[Jesus went home;]20and the crowd came together again, so that [Jesus and the disciples] could not even eat. 21When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24If 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. 27But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.
28“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
31Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” 33And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Near the highway between Appleton, Minnesota, and the border of South Dakota is a large rock. It’s not like the huge slabs of granite that make up much of the Rocky Mountains way over in Montana and Colorado, or like that which we see in the hills of nearby Duluth. This rock is more rounded, as if it was formed within roiling waters, or smoothed over the millennia by the sands of time.
When I first saw this rock, my eyes rounded at its size, just sitting there by the side of the road. I thought I might know why it sat there, though. (Let’s see the first picture--Illustrations can be found on our Facebook page, "Concordia Lutheran Church ELCA"). With the fence by the highway in the foreground, you can imagine the size of this rock. Like most large rocks, we can see that it has attracted its share of graffiti. What is not quite as evident from this angle is the split that is just about in the center of this rock, though you can see it at the top.
When we first moved to Appleton, I commented on the crack, and was told by several that it had been exactly as I saw it for as long as they could remember. I’d say that the top of the split was maybe a foot, or a foot-and-a-half wide, while the bottom was still jammed together as if refusing to acknowledge the rift.
As the angle changes, though (the next picture) we can see that things are not even like they were when I moved to Appleton in 2010. In eight years, the rock that hadn’t changed in the entire memory of those I’d asked, now sits in two distinct pieces. (Move to the third.) When we get to the angle from which the crack was first noticeable all those years ago, we can see that the top edges are many feet apart (move to the fourth) and even the bottom has distinctly separated.
In our gospel reading, Jesus notes how kingdoms and houses divided against themselves cannot stand. These pictures show that even rocks are not immune to degeneration and separation through the years. Some of the changes are quick, and some take more time, but when divisiveness reigns, nations, houses, families, and even mountains fall apart.
Jesus said these things in response to the accusation that he was possessed by a demon, and that that was why he had power over other demons. Jesus was pointing out the logic that could not allow such an accusation to grow.
We are experiencing all kinds of division today. Political divisions seem to me to be more vast than I’ve ever seen them in my lifetime. Congregational divides may be more subtle, but are just as dangerous.
Our ELCA suffers from some division. Politically we have people staunchly against any kind of gun control, and people who can’t imagine why anyone should need a gun, along with people at every point between those two extremes. Our official statement on abortion recognizes it as a tragic option in extreme cases, while people in our ELCA believe differently—on both sides of the issue. Our official statement on sexuality has much that is good and clear. In the area of same-sex relationships, our statement recognizes four different views as present within our body, and fights in and among our people over this issue continue to arise nine years after the statement was passed at the Churchwide assembly. Capital punishment is another political issue in which some members of the ELCA differ decidedly from our official statement.
The meeting of the Group of Seven, gathering leaders of strong nations from around the world, was not as much a display of unity this year as usual. Instead, it seemed to raise hackles. Some in our ELCA are likely cheering at the actions of our leaders, while other are aghast. It seems—in both church and country—that we are a house divided against ourselves. Are we destined to fall completely apart, like the halves of the rock that had stuck together for so many years previously?
Is it hopeless?
I despise that word: hopeless. We are not without hope. Even the story of God confronting the serpent in the garden is not without hope.
Some divisions are normal, and some are necessary. If fingers and toes were not divided from one another, their function would be altered. If our thumbs could not move in opposition to our fingers, our grasp would be immensely compromised. We need differences in society.
We also need unity. In the world, our unity comes with basic understanding of what ought to be and what ought not to be. It’s almost like we live our lives and allow others to live their lives. In some ways we interact with others, so our ways of living need compatibility or compromise. With compromise and compatibility we weave a base that gives the community strength.
The church likes compatibility, but is not very enthused about compromise! It’s difficult for one who believes all human life is sacred to accept that another might find abortion to be less bad than any other option. It is difficult for those who read the Bible to realize that others who read the Bible understand it differently, and come to different conclusions on what is right and what is wrong. It might even be difficult for some to accept different styles of worship.
But the church has a base stronger than any rock in all of creation. Our rock cannot split, for our rock is Jesus Christ. With all the differing understandings of life, there is only one Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected son of God. Even though people of other Christian denominations may view Jesus differently, Jesus remains the one rock upon which we stand. Even though people within our denomination have vastly different understandings of various political issues, we stand together upon the one rock that is Jesus Christ.
Of course, we’ve experienced division in the church throughout our history. The NALC formed from congregations leaving the ELCA after 2009. The LCMC formed in 2001 from those disgruntled about the ELCA’s decision to use an historic episcopate. 1517 began the culmination of vast splits from the Roman Catholic. 1054 saw greater schism between Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox, and in 451 the Oriental Orthodox separated over views of Christology. Even in the New Testament, we have evidence of schisms. Yet, we still have one foundation: Jesus.
As a congregation, let us work to strengthen our base, our hold on the rock which is Jesus. Maybe we can learn to celebrate distinction as we work to minimize division. As our thumbs are distinct from fingers, and our fingers from one another, let us use our hands and our hearts to proclaim with our works and our voices the one base upon which we stand, Jesus Christ, our Rock. Amen