Divide et Impera

Scripture Focus: Matthew 12:25, 36-37
25 Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand…

36 But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” 

Genesis 13.8-9
8 So Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herders and mine, for we are close relatives. 9 Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.”

Reflection: Divide et Impera
By John Tillman

Speaking of the impossibility of driving out demons by the power of demons, Jesus says “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined.” (Matthew 12.25) The word translated ruined is also used by Jesus in his prophecy of the destruction of the city of Jerusalem. (Luke 21.20) It refers to destruction, being deserted, or desolation.

In the wake of the attack on the Capitol, American citizens and the world now have images in their heads of the consequences of a kingdom divided against itself that will be a part of history books for generations to come. A mirrored corollary of Jesus’ statement is the Latin phrase that began to appear often in the writings of the colonial period of the 1600s, Divide et impera (“divide and rule”). We know this maxim today as “divide and conquer.”

There are both earthly and spiritual emperors who wish to divide and rule over us through the use of division and conspiracy. Enemies without are not as useful to emperors as enemies within. They want us to suspect and turn on each other. 

Christians should be especially wary of shadowy, unknown “emperors” sowing division such as the mysterious, unidentified founder of QAnon. We should also be wary of popular leaders spreading this unknown manipulator’s messages. Truth-denying conspiracy theories such as QAnon lead Christians away from the concept of absolute truth and toward division and radicalization.

If nations or the Church allow ourselves to be divided, we will be conquered. Yet, we cannot be unified without the truth. When Christians participate in lies, we stain the gospel with falsity.

Let us pray (based on Matthew 12.31-36) that as we seek unity we will stand for truth.

Lord, you told us that every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. 
Help us, Lord, to be made into good trees with good fruit of righteousness.
May our mouths speak good out of the good stored up us
May we speak the truth. May we hesitate to share the uncertain. May we refuse to participate in falsehood.
We know we will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word we have spoken, so fill our words with your truth and your love.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of the ram’s horn.
Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises.
For God is King of all the earth; sing praises with all your skill.
God reigns over the nations; God sits upon his holy throne. — Psalm 47.5-8

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Genesis 13 (Listen – 2:16)
Matthew 12 (Listen – 6:41)

Read more about Good and Pleasant Unity?
Change our hearts, Lord. Arouse our compassion. Help us abandon anger.

Read more about Honoring The Truth
Seeking the truth is not only a spiritual quest. It is sometimes a civic one. Or a legal one.

The Sword Versus The Cross

Scripture Focus: Genesis 8.11
11 When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth.

Matthew 8.11-12
11 I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Reflection: The Sword Versus The Cross
By John Tillman

I am writing this devotional after the horror of watching the storming of the United States Capitol building during a joint session of Congress to certify the 2020 presidential election results. At this moment, lawmakers have returned to work, but much is uncertain, both for the politicians involved, the future of the nation, and for Christianity.

Some of the violent invaders waved the Confederate battle flag and some carried flags proclaiming “Jesus Saves.” Clearly, their true belief is that violence, rather than Jesus, saves. Unfortunately, rather than save, the violence cost four people their lives in the confrontation with police.

We don’t do “hot takes” at The Park Forum. Besides, by Friday, when this post will run, who knows what might have happened or been revealed… But we find comfort in today’s scriptures. Regardless of the events of any day or week or year, it is to the scriptures that we turn.

We find that violence will be cleansed from the earth. In saving Noah and his family, God was saving us. In eliminating the violent line of Cain, God was justly punishing horrendous evil and violence. Those who cling to violence are choosing to line up and follow in Cain’s footsteps.

It is true that “Jesus Saves.” But there will be those who refuse to be saved by Jesus. They might wave a “Jesus” flag, but they want to be saved by other, less demanding things. Many want to be saved by the sword. But those who live by the sword will die by it. (Matthew 26.52) We, however, who choose to die by the cross are made alive by it. (Galatians 2.20; 5.24; 6.14)

We enter the feast of the Kingdom with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (Matthew 8.11) Though these men’s names are revered as patriarchs, it should comfort us to know that they are each spectacular sinners as well.

All who come via the cross, come through Noah’s flood as well and are cleansed from violence and all other sin. When we hold out our hand to the creator, upon it will light the dove of the Holy Spirit, with an olive twig of peace. 

Some have been like brash, foolish Peter, swinging away with a sword of vengeance—we must put it away. We have been sifted, tricked, by Satan. The only way back is to repent and take up the cross instead of the sword.

