E PLURIBUS UNUM
Presented August 1, 20164 at Bethany Presbyterian Church, Sacramento, CA. This sermon is shorter than usual because I thought I was preaching the following week and was preparing for that lectionary. Thank goodness Pastor Lorie emailed me to thank me for preaching THIS week.
“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
He said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?
Ed had lived a long and good life and when his time had come, he found himself before the Pearly Gates.
Saint Peter was there and offered to give him a tour of the place and they started along, each one asking questions of the other.
When they came to the first door, there was much singing and "Hallelujahs!" and Saint Peter said, "Ed, you're a Presbyterian, aren't you? Well that's a few doors down. This is for our Baptist believers."
A few steps down, Ed peeked in to see some orderly worshipers singing solemn songs while studying the text. "That is the Methodists," explained St. Peter. "You're right down here."
As they approached a third door, Ed could hear the bells and smell the incense. He was about to speak when St. Peter motioned for him to be quiet. "That's the Episcopalians. They think they are the only ones up here."
There are 217 denominations and about 270,000 of their churches in the United States - Roman Catholics, Southern Baptists, Methodists, Mormons, Congregationalists, Assembly of God… Add to this the 30,000 non-denominational churches. In Sacramento alone, there are over 700 different churches.
They can't ALL be right!
Makes you yearn for the time of Martin Luther, who unintentionally began the split from the one Catholic Church in 1517 to form what we would call the Protestant Church. But there has always been conflicts in Christian churches, as far back as the first gatherings of believers shortly after Christ's death and resurrection.
A good part of our New Testament consists of Paul's letters to the churches - in Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae, and Thessalonica -advising them on ways of the church and how they should act as a church.
The first church buildings did not start to appear until over a century after Christ, so the earliest believers met in homes. And if you had "Peter's home church" and "Matthew's home church," it is human nature to believe that Peter and Matthew and whomever taught the lessons of Christ in different ways.
Division, of course, is not limited to faith. You have your fervent Forty-Niner fans arguing with an ardent Oakland Raiders proponent. Trump vs. Clinton, In 'n Out vs. Round Table, Ginger vs. Mary Ann… We can always find something to argue about.
Coming together on a Sunday morning should be a relief from that time. We choose Bethany Presbyterian Church because we like the fellowship, we like the worship service, we like the music, we love the guest preacher… *koff*
And in this time of loving togetherness, we should get re-energized to face the natural world outside of traffic, work, noisy neighbors and the million other frustrations and battles that await. We learn the lessons today of Christ's love - and forgive me for contradicting our Lord, but Jesus IS love - and exercise those lessons as we do all the parts of our bodies, so that we may use those muscles when called upon in unfriendly times.
Some of these muscle memories are easy - taking a deep breath, asking yourself, "Where's the harm?" Others require us to sacrifice the anger that feels so good, when we know we are right and that person is a moron.
And while we must sometimes take an awkward stand against something like an ethnic joke, an inappropriate comment, or holding a friend accountable for his un-Christian behavior, there are larger battles of which we may have to direct part but which we must make our stand known.
E Pluribus Unum. From Many One. And while it refers to the states of our union making one United States, it can also refer to the modern mix of US Americans - Black, White, Male, Female, … you know the list.
The current "us vs. them" consists of good Christians and those terrorist Muslims. You know who I mean - the doctors, school teachers, bus drivers, students, retail clerks, Mothers, Fathers, children - the 2.3 MILLION Muslims who live our nation. And yes, some of them - the tiniest percentage imaginable - are terrorists. But so are Timothy McVeigh, the Oregon Militia, and God help us, Pastor Roger Jimenez of the Verity Baptist Church up in Northgate, who is calling for the government to kill homosexuals.
We are so obsessed with looking for the enemy that we neglect to look for the friend. And believe me, looking for a friend is a much easier search.
Our history is rife with "us vs. them." The Muslims, the African Americans, the Chinese, the Irish, the Italians, Ranchers vs. Farmers, Native Americans…
It is almost a "knee-jerk" reaction for US Americans to find that dividing line. But as Christians, we must do better. As Paul explains in the Hebrews passage that was read, our forefathers and -mothers fought the battles and our battles are no less real. Father against Son and Mother against Daughter in what is ultimately a battle of Good vs. Evil - a battle for the soul of Christ in our life.
There will come a time when Jesus returns to us - a time of Revelation. When that times comes, all the walls in all those rooms will fall down, revealing a banquet hall for all to celebrate together in heaven. I'm in no hurry for that day and in the meanwhile - as we wait for a day when we are all together and sharing the love of Christ together - let's practice living such a life on earth - loving our fellow worldly citizens and winning the good fight of Christ's love in every encounter.