Listen to it:
“A Divided House”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“[I]f a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand” (Mark 3:25, ESV). Houses are divided all around us. Parent against child. Husband against wife. Sibling against sibling. We talk about “broken homes,” houses that have fallen because of the division within them. But whether the end result is divorce or not, every house is divided and broken with sin. When a bunch of selfish sinners live together, it will not be long before the cracks begin to show, and if the cracks are not fixed, the house itself will break and fall apart. Men and women who want to get married, but do not take account of the fault-lines of sin running beneath their own hearts, will face earthquakes in their life together, causing sin to erupt and break up marriages and families. Whatever the dividing line in a particular family, if the division grows the house will not be able to stand. The emotional feeling of love is not enough to seal off the cracks that grow in divided families. The only love that can heal sinful division is the love that brings repeated and eternal forgiveness. It is only when husbands and wives and children realize what sort of sinners they are; when they realize what sort of sin they commit against each other; and when they realize what sort of a Savior they have from themselves; only then can they forgive each other as they have been forgiven. Once I know that even my sin is not enough to drive Christ away from me, that He endlessly and recklessly forgives my sin even though He knows very well that I’m going to do the exact same thing tomorrow, then the same love begins to grow in my heart for my wife who sins against me every day. And, what’s even more unbelievable, the same love grows in her heart for me, even though I do the same stupid things over and over again. It is only such an endless and reckless forgiveness that will push divided houses back together and seal up the cracks in broken homes. Then there will be the quiet peace of which this world knows nothing.
But peace sometimes comes with a price. And the sort of peace Christ gives sometimes comes at the highest price. Those who will not have His peace will have the sword. And when some desire peace and some do not, the sword is inevitable. Jesus knows that His Gospel brings division: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household” (Matthew 10:34-36, ESV). Understand that the sword that divides houses here is Christ Himself. This is not the sort of division that comes simply from being sinners in a sinful world. We see that everywhere. But this is division because Christ has brought peace to some sinners, and some other sinners have rejected that peace. So the division lies between those who confess Christ and those who deny Him, between those who stand confessed by Christ before His Father and those who, unless they repent, will be denied by Him before His Father (10:32-33). Christ is everything, and the crevices that open between believers and unbelievers run through every other human relationship: through families, through offices, through schools, and through communities. As in the family, such divisions can be healed only when those on both sides of the break are called, gathered, enlightened, and kept together in the one Christian Church. And for you who are in the Church, if you attempt to bridge that gap by denying that it exists, or by pretending that things will go on pretty much as they did before, or by standing with the family against the cross, then you are not worthy of Jesus. At some point, you will make choices that show where you stand: with Christ or with something or someone else. And if that choice is for family, or for comfort, or even for your life, then you are not worthy of Christ. The Word of Christ is peace for those who live in the water of baptism, but it is a sword for those who live by the blood of family. The question must be answered: which is thicker for you, familial blood or baptismal water? Which matters more; on what will you stake your life: family? comfort and self-esteem? life itself? Or Christ who makes you part of His family, Christ who gives you the true comfort of the Gospel, Christ who gives you life that lasts beyond death? Jesus is the only one who can give you the sure promise: “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39, ESV).
“If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” The house that is divided as a result of the Gospel of Jesus will fall, and great will be its fall (Matthew 7:27). There is only one House that cannot fall, and it is the House Christ has built on the confession that He is the Anointed One of God, sent to save His people from their sins. It is the House in which prophets prophesy true peace, in which righteous people speak of the forgiveness of sins, in which the little ones of this world give the life of Christ to the dying. And Jesus attaches His promise to such prophecy, such speaking, such giving: “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. The one who receives a prophet [in the name of a prophet] will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person [in the name of a righteous person] will receive a righteous person’s reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward” (Matthew 10:40-42, ESV). Because Jesus has called and sent these prophets and these righteous and these little ones, whoever hears the Word of Jesus from them and receives it in faith is really receiving Christ Himself, and by receiving Christ, receives the Father also. It is Christ who comes to you week by week and speaks His Word to you and forgives your sins by my mouth, who puts His Body and Blood into your mouth by my hand. That is how Christ builds His House, and you are the House that Christ is building! You are God’s field, God’s building (1 Corinthians 3:9), and God has sent me to you to build upon the only foundation which can be laid in the Church, Christ Jesus. I am accountable to Him for building with only the gold, silver, and precious stones of His Word and Sacraments (1 Corinthians 3:11-12). But don’t mistake your pastors for the one responsible for growth: the pastor who planted the field of this congregation so long ago, and those since who have watered, including me, are nothing. It is only God who gives the growth (3:7-8).
And so the promise stands: Christ builds His own House, and it can never fall. He gathers His own from families and from communities and He brings peace to those of His House. And very soon, His family will gather at the Table to eat and to drink. Whatever cracks and crevices have been created among us by sin, they are healed at the Table. There Christ will exchange His sinless life for our sinful life, and He will recreate us, and once again demonstrate what it is to be family: family is where forgiveness is given and received, where life grows in the midst of death, where the children are protected by the Father in the arms of the Mother from everything that destroys. Your heavenly Father has promised to keep you, dear children, safe in the arms of your Mother the Church. You have nothing to fear, though the sword may claim your relationships with your family and even your very life. You have nothing to fear because the blood of Christ your Brother is stronger than any human bond, and though other bonds may break under the weight of sin, He has bound you to Himself with a baptismal bond that can never be broken. In this House there is peace forever, and as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. Pray with me, then, for all those who are not yet part of this family, that they may receive the messengers of Christ, and so receive Christ Himself and the Father also. Pray that they may receive our testimony of the Lord’s death and so know the things that make for peace (Luke 19:42).
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 4:7, ESV).
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 6/25/08