The Divided House of the Lord

Heritage Presbyterian Church

June 28, 2020 
4th Sunday After Pentecost/13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Scripture readings – Genesis 21: 8-21 & Matthew 10: 34-39

During this past week, our denomination, the Presbyterian Church USA, met on-line to take of the business of our denomination as they do every other year.  As in too many recent years, this General Assembly was marked by emotional and needless divisions.  The primary issue this year was the status of San Francisco Theological Seminary, the only PCUSA seminary in the western United States.  This seminary has struggled with serious financial problems for many years, so they merged with Redmond University.  Unfortunately, this caused many to presume San Francisco Seminary was no longer eligible to call itself a PCUSA seminary or to serve Communion.  And the division was on!

Right this minute, in Israel, the government is deciding whether or not to go ahead with a plan to annex 30% of the West Bank where the Palestinians currently live.  This is seen by most of the world as a hollow attempt to force the Palestinians to give up more land in return for peace with Israel.  

And the division continues!

Right this minute, and for the past three months, our fellow Americans, and especially our fellow Texans have debated whether or not to wear masks and where to wear them.  Freedom and personal liberties have been evoked, as well as the concern for the common good and our ability to do something constructive until an effective vaccine against Covid-19 can be produced.  This debate has even reached the population of our own church, with some declaring they won’t wear a mask to church, some telling the pastor privately that they can’t wear a mask for personal health reasons, and some saying that if we want back in the Lodge, this is a major condition we must follow.

And the division threatens to burn brightly!

Since the days of Father Abraham, the people of God have lived in a divided house.  We can claim that all of us are united in our love for God and our devotion to the Holy Scriptures of the Bible.  Yet it doesn’t take much of a conversation to run into divisions in the practice and interpretation of exactly how to believe, act, and live that faith in God.

Isaac and Ishmael, two sons of Abraham, were born into a divided house that was further divided when Sarah demanded that Abraham send Hagar and her son, Ishmael, away from them.  Abraham didn’t want to divide his house, but the Lord told him to do so.  From that division came two great kingdoms that never got along at all.  In fact, if you ask any Muslim today who is knowledgeable of their holy book, The Koran, you will hear that Sarah gave birth to Ishmael and that Hagar was the mother of Isaac – whom Abraham sent away.

And the division is on-going, it would seem.

Even in Jesus’ own day, divisions existed going back to the death of King Solomon a thousand years earlier.  Recall that the kingdom of Israel split between two sons of Solomon into the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah.  Recall that these two areas were practically at each other’s throats for hundreds of years until invading armies solved that problem temporarily.  Israel was conquered in 722 BC by the Assyrians, and Judah was conquered by the Babylonians in 586 BC.  These twin conquests didn’t solve anything at all.  Once the two sets of inhabitants were allowed to return to their homelands, the old divisions hardened even more.  By the time of Jesus, the hated Samaritans were avoided by any Jewish people who lived in what was then called Judea.

The divisions established in those ancient days hold true today in the modern day Middle East.

I’m not even going to address all the various ways that Americans are divided today.  I’m not going to mention Democrats vs. Republicans, or LGBTQ folks vs. everyone else, or women vs. men, or conservative vs. liberal, or rich vs. poor, or health care is a right vs. health care is a privilege, or any of the other dozen or so divisions I could name off the top of my head.  I’m not going to mention them because every time we are divided, we bring sadness to the work of the Lord.  Every time we build walls instead of bridges we betray the message, the new commandment, that Jesus gave us: “Love one another.”  Every time we don’t even try to see other’s points of view, especially if those points of view go completely against our own, we fail to be the undivided people of God.

“But wait a minute, Pastor!” you may be saying to yourself – or even saying out loud.  “Didn’t you just read that Jesus himself said he was not coming to bring peace, but rather a sword?  Wasn’t Jesus telling his Apostles that he understood divisions were going to happen?” 

My answer to that is a resounding, “YES!”  Jesus told those 12 Apostles that he didn’t want them to go to the areas where the Gentiles lived or where the Samaritans lived.  He was identifying those divisions right there.  He sent his Apostles to the so-called “lost sheep of Israel.”  In other words, Jesus told them to only minister to the Jews.  

But look no further than exactly who those 12 Apostles were for that interpretation of Jesus’ message to run into trouble.  Most of his own Apostles were themselves outsiders, not the “right kind of people” at all.  Most of them had their apostolic blinders on when Jesus showed them the world as he saw it.  Yes, Jesus knew trouble was coming and that he was causing it.

Imagine a good Jewish family in first century Judea.  Their country was occupied by the pagan Romans.  Their religious leadership came from a corrupt King Herod, who was pretty comfortable with the Romans.  Their day-to-day religious instruction came from the Jewish Sanhedrin of elders who were dedicated to preserving that wall of division between themselves and the rest of the world at all costs.  Their work was taxed to the point of creating beggars on a daily basis.  You are working as hard as you possibly can to hold yourself and your family together.

And then along comes some “Jesus guy” telling you the Kingdom of God was at hand, to forgive your brothers 70 x 7 times, to love one another – no matter what, and that the Law you follow and love so well is not being followed properly. 

No wonder divisions in families occurred.  That’s pretty simple to understand.

Yet we can’t even imagine it in our world today.

Perhaps there are not too many divisions in your own family.  I pray that is true.

But I will share an example of division in my own family that perhaps you have heard pieces of in the past. 

When I decided to go into ministry, I had been a very successful teacher for 18 years.  I had worked in three different schools, I had taught a variety of grade levels and subjects.  I was highly trained and worked well in every setting in which I found myself.

Then I felt the call to ministry.  Think about that for a minute…I certainly did.

My grandmother was against it – until she heard me preach for the first time. Then she told me to “Go on and do it.”

My mother chose her words carefully when she talked with me – a sure sign she was not happy.

My father was furious and raged against the whole idea.

My father-in-law spoke very sternly to me – until I explained that there was no bishop who would move me whenever and wherever he wanted to.  (Since Presbyterians don’t have bishops, that was okay with him.)

But my wife smiled and asked me, “I wondered what took you so long to realize this.”

So my own family wasn’t exactly united in this new path for me.  That was in the summer of 2001; since then, they seemed to accept it and even support me today.

But I can certainly understand divisions in a family, and I’ll bet most of you can too.  And if those divisions can exist in our country, and in your own families, then it should be pretty simple to understand how they can exist in the Body of Christ too.

How can we overcome these divisions?  What can we possibly do?

I can give you a very simple answer that will be murderously difficult to do.  Here it is:

  1. We can forgive truly.
  2. We can listen to understand – not to be polite, not to wait for our turn to talk, but to understand.
  3. We can act to change for the better.
  4. We can build trust for the future in the ways we speak and act going forward.
  5. We can remember and seriously attempt to follow Jesus’ commandment to “Love one another” despite our divisions that we all know exist.

If we can do this, then the divided house of the Lord – wherever it exists – can be brought together as it should be.