“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” This sentence, which is part of today’s gospel reading, is so deeply linked in the American imagination with Abraham Lincoln and the U.S. Civil War that reading it in context this week, especially across various translations, kind of caught me off guard. A house. A family. If a family is divided against itself, it will not survive.
This really resonated with my experience now as a father of five growing children. I see how they bond with my wife and I, and with each other. I see how their selfishness, brokenness, and the injuries and insecurities rooted in their individual pasts start fights between them. And part of our job as parents is to help them, as we put it, make the conflicts “smaller, not bigger.”
When I think about what “a family divided against itself” might look like, I extrapolate from these children, whom we know so well, but who are also deep mysteries, both to us and to themselves. The thought of them developing deep, long-lasting divisions and animosities against each other is a chilling, frightening thought.
These children, whom we love so deeply, whom we long to see blossom, thrive, and become all God created them to be: it would break my heart to see them become enemies against each other. But in a broken, messed-up world, with broken, flawed parents, in spite of our best efforts, I know it is still possible.
One of the things Danielle and I do to try to build the children with ourselves into a family is to eat together, every chance we get. Most mornings I’m off to work before the rest of the family is up, and I’m rarely home for lunch. But everyone who is home is generally expected to show up at the table if a meal is being eaten.
I’m sure that this will become a greater challenge as the children grow older and gain more independence. But we still hope to instill in them the importance, the vitality, of sitting down at the table together and sharing a meal. We hope that this shared time together is one of the ways our children are brought closer together to each other, and closer to us as their parents.
Perhaps something like this is behind Christ’s invitation to all of us to come to this table. Especially in this particular congregation, there is a wide spectrum of viewpoints: theological, social, political, etc. One of the practices that I believe does pull us together is this table. It directs our attention together not just to an abstract set of principles, a shared bloodline, or chanting some magical ancient formula, but to a Person. We are called here to focus on The Person of Christ, by whom all things (and people) were created, and through whom is the only redemption and connection with life eternal. Through the sacrifice of His body and blood, we have become His body, and we share these elements to remember that sacrifice.
For this is what the Lord himself said, and I pass it on to you just as I received it. On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant between God and you, sealed by the shedding of my blood. Do this in remembrance of me as often as you drink it." For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord's death until Jesus comes again.
As a family of seven, we hold all things in common. We have a decision-making structure in mind where, as the children mature, we intend to pay attention to their ideas and growing opinions, including how we use our money. But ultimately Danielle and I make decisions about how we as a family spend our money, and we are thus the ones held responsible for those decisions.
I see a similar, though of course not identical, structure in our congregation. As believers mature, their voices are raised in discussions about all matters in the life of the congregation. As those voices are recognized for their maturity, they are elected to places where they help make decisions for this part of the family of Christ. And of course they are the ones held responsible for those decisions.
That is an oversimplified picture of the people we are voting for after the worship service, the ones who make decisions on the money put in these plates, that goes into the budget also voted on. May God be glorified by these gifts, and by the decisions and actions of this congregation, and the leaders of this family.