1 Corinthians 12:4-31
It has been six years since Canada Day fell on a Sunday, so despite now marking four years of ministry here, this is a first for me. You may not know this, but this is the first time that I have preached on Canada Day in my entire career! I thought that it had been a while, but when I went back and looked at where I was and what I was doing the various times that Canada Day fell on a Sunday, today is the first time in 21 years of ordained ministry that I get to do this. So, hopefully I get to do this some justice in marking it. It is worthwhile reflecting on what it is to be Christian in a Canadian context, and it is worthwhile exploring the Canadian experience.
So amidst the symbols that we understand to be true “Canadiana” whether it is the maple leaf, syrup, snowshoes, hockey, or the Tim Horton’s brand, today is a way for us to understand our place in this diverse society of ours. As I mentioned earlier in the service, all of the hymns that we sing today are drawn from Canadian sources. The CRTC would be proud, and we get to check off that little box on Canadian Content. Well, not that the government looks for that inside space like this, as our right to gather and worship together is enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The freedom of religion, the freedom of worship is intrinsically part of why we are able to gather here, in this building, rather than in a cave or in the back room of someone’s house as Christians did in those early years under the Roman Empire.
While we would like to think that living out Christ’s inclusive mission makes one a better Canadian, it is important to note that being Canadian doesn’t automatically make you a good Christian… we learned that the hard way with the experience of the residential schools where we conflated the two, and we were one of a few denominations who became agents of an oppressive governmental policy. It is why reconciliation is important today because we forgot, both as Canadians and as Christians that our strength is our diversity.
Christianity’s gift, when it was in it was in its infancy, was its ability to adapt to the diverse cultures around it, and could still speak of God’s love and grace. Its strength was the ability to adapt in thrive in the midst of diversity, and be a part of it. It wasn’t just an offshoot of some local national religion, but rather had a universal appeal. The message of God’s unbounded love for all people was so powerful that even invading cultures, such as the Goths and Visigoths of Europe adopted the faith of the people they had conquered, rather than the other way around. Christianity’s best moments of history is when it recognized the value of the diverse gifts of the people within it. Our worst is when we forget it.
Paul wrote about this to a fractured and divided congregation in the church in Corinth. These are words that are an extremely important reminder of the value in diversity. It is a reminder that everyone brings different gifts to the table, and yet, those strengths, those gifts, are so much greater when brought together. It’s worth repeating:
“There are different spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; 5 and there are different ministries and the same Lord; 6 and there are different activities but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.”
As you heard earlier in the service. Paul goes on to describe this in more detail, using the metaphor of a body with many different parts, with each part symbolic of the different gifts each of us bring, and that Christ brings all of those gifts together to multiply and be a part of something much greater than the sum of them. He was reminding the church in Corinth about strength in diversity, something that they would know very well. Corinth was a city whose location at a nexus of trade and travel in Greece made it a very cosmopolitan city for its day, and almost by definition, the people experienced the diversity of cultures from the eastern Mediterranean. The temptation, as in any situation, was to be isolationist, to shut out others who were different. However, as Paul reminded them, and all of the fledgling churches in the region, that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, for all are one in Christ. That was speaking not to a melting pot, but rather that in Jesus Christ, the diverse cultures could come together and act as one for the betterment of all people. Each of us has something to offer. No one is to be cast aside or left out because they are somehow different.
Diversity is strength, Paul knew that, and it’s a lesson that we need to hear again. Diversity is strength, and at least at our best, it is what we should aspire to be and what we should value as Christians within a diverse Canadian society. As we mark the 151st Anniversary of Confederation, it’s a good lesson to remember and connect with. In our history, we have not always lived up to the ideals of what we believe ourselves to be, but there is still that vision that moves us forward. So think of the many gifts each of us bring, think of the many gifts that your neighbours, whether they come from near or far, might bring. When we see the good in others, we get a glimpse of what Paul envisioned our life together in Christ could be.
So on this Canada Day, I thought it would be appropriate that we would close our worship in singing a song that all of us know well as our national anthem. However, what you may not know is that O Canada was originally written as a hymn, both in English and in French, with more than just one verse. So as we close our worship today, we going to sing all four verses of O Canada. You may find the music at Voices United number 524, but for the remaining verses, you can find them on the screen.