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A House Divided Against Itself


1 Samuel 8:4-9;Psalms 138; 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:1;Mark 3:20-35 June 6, 2021 – Second Sunday After Pentecost


You must remember this

A kiss is just a kiss

A sigh is just a sigh

The fundamental things apply

As time goes by.


Abraham Lincoln became nationally famous for his House Divided speech. He was speaking to the Republican State Convention in Springfield, Illinois on June 16, 1858.


He was engaged at the time in the great Senate election campaign of 1858 against Stephen Douglas…out of which came the Lincoln-Douglas debates. The great issue of the day was slavery, and many compromises and accommodations were made over the years leading up to it.


The compromises had been made to avoid a war, but every time a new limit was placed on slavery…in the name of unity…a way around it was found and exploited.


It was time for Lincoln to say what our own John Wesley liked to say when he drew a line in the sand: “Here I set my foot!”


Lincoln made his point early: "A house divided against itself cannot stand. This government cannot endure, permanently half 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.”


It was a bold thing to say at the time. Attempts to find a middle ground had ended. The issue had not gone away and would not fade into any resolution.


It riled the pro-slavery forces. Douglas cited it many times in the days following its delivery and publication to show that Lincoln was a radical whose election to the Senate would start a war.


Lincoln’s law partner, Bill Herndon, advised him to counterattack. Tell them that you are not the author of those words…God is. But Lincoln simply said, “I can’t.”


Years later, Herndon would see that Lincoln was simply speaking an eternal truth and awakening the nation to a divine reality.


It contributed to Lincoln’s defeat in 1858, but by the time 1860 came around, along with his Cooper Union speech in February of 1869, it put him exactly where he needed to be to become President.


And the South promptly seceded from the Union…even before Lincoln could be inaugurated. The rest…including what we are going through in America today…is… and will be…history.


Lincoln was describing his own divided times, but he was also quoting Jesus where we find him today…replying to the crowd who have seen him perform great acts of healing…showing God’s own power in him…on the Sabbath day …against the religious customs of his day.


Lincoln catches his insight deep in the dynamics of Jesus’ act. Either we do what is right because it is right…or we do what people expect of us whether it is right or not.


One fork in the road is God’s will. The other is encouragement for the devil. Sooner or later we have to choose one path or the other.


Do we conform to the powers of this world, or do we see beyond it to the greater powers of the universe? Where is it that we would say to the world, “Here I set my foot!”


The powers that be of this world compel our obedience with consequences and pain. God calls us to a higher and deeper relationship with something bigger than the convenience of the moment….something greater than our comfort…or even our lives… truth and love.


And when two lovers woo

They still say "I love you"

On that you can rely

No matter what the future brings

As time goes by


Jesus asks his critics, just before we take up his story this morning, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”


We live in a house divided. Mortals are a compromise between eternal truth and present necessity. We stand with one foot in the boat… but the other on the dock.


Which way will we finally turn? Do we set sail or wait for another day? How do we find our way through this world to God? How can we hear him in the midst of all the voices of radio…and television… and the Internet…and network news?


Bill Herndon told Lincoln that he should respond to Douglas that the words he used…a house divided… were not his personal view but God’s own truth, and if Douglas did not like them, then he should complain to the Almighty.


But Lincoln didn’t need to say anything, because neither he nor Douglas were the author of the universe. They were merely characters in a story that had been told before…was being told again now…and would be told again and again throughout human history…until peace and justice reigned on earth.


God was watching them. God was calling them. Jesus had been sent to awaken the hearts of a woebegone people to the promise implicit… and explicit…in loving both God and our neighbors.


The prophet Samuel plays out the same truth before us today. He has come full circle. We saw his mother Hannah pray for a son and God gave her Samuel.


Hannah promised give him to the priest Eli and Hannah kept her promise. Samuel served Eli.


