My great-great-great grandfather David was a private in the 20th Michigan Infantry during the Civil War. My father has his discharge papers and a service medal that David wore from the G.A.R. I remember as a kid being fascinated by those records of my family's service in the Civil War fought here in the United States. We had other relatives that fought, one with the 2nd Michigan Cavalry...and probably a few more who wore grey instead of blue. Still, almost every day, I would pass that framed discharge that hung on the wall in our hallway and think about how difficult a season it must have been for our country (understatement) to go through that violent division. What is remarkable about this war is that many folk are still recovering from it, today. The divisions are still there. Some have healed into scar tissue, other wounds remain, but the deep impact of that conflict lingers.
Growing up in Ohio, in the southern part of the state, I was aware of that conflict and its capacity to haunt our society. From the Confederate battle flags decorating the backs of pickup trucks and flying in front of homes to the huge Union monument in the center of town, we saw reminders of that era on a daily basis. From forgotten markers lying in local fields of soldiers killed and buried after skirmishes to the history tours offered by local story-tellers, those days of division and violence were not forgotten. They even now still simmer below the surface of a "peaceful" society.
|The Civil War Memorial in Athens, Ohio, with re-enactor...|
So, when I read Jesus' response to the legal scholars who are trying to continually "catch him out," I draw up short for a moment when he finally loses it and offers his "a house divided cannot stand" teaching, perhaps because I remember most of Lincoln's "house divided" speech and its impact on us as a Nation during the Civil War. We have been that "house divided." We know how dark a season it is to live with that level of conflict, in our society, in our homes.
The expert critics have finally crossed a line with Jesus. They murmur that the things he does, he does because he is possessed by an evil, un-Godly spirit. Effectively, he says in response, "You can say bad things about almost anything or anyone and be forgiven...but when you decry the Holy Spirit, you cross a line over which you cannot return." You can't heal division with division. You can't cast our demons with demonic power. A house divided against itself cannot stand. That means that we are now accountable to each other and to God to seek healing when division threatens us. Jesus sees that division in his own life only moments later, when his mother and siblings arrive and try to take him away. He favors instead to continue his ministry and his teachings on reunion first with God, and then with ALL humanity. If everyone is my beloved, then how can I maintain division? That is the great fissure between God and humanity that is finally named today, and it is present in the very human conflicts working themselves out in front of us. It names the brokenness in and around us, where our relationships with each other shatter under the pressure of division and conflict.
We have all been there, at that point...when conflict or disagreement ceases to be minor and crosses over into the sort of division that sunders relationships. It happened during the Civil War, it happened countless times before that dark time and it continues today. It happens to nations, to churches, to households...and when it does I know that God's heart breaks with ours. What will heal that division? How can we recover?
The simple recipe of reconciliation has three ingredients: time, forgiveness and faith. Time does heal wounds like these if the other two ingredients are liberally in place. Forgiveness is real when it is offered in faith and given time to work itself in to the cracks and fissure of pain in our divisions. Faith is the balm, romance and hymnody aside, that cools the burning pain of hate and fear and allows forgiveness to be present. Simple enough, and we see a witness to it in Psalm 30 as David remembers his losses and defeats while giving thanks to God for healing and deliverance; but for reconciliation to exist, we have to be willing partners in God's desire to restore what we have broken.
At the end of Exodus, we finally see the completion of the place of meeting. All the furnishings, vessels and ornaments are in place. The priests are consecrated for service and the offerings have been made. Now, the presence descends on it...and our real journey with God is ready to begin. One step at a time into the wilderness, into the in-between time that we all have to journey through as our divisions from God and each other are healed. As we make our way with God, we make a transition that heals what is broken between us...we trek from our deliverance, threading our way through reconciliation to a destination God has promised us, a Promised Land where we will find peace, rest, and each other...restored and made whole.