“A Country Divided Cannot Stand”

Mark 3:20-35

Dear Lord, may your words be heard in our ears, felt in our hearts, and carried in our souls. Amen

Just about every family has that one family member who is a little different from everyone else. This is the person who, at family reunions, everyone talks about to others, or rolls their eyes when he or she does something perceived as ‘strange’. If you are the only person that few others speak to at the family reunion; then, it’s you! You’re the “different one” that everyone else is talking about. They may find you are “eccentric” because you keep up with the fashion trends and hairstyles (or perhaps, because you don’t). They may think you are “weird” because every time you open your mouth, you put your brain on parade, or you talk about current events, or ideas, rather than gossip. They may think you are ‘odd’ because you prefer Beethoven to Beyonce, or birdwatching to baseball. Heaven forbid, someone might have a different idea or viewpoint!

In today’s Gospel from Mark, we read about, when early in his ministry, Jesus went home to Nazareth. People thronged to see him, and crowded around him constantly. But, the things he is saying and doing are so unusual – so beyond their scope of understanding that most believe he is out of his mind, and even consorting with the devil. They heard he had healed people – even healed a man’s withered hand on the Sabbath! They had heard that people from far and near, came to be healed, and called him “The Son of God”. They heard he spoke in parables or stories, teaching an entirely new approach to living – to loving and caring for one another, despite differences in rank, or wealth; he spoke of loving Pharisees and tax collectors, even gentiles! His mother and brothers came trying to talk some ‘sense’ into their wayward son and brother, asserting

He has gone out of his mind. (Mark 3:21)

or

He was possessed of an unclean spirit. (Mark 3:30)

And should be taken away.

He was definitely the “different one” in the family!

But that did not stop him.

I think it is interesting to consider, that if Jesus were with us today, and said the same things to us, would we think any differently? If he spoke to us today about welcoming strangers, loving others who are different in race, background, or opinions, wouldn’t we, too, believe that he was out of his mind? If he criticized the hypocrisy of some of our political and church leaders of today, would we think him a rabble-rouser who should be jailed? How often do we believe that what Jesus asks us to do is impractical and impossible in today’s world?

We heard him say in today’s scripture:

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. (Mark 3:24-25)

This is a famous quote often used by clergy in sermons, and government officials when trying to highlight the cultural divisions that separate people.

There is a long history of noteworthy people using this scripture to comment on the dissension within the country.

This biblical passage was used by Abraham Lincoln in an address before his presidency on June 16, 1858. In that address, which came to be known as “A House Divided Speech,” Lincoln said:

A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, 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.

By saying that a house divided cannot stand, Jesus is illustrating the fact that the strength of a movement or idea or a nation relies on people coming together in unity. This is something we see in daily life all the time. Whether it is a business, a sports team, a political party, or a church, everyone has to work together if anything is to be accomplished.

Right now we are probably living in the most divisive time that the United States has faced since the Civil War, 160 years ago. Even during the Viet Nam war, the country was not as divided as it is now.

Our nation today is so divided that some think the cherished democratic system that generations have worked so long to build and preserve, may cease to exist. Politicians have forgotten that state, local, and federal officials are elected to “serve the needs of the people”, and are driven by their own ideology, passions, greed, and lust for power.

We have political leaders whose supporters participated in the insurrection against the Capitol of the United States and our elected officials in January 2021, in an attempt to change the clear outcome of our presidential election. Some political party officials and special interest groups are destroying valid vote ballots through fake ‘audits’ and enacting legislation that would try to stop anyone from voting who doesn’t agree with them. These activities are supported by bands of militia-type groups that carry guns and assault weapons. High-ranking security personnel and elected representatives intimate a governmental coup is a possibility.

There is overt discrimination and assaults against anyone considered to be the “different one

  • Asian Americans are blamed for creating the COVID virus,
  • Latinx immigrants and refugees are rejected for coming here to escape poverty, violence, and dictatorships
  • LGBTQ Americans are deemed sinners because their sexual orientation and gender identity are not understood;
  • Jewish Americans are again being targeted as warmongers and elitists.

When we divide people into categories of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identification, or where they live, problems always occur. One only has to think of the Holocaust, or genocides like those that took place in Bosnia, Rwanda, or Darfur to see the results of this division.

Jesus urged unity among believers because, once divisions and conflict beset a nation, productivity, progress, and prosperity inevitably grind to a halt, and the entire culture is weakened and becomes vulnerable to attack, and eventual destruction.

More importantly, IT. IS. WRONG!

Human beings must learn to live together or the world is lost!

As Jesus said:

“Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall.” (Mark 30:24-25)

As a free people, living in a nation that has become an example for the entire world of a just and peaceful ‘shining city on a hill’, we cannot let this dream – this amazing experiment in freedom and equality – die.

As Christians, we cannot let our amazing country, which has succeeded because we have followed the teachings of Jesus to live in harmony with others, and care for and support one another – we cannot sit by and let it be destroyed!

No, we are not a perfect nation – we have not lived up 100% to the ideals of our Constitution, but for over 245 years, we have provided leadership to a free world with justice and equality for all, and we cannot convert the world from its emphasis on greed and power unless we are united in purpose – unless we love one another. When we ignore the teachings of Jesus to have our own way, the result is discord and disunity.

Unity begins with us.

Responsibility begins with each of us.

I am reminded of the quote by Pastor Martin Niemöller:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionist, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.

For our nation to be successful, we have to learn to work together as one people, uniting and strengthening our nation again.

As we pray in the Prayers of the People:

“That we all may be one,
That there may be justice and peace on the earth.”

So, healing the divisions of our nation begins with us.

We must be proactive, and not assume someone else will take care of things.

We must pull together and listen to seek to understand one another.

We must love one another as God has loved us.

So, as we approach our nation’s birthday, let us cherish each individual as our brother and sister in Christ, and then, if we stand together, we can surmount any difficulties that might lie ahead of us, and, perhaps, one day realize the Kingdom of God on this earth.

Let us pray:

In this century and in any century,
Our deepest hope, our most tender prayer,
Is that we learn to listen.
May we listen to one another in openness and mercy
May we listen to plants and animals in wonder and respect
May we listen to our own hearts in love and forgiveness
May we listen to God in quietness and awe.

And in this listening,
Which is boundless in its beauty,
May we find the wisdom to cooperate
With a healing spirit, a divine spirit
Who beckons us into peace and community and creativity.

We do not ask for a perfect world.
But we do ask for a better world.
We ask for deep listening.[2]

Amen.

[1]  “A House Divided,” Info USA, Us Department of State

[2]  Jay McDaniel, Professor of Religion, Hendrix College, Arkansas

Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Columbus, OH; 6 June 2021

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