St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 10th Sunday after Trinity, August 21, 2022
“Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.”
E Pluribus Unum reads the motto on our dollar bill’s mysterious flip-side design, written on a ribbon in the mouth of the eagle of the Great Seal. Its talons clutch an olive branch and thirteen arrows. You don’t mess with this bird. On its other side, the seal is a pyramid with the all-seeing eye and other mottos, but back to the Latin. E Pluribus Unum means out of many: one. Thirteen American colonies united into one mighty nation. Divided, they would fall, or in the words of Ben Franklin, “We must hang together, gentlemen, else we shall most assuredly hang separately.” Out of many: one. The United States. It’s a concept tested over and again, and today almost more than ever.
Many peoples fleeing here to take refuge are of every race, creed and tongue. Problems of assimilation from their cultures to our own are both difficult and worthwhile. Were we merely a nation of treasonous English subjects, ‘twould be a poorer one without the African, French, German, Spanish, Chinese, Indian, and Middle Eastern immigrants. What would America offer the world of music without its black elements? How would radio code have gone in WWII without the wind talkers, Navajos simply speaking their native lingo to foil our enemies? Scientific genius has blessed Hungarians, and the accomplishments of our Jewish citizens can’t be denied. We are a richer nation for joining many races of people under a single flag, and a seal that reads E Pluribus Unum.
Diversity is taught in our schools as multiculturalism, inclusivity, sensitivity, equity, and justice. These are good words. Some themes beneath these words are less good. America has been called a melting pot, races and ethnicities come together and unified like a good fruit salad. We do need a common language. A person stuck with only Hmong or Spanish in Chico is disadvantaged.
Some Diversity teachings today seek to eliminate any system of morality or ethics, or even biology. Decades ago, some white Christians fire-bombed a Jewish center in Sacramento. We pastors in Chico presented a letter to Temple Beth Israel, assuring them that the Christians of Chico extended only love and friendship, and would defend them at all cost. This gained a friendship between me and Rabbi Moshe. He was starting a ‘tolerance task force’ under the Interfaith Council, and asked me to bring this concept to our Pastor’s Prayer fellowship as well. Having found the tolerance was to be for just about anything, I told Rabbi Moshe, “There’s a problem here, Moshe. Tolerance is a blank check. It’s fine if we all know what we’re tolerating, but when it’s undefined, I doubt any pastor will sign his name to it—assuming it accepts lifestyles his religion knows are immoral. It’s a step too far. And it’s not far enough, because we are commanded by Jesus not to tolerate, but to love. We are commanded to love—even our enemies.” Moshe was surprised. “Well,” he said, “we’re commanded to hate our enemies.” I smiled. “But we have to love them, not merely tolerate them.”
True godly diversity is the product of our Creator. It makes room for wonderful variables of nature, wildly different species, colorful birds, crazy looking apes, the giraffe, hippo, gazelle, and tiger. It makes people tall or short, freckled, ebony, or bronze, and hair in shades of chestnut, straw, carrot, or raven, shaven or shaggy, wild or cosmopolitan. We bring a lot to the table, but we need to agree on some common causes.
St. Paul wrote of diversity to the Church in Corinth, seeking to unify believers when variations of spiritual gifts threatened the Church’s unity. First: if a person calls Jesus their God, they have the Holy Spirit and are under His influence. The many gifts and spiritual offerings that each brings is of God, but do not raise one above other talents. “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.”
One Spirit unifies the Church, even if we see only division. Some speak in tongues, others don’t. Some prophesy, others delve scriptures to prove the truth. We worship liturgically, others informally with rock bands. Different administrations we find in hierarchical orders, or fiercely independent churches going it alone, even house churches staying out of sight. Such house churches are the only churches in Iran or China. In any case, if Jesus is truly the Lord in these variations, the Spirit presents the truth to them also, and in truth, they are one with all the Christian world. The same God works all in all.
