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October 1, 2023

We are ‘out of many, one;’ for ‘in God we trust.’

Passage: Ephesians 4:1-6

If you were to look closely at most American dollar bills or cent pieces, you will find in very small print the phrase “E Pluribus Unum.” This Latin phrase means, “out of many, one,” and it serves as the traditional motto of the United States of America. The meaning of the phrase originates from the concept that out of the union of the original Thirteen Colonies emerged a new single nation. That concept grew as the frontier expanded. More states were added until out of the fifty states there still emerged one single nation. This concept of E Pluribus Unum can be even further expanded when you examine all the individual people living in each of the states. There are many different cultures and backgrounds in this country. In several ways, America is “E Pluribus Unum” out of many, one.

With this traditional motto before us, in the year 2023 if you were to watch the news I’d imagine that you would be at the very least tempted to ask, “does E Pluribus Unum, (out of many, one) even describe us anymore? It looks more like out of many, many.” The reason I suggest this is that there seems to be so many conflicts and problems in our nation. One example involves another sentence found on American currency, “In God We Trust…” Where does the nation stand on that these days? What fundamental quality is being lost in people today that would rend sentences like, “out of many, one” and “In God We Trust” asunder? Now, I’d imagine each of us would all have a different answer to that question, forming a rap sheet of problems. But today, the one I have on my mind is the vice of pride. Pride cuts a united group into many and can even sever an individual off from God to where they no longer say, “In God I trust…”

Now maybe it’s too much to ask a nation to hold to the motto of “out of many, one.” After all, pride and vice has been the fall of empires and states throughout human history. Maybe it’s too much to expect from a nation made up of unbelievers and people struggling with their sinful flesh. I pray that this nation can always find its way towards truth and justice and that their motto, “out of many, one” can be a true reflection of patriotic love, but let us jump from the realm of the civil to the realm of the clerical. Should the term “E Pluribus Unum” apply to the church? Should it apply to our church family here? Is it too much to expect of us to be out of many, one? Here’s how the Lord puts His will concerning this subject in Ephesians through His apostle Paul, “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” So yes, this E Pluribus Unum status is expected of us, the church. And yet, if we are struggling with our sinful flesh and tempted by pride to take what’s ours and break the bond of peace, how can we ever maintain a “out of many, one” attitude? The answer to this question is what we will dwell on as our theme for today: We are “out of many, one” because “in God We Trust.” God is the one who preserves our unity and keeps us one in the peace He gives us in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(We pray…)

In our church or in any church for that matter there are many personalities. Even in a church of few there are personalities and demeanors that differ greatly from each other. In examining a church’s members, you will find that there is an array of various talents! There are talents for kindness, boldness, practicality, sympathy, and more. You will find a smorgasbord of ideas and talents, a bouquet of various gifts picked and assembled by God the Holy Ghost. And this is the work of the Spirit: to take the various talents and bring them together in unity, first and foremost the unity concerning what Scripture says--complete agreement on its teachings. Then, stemming from the unity of confession, the Spirit unites the church in love, work, care, and compassion. He makes a fellowship unity wrapped together in the bond of peace given by our Lord Jesus. The Holy Spirit then in all His glory takes a group of people, each with their own unique personalities and gifts, and makes them one! He makes them out of many, one—E Pluribus Unum!

So then, we, the church, are one! Out of many, we are one. We pray that this unity will last! And in striving towards maintaining this union, perhaps it would be prudent to know what we should avoid doing when it comes to preserving the unity of the church. In doing so, what do you think it would take to destroy the attitude of E Pluribus unum in the church? In thinking of some ways in which a church falls apart, the most succinct way is to do the opposite of walking worthy, the opposite of what we are charged to do in Ephesians 4. And what does that look like? The opposite of lowliness—pride that wants to serve itself, not others. The opposite of longsuffering—prideful irritability that wants to get rid of problems rather than solve them. The opposite of bearing one another in love—Leaving one another in a “what’s in it for me” attitude. This, the sense of pride, is what ultimately endeavors to break the unity which the Spirit has wrought. This breaks the bond of peace. A cookie cutter example of a church that is broken by pride is that of Jesus’ day, when the Pharisees were in charge. (see Luke 14:1-11) Shunning those with dropsy and playing musical chairs at weddings to supposedly boost their image, the Pharisees did not lead by example well. In fact, they in their pride mangled the word of God to serve their purposes and forced those in need away from the saving truth. And perhaps you can think of churches now that in pride rend the Spirit’s union asunder? Denominations driven by pride to say that their human reason, emotions, and traditional pedigree are on the same level as the Scriptures is what breaks the union. Even those who say that people don’t need to agree on every teaching of Scripture to be in fellowship are in effect breaking the union with pride.

