Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
July 4 and 5, 2020
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” One nation. Indivisible.
There is something just amazing when people, as diverse as we are, can be as one. That was what Jesus prayed for in regards to all those who would confess Him, “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name – the name you gave me – so that they may be one as we are one.” (John 17:11) Jesus, in talking about marriage says, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” (Matthew 19:5-6) Or how about the words of Paul in our text, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:3-6) God’s desire for us is that we would be one with Him and also with one another.
But I don’t see it. I see division and discord and harsh words and too many battles. Sometimes bumper sticker theology has something to say. Here’s one – “Wag More; Bark Less.” But I see just the opposite. There isn’t a whole lot that I can say I’ve enjoyed about the effect of the virus upon our life, but there is one thing I’m grateful for – it has slowed the political commercials during March, April and May. Negative ads are vicious and we’re going to be assaulted by them until early November, but at least for three months we had a reprieve. “As One” as a country? No. We have some pretty deep divides between us. Jesus had some powerful words about such division, “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house a divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” (Mark 3:24-25)
Divisions in families and among a congregation or a church body or among Christians is painful. Family – that which should bring us joy can bring us grief – in the deepest ways. Or, if you have been part of a congregation that has gone through a split, or where people don’t like the people who are at the same communion rail, it is pure hell. Psalm 133 hits it on the head, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!” (Verse 1) Families. Churches. Christians. As One. That’s where the heart of God lies.
Over the past month, or so, the division that we had seen in this country has been over race. The conversation that continues is whether we will become a judge of another simply because of skin color. In Martin Luther’s Large Catechism the reformer writes, “That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is really your God.” In a publication written by our church body called “Racism and the Church” the authors introduce the booklet with the words, “If anyone should claim superiority over others and treat them as inferior because of racial origin or characteristics, we may add, that person, too, has a god, but not the one true God. Racism is at its core idolatry.” (CTCR, February, 1994, Page 7)
Racism does not allow us to live as one. It divides. It is fueled by hate. James, Jesus’ brother, writes, “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’, you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.” (James 2:8-9) Or what about John’s words, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this commandment: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (I John 4:20-21)
Racism affects all. I have a son, David, who is a pastor near St. Paul, Minnesota. He also serves as a chaplain for the Minneapolis Police Department. His Precinct, Precinct 3, was the one that was burned down. He lives just a few miles from there.
Just a few weeks ago when massive protests and riots were happening in south Minneapolis, David, and his wife, Heather, began a conversation that they wished they never had to have. They wondered what room in their house would be the safest one for them and their five children if the rioters entered their block. As they began to consider their answer, they knew they had to leave their home and stay with relatives outside of the cities. The sin of racism touches all – individuals, cities, states, a whole country.
Can we ever be one? Can we be one with family, with congregation and parish, in our communities, or among people of differing colors? Unity among others begins with God’s transformation within us. We are “As One” because of Jesus Christ. The children’s song begins, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
There was a bitter division in the world of the Scriptures – antagonism between Gentiles and Jews and Jews and Gentiles. Could they ever get along? Could they ever be “As One”? Impossible. Their differences reached back over the centuries. Their stories of who did what to whom was quite long. Their bitter history was not easy to forget. But Jesus Christ does amazing things for people who are divided and distant. Paul in this book of Ephesians writes, “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by the one Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:14-18) In Jesus we are “As One”.
How do people who are different from one another become one? How can there be lasting peace when so much can divide us? It has to come from God. It must be the work of God’s Spirit. It has to come because Jesus is the Savior. If it is to be a lasting peace within our homes, or in our communities, or in our nation, God must work this work. In Galatians Paul lists the differing groups of his age and then tells them how they can be “As One”. “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26-28)
To be “As One” requires the work of many. In the most recent Reporter, the monthly newspaper of the Missouri-Synod, the lead article was about “Racism and the Church – A Time to Listen.” Michael Grannis the pastor of Calvary in Lincoln Park, Michigan, who led his congregation on a protest march, said that they assembled with prayer and a presence of peace. He led the Litany from the hymnal, asking God “To give to all peoples concord and peace; to preserve our land from discord and strife; to give our country Your protection in every time of need; to direct and defend our president and all in authority.” Pastor Grannis said that others, not in their group, came and asked to join them in that prayer. As One they asked God’s hand for the right change in our country. Many can join in a common work, As One, for the good of many.
The new way of Jesus, this way of peace and concord, may not be what you were taught as a child. This new way of Jesus may not be what your friends are engaged in. But this way is the best way. In First John the apostle directs, “We love because he first loved us.” (I John 4:10)
In the hymn, “In Christ There Is No East or West” (LSB, 653), we are As One through Christ and with one another:
In Christ there is no east or west, in Him no south or north,
But one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth. Amen!!