Divided and Conquered?

“Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand” (Matt. 12:25). So said Jesus. The wisdom of the statement has been shown many times over in history. Think about Syria right now, if you want a current example. It is certainly a wisdom for Americans to notice at the moment, as national polarization increases and households divide in large numbers.

But Jesus’ reference is to a different, more longstanding polarization; that between himself, the Body of Christ, and the forces of evil, led by Beelzebub, Lord of the Flies. Forces of evil, in fact, have often defeated themselves, by turning on each other.

What about the forces for good? We the baptized are baptized into Christ, given a new birth into the family , the household, of the Father and united as citizens of the Kingdom of God. In the baptismal process, we renounce the Devil in order to be united with Christ. You cannot be in both camps. As St. Paul puts it:”You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too” (1 Cor. 10:21). It makes a real difference. As Jesus points out, you cannot serve two masters.  Sharing the Eucharistic cup, which is St. Paul’s specific reference in chapter 10, is not simply a nice custom, or a memorial to a great prophet, or even a fix for sinfulness, although it contains all those factors. But at base, it is a commitment to the Lord, which excludes a commitment to other lords.

And it is the one division in life which is unavoidable. When Jesus prays “that they may be one” (i.e. undivided, see John 17), he is referring to the disciples and all future believers. He is not praying for mankind as such; “I am not praying for the world but for those you have given me” (verse 9). Our commitment to Jesus, whether a lifelong tie from infant baptism or a dramatic adult conversion, effects a union with Christ which is the process of theosis, a lifelong journey into eternal completeness. The Eucharistic cup is the continually renewing seal of this, just as baptismal chrismation is the originating seal.

Having made that commitment, that entrance into the Body of Christ, we  continually receive the gift into ourselves to maintain our intrinsic union, together with all other believers as noted in John 17. Any other division becomes an amputation, a wound in the Body. Given the sinfulness of mankind, no wonder there is such pain. Nevertheless, due to sin, there are so many and so basic divisions that they can be enumerated as categories.

The great host seen by John in Revelation 7 have each washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb (the same blood as in the cup of the Lord). They have in common with each other that they now wear the robe, covering their sinfulness, and stand as one mighty host of the forgiven “before the throne, and in front of the Lamb” (vs.9), in profound gratitude (=Eucharist) as they sing and shout their praise.

They have little else in common beyond being the same species. They are, says John, “from every nation, tribe, people and language.” In Christ, however, they are in full union with each other as well as with the Lamb. The one cup which they have all shared joins them together. That is the closeness we can anticipate in Heaven.

On earth, perhaps not so much. It is Satan’s goal to cause division, contention, aversion, prejudice, alienation. He is good at his job, and he appears to have a lot of volunteer help from humans. Nationality, tribe (clan, race, gang, region, etc), ethnicity and language are all ways in which we divide up, indeed choose up sides, in this life. Christians have also participated in these divisions, not infrequently with enthusiasm. There are congregations which welcome everybody into the great family of the baptized in Christ. There are also thousands which do not, even many whose welcome signs have hypocritical invisible caveats on the welcome.

There is one monumental division in the world: those committed to Christ and those who are not. Any division separating those in the former category can be described in one word: wrong. Any attempt to discourage those seeking the peace of God in visiting, in whatever manner, can be described with the same word. They may not be ready to make the commitment and share the cup, but how can they come to that point unless they are welcome to “come and see” “how these Christians love one another?”

In taking an honest look at our demographics, what do we see? The political and ethnic prejudices common to Americans should be unknown among American Christians. How can you read Revelation 7 or John 17 and continue to justify any division based on human categories? Yet it is obvious that American prejudices not only exist among Christians here, they may be stronger than among unchurched people.

When I speak with people who do not go to church, and their number is now legion, the main reason for their self-exile from the Body generally relates to rejection by Christians. I think we generally know this, and know that a significant amount of the rejection relates to “otherness,” belonging to a category of people not really welcome in a lot of congregations. This can relate to sexual orientation, to being too poor, to having the “wrong” political views, as much as the divisions of language (immigration), ethnicity or “tribe.”

It isn’t taken seriously very often. Yet I cannot think of a bigger sin (yes, I know sins don’t come by size, so give me some poetic license) than being the obstacle between a fellow human and their God. I can also think of few sins more common than that. When I witness the often inane discussions among Christians about how to grow churches and why attendance is falling, the full horror of that sin seems remote. But it isn’t remote from the one who died on the Cross for those rejected. One of the very few mandates Christ gives is to go to all nations, baptize and teach. In the modern world, the uttermost parts now live in our town, and all means all.