And so, Pride is what we need to avoid, and are we guilty of that—the sin of pride? Within the oneness of our church unity, there are many of us with all our various gifts. But what’s another thing we all have in common? We all have a sinful flesh, and with that we all have our various weaknesses that come with it. And how does it manifest itself in us? Is it arrogance, vindictiveness, “my way or the highway” syndrome? Is it selfishness, resentment, “holier than thou” syndrome? As natural sinners, we all fall into one of these symptoms of pride. How then are we supposed preserve the unity? How are we to be “E Pluribus Unum”? How are we to be one when these individual pet sins of our pride want to tear us into pieces? How are we to keep the unity before our pride tears it apart, dragging each broken fragment away from the Spirit and closer to hell?

I thank God that the phrase “In God We Trust” is still on our dollar bills. If our unity as church brought into fellowship by the Holy Spirit through the conviction of Scripture, if this unity, this oneness, this E Pluribus Unum is to survive, it is by the grace of God. How are we kept from being torn asunder? By God’s grace. We are “out of many, one” for “In God We Trust.”

In God We Trust. We trust Him to keep our unity ever alive and full of peace. And He does that in many ways, uniting all of you under one common gift—the gift of God’s grace. And this gift of grace exhibited is what takes care of our pride, forgiving us of our past, hell-deserving failures; and beating back the current temptations into submission. And so, to combat our weakness of pride, God presents to us the oneness of His grace with a long list of blessings presented in verses 4-6 of our Scripture text. And to shower the comforts of God’s grace onto you and provide you with the comfort and guidance to deal with your pride, let’s go down this list one by one.

First, you are one body! We are each a member of the body of Christ—a foot, eye, nose, ear, if you will. The healthy body does not attack itself—the hand does not try to rip the ear off, for Christ, the head of the body, leads us not to do that. Just as the brain orders the body to work in a healthy unison, so Christ the head orders the body to operate. He  takes care of the members of His body and causes them to work together. He has taken care of all of you thus far and will keep it that way.

Next, there is one Spirit. You all have the same Holy Spirit working through you! He has called all of you to the same faith in the same way—the truth of Holy Scripture. He has brought all of you to faith. You all trust in the same God for the forgiveness of your sins, including the forgiveness of your sins of pride. This Spirit has called in the same way, His Holy Word that tells you that you are forgiven.

And by this Spirit, you have all been called into the one same hope. You have all been brought to faith, and by the Spirit you now trust in the same hope. You all have the same strong assurance that one day you will be taken to eternal paradise because of your Lord. So, in a world that is hell bent on destroying the church of God, we are all comforted by the same hope: the hope of eternal life in Heaven given to us as a gift in Jesus Christ our Lord.

And Speaking of the Lord, you all have the same one Lord Jesus Christ. You have the same redeemer, the one who purchased all of you on calvary’s cross. The One who lived, died, and rose again for all of you! He is the one who never showed pride in His heart, but rather stayed humble throughout His entire life so that His perfect humility could be reflected onto you. He also died on calvary’s cross to take the punishment your sinful pride deserved. This same, one Lord Jesus Christ has saved you all and purchased you, brought you into unity with one another through the same uniting message. And like E pluribus unum on a coin or in God in trust on a dollar bill, we all have our uniting mottos as Christian’s too, such as “Your sins are forgiven! It is finished, and my favorite, He is Risen—He is Risen, indeed!” We all know that one.

You then all have the same saving faith in this one Lord. All of you believe Jesus to be your own personal salvation. And you were brought to this faith in the same way: baptism. You all have that gracious, baptismal assurance that the Spirit has all brought you into faith and keeps you in it by daily drowning out your sinful, pride-filled flesh. And to round it all off, you all have the same Triune God. You have the same God and Father. You are siblings under the same God. He is the Father of all of you. He also works through all of you for His good pleasure. He also dwells in all of you, occupying your hearts as the temple of His being.

We are out of many, one, for in God we trust! This is how our unity is preserved: God and the oneness of His grace. This grace has been showered on all of you in the same way, bringing you to the same redemption, freedom, and restoration. With all this unity of grace working on us like glue, keeping us E Pluribus Unum, we then are asked to walk worthy of our calling to salvation through faith. What does that look like? A thankful heart that serves God and neighbor. It is humble servitude. It is gentleness in handling one’s neighbor. It is enduring one another, and doing so in an unconditional spirit of love, just like Christ did for us. It is first and foremost humbly submitting to God’s inspired word in every place All this, all these actions, are endeavors towards keeping that unity that the Spirit has brought about amongst us. It also keeps it in the bond of peace. Ultimately, the Spirit works these endeavors in our hearts to keep us together in the spirit of unity, the bond of peace.

This is what it looks like to be out of many, one, and it is all thanks to the God in whom we trust. May the Father of us His children, the Son who has saved us all from our pride’s consequences, and the Spirit who works in us all through Word and Sacrