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A House Divided Cannot Stand

A House Divided Cannot Stand

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Many years ago, I did a wedding for Liberty and Louis, a lovely young couple in their mid twenties. Like most brides, Libby was deeply in love with her fiancé and extremely excited about her wedding. But unlike most brides, Libby was also living with terminal cancer.

A few years after their celebration, I officiated at her funeral. And then, the year after that, I gathered with many of the same people once again for the wedding of the young woman who had been Liberty’s maid of honor. Lou, God bless him, was there as the best man.

It was a bittersweet day, to be sure. Libby’s absence was felt deeply by us all. And so, as I looked at the young couple standing before me, I took the time to acknowledge their loss and the fact that they already knew something of what it meant to love one another in sickness and in health, for better or for worse, in good times and in bad.

“Life can be terribly hard,” I said, “You know that more than most. So in the context of your marriage, don’t make it any harder on each other than it has to be. Be good to each other. Be patient with each other. Be kind and gentle and quick to forgive. Be strong for each other, but even more than that,” I said, “do what you can to strengthen each other.

Be the other’s greatest supporter. Be your partner’s truest friend.  Be the one thing in each other’s life that works, the one person the other knows they can count on no matter what. Because life isn’t easy, but it’s a heck of a lot easier if you’re on good terms with the person standing by your side.”

Although it was that specific couple that inspired those words, I now try to share some version of this with all of the couples I join in marriage, because it rings true for me. I once heard another pastor say: “When your marriage is strong, you move out into the world in strength. When your marriage is weak, you move out into the world in weakness” (the late Timothy Keller).

It’s such a simple, obvious thing to say, but it’s also all too true. If your marriage is strong, you can handle just about any challenge the world can throw at you, but if your marriage is in trouble, then it doesn’t matter how great life outside your home is; you’re still going to be a mess.

I think the same can be said of our families as a whole, whether we are talking about our families of origin, our chosen families, or the families we create with our partners. If your kids are flying or your parents are failing or a friend has yet to forgive you, you are going to carry that with you into everything else you do.

And I think you can even extend this idea to our families of faith. That is, if your church is strong - if the community is healthy, if things are working smoothly, if everyone’s treating each other well and acting in good faith - then the people of the church move out into the world in strength. 


But when the church is weak: weakened by controversy or parsimony, impropriety or abuse, lack of vision or a crisis of faith, than her people move out into the world in weakness. They move out exhausted rather than invigorated, frustrated rather than focused, drained rather than inspired; with little to offer and nothing left to give.

Whether or not we’re on good terms with the people who are supposed to love us and support us, makes all the difference in the world when it comes to our ability to move in this world. So I would imagine that Jesus is really struggling in this passage.

Honestly, my heart goes out to him. His ministry is just taking off and it would appear that his family of origin and his family of faith have all converged on the scene to shut him down. His family claims that he is out of his mind hoping, I think, to lock him away somewhere safe. Whereas the scribes - who have already decided that he is in league with the devil- want to lock him up for good.

Lock him up before this whole thing gets out of control. Because, you see, we’re only in chapter three, but Jesus has wasted no time getting down to business and people are taking notice.

People are listening to his new fangled ideas about well established norms, which has gotten the attention of the religious leaders back in Jerusalem. Crowds are gathering wherever he goes, which is bound to catch the attention of Rome.

Jesus has already healed hundreds and preached to thousands more. He is raising uncomfortable questions about how to keep the sabbath and who deserves a seat at the table, who has the power to forgive sins and who is worthy of that forgiveness, and people are listening. He is challenging the status quo and his influence is growing. Jesus is amassing power and for those already in positions of leadership, this is a problem.

You see Jesus might be working wonders of healing and preaching words of liberation, but no one on earth has given him permission or vested him with the authority to ask or do any of this. Too much of a good thing is still too much, and for the people in charge it would appear that Jesus is just too much. He’s moving too fast. He seems out of control because he is not under their control and that scares them. So they do what people do when that sort of fear takes over.

His family tries to shut him down because they are afraid for him. The Scribes try to shut him down because they are afraid of him. And this is as heartbreaking and frustrating as it is predictable.

Heartbreaking because, on a very personal level, it must have hurt Jesus to be so thoroughly misunderstood. It had to be painful to stand before the people who should have had his back - his family -  and hear them call him crazy - even if deep down he knows they are only trying to protect him.

It had to be heartbreaking to have the scribes, people whose years of faithful study should have enabled them to recognize and welcome him as the messiah, dismiss his work - not as the work of God - but as the work of the devil.

