On June 16, 1858, the Republican State Convention met in Springfield, IL, and chose Abraham Lincoln as their candidate for senate. Lincoln’s speech that night is said to have cost him the election, but eventually propel him to the presidency. Outlining the Republican position that slavery must be ended, Lincoln turned to the Scripture passage read as part of today’s Gospel (Lent III [Oculi], Luke 11:14-28) and used the same analogy concerning a country divided by slavery:

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.

I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. 

It will become all one thing or all the other. 

Either the opponents of slavery, will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new –North as well as South.

Have we no tendency to the latter condition? (http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/house.htm) 

Abraham Lincoln understood that America would have to choose: would we be a country that recognized the full humanity of the men and women we had enslaved? He saw the danger that if slavery wasn’t stopped completely, it would eventually prevail completely. Lincoln recognized that it was no right goal to make slavery safe, legal, and rare; a nation founded on the idea of the natural right to life and liberty for every human could not in good conscience allow for slavery in certain circumstances, such as the health or economic well-being of the slave-owner. If it is wrong, it is wrong – full stop.

Evil must be stopped, and the dignity of every human being recognized. The need to address evil, by the way, includes the evil done in our day to little children, born and unborn, who are thrown out with the garbage, or dismembered and sold for parts – largely in black or hispanic neighborhoods, or because girls are valued less than boys. We don’t step to the sidelines when an issue becomes “political.” We Christians dare not become subservient to the bosses of any party – but we cannot be silent and stay out of the conversation when human beings are treated worse than animals.

But have we no tendency, Lincoln asked, toward the evil? Lincoln’s friends and enemies alike thought the speech went too far. And he lost that campaign for senate.

Each of us is a house divided.

Radical commitment means being willing to suffer loss. It involves going a narrow path.

The call to you by the Lord Jesus this Lent is to address the evil not only in the world, but within you. Each of us is a house divided.

It was not so in the beginning. In the beginning, man was made to be in communion with God and to live in selfless love toward his wife. The fall into sin brings a radical change in the heart of man. We call this original sin, or inherited sin. It doesn’t refer to Adam’s sin as the original, or first, sin, but rather that our origins are sinful, we inherit a nature curved in on ourselves. We act and make decisions based on what pleases us, or what works to our advantage. Even the nice things people do have the motivation that it will improve their situation or standing, or give them a sense of pride because they are good. We are born with this problem, and it must be addressed.

Baptism window

Have you paid attention to the words said at a baptism? They are striking, and seem positively medieval. First, the pastor in the name of Jesus orders the devil to leave: “Depart, unclean spirit, and make way for the Holy Spirit.” Later the language gets stronger: “I adjure you, unclean spirit, that you come out of and depart from this child of God.”

When I first encountered this language, it conjured up images of exorcisms from movies, where a demon has taken personal control of a person. That’s not at all the meaning here. Rather, it is picking up on the Biblical language of the devil being the prince of this world, the ruler of this world, and other kinds of terms indicating that everyone is under the sway of the devil’s way of thinking. Consider St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, where he calls the devil, “the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath” (2:2-3).

So at Baptism we are called to renounce the devil, and all his works, and all his ways. But the battle goes on. Jesus today tells a parable about a man freed from the power of the devil, but he does not fill his house, that is, his body, mind, and life, with holy things. He remains an empty vessel, and so he is overtaken by a host of demons, and the last state of that man is worse than the first. The Holy Spirit has no dwelling in this man. For how does the Holy Spirit dwell within us, but by the invocation of the holy Name, daily calling upon the Father for His kingdom to come among us, for His will to be done in us, for our sins to be forgiven and for the grace to forgive our neighbors? Often at Divine Service we pray the prayer of a repentant adulterer and murderer, pleading for a renewing of the Holy Spirit in his life. So also we approach the Holy Communion.

The continuing power of sin makes each of us a house divided. There is a civil war going on within each of us, for the tendency of our flesh, the mockery and enticement of the world, and the assaults of the devil all try to pull us back to our pre-baptismal nature, pull us away from being disciples of Jesus.

There is even a kind of peace in that life. In today’s Gospel there is another parable, the parable of the strong man. This strong man is the devil, and he rules and guards this world and its possessions, meaning its people. When he does this, they are kept at peace. That peace seems alluring, for you do not have to go against the grain, against the tide, against the trends. There is peace in doing what is popular, doing what is easy. Take no stand for truth, go along, and you will experience a kind of peace.

God did not make you to be a slave.

But it is a false peace, a diabolical peace. God did not make you to be a slave. He did not make you to be a slave to other powers, nor a slave to your passions. The disciplines of Lent—prayer, giving money, and fasting—all reveal in us that we have become slaves to food and drink, possessions and passions. St. Paul in today’s Epistle tells us that if we are slaves to our passions, we are not children of God:

But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

Though your sins be great, greater still is His redemption. Your sins are gone and you have a redeemer, a Lord, a stronger one whom death cannot hold but who holds you through death into life in His kingdom.

Repent, be filled with remorse and sorrow for these things. For you, the Lord Jesus Christ comes. Those passions with which you struggle, He has overcome them. He Himself, as a man, endured every trouble of the flesh, every insult of the world, every mockery and temptation of the devil. All these He conquered. Jesus is your Jesus, your savior and victor. Though all the world embrace madness and racism and seek to reject every natural law, they can win nothing. The devil is a lion with no teeth. His roar is impotent, be it ever so terrifying, for Jesus has overcome him. Jesus is the stronger man who tears down the devil’s wall and brings forth the spoils, the treasures of war. And what are these treasures? You are. Though the world count you as insignificant, though the great ones deride you as a “loser,” though you be troubled by anxiety or despair, though your marriage be loveless or cancer ravage your body, though everything and every one turn against you, be not troubled, be not anxious, be not afraid. You are the great treasure that the Lord Jesus came to this world for to rescue and redeem. Though the world count you as of no worth, you are of infinite worth and infinite price to Jesus, who shed His blood on the cross for you. Though your sins be great, greater still is His redemption. Your sins are gone and you have a redeemer, a Lord, a stronger one whom death cannot hold but who holds you through death into life in His kingdom.

Be no more a house divided. You belong to Christ. In Him will you live, in Him will you die, and His shall you be forever. +INJ+