But we can’t simply say that anything done by people called ‘Christian’ is okay with God. That’s nonsense. St. Paul’s phrase: “the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal,” means, “the various ways that the Spirit of God displays Himself in richly abundant gifts is shown to be His because each brings benefit to all the members.” If an alleged gift fails to build up the Body of Christ, the Church has concluded for many centuries, this is not of the Holy Spirit at all. It may be snake handling or baptizing the dead, cults of personality, or stockpiling personal treasures, ordaining transgendered people or performing same-sex weddings: these are destructive to the whole Body. We conclude this is not the Spirit of God. Diversity has its outer boundaries, beyond which is error and harm.
Jesus came to a place where He could gaze on Jerusalem. And He cried. He knew it would be leveled to the ground in forty years. Its fate was sealed because when the Son of God entered in, they would not receive Him. And why? Were they too narrow, or too diverse? They were both, and it would serve us to know what the trouble was. They were narrowed by the way they’d interpreted prophecies of Messiah, and refused Jesus because they were not open to truth. But they were also in the error of divergent practices, allowing what was nearly a circus in the Temple, a scam of selling certified sacrificial animals and a temple coin exchange that enriched the priests. They were not too pure to recognize Messiah: they were too corrupt.
If Jesus looked upon our shining cities of alabaster today, would He weep as well? What would He see in us? Church spires rise toward heaven, organs play, people park and walk in, later walk back and go home. Does He smile on our churches, or weep? Many churches study end-time prophecies, hoping for His return soon, but when the Son of man returns, will He find faith on earth? Jesus asked that question. When He asks a question, He always knows the answer. But do we?
What would He be looking for in us? Tolerance? If we’re speaking racially, I will say that I’d like more faces in the pews showing wider ethnic variables, proving we are a people of good will toward all men. I know we are, but this church is… kind of white. I’d say we are comprised of more than one political party, and we don’t get into arguments about it. We could use more young people and families. But are we tolerant, in the good way? I think we are. In the bad way? Do we accept bad doctrine, variations in our theology to deny a credal truth or defy some claim or other of Christ to be God and man? I don’t think so. Safe so far.
The 2nd and 3rd chapters of Revelation contain seven letters to churches in today’s Turkey. Ephesus has lost its first love. Smyrna will suffer persecution. Pergamum has permitted corruption. Thyatira allows an immoral person to influence members. Philadelphia is struggling but pure. And Laodicea is hopelessly lukewarm. But Sardis has a good reputation, yet He calls it dead. Its job is not finished, and they must wake up, rise and be watchful. What is still alive must be strengthened so it will not also die.
Everybody wants to be Philadelphia. No one wants to be the others, especially Sardis or Laodicea. You can follow the perfect religion and still fail your assignment in the Kingdom of God. So. Are we keepers of an aquarium, or are we fishers of men? Guides in a museum of religion, or heralds of the new and living way to heaven on earth, with a Savior born for this generation just as He was born for his own.
We’re at war. It’s a spiritual war, and the weapons set against us come by devious means. Little girls are told they can be boys, and boys can be girls. We’re taught to be continually guilty for our race, gender, nation, gas-driven cars, faith and economic freedom. We are polarized by two entirely opposite news sources, both slanting, both setting us at odds, knowing little, given pre-ordained attitudes. We are entertained into a stupor. Processed foods add sugar to everything and cigarette makers add nicotine, making both more addictive and unhealthful. We are more comfortable than ever. And we fear almost everything. This war has us stumped; it would seem.
Look out on the American landscape of people: almost all of foreign origin, of other religions—but not as a threat to our lifestyle. That was the earlier attitude toward the Irish, Polish, Italian, Hispanic, Asian, African and even indigenous peoples who entered our society in the past. Who today would want an America without these threads woven into our great tapestry? See the newcomers as a field white to harvest, once distant, now close by, to share with them the wonders of Jesus Christ and the glory of His kingdom, meant for them as surely as it is for you and me. If we are diverse, let’s be sure we know what is good and right and true, and share it whole-heartedly. The world is coming to us right now: will our land still be able to lead our world with freedom of the individual, sharing a value and truth together, and marking out what is untrue to save our future generations?