Let us pray: Dear Savior, only in the Christian Church are we: one nation under God. Only in Your Church are we like-minded, sinners searching for the freedom that comes from eternal salvation. Only in Your Church do we speak of grace, Your undeserved love given to us, which fosters faith and hope that does not disappoint. Today teach us to value and uphold Your kingdom and be great citizens of it! Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE LORD OF THE CHURCH
TEXT: I Cor. 12: 27—13:13
Dearly Beloved By Christ:
How do you define a nation on this earth? What criteria describes a nation-state? Isn’t it these three things: borders, language, and culture? Every nation has territory it controls and in which its people live. Borders mark that territory. Every nation should have, must have, a common language that everyone communicates in. Otherwise the people don’t understand each other and chaos ensues. And every nation must also have a unique culture, shared values, common history, similar moral character as that is the glue that binds them together as one instead of balkanizing them into fiefdoms. Historically, America has been a melting pot of many diverse groups that blended together around these principles. Thus on the great seal of the United States on the back of a dollar bill is that Latin expression: “e pluribus unum” or: out of many, one.
America was founded by people who believed in God. America was founded by people who maybe didn’t always go to church, but who espoused most of the basic principles of Christianity. Already in the Declaration of Independence, that Hancock and Adams wrote, these principles are laid out: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The Creator God is acknowledged right there. And three governing principles are also spelled out: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. So, for all those immigrants who came to America for a new life from around the world, borders, language and culture were the fabric of America. Those three things defined us as a people, a “city set on a hill” a “new Jerusalem” as many wrote. And those terms were taken directly from the Christian Bible. They are synonyms for the Christian Church—all the believers in Christ.
Although “e pluribus unum” is not a Christian terms per se, it does describe God’s Church here on earth. From the many races, creeds, backgrounds, and nationalities of sinners seeking salvation comes the One Holy Christian Church. Today St. Paul describes that Church and its make-up in our lesson. Note well that this entire section of Scripture applies to, and is the apostle’s definition of, God’s Church. I know the 13th chapter of I Corinthians is usually thought of in terms of marriage, earthly marriage, but that’s not the contextual application of it that Paul employs here. No, He uses that chapter to further enlarge and define the governing principles of God’s Church and what the Body of Christ runs on. Those are: “faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” So, just as we have one God in three Persons, so God’s Church is run on three main principles. Yes, in the Church everyone revolves around our singular God.
The Corinthian Church was composed of diverse people. There were Jews, Greeks, Romans, tribal peoples, and other nationalities from around the Roman empire. Some were slaves, others workers, others business people, and still others thinkers and educators to name a few. They had former heathens in their midst who had worshipped at the altar of Diana of Ephesus, consulted the oracle at Delphi, and sacrificed in Roman temples. But all these people had learned the hard way that those supposed “gods” were false gods who gave them nothing. False gods who actually inhibited them from finding life, liberty (eternal freedom from guilt and shame), and the pursuit of lasting happiness. Then they had learned about, or heard about Jesus Christ. The Spirit had worked saving faith into their hearts. Their human diversity was thrown aside in favor of unity in God’s grace. Paul now says to them: “You are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”
Then he goes on to remind them that they have found a new diversity of Godly gifts in the Church of the Almighty. “And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.”—That latter class being those who spoke unique dialects and languages which could reach the fringes of the empire and truly communicate with them about the hows and whys of God’s salvation. And even those diverse tongues could now speak a common Church language to others about how God had sent His Son into this world to suffer and die to save them. How God raised Christ to life again after death to show that His sacrifice for their sins was complete and totally acceptable to the Heavenly King. And how by faith they could have this Godly gift as their own.
Then comes the application of how to use these diverse offices and gifts within God’s unified kingdom, I Corinthians 13. Paul focuses especially upon the chief gift or tool that God has given His people: love, or grace, or the truth that God loves us freely in Christ irrespective of any human attempts to earn or curry His favor. Without that kind of love or driving force behind what we do, the Church will cease to be One Body and will dissolve into chaos. You know his rationale, maybe by heart: “If I have not love I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal…if I have not love and give all to the poor…I gain nothing….love is patient, kind, it does not envy, it does not boast, it does not dishonor others, it is not easily angered, it never rejoices in evil but rejoices with the truth…it always protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres…love never fails.”
In other words, God’s love for us in Christ is the chief building block of His Church. Childish human understanding of this gets us nowhere. Trying to carry out His offices and duties in the Church without it is always doomed to failure. Our good intentions will crash and burn without it. And then he concludes with this: “These three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
E PLURIBUS UNUM: OUT OF THE MANY, ONE. That describes God’s Church. We’re one in Christ. Our border isn’t a visible line on a map, but is contained in each repentant heart. Our language isn’t a human tongue, but words given by the Spirit which make human hearts come alive because His life-giving power stands behind them. And our culture is rooted squarely in all the truths of God’s Holy Word without “human wisdom” thrown into the mix. This describes each of you: God’s City Set on the Hill for all the world to see. Amen