May we reaffirm our commitment to living as God’s people of peace.
May we reject the call of joining in violence.
May our words reflect that.
May our actions reflect that.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me out of all my terror. — Psalm 34.4

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Genesis 8 (Listen – 3:06) 
Matthew 8 (Listen – 4:09)

This Weekend’s Readings
Genesis 9 (Listen – 3:50) Matthew 9 (Listen – 4:56)
Genesis 10 (Listen – 3:29) Matthew 10 (Listen – 5:07)

Read more about Of Pride and The Sword
God does not rejoice in the death of any person, much less any nation, but he rejoices to see justice done to oppressors and the proud humbled.

Read more about Hearing the Groans of the Prisoners
Physical salvation is always top of mind for the persecuted and God’s wrath only sounds harsh to those who have rarely suffered.

Uprooting and Replanting

Scripture Focus: Genesis 7.1, 4
1 The Lord then said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation… 4 Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made.” 

Matthew 7.15-20
15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. 

Reflection: Uprooting and Replanting
By John Tillman

I have always been annoyed by lessons that teach that people teased Noah about building the ark. 

It’s not in scripture. It’s probably the most widely believed “Bible story” with absolutely zero scriptural support. From what Scripture reveals, it is equally likely that Noah built the ark in complete secrecy. “In holy fear” as Hebrews 11.7 describes it. It is one of those things we just have to get comfortable with not knowing. There are many mysterious things in today’s passages…

“The way to life is narrow and few find it…” (Matthew 7.13-14)

Jesus asks, “Do people pick grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?” The answer, not included in his parable, is “No.” People uproot thornbushes and burn them. Then they plant fruitful vines in their place. 

In the flood, we see uprooting and replanting. The thorny brambles of Cain and Lamech filled the world with violence and bloodshed. Scripture tells us that every inclination of people’s hearts was toward violence and evil. (Genesis 6.5)

What kind of violence and evil? The example given is the story of the taking of the “daughters of humans” by the “Sons of God.” The word translated married in this verse implies “taking” in the manner of carrying off an object. It also implies that they took many of them to be their wives, going farther than Cain’s Lamech did in taking two wives. The identity of the “Sons of God” is mysterious but less important than understanding that this violent and sinful behavior was pervasive and unrepentant. 

The pattern of sin repeats…Adam and Eve took beautiful fruit from the tree in order to supplant God. The “Sons” see something beautiful and inherently good, and abuse it for evil purposes.

Matthew 7 and Genesis 7 each contain passages tinged with tragedy. The door to the ark and the gate to life are open but few find them. False prophets and false disciples are many. But we can have hope that those who have ears to hear can, and will, hear his call.

Jesus is greater than Noah. His “ark” holds more than eight people. One righteous man, Noah, was saved from dying among the unrighteous. One Righteous man, Jesus, died among the unrighteous so they might be saved. 

We the unworthy and unrighteous can be replanted into a new kingdom of peace that is cultivated in the same field from which the violent thornbushes were uprooted.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Save me, O God, for the waters have risen up to my neck… — Psalm 69.1

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Genesis 7 (Listen – 3:18) 
Matthew 7 (Listen – 3:31)

Read more about Prepare for the End
Christians are sometimes guilty of looking forward to the apocalypse like a private revenge fantasy.

Read more about Revelation of Love
Revelation is the story of all of the obstacles to our homecoming being systematically unlocked, opened up, or destroyed

The Floodlight of Epiphany

Scripture Focus: Genesis 6.11-13
11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. 12 God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. 13 So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.

Matthew 6.22-23
22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! 

Reflection: The Floodlight of Epiphany
By John Tillman

Today is Epiphany. Epiphany follows the twelfth day of Christmas and is the end of the Christmastide season. 

Epiphany means manifestation and is a day of revealing. It is a day of light. It is a day in which the prophecy of Isaiah 9.1-2 begins to see its fulfillment. All peoples of the Earth, represented by the Magi who visited Jesus, are blessed by the appearance of the Christ. Epiphany is celebrated on a day but is also a process. Matthew refers back to this prophecy (Matthew 4.12-17) to describe the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

On the people living in the land of deep darkness…a light has dawned.

Today is an Epiphany—one of many celebrated over the centuries. The light of Epiphany continues to reveal the evil of humanity and the goodness of God’s mercy and justice toward them.

Jesus addressed inner darkness directly when he taught the parable of the eye and the lamp of the body. Noah experienced how dark the world can be when people give themselves over to violence. Light becomes darkness. Good becomes evil.

