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2 Samuel 2: 1-11 Matthew 12: 1-25
The Results Of Division
May the Lord be with you! (And also with you…)
“A house divided against itself, cannot stand”. Those are really extraordinarily famous words of Abraham Lincoln’s. Probably the only better known words of his than those are “Four score and seven years before…” That’s of course how the Gettysburg Address begins. And I’m pretty sure that I’ve quoted the number to you before, but the number of military fatalities in the Civil War is somewhere between 620,000 & 750,000 souls. We think that we’re a divided nation now, but it’s nothing compared to what it was like a hundred and fifty years ago. You know, one of the really interesting things about our Civil War is that so often in schools our children are taught that the Civil War was the war that was fought to end slavery. In the south the Civil War is often seen as just that but then it’s also often known as the “War of Northern Aggression”, as told to me once by a friend from Georgia. In the north of course it’s seen as something much different than that. But in all of these thoughts surrounding the Civil War, as is often the case in our politics, reality and truth are ignored for what rallies the cry of those who have felt left out, and the historical reality of the Civil War was that Abraham Lincoln’s goal was never to free the slaves. Yes, he had been an abolitionist and did believe that slavery – as we all do believe now – is a grave human sin against every teaching that Jesus Christ died trying to teach us. But he had not run for the presidency so as to end slavery; if you read his actual memoirs you’ll see that that is the fact.
Because he was an abolitionist, though, the southern states began, during the 1860 presidential campaign, to threaten secession from the Union IF Lincoln was to win the election. Of course he did win the election, and then in January of 1861, even before Lincoln was able to be inaugurated, the southern states that were going to secede did just that. Lincoln tried negotiating with them, he tried compromising and in fact even during his inaugural speech, he even stated that he would NOT abolish slavery in the southern or any states, he believed that the freeing of the slaves was going to have to be a very gradual process due to the economy’s reliance upon them. But, fighting of course did break out at Fort Sumter in April of 1861, and war was declared. It wasn’t until the war was essentially guaranteed for the North that Lincoln then issued the executive order freeing the slaves, an executive order that we know as ‘the Emancipation Proclamation’, and even then it was done more because they believed that in issuing such an order that that would encourage the still slave population to revolt against the plantation owners, thus bringing an end to the war sooner. And the reason really behind the war in the mind of Lincoln and his cabinet….? To restore the Union, to restore the unity of the nation ..and why? Because Lincoln read his bible, and he knew that the many examples of division found in Scripture only completely and utterly proved Jesus’ words when he said to the Pharisees and to the gathered crowd, “A house divided against itself, cannot stand.” Jesus was of course correct, as was Abraham Lincoln and as has been everyone else who has ever uttered those words which actually really do challenge us to face the weakest spots in our foundations.
When David was made king, he accepted that role because the leadership of his tribe had come to him and had put it to him that this is what the God of Israel wanted to happen. That David had finally met his destiny to lead God’s people. The prophet Samuel had been a part of that mix, and Samuel for all intents and purposes was almost like the pope to the Jews at that time, Samuel had anointed Saul and now he was ready to once again anoint David. Remember, it had been years before when God had shown Samuel the young shepherd, son of Jesse, outside Bethlehem who would lead God’s people. And we have to keep in mind too, that Samuel was very much believed to be the voice of God to God’s people on earth.
BUT, what was happening just to the north? The son of the commander of Saul’s army, his name was Abner, took it upon himself to decide that the next in line to Saul must be crowned king; obviously he had some power of some sort from somewhere to do this, although that is what does seem to make the most sense to happen. And so, Ishbosheth, Saul’s only remaining son, the other three had all been killed in that battle alongside Saul, was crowned king. Ishbosheth was probably something of a weak character and if you read what you can find about him, he does seem to have been at least a bit reluctant to be king – similar to how his father had begun his reign when he was essentially crowned by Samuel – remember when Samuel went to introduce the new king to his people that they couldn’t find him, he’d gone off hiding behind a pile of baggage because he was actually pretty fearful to take on this role that to even the strongest of characters would be pretty intimidating. And so it doesn’t seem that that apple really fell too far from that tree with Ishbosheth. Abner, who himself became a major military commander, seems to be the one who was really in charge of running that show. And so very soon after David is crowned in Judah, and Ishbosheth is also crowned to the north, we then see the nation of Israel truly divided, split in half almost right across the middle, and then suddenly the nation as a whole is not in just a much, much weaker position with their neighbors who they’re constantly at war with, but they’re in a much weaker position with each other and with God. A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand.”
Now, like Abraham Lincoln, David’s focus, in what really did become a destructive confrontation with the Jews of the North, was not about some big ideological point, and it wasn’t about simply trying to see who could win at playing king of the mountain. What David really wanted to do, and all along really, was to restore the people of God to the territory that God had given them, as one cohesive family, believing that the ancestral focus and connection to God’s will would always be more important than any silly human confrontation that rarely turned out better for one side versus the other. And I know that we could point to lots of other examples in Scripture where division occurred and nothing was resolved until cohesion was realized, but this one is really the first that truly tore the people in two after having been established in God’s Promised Land.
A house divided against itself cannot stand, and Jesus was pointing this out to the Pharisees who, in all honesty, were just completely off the mark in what a unified house of God was really supposed to look like and supposed to act like. Now the Pharisees had been trained and educated that it was their role to make sure that everyone adhered to God’s law, that was the biggie right there, and their interpretation of the law was just so literal and just so ignoring of deep meaning, that in some ways you really can’t blame them for the way that they thought, that’s the way they’d been trained. But, coupled with their problem in how they’d been educated, they also had the bigger problem of actually refusing to see God’s law through a new light, refusing to accept that maybe, just maybe, that they could be wrong about something, that their interpretation of God’s law could be different than what God actually wanted, desired and demanded. Jesus was raising up to them all of the kinds of questions that they specifically did not want to get called out on, and the people saw this, the people weren’t blind, and that’s a big part of the reason why so many of the people watching all of this argument go down in front of them really were committed Jesus. Jesus brought hope and light in a time when those two things were in pretty short supply. What Jesus was offering was unity and people were hungry for exactly that. And I will add that I do believe that Jesus still does offer exactly that to us too – hope and light – and that it really is there for us to take hold of, IF we are brave enough, and open enough and willing enough to grasp onto the hand that Christ stretches out to greet us.
Today we have so many examples of division in our lives, we have division in the church, we have division in our homes, we have really obvious division in our nation, we have division in the schools – and I’m not talking about math class – and how are we dealing with it? Unfortunately we all know the answer to that question. We point fingers and we place blame. Falsified information and down and out lies are thrown out as if they’re factual. And we’ll believe whatever comes out about the person or people we disagree with and argue falsities to the hilt if we think it means proving our point further.
If we are going to refer to ourselves as Christian, we need to follow the example of Christ and work to build cohesion, to build family, to act in love and to act with grace in every aspect of our lives. We don’t want to be like the Israelites of so many years ago, who were tearing themselves apart, we want to be like David, strong and sensible yet keeping our purposes centered on what it is that God wants for us. And we certainly don’t want to be like the Jewish communities during the time of Jesus either, remember the results of that division that was happening… And Lord knows I’m sure that none of us would ever want to return to the type of division that was seen during the time of the US Civil War – even though we don’t seem to be so terribly far off sometimes.
A house divided against itself cannot stand. Let us be sure that we all together, the church, our communities, our homes, that we do remain standing, and all because we do realize that the hope and light of Jesus Christ is there for us at any and all times when we need it..
In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.