And frustrating - it must have been so terribly frustrating - because Jesus really was doing much needed good in the world and these diabolical accusations were only going to slow him down.

As I said before, life is hard. The very fact that Jesus was healing, preaching, and casting out demons right and left speaks to how hard. Everywhere he goes people are hurting and he responds by helping.

But this division in his family and between him and the religious establishment is only going to make things harder for him and for all the people who stand to benefit from his ministry.

This division is nothing but a distraction. This division is an impediment to the mission. And this division is dangerous for it will ultimately claim not only Jesus’ ministry, but his life.

His mission is from heaven. Their opposition is not. So Jesus takes them on. He points out how illogical their accusation is:

“How can Satan cast out Satan?” he asks. “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come.”

I think what Jesus is trying to say is, look: if I’m really in league with Satan then you should leave me alone because I’m obviously going about this the wrong way. If I’m demonic then all I’m doing when I restore people to health and community by casting out demons and freeing them from whatever ails or binds them, is an attack on myself. And ultimately any kingdom or family that turns on itself will destroy itself. If I’m Satan then you have nothing to worry about.

But for the love of God, could you open your eyes, look at the good fruits of this ministry, and see that I am not. I’m here on behalf of God to bind Satan up and set you all free. I am here to bind up the wounded and let the oppressed go free, forgive you for all of your sins, even your blasphemies. BUT, (and here is my attempt to parse his inscrutable words about this unforgivable sin), if you really think the Holy Spirit at work through me is Satan, if you think the grace and healing I offer is of hell, then no one, not even God can help you, because in your rejection of me you are rejecting God.

Can’t you see how destructive and hellish your accusations are? You are the ones choosing to keep the kingdom from coming to you, not God. You are the ones keeping heaven at bay. God has not cast you out, you are casting God out. God isn’t refusing to forgive you, you are refusing the forgiveness of God by refusing the one whom God has sent, and that is the one thing God will not force upon you.

Ultimately you are free: free to reject the goodness and grace God offers. Free to reject me. Free to make life that much harder for you and for everyone else if that’s what you really want.

That sounds crazy, right? And yet I’ve been in the church long enough to know that the same fear that had a hold of all those people back then still has the power to bind any one of us and bring us all down right now.

The truth is that there are any number of reasons why we refuse the goodness and grace and life that God offers.

Sometimes the kingdom breaks in and we just can’t handle it, even if it’s good,

or forgive someone even if they’ve changed their ways and intend only good,

or find it in our hearts to welcome the new people God brings into our lives, even if they’re good,

or wrap our minds around all of the possibilities that God opens up for us, even if it’s the very good we have hoped and prayed for,

because change - even good change - doesn’t always feel good.

Sometimes it is just too much too fast and we fear losing control. It can be hard and it can be scary because it requires letting go and letting God be in control.

When the Spirit really starts to move amongst God’s people and we’re not sure where She is going, when change is in the air and power is up for grabs, there is a real temptation to want to slow things down and control the spirit by controlling one another.

And the quickest most effective way to do that is to cause division, cast aspersions, call the motives of the Spirit and one another into question, and let fear and doubt do the rest.

I know a lot of us have suffered through times of division in various institutions, just like Jesus did, and I know how much damage that can do to our hearts, our families, and our churches, just as he does. Left untreated and unchecked those cracks will bring us down. They will weaken and distract us from our mission. They will lay claim to our ministry and rob us of the life Christ wants for us and wants us to bring to others.

But left to God, given over to God in such a way that we allow God in to heal those cracks and mend those divisions by loving and forgiving one another; that can raise us up and put us on a firm foundation for years to come… the sort of foundation upon which a marriage, a house, a church, indeed even a kingdom, can stand.

First Churches, the Spirit is really starting to move here in a powerful way and so this morning I invite you to be on your guard. Guard your heart and guard one another. Because if there is one thing I know, it is that life is hard and this world needs us right now. It needs us to be strong.

So in the midst of all God is doing here, I pray that we will continue to choose faith in one another and the work of the Spirt over fear. I pray that we will make the decision over and over to be good to each other, patient with each other, gentle, and kind. May we be strong for each other but even more than that, may we do all we can to strengthen each other. May we be each other’s greatest supporters. May we be each other’s truest friends.

By the grace of God, may our church be at least one thing in our lives that works; a place full of people we know we can count on no matter what. Because life isn’t easy; but thank be to God it’s a heck of a lot easier if you’re on good terms with the people standing by your side. Amen?  Amen.

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