Amos 5:6-15, 1 Corinthians 12:12-19,
How will you celebrate the federal holiday tomorrow? Long known as Christopher Columbus Day, commemorated to celebrate Columbus’ arrival in the Americas is no longer openly embraced by many people. While thousands will still watch the NYC parade in honor of Columbus tomorrow at 11 – the largest in the world - other cities and states have renamed the holiday “Native Americans Day,” “Indigenous Peoples Day “or “Discovery Day.” NYC calls the holiday “Italian Heritage Day” as well as Indigenous Peoples Day. In total, 27 states including the District of Columbia no longer observe the holiday. In the past year several statues of Christopher Columbus have been taken down, in the belief that valuing what Columbus ultimately did in “discovering” and establishing European values in the Americas has led to denigration of the memory of millions of indigenous peoples already living in the Americas when he arrived. NYS remains so far with 23 other states with Columbus Day still on the books.
The controversy over Columbus Day is but a reflection of the divisions and cultural shifts we face as a country. COVID 19 made our divisions more painfully obvious. Once living by the motto, E pluribus unum (Out of many one), we seem to live by the motto Out of many, chaos. Out of many, distrust. Out of many, conflict. Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals seem more concerned about their own party lines than what’s best for the nation. The gap between the rich and poor has never been wider. Black lives Matter and All Lives Matter camps have drawn battles lines. Gaslighting and cancel culture are popular past times. Rural and city-bred folk are suspicious of each other. Native-born and immigrants mistrust each other. Evangelical and mainline Christians remain guarded of the other’s motives. The list could go on.
Churches and religious institutions reflect the culture they belong to. They often find themselves mired in conflict unable to rise above and resolve the problems they face.
This is exactly the state of affairs in Amos - the prophet depicts a society torn apart by sin that can only be mended by turning back to God. It’s the same case with the Corinth Church when Paul wrote to the community that he had founded. Paul founded the Corinthian church during his second missionary journey- meandering road we talked about last week. During the two years he spent there, the new community thrived and grew strong. Paul had helped them dream God’s dream for themselves and for the world. He had helped them discern God’s calling for their church, the specific ways that they could help heal the hurts of the world. He had set them loving down the pat then he left.
And all hell broke loose.
Before long, some church members were proclaiming themselves to be “followers of Paul.” Others were “followers of Apollos” (another Christian missionary). Others were “followers of Peter.”
In the midst of this mess, Paul asks, “Isn’t anyone a follower of Jesus?”
Paul reminds the Corinthian community that being a follower of Jesus is a lot like being part of a body. A head doesn’t serve itself; it serves the body. A foot doesn’t serve the foot, or even the leg. It serves the body. Each part of the body is important. Each part of the body makes a vital contribution. And each is going to experience the life of the body a little differently.
This analogy becomes critical when a church takes risks to follow God’s Dream to love and discovers that the vision doesn’t match their reality. Churches find themselves fighting over mask mandates. Or music choices. Or mission spending or other interpersonal conflicts. Inevitably, the church will stumble. And inevitably, people will interpret that stumbling as a sign that the church is failing in its mission. But exactly the opposite is happening. A church that takes its calling to live God’s Dream of love in the world will necessarily stumble around as it tries to do its best.
Paul encourages the Corinthian congregation to remember the whole. The body they are a part of isn’t’ just any body. It is the body of Christ. We are living for a relationship, not merely ourselves. Therefore, there are no winners or losers. There is no “my way or the highway.” There can be no “I don’t care about the youth of the church, or I don’t care about the elderly.” No “let’s do away with the traditional service because I don’t like traditional music, or no contemporary music, because I don’t like contemporary sounds.”
There is only, “I care about the youth because Christ cares about the youth, and the elderly, Christ cares for them as well. I care that we all find a way to worship God in the most whole-hearted and respectful way we can.” We say this, knowing that a major part of the reintegrating step of love is remembering that we base our assessment on how well we act and react as a body when the going gets tough. We look out for each other. We care for each other. We are one body. Out of many, one.
During World War II, Hitler commanded all religious groups to unite so that he could control them. Among the Brethren assemblies, half complied and half refused. Those who went along with the order had a much easier time. Those who did not, faced harsh persecution. In almost every family of those who resisted, someone died in a concentration camp.
When the war was over, feelings of bitterness ran deep between the groups and there was much tension. Finally, they decided that the situation had to be healed. Leaders from each group met at a quiet retreat. For several days, each person spent time in prayer, examining his own heart in the light of Christ's commands. Then they came together. Francis Schaeffer, who told of the incident, asked a friend who was there, "What did you do then?" "We were just one," he replied. As they confessed their hostility and bitterness to God and yielded to His control, the Holy Spirit created a spirit of unity among them. Love filled their hearts and dissolved their hatred.
Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So, each of us, committed to looking to Christ, are in heart near to each other. This is because through Christ we are attuned to the love of God which seeks to reintegrate us as a whole body. When love prevails among believers, especially in times of strong disagreement, it presents to the world an indisputable mark of a true follower of Jesus Christ.
So today we remember to the words of the prophet Amos, Come back to the Lord and Live! So, whether or not you attend the parade tomorrow, or lift up indigenous people’s culture and tenacity, let us be there for each other. Let us realize that we are all in this journey together. Our fates are intertwined. We fall or rise together. God seeks to reintegrate us with the understanding though many, we are one body in Christ. Out of many, may we be one. Amen.
A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God.