Diversity verses Uniformity

Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on 1 Corinthians 12: 4 – 31.  Focus on how diversity promotes growth and prosperity and why uniformity promotes decline and death.  Check out Kelly Crandell and the choir as they sing Open the Eyes of My Heart.

In our lesson today Paul likens the church to the human body. He says that like the human body the church is made up of various and different members and each member has a role to play in keeping the body functioning properly. The human body is not all eye or all hand or all heart. The human body has different parts that do very different things and without all these different parts of the body working together the body would not function properly. So what Paul is talking about here is diversity.

And that’s what I want to talk to you about this morning. The idea that diversity promotes growth and life while uniformity promotes disease and death. We can see this very clearly in a few examples. The first is the potato famine in Ireland that lasted from 1845 till 1852. During this time approximately one million people died of starvation and another million or more immigrated to the United States because of the famine. During these seven years Ireland lost 20 to 25% of its population. (Wikipedia)

Now what’s interesting about this is that during the same time while the potato crops in Ireland and Europe were being destroyed by blight the potato crops in Peru, where the potato was first discovered were not. And the question is why? What made the potato crops in Ireland and Europe so suseptible to blight while the potato crops in Peru seemed impervious to it?

And the simple answer is diversity. By the time of the famine in 1845 Europe and Ireland were largely dependent on one food source for their survival – the potato and besides being almost the exclusive food source for the poor it was also based on a single variety of potato known as the Irish Lumper.

Now what’s interesting about this is that at the same time that the potato famine was destorying the potato crops in Ireland and Europe the potatos in Peru were flourishing. And here is the reason. In Peru they grew many types of potato. They grew black potatos, purple potatos, red potatos, brown potatos and white potatos. They grew potatos at high and low altitude. They grew potatos in forests and in valleys. And because of this diversity they not only avoided the potato famine in Europe and Ireland but became the potato capital of the world.

You can see this agricultural metaphor playing out today in terms of our cities and country side. Cities for the most part are thriving in a global economy because of the diversity of people and businesses that a city can support. The countryside in America on the other had is much more homogeneous and dependent on a single industry or business for it’s survival. So much so that you will see the decay in rural America the same way you say decay hitting the Irish potato crops.

Just as the body of Christ is made up of different people from different ethnic and economic and cultural backgrounds it would take more than one virus to wipe us out. But if we are all the same. Then all it takes is one virus to wipe us out.

Thus I would submit to you that the survival of the church not to mention our nation is really dependent on how diverse we are willing to be. Our church and our nation is dependent on immigrants from a variety of places. This is what makes us strong, great and prosperous. And just as the body can’t say to the eye or to the foot I have no need of you. Neither should we be saying that we have no need of immigrants.

When Paul spoke of who we are in Christ, he did not exclude anyone; no one was seen as a separate, autonomous entity that was expendable from the workings of the body. Paul did not envision 100 individuals gathering in the same place at the same hour on Sunday morning and then disengaging from one another for the rest of the week.

Paul talks about the connectedness of the body to describe the kind of relationship that is to be seen among the members and the reason for this particular metaphor is that no one person can do it all. Even Jesus didn’t do it all, he called disciples, then us, to form a community, that included the likes of Matthew a tax collector and Judas a zealtot. And because of this diversity of thought, ethnicity and culture the church grew all over the world.

So just as the Peruvian potatos could not be wiped out because they were diverse we too are a diverse a variety of colors and cultures that make up the body of Christ and this is our strength. We grow in a variety of places and this in turn is why we still exist to this day.

So while the Irish may have thought they were in the potato business they truly were not. They had only one kind of potato that they depended on for everything. And when the Irish Lumper potato got wiped out so did the Irish people.

Like wise when the church thinks it only exits for one culture, one ethnicity, or one economic class it too should and will die off just like the Irish Lumper. We know this to be true because Paul put it so beautifully and succinctly when he said:

If all were a single organ, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body, which seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those parts of the body which we think less honorable we invest with the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior part, that there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?

But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

And that more excellent way is the way of love. A way that is not our first language and so we are always in need of learning and practicing the type of love that Jesus had for prostitutes, tax collectors, zealots, poor and rich and in all of it he showed what love looked like in action.

Love has no boundries, not national boundries, love is something that is eternal and will never end, but we will if we cease to be loving. That is the church’s great task as we move into the future here in our little part of God’s kingdom building project. Amen



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