November 6, 2016
Two days from today is Election Day in the United States. A day when the final votes will be cast for our next President. In the months leading up to this momentous occasion, there have been vicious battles, not only between the two candidates, but among relatives, friends, co-workers, and even church leaders and members, as to which one is best suited to lead our country. And while I agree that it is very important to vote as a citizen of the US, I do not agree that families, friends, and churches should fight, and become divided, over an election.
And the upcoming election isn't the only thing I have witnessed cause such division. I grew up on the North Side of Chicago. My adoptive father, of course, was an ardent Cubs fan, as was most of our family growing up. However, I had a cousin who was a diehard White Sox fan. I am quite certain I don't have to elaborate on how well my father took to that. While I myself am not really into sports or picking teams, with the Cubs recently being in the World Series, anyone that did not support the Cubs in this long-awaited endeavor was most assuredly met with sharp opposition by any hardcore Cub fans among us.
Or let's take a look at the cars and trucks parked out front... What will you find? Chevys and Fords mostly. I know my husband really loves me, because when I wanted my Chevy Spark, he didn't put up too much fuss, even though he is a committed Ford guy. And then there are those who drive un-American brands, that both the Chevy and the Ford guys will rile against together.
But whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, a Cubs fan or a Sox fan, and drive a Chevy, Ford, or something else, there are far more important divisions we need to look at.
The church - not the building, but the Body of Christ - has throughout history, suffered from one division after another. Although for many centuries, the Catholic church was the most prominent, smaller denominations have existed since the beginning of the New Testament church. Even the Apostle Paul dealt with this, as we heard in our 2nd Scripture reading today (1 Corinthians 1:10-13). Six days ago, Reformation Day was celebrated, in honor of how Martin Luther penned a document attacking the Catholic Church's corrupt practice of selling "indulgences to absolve sin". On October 31st, 1517, he nailed his "95 Theses", which propounded two central beliefs - that the Bible is the central religious authority and that humans may reach salvation only by their faith and not by their deeds - to the door of the "Schlosskirche" or Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. This sparked the Protestant Reformation. Although these Biblical truths had been advanced before, and true believers have always existed throughout the centuries, even underground if necessary; Martin Luther codified them at a moment in history ripe for religious reformation. The mainstream Christian Church, already divided between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church since the year 1054, was now further divided by the Protestantism that soon emerged shaped by Luther's Reformation. But even Protestantism become divided further still. The largest Protestant denomination today is that of the Baptists, second is the Methodists, followed by the Church of God in Christ, the Lutherans, the Assemblies of God, the Presbyterians, the Episcopal Church, the Church of Christ, and the Pentecostals - with many more smaller denominations as well. And these Protestant denominations split down into even more divisions! My adoptive father, a staunch Republican, diehard Cub fan, who refused to drive anything that wasn't made by General Motors, was also a member of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Now mind you, to him it wasn't good enough to be "just a Lutheran", or to attend a Lutheran church. It HAD to be Missouri Synod. I joke, although with a tear in my eye, that he put so much faith in being a Missouri Synod Lutheran that he is still wandering around looking for the door to heaven that is marked "Missouri Synod Lutherans only".
But is it right to be that devoted to a particular denomination? Are only Christians within a certain denomination going to heaven? Of course, not! You are not saved because your name is on the membership roster of Mazon United Methodist Church, any more than my father was saved because he was on the membership roster of Tabor Lutheran Church in Chicago, and then Trinity Lutheran Church in Dwight, the cemetery of which both he and my adoptive mother are buried today. Obviously, I believe the Methodists come as close as any to adhering to the Gospel and remaining true to the Scriptures, or I wouldn't be preaching in a Methodist Church. But every denomination has its good and its bad. In fact, the Methodists are currently awaiting a decision from the bishops that could lead to a schism within our denomination in regards to allowing homosexual clergy and the performance of homosexual marriages. And that is an issue that many other denominations are facing as well.
But the Bible says that there should be unity among true believers, the Body of Christ. No, we definitely should not allow heresy among us (that's next week's message¦), but we should put aside our petty disputes and work together for the Kingdom of God. There is nothing more important than reaching lost souls - souls that otherwise will never see the light of heaven. Not because they voted "wrong", supported the "wrong sports team", or drove the "wrong brand of vehicle". And not even because they belong to the "wrong church" or no church at all. But because no one ever shared the Gospel with them in a way that they could understand it, and no one ever prayed that the Lord would open their hearts and minds to the truth within that Gospel, and they were moved to repent and believe. Maybe they even attended church at one time looking for answers, but the petty arguments and divisions within the church caused them to think that Christ was not the answer they were looking for, for if He was, Christians would not act like that. Shame on us if we have ever caused someone to stumble in that way! Jesus warned His disciples, "Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck." (Luke 17:1b-2a).
So let's set aside our minor differences and focus on what truly matters in this world. And also remember, that whoever wins the election this coming week, we as Christians are called to honor and to pray for, that there may be peace in our country, and in the world. And may we as the church serve as an example of that peace. Amen.