And when two lovers woo

They still say "I love you"

On that you can rely

No matter what the future brings

As time goes by


Samuel served at a time when Eli’s own sons were following the ways of the world and not God. So Samuel called God’s people to God’s purposes… God’s truth…and God’s love for them.


Many years have passed since then and the people want to know what they will do when Samuel is gone.


Now we find ourselves at a point in Samuel’s story where it is Samuel’s own sons who are straying from the straight and narrow path and the people want Samuel to anoint a king to rule over them…because they cannot…or will not…place their trust in a God they cannot see.


Paul writes to us and the Corinthians…and the people of Samuel’s day…this morning, to clear this up a bit… or try to. He tells us how to know whether something is forever or wasting away.


If you can see it, he tells us, it is wasting away. If you cannot see it with your eyes but know it in your heart, it is forever.


This turns our understanding of the world on its head. We grow up believing that we have to be able to see it if it is real…and if we can’t it is not.


But how much change have we all seen in this old world? This is not the world that we expected, but it is the world that is…and the world is a little puzzled about that.


Who saw today’s truth coming ten years ago…or twenty…or thirty?


At some point in our lives, we can look back and see that we have become time travelers. We can recall a world that is no more.


When I started law school in Washington, D.C. in 1971 it was a sleepy town that took a back seat to New York and Chicago and Los Angeles.


But the good news was that you could walk into the United States Capitol and walk around like you owned the place.


If you lined up in front of the White House at 10:00 on a Saturday morning, you could walk through the rooms on the main floor…the Blue Room, the Green Room, the East Room…just like you owned the place.


After 9/11, you couldn’t do any of that. You had to process through the National Visitors Center to get into the Capitol on an escorted tour, and you might as well forget about getting onto the White House grounds.


Today it is hard to get onto the Capitol grounds and it’s hard to get within a block of the White House. Something is at work here that we cannot see. We can no longer see what used to be.


How do we get back onto the dock? How can we step into the boat and set sail? What is God’s will for us and how do we get there… together?


Paul speaks a word of hope to us in the middle of our bewilderment. We do not lose heart.


Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.When we can reach the age when what was is no more, we can see that we are on a journey through time…we are powerless to stop it…and free to set sail.


Maybe now we can see the things that do not change and come to understand that we are what is changing, and the world is going on as it always has…and always will.


It is time for us to do God’s will. It always has been. It always will be. But we can only do it now.


It is not time for God to do our will. It never was. It never will be. It is time to listen more than we speak.


The sun does not revolve around the earth. It is the earth that revolves around the sun. Once it was blasphemy to say that. Now it is foolishness to deny it.


The world did not change. Our understanding of it became more complete…and we changed.


I forget what I was watching on the news this week but someone said something shocking. We already know how to travel through time. Einstein told us.


You get in a spaceship, and you travel away from the earth at the speed of light for a year…then turn around and come back again. You will not have aged a day, but centuries will have gone by on earth by the time you land.


We have the power to see the future. But how do we get back to tell anyone about it…or do anything about it? Are we the ones who are traveling through time, or is it time that travels through us?


What’s done is done. We cannot change the past but maybe we can make good use of it in the future.


God has given us the ability to set aside our mortal intentions and yearnings and simply see what is there…what is here…and give thanks…in awe and wonder…at the magnificence of it all.


That is how we can bring ourselves to that place between what has already happened and what is yet to be. That is where we can make a difference in the world…as one with Christ, one with each other and one in ministry to all the world.


What is done is done and what will be will be. We come from God and we will go to God one day. The task that is ever before us to keep in touch with our Creator while we are breaking bread and sharing the holy cup with our neighbors.


That has always been the task: to love God and our neighbor. When we find our way into that calling, we will step off the dock of mortal confinement…set sail on a sea of truth and love…and our house will be divided no more.


Then a house built upon the foundation of truth and love… leaning on the stone that has been rejected and rejected and rejected …but has now become the cornerstone…will stand even as we journey through time.