Third Sunday after Pentecost
June 10, 2018
“A Divided House”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Is there anything worse than contention and discontent and discord? Friction can cause a lot of anxiety in our daily lives. “A Divided House” in our families, or at work, or on our team, within God’s church, or within the borders of our country can make life quite uncomfortable.
This week the Rocky Mountain District, one of the 35 Districts that make up our Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, will meet in convention from Thursday through Saturday. Much that is good and encouraging will happen during those days. Inspiration and encouragement will be shared. Folks that haven’t seen each other for some time will renew friendships. But not everything will be harmonious. Those branded “liberal” or “conservative’, “confessional” or “missional” will speak about the church in differing ways. Some of the speech will be kind but some of it will not. Sadly, within the church, we can have a divided house.
We look at our country and see division. Is a state red, blue or purple? For some time now Republicans and Democrats have failed to see each other in gracious ways. Abraham Lincoln is famous for talking about the divisions during the American Civil War in his “House Divided Speech”. “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved – I do not expect the house to fall – but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other.”
Maybe you can tell me a few horror stories about divisions that have destroyed marriages and families, work environments, neighborhoods, friendships or churches.
It was division that caused our situation to be recorded in the Bible. The first division happened with Jesus and His family. His mother Mary, His brothers and sisters came to get Jesus and bring Him back home. “Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3:20-21). His family was saying that He had lost His mind. One translator puts their reaction this way, “He has gone berserk.” So much for everyone cheering you on!
He got that reaction from His family. And His enemies were worse. The distinguished Teachers of the Law, held in great esteem by many religious people, didn’t dispute that He was doing miracles, but this is what they said about the source of His power, “He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.” (Mark 3:22)
You know about a divided house, right? But now I want to talk about the divided house deep in the heart. There is a war, a division, happening right in our soul and mind. It is a war between what God wants in our life and what we want. It is the fight between our flesh and God’s Spirit. Did you see it in Genesis and the fall of man into sin? God had said, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:16b-17) But their heart and mind were divided. They longed to know evil. They longed to take what they shouldn’t take. They crossed the line and sinned freely and willingly.
And the house? Divided. God came down to seek the face of Adam and Eve and they ran from Him. They despised each other and they despised God. When Adam was asked why he did such a thing, he was quick to blame God and his wife. “The woman that you put here with – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” (Genesis 3:12). Eve blamed the snake. House divided. And it continued. Their first two sons hated each other so much that Cain killed Abel.
I bet you have lived out Romans 7 in your life. I have. I do. It is about a divided heart and life. “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing…So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work within the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am.” (Romans 7:19, 21-24a) A divided house lies deep within us!!
But Jesus comes to put an end to such division – within us and all around us. After hearing the accusations that He was actually the devil, Jesus responded, “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” (Mark 3:23-25) Agreed, right? If a husband and a wife despise each other, they are not long for marriage. If Republicans fight Republicans or Democrats fight Democrats they won’t be viable parties for long. If everyone at work whispers and gossips and undermines each other that place won’t last. Right?
So something has to be done. Jesus, telling a parable, giving a picture, says, “If Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house.” (Mark 3:26-27) Do you know who ties up the strong man? Jesus. Do you know who robs his house? Jesus. When Jesus is casting out all evil, all the demons, and bringing new life to all those who were tormented, he is tying up the devil and robbing his house. What a picture of the battle between our enemy and our Savior. What a picture of what happened when Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead. He ties up the strong man and then he robs his house. In triumph Jesus says, “It is finished!!”
It is good to know and mourn that fact that we have a conflicted soul and divided heart. Not everyone recognizes that, or moans that they are caught in that struggle. I just finished an autobiography of Rudolf Hoess who was the Commandant of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. In the forward of the book, Primo Levi wrote, “Usually when you agree to write the introduction to a book, you do so because you truly care about the book: it’s readable, its got a high literary quality, so that you like or at least admire the author. This book, however, is quite the extreme opposite. It’s filled with evil…it has no literary quality, and reading it is agony.” But I read it anyway. And it was agony!!
Hoess murdered 2.5 million Jews in the 4 years he was in charge of that extermination camp. Yet, Hoess in this book meant to defend his atrocities says, “I for my part never sanctioned them. I myself never mistreated a prisoner, far less killed one. Nor have I tolerated maltreatment by my subordinates.” (Pg. 178)
Did he not know that there was a good and an evil, a right and a wrong? It is good when we are bothered by a wrong word, a repugnant idea, an evil action. When we are bothered there is a chance for repentance and redemption. When we are bothered we can be made whole.
You have a divided soul? Divided life? Divided faith? Jesus makes it whole. He brings this all back together. Romans 5 promises, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Verse 1) To every divided house and soul it is Christ who restores life.
I started this sermon talking about the divisions that existed that day between Jesus and His family. I spoke about the division that existed when He was accused of being in bed with the devil, as well as the divisions that exist in our own soul due to our choices. But Christ brings unity with God through His blood. He unifies our broken relationship by His mighty work. He brings peace to us.
The restored heart can have a great purpose. Jesus’ mother, Mary, and his brothers, who had come to take Him home were still waiting outside. Jesus was told they were waiting. But His response was, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, ‘Here are my mother and brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:33-35)
Being part of this house, this family, no longer distant and divided, but brought close and unified, also tells us that we are about the will of our God in our life. He calls us His own brother, sister or mother when we are about doing God’s will everyday.
Nothing worse than a divided house. Nothing better than one brought into peace and grace through Jesus. And nothing greater than being about the will of our God everyday. Amen!!