech that gave prophesy to a war that would rip our country apart between north and south, between slave and free.
In his debate with Fredrick Douglas Lincoln said;” A house divided against itself cannot stand, I believe that the government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.
Certain scribes were trying to impugn Jesus’ great acts of healing. They were disturbed at his escalating popularity. People were thronging to hear him and to see him everywhere he went. “It is said that he can cast out demons,” they declared. Defensively the scribes replied, “No wonder. He is possessed by the Devil himself!” Jesus immediately exposed the flaw in their criticism. “How can Satan cast out Satan?” he asked. And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. “And if a house be divided against itself, it cannot stand. And if Satan rise up against himself, and be divided, he cannot stand….”
No wonder those words captured Lincoln’s imagination. Their truth is self-evident. A house divided against itself cannot stand.
THAT DIVIDED HOUSE MAY BE A HOME IN WHICH PEOPLE LIVE AS A FAMILY.
There came a time in the Old West when cattlemen began fencing off their ranches. Barbed wire was used to mark the boundaries. The wire let everyone know whose land was whose, and which cattle belonged to which ranch.
The barbed wire kept cattle in, and it also kept strangers and the rustlers out. One author has suggested that every family goes through a process of “putting up barbed wire.” We define our boundaries as a family unit. But what happens when the barbed wire is taken down and moved inside the house-restrung down the center of the living room? “A house divided….”
A sixth-grade teacher in an upper-middle class California city asked her class of thirty to complete a creative writing assignment by finishing a sentence that began with the words, “I wish…” The teacher expected the children to respond with wishes for bicycles, dogs, television sets and trips to Hawaii. She couldn’t have been more wrong. A full TWENTY of the thirty children made reference in their responses to their own disintegrating families. Here are a few samples:
“I wish my parents wouldn’t fight and I wish my father would come back.”
“I wish my mother didn’t have a boyfriend.”
“I wish I could get straight A’s so my father would love me.”
“I wish I had one mom and one dad so the kids wouldn’t make fun of me. I have three moms and three dads and they botch up my life.”
“I wish I had an M1 rifle so I could shoot those who make fun of me.” (1)
“A house divided against itself….”
A nine-year-old girl once said, “I don’t know exactly what a family is, but I do know one thing: Your friends can go off and say they don’t want to be your friends anymore, but people can’t just go off and say they don’t want to be your family anymore.” I wish that were true, don’t you? Nothing on this earth is sadder than when a family is divided against itself.
This is not to say that any home can ever be free from conflict or controversy. Where authentic human beings live together there will be honest disagreement. This is natural and it is healthy.
So, I would doubt that anyone of you would disown or cast out a son or daughter, a brother or sister, or even a friend it they revealed that they were a liberal or conservative, gay or transgender, Muslim, Buddhist, or atheist. Yet, so many families have.
As a French philosopher once said, “It is better to debate a question without settling it, than to settle it without debate.”
David Augsburg in his helpful book CARING ENOUGH TO CONFRONT suggests there are five possible steps to solving disagreements: The first one is “I win, you lose.” That game is played everywhere and, obviously, is destructive to a relationship. The second is “You win, I quit.” Most of us have seen this game played too. The third one he calls “Doormat.” One person decides, “Well, walk on me; step on me; I want peace at all costsI don’t care about the substance of this issue, but at least we will have peace in our home.” Do you recognize anyone at this point?
Augsburg suggests two other possible steps. One of these is, “I’ll meet your halfway,” which is fine if both really are in the wrong. The other he calls, “Caring enough to confront.” Sometimes confrontation is necessary in any relationship. But we confront with the understanding that regardless of our differences, we will keep the barbed wire strung on the outside of our house and not down the center of the living room floor. “A house divided against itself cannot stand….”
THAT IS ALSO TRUE OF THE HOUSE OF GOD THE CHURCH.
Sometimes I wonder if the world laughs when they hear us sing “They will know we are Christians by our love”. Of course, that is our hope and prayer, but there are time when the church fails to live up to Christ’s calling.
One spring morning the million plus subscribers to the LOS ANGELES TIMES got this headline blaring at them while they sipped their morning coffee: 300 MEMBERS SPLINTER FROM THE CHURCH. Underneath was a full three column story about a fight that had broken out in a prominent southern Californian ministry. In the same paper, on the SAME day, another lead article accompanied by a large picture told the story of another church doing battle with the state over its tax status. (3)
In our United Methodist Church right now we are struggling with important issues of human sexuality and how we are going to meander through the vast differences of theological, scriptural, and social witness?
Here is where I stand; “ I believe that the agape love and grace of Jesus Christ, and not spiritual barbed wire running through the middle of the sanctuary will be our defining witness as the body of Christ!
We will disagree, and we will have our differences. But Heaven help any congregation that gets out the barbed wire and begins erecting barriers to one another. ” For a house divided against itself…”
OF COURSE THAT DIVIDED HOUSE CAN EVEN BE AN INDIVIDUAL.
Carl B. Rife, a pastor in Baltimore, Maryland, had a common but vexing dilemma. He writes, “My wife and I were visiting our folks in our hometown. We ate supper at my parents’ house and we came out to the car to go to her parents’ home. I turned on the car lights and we discovered they were stuck on high beam. Nothing I did would correct the problem. It was too dark to ride without lights so I stopped at a gas station nearby and I said, ˜Would you please check my lights?’ The attendant said, ˜Your lights are stuck on high beam.’ I said, ˜I know; that’s the problem; can you fix it?’ He said, ˜No, you need a new switch; come back tomorrow and I’ll take care of it for you.’ Well, we decided to go to my wife’s home a back way to avoid as much traffic as possible. However, everybody seemed also to be taking the back way that night. I believe that everyone who went by us blinked their lights or reached out of their cars and shook their fists and said words that I would not want to repeat to you as they passed. And, oh, what I felt like doing was to scream out, ˜My lights are stuck on high beam; I know it and I can’t do anything about it right now. I intend to have it fixed.’ And then I realized that in life people may treat us in an unkind way or act in a way that is strange to us because their ˜lights are stuck on high beam’ and they know it and at that moment they can’t do anything about it.'”
To say that a person is “stuck on high beam” is another way of saying that he or she is living in a divided house. Jesus dealt with such persons frequently, and here is the beautiful truth for this morning: IN HIM IS HEALING FOR DIVIDED FAMILIES, DIVIDED CHURCHES AND DIVIDED LIVES.
So, it is with our lives. Many of us live fragmented lives tossed and buffeted by conflicting desires. We need to unite our lives around one love, one Savior, one Lord. “A house divided against itself cannot stand….” That is true. No house is big enough for cohabitation by the spirit of Christ and by a spirit of malice, of envy, of hatred and of hostility.
How can Satan cast out Satan? He can’t. But Christ can.
Christ can heal.
Christ can restore.
Christ can make us whole again.
Ultimately, it isn’t about what divides us that have any meaning to our lives, rather it is what unites and makes us one, even in the midst of diversity.