Sermon: “E Pluribus Unum”
“E Pluribus Unum”
Matthew 28:19-20, II Corinthians 13:11-13
May 18, 2008 (Trinity Sunday)
Lake Harriet Christian Church
As some of you know and are probably well sick of me telling you, I love science-fiction. What I love about this genre is that it present modern problems in futuristic garb. And I know that are also know and are sick of me telling you that I love Star Trek for especially, that reason. The groundbreaking television series, with a multicultural cast, dealt with many modern issues, such as war, racism, drugs, sexism and other topics. In the late 80s Star Trek came back to television in the version of Star Trek: The Next Generation. With a new series came new enemies. In the original television series, we had the Romulans and the Klingons. In the new series, we had an even more menacing villain: the Borg.
The Borg are a race of beings half-humanoid, half-android. There is no such thing as individuality or uniqueness among the Borg. They are soulless beings that work as one. They fly around in a ship that looks like giant cube and their job is to assimilate other species into their own collective. Whenever the meet up with a ship, such as the Enterprise, they “greet” their soon to be prey with these words: “We are Borg. Lower your shields. Your biological and technological distinctiveness will be added to our own. Resistance is futile.”
Today, the first Sunday after Pentecost, is commonly called Trinity Sunday, the day we remember the concept of God as Three in One; God the Father or Mother, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. This is always an odd day for Christians and for those of us who are part of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in particular. For one thing, this is day devoted not to something in the Bible, but to doctrine, something that came along long after the Bible was written. For Disciples, this is also perplexing, because most of our founders were not considered what some would call Trinitarians. Because people like Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell placed an emphasis on restoring the church to what it was in the first century and because the word “trinity” is not found in the Bible, they did not place a whole lot of emphasis on it. That’s not to say they didn’t believe in God the Son or God the Holy Spirit, it’s just that they wouldn’t call that Trinity, nor would they make that a precursor for someone to become part of a faith community.
So, what do we do with this day? Do we ignore it? We could do that. But I think that there is still much to be mined from this day and from the Trinity. I think there is much to learn about who God is and how we can be church in this world. I think the Trinity is less of a doctrine that one must believe than a way to live life.
Now today’s texts have nothing to do with the Trinity. I am not going to try to say they uphold the doctrine of the Trinity, because no one was thinking in those terms yet. But they do give some clues about God and about us.
In the closing chapters of Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples to go and teach and baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He also tells them that he will always be with them until time ends.
Paul ends his second letter to his problem church in Corinth by saying that they should put their affairs in order, be agreeable with each other and greet each other with a holy kiss. And then he ends by saying a phrase that I know that I have heard often: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”
The scriptures today remind us that we have a job to do. Jesus calls us to go into all the world and make disciples. Not make church goers, but disciples: people who will be followers of Jesus, not simply pew sitters. This text is commonly called the Great Commission many a pastor has preached on this text, to tell people to go and tell others about the Good News of Jesus. Congregations are urged to tell people about Jesus and pastors and churches get busy in the work of evangelism. There is nothing wrong with this, provided we don’t forget what else Jesus is saying here. We are to go and make disciples and also teach and baptize. We are called to help others understand the ways of Jesus and what it means that God loves us. And we are called to baptize, to formally welcome them into the larger faith community and into the life of being a follower of Jesus.
This seems like a tall order. How can we do this all? The sad fact is that many churches and pastors get involved in trying to be Christ in the world, and forget to take Christ with them. Jesus tells his disciples that he will be with them and God will be a work along with us as we preach, teach and baptize. It is not all on our shoulders. Christ is with us working in the lives of others and sustaining us when the road is long and hard.
If Jesus is giving us a charge of action, Paul is giving us a charge of character. Paul is telling the Corinthians to be in agreement with each other. Now, at first blush, this seems to mean that all the Corinthians must think the same way. The sad thing is that throughout church history, followers of Jesus have decided that everyone must have the same beliefs. People were forced out of churches for not sharing the same views on things as everyone else. That is not what Paul is saying here. Instead, Paul is saying we should not be divisive, or to put it in another way, to disagree without being disagreeable. He then ends it with the “trinitarian greeting.” What interesting here is that within God there is difference and yet unity. The love of God, the grace of Jesus, the communion of the Holy Spirit. Three different aspects of God and yet the same God, all in agreement.
As I said, the Trinity isn’t a doctrine to be believed. But I do think it is a way of life to be lived. Within God is diversity. Father/Mother God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Some people refer to the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. When Paul tells the Corinthians to be in agreement, he wasn’t calling for them to think the same and be the same. He was calling for this community to be united and yet different.
That is what we are called to be today. We all come here with as unique individuals. We all come from different backgrounds, with different life experiences and different religious and political beliefs. What binds us together, is the love of God, the grace of Jesus and the communion of the Holy Spirit. The church is called to be a place where there is diversity in every way imaginable and yet there is unity as well.
The fact is, the world sorely needs to hear this message. We live in a world where there is a spirit of sameness that is afraid of difference. We sort ourselves out into Republicans and Democrats, straight and gay, black and white and so on. We like to be in communities where everyone things like we do. In a way we are like the Borg, wanting to have a community where difference is not tolerated.
But God is calling us to be a place where we are different. We are called to be a place where we have a common purpose and goal, but where we are different as God is different.
The thing is, this diverse and yet unifying God is with us everywhere. We are reminded of God the Creator in the beauty of creation, we see God the Redeemer, when we receive communion and know that we are loved, no matter what. We see God the Sustainer, when when this diverse bunch of people gather together every Sunday to worship and bear each others burdens. God is with is, God is around us, and God is in us. We are never truly alone and we are called to be welcoming to all we meet.
You don’t have to believe in the Trinity. But I do think it is a lesson in how we are to be church: we are to be a community that knows God is with us and that is welcoming to all, even those people that are very different from us.
The fictional Borg, like to say “resistance is futile.” But I think in a world that demands conformity, we can respond with the old Latin phrase, “e pluribus unum,” out of many one. Out of many ways of being, we are united in Christ.
Maybe resistance isn’t so futile after all. Thanks be to God. Amen.