This 'blog' was preached on Sunday, August 18th, 2019. It is shared online as members thought it needed to be shared.
During the first business session of the Lower Susquehanna Synod Assembly, agenda items were moved quickly. With no questions, no discussion, no debate from the floor, even Bishop Dunlop was surprised at how quickly agenda items were being addressed.
Until a verbal vote took place where those in favor and those opposed were too close to tell apart. There it was, the call that changed the direction of business: "Division in the house!"
Under Robert's Rules of Order, when this call is made, it means that another vote in another format needs to be taken. No other business can be conducted until this vote is addressed. While it may delay remaining business until resolved, it allows for everyone's voice to be considered, and for all voting members to have a voice and say on the matter needing a vote.
To have division in the house can be a way of cleaning house.
In his book "Basic Types of Pastoral Care and Counseling", Howard Clinebell references a parable first written in 1953 by Theodore O. Wedel. The parable is about a lifesaving station along a dangerous seacoast. With humble beginnings, members of the lifesaving station put their own lives at risk to rescue those in need. As their mission became known, and as people were rescued, more want to be part of this lifesaving station's effort. Before long, members of this station are more interested in the social aspects than in their original purpose of rescuing others. To make up for this, the decision is made to hire a professional rescue crew to take care of rescuing those on the sea.
All is well and good with this decision until there is a major shipwreck. Boatloads of cold, wet, half-drowned, and different colored skinned people are brought to the lifesaving station. The membership was in an uproar: who did 'those' people think they were, and what were 'they' doing in 'their' lifesaving station? Almost immediately, the property committee built a showerhouse outside so victims could clean up before coming inside.
At the next meeting, the membership was divided. Some wanted to stop the activities as a lifesaving station, saying it was bothersome to their purpose. Others argued saving others was their main purpose, reminding the opposite perspective they were still indeed a lifesaving station. Those who wanted to keep the original mission of the lifesaving station were voted down, being told they could form their own lifesaving station down the coast.
And so they did -- going downstream and starting all over. Years later, this small group faced the same reality as the original group. They in turn, divided, and the story repeated itself again, and again and again.
While we may chuckle at the story, the greater reality is we, as humans, don't like to talk about division. We don't like to talk about it because it means there is potential conflict. If there is potential conflict, then we must be doing something wrong. After all, we agree with everyone, and everyone agrees with us, right? Not necessarily so.
If we think because we are Christian, and because we are followers of Christ that everything will be fine, perfect, and united, then we need to take a closer look at Jesus' ministry. In the time Jesus walked the earth, his ministry was also divided:
*among those who believed Jesus to be the Son of God, and those who believed, even hoped Jesus to be a ruler to end Roman rule;
*the person who wanted Jesus to divide his inheritance between he and his brother;
*the man determining who exactly was his neighbor;
*to the religious leaders of the day trying to catch Jesus in an interpretive trap.
At this point in Luke's Gospel, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. There is work to be done, that even knowing WHY Jesus is going to Jerusalem does not stop Jesus. The work needing to be done is the work of repentance, the work of forgiveness. This work takes place through the fire Jesus is ready to light -- the fire of knowing God, the fire of being in relationship with God. This fire, and this division Jesus brings is for the better -- for the world's well being, and for our well-being.
But here is where this division is both necessary and troubling. It is necessary and troubling because it exposes our deepest loyalties; loyalties we think to be strong, resilient, even accurate; only to discover these loyalties can be false, idolatrous, ridiculous, even demonic. The trouble then is admitting to God and to ourselves the truth about these loyalties, a truth we may not always want to hear, to believe, or accept. The fire Jesus brings with this division is a fire that blends, purifies, and refines our imperfections, our struggles. Repeatedly, Luke tells us this is the fire Jesus brings with him, the fire of God's active presence in the world, a fire that brings repentance and change with it.
On a first read of Luke's Gospel today, it could seem as though Jesus is against peace. Jesus is not. Jesus knows the message he brings, the work he is called to do is bound to be divisive. Yet in being divisive, Jesus' message brings the Truth -- that the Kingdom of God, the Presence of God is here NOW for everyone.
When we stop to think about it, it really is a simple truth. We humans, however, tend to make it more complicated than what it needs to be. We make it complicated because of sin. Jesus also knows, that his ministry, his presence among us and with us may be responsible fore stirring up conflict by bringing both the heat and light of fire to show how sin, death, and the devil are at work in our world even today.
Increasingly, our world is becoming divided; sometimes in ways that can be seen, sometimes in not so subtle ways. Divisiveness can bring unity when that which is divided is shared. For example, if I have a chocolate chip cookie, and our youngest members want some of that cookie, it will gladly be shared with them. Dividing so that others are able to have some. Dividing so that the gift of the cookie can be enjoyed by more than one.