Divided We Fall
St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 3rd Sunday in Lent, March 20, 2022
“Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth.”
GOOGLE the word Unity, and your entire first page will tell you about a software product that sells as a video game engine, an environment for developing computer games, imaginary reality, simulated life. Unity is how we play unreal games. The word United is the first of our three names as a nation. But online, United is the name of a commercial airline. Union is a men’s clothing store, a bank, or a college. We have appropriated all the words meaning Unity and put a price tag on them, for we really know nothing about unity.
What’s in a name? According to Webster’s, Unity is the quality or state of not being multiple, a condition of harmony, a state of being made one, or a totality of related parts.
St. Paul wrote of the church aiming for unity, a singleness of heart, one true purpose, centered around the Person of Jesus Christ. It could happen. St. Peter also encouraged the Church to seek unity and not fall to divisions. But Jesus knew what was in mankind. Though He would love to see that ideal unity among His followers, bringing the world into harmony, yet He knew better.
“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. A person's enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matt 10
He was telling it like it is, telling us like we are. He knew that He had chosen the apostles, had just named those twelve, and that one of them would actually be His betrayer. He was about to send them out into the country of their birth with the good news of the Kingdom of God at hand, and yet Jesus had to warn them of the opposition they would find. They would enter cities and towns to set people free from the chains of their sins, to heal their sick loved ones, to raise the dead, to drive out demons, to preach hope for a better future, and joy because God had come to earth. They would see it reflected in the eyes of those who were ready and humble. But they would also see something else in the eyes of others. Unity is quite a difficult ideal to find universally, unless you’re speaking of hell.
Jesus drove a demon out that was causing a man to be mute and the man spoke. But people said of Jesus, “He drives out demons by Beelzebul, king of the demons!” Others, demanded a sign from heaven.
Christ told them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is headed for destruction, and a house divided against itself falls. If Satan is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say I drive out demons by Beelzebul, king of demons, called Satan. That is clearly untrue. But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you.”
Jesus knew that the poor state of Israel’s spiritual life was a division over the things of God. They bickered amongst themselves endlessly, divided between Pharisees and Sadducees, Zealots or Herodians, worldly Jews or ascetic Essenes. While they argued and debated, judged each other’s beliefs or identified one another’s sins, the Romans had come and claimed rulership over them all. Rome was not divided. Rome was strong.
And in the same way today, while people debate and accuse one another, divide over every issue and call the other party names, Satan’s kingdom simply grows. Satan is not divided. He has no parties to contend with. If he rises stronger from the weakness of our distractions and partisan fighting, like the stronger man he can take from us what he wants, when and where he wants it.
Jesus then said something interesting. “Anyone who is not with Me is against Me, and anyone who does not gather with Me scatters.” At another time, He said, “He that is not against us is for us.” Luke 9:50 That’s not a contradiction, but a straight forward truth. You are with Jesus or you are against Him. If you are not for Him, you oppose Him. There is no neutral ground. There is no room for debate. You choose Him, and then you are with Him. Otherwise, you’re opposed. You choose.
Jesus kept speaking of the evil spirit-world and said, “When an unclean spirit comes out of a man, it roams through waterless places looking for rest and, not finding rest, it says, ‘I’ll go back to my house where I came from.’ Upon returning, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits worse than itself, and they enter and settle down there. As a result, that man’s last condition is worse than the first.” Luke 11
The world is no worse or better than it was when Jesus ascended, at that time leaving us the hope of faith, life in His Holy Spirit, the Good News to proclaim, and ten hostile empires around the little church ready to crucify its members and make their mere existence a capital crime.
One thing you can always tell, or maybe two. The closer you are to Satan’s kingdom, the more unified its purpose and single-minded it is toward undermining truth, goodness, reality, justice, and peace. The lies come thick as mud, and those speaking the lies are as passionate and well organized as can be managed. They are well funded. They’ve been laying these plans for years. They’ve lined their troops along your borders and amassed a fearsome strength against you. Satan’s kingdom still stands because he’s not fooling around. He may have been defeated on Calvary, but His power is in deception. All he has to do is get you to believe the lie.
While all of that is going on, what are the good people doing? Arguing. Accusing. Getting angry. Or entertaining themselves with games built on Unity, the video game product. Jesus had us right. Families divide over things that are true or false or opinions. Churches divide over the Sunday morning music.
We are a church body that was born at a time of crisis in another church where a well-organized movement caused huge changes of direction, a new philosophy. We couldn’t go with them, so we headed out on our own, and for a dozen years they were all we thought about or spoke about, our nemesis, our enemy. We defined ourselves around what we hated. In time, we figured out this was a poor definition, and started to become what we loved, and I hope that follows until now. Other Anglicans are still obsessed with the old church and its woes. One of our priests has dubbed them ‘Angricans’. Divided we fall. I call us all Alphabet Anglicans, for all the many initials we go by: ACC, APCK, APA, ACA, TAC, ACNA, UECNA, REC, and so on. How fine are we going to mince this once-fine church?
What Satan’s kingdom cannot allow for us is the day when we wake up and unite around God’s Kingdom on earth, one truth, one struggle, one hope, one God, for whom we would die and to whom we give our lives and our sacred honor. Were we to wake up and know our strength, the awakened Church at the hour of need, standing up from its prone, unconscious position, a single sword raised upwards, one voice singing the praises of our Lord and King, with just one purpose—to conquer evil and end the darkness pervading our world: THEN we would smash Beelzebub’s kingdom to splinters and wreck all his plans.
How can that ever be? What will lead us to unity in God? There are plenty of passages in the Bible to give us some hints. “Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us.” Love is good. Not indiscriminate love, but a love that is ready to meet another in that place where issues and differences matter no longer. Our humanity can be enough, and we can appreciate, we can celebrate one another.
“For we all were sometimes darkness, but now are we light in the Lord: so shall we walk as children of light: (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;) proving all that is acceptable to the Lord. And we can never have fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them, manifested in the light. Awaken the Church that lies asleep, and let it rise from the dead, and Christ shall give us all His light.”
We are nowhere near ready to do this, but I keep looking for that day when one voice will call the saints on earth to stand and speak truth to power. We should always remember that the people who oppose us are only tools, captives of the dark one, and may at the end be enlightened and come to the light. So don’t hate them. And don’t trust them, not now. Jesus didn’t trust His opponents, except that they would certainly oppose Him. He knew what was in man. He knew His presence on earth would cause divisions, though He longed for all humankind to join Him in His world without end. But for now, very realistically, He would build His kingdom one soul at a time.
And to that end, I offer our Sunday collect once again.
WE beseech thee, Almighty God, look upon the hearty desires of thy humble servants, and stretch forth the right hand of thy Majesty, to be our defense against all our enemies; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.