Today, we will pray that the light of Christ would dawn, exposing darkness.

Let Light Dawn
Oh, Christ, let your light dawn on us!
Heal our darkened eyes that light may enter our bodies.
Light our lamps with the oil of your Spirit, warming our hearts and driving out our darkness.

Reveal yourself to the nations through us as a dawning light.

Lord, at dawn the day is only beginning.
At dawn, the light glows softly. May it grow brighter.
At dawn, we have a choice to make:
To work and walk in the light or hide in the shadows of selfishness.

Let us leave the shadows.
Let us work the fields while there is light.
Let us walk in the light and call to those in darkness to join us.

May evil be exposed.
May hatred be bleached from our souls by the burning light of the sun.
May lies and liars be exposed.
May truth shine, expelling every dark, deceitful shadow.
May the darkness of violence have no shelter in our hearts.
May peace and mercy be made known by our words and actions.
May our love be a warming light that draws people to you.

Flood the earth again, Lord—this time with light.
Healing, cleansing, warming, revealing light.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Let all flesh bless his holy Name forever and ever. — Psalm 145.22

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Genesis 6 (Listen – 2:48) 
Matthew 6 (Listen – 4:35)

Read more about Into His Light — Hope of Advent
The corruption of this world deepens the darkness we live in each day and, in sinfulness, we prefer darkness to light.

Read more about Becoming Light — Hope of Advent
May the fruit of the light shine from us.
May goodness, righteousness, and truth beam from us.

Two Lamechs, One Jesus

Scripture Focus: Genesis 5.28-29
28 When Lamech had lived 182 years, he had a son. 29 He named him Noah and said, “He will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the Lord has cursed.” 

Matthew 5.43-48
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.  

Reflection: Two Lamechs, One Jesus
By John Tillman 

Noah’s world was cursed by anger, hatred, division, and sin. Sound familiar? 

Lamech, the father of Noah, is a descendant of Adam’s son, Seth. Lamech the father of Jabal and Jubal is a descendant of Cain. The two Lamechs have their hopes in and represent very different things.  

Cain’s Lamech is his sixth descendant, a number often associated with humanity and with the days of creation. Lamech multiplies all of Cain’s sins. (Genesis 4.19-24) His hope is in violence and oppression. He violates God’s establishment of marriage by “marrying” two wives. (The Hebrew is not the same word as “marry” or  “wed” but means “take” as in carry away or seize. This implies violence in the taking of these women.)   

Cain’s Lamech multiplies violence. He is proud of being more violent than any other man. He escalates violence and rejects peace. He seeks to weaponize God’s curse on Cain for his violent advantage. 

Seth’s Lamech is his eighth descendent, a number associated with the “eighth day” or rebirth of creation. To Eve, Seth is God’s replacement for Abel, who Cain killed. Seth’s line represents hope in God and rebirth. This is the hope in which Lamech names his son, Noah. Through Noah, Lamech prophesied that the curse of the garden would be lifted and God would comfort his people. (Genesis 3.17; Romans 8.20

The peace, comfort, and the breaking of Eden’s curse did indeed come through Lamech and his son, Noah. They are both included in the genealogy of Jesus, who gives us peace and comfort in a world flooded by darkness. 

Noah was placed on a wooden ark to save himself and his family from evil, violent people who filled the earth with bloodshed. Jesus placed himself on a wooden cross and drowned himself in the flood of our sins. Jesus brought us up from the watery grave of our sin, to deliver us from destruction. Through Noah and Christ, we have a new covenant. We are to love, not hate, our enemy. We are to not be self-serving but bless all around us. 

The literal sons of Cain’s Lamech died in the flood. But his ideological descendants abound. There are two lines of mankind. 

There are those who multiply and escalate violence, trusting in and glorying in their strength.
There are those who work to reverse the curse, flooding the earth with hope, peace, and rebirth. 

Which line of Lamech will you follow? 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Love the Lord, all you who worship him; the Lord protects the faithful, but repays to the full those who act haughtily. — Psalm 31.23

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Genesis 5 (Listen – 3:18) 
Matthew 5 (Listen – 6:03)

Read more about Responding to Political Violence
Despite our sense of moral superiority, we have not advanced beyond violence for political ends.

Read more about Choosing Gentleness Over Violence
We cannot continue posting and liking things that are resentful, quarrelsome, and the opposite of gentle, yet expect to represent Christ.

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