Sunday, August 18, 2013

Unity and The Great Divider

Today's Gospel lesson led me to think more about a blog post on "Unity" that has been bubbling around in my mind for a while.
"I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled?
But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished! Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.
I wonder why he left out that part about mother in law against her son in law?

And he said also to the people, When ye see a cloud rise out of the west, straightway ye say, There cometh a shower; and so it is. And when ye see the south wind blow, ye say, There will be heat; and it cometh to pass. Ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky and of the earth; but how is it that ye do not discern this time?" Luke 12:49-56
It took me a while to see what unites these two paragraphs, but it now seems clear that both point an accusatory finger at the people's preconceived notions and their blindness as to who Jesus actually was and what he represented.

A typical way of reading the first paragraph in isolation is to keep it in the context of the early Church, where family strife would most certainly ensue as Christians abandoned the pagan religions of their birth.

But family divisions were not the only problems the early Christian Church faced.
"Wherefore are there strifes and wraths and factions and divisions and war among you? Have we not one God and one Christ and one Spirit of grace that was shed upon us? And is there not one calling in Christ? Wherefore do we tear and rend asunder the members of Christ, and stir up factions against our own body, and reach such a pitch of folly, as to forget that we are members one of another?" Clement of Rome (30-102) "First Clement" 46:5-7
Two thousand years later it appears that divisions have not ceased. For the present age, one in which Christianity has morphed into something that looks more like a family of tribes, the question becomes, "Is this unity?"

Some might say, "It still looks like one tree to me," but consider the tree we used to call Christendom. Doesn't one branch usually consider at least one of its neighbors to be fit for pruning? Is this a devilish thought?
"And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand" Matthew 12:25
Has the Church family tree become so divided by an unholy spirit, the Holy Spirit, or by the spirit of Man?

If we look at the tree of Christendom and try to visualize a time lapse nature film, you might imagine seeing new buds appearing,  new branches developing, leaves sprouting, old branches becoming heavy, possibly rotting, and falling or being pruned from the tree. Such a dynamic, living, Church might be expected to have undergone multiple divisions. It should show the effects of competition for resources as limbs reach for the light, and we should see losses as diseased branches drop their leaves and begin to decay.

The strength of the tree and the secret to its success is in the multiplicity and separation of the branches. Not every branch is successful, but the degrees of separation ensure that those ailing branches do not infect the successful ones. Separation is also important for when branches intertwine in a false unity, the two strands can rub or even choke each other leading to the death of both.

While there is sadness in any nature film in that shows death and loss, there is a certain beauty in this dynamic image. In a way it is a progressive picture, not necessarily one that leads to perfection, but one that, as long as it has healthy roots, keeps reaching heavenward. Should we chalk its development up to natural forces, or does the Devil cause our branching and division? But why would the Devil's work lead to the fruit bearing branches mixed in with the non fruit bearing ones. Any positives coming out of our disputes certainly can't be due to the far-sightedness or wisdom of Man, so there is only one option left...

Maybe the ever-dividing, living Church is part of God's plan after all.
"Ye fools, compare yourselves unto a tree; take a vine. First it sheddeth its leaves, then a shoot cometh, then a leaf, then a flower, and after these a sour berry, then a full ripe grape. Ye see that in a little time the fruit of the tree attaineth unto mellowness." Clement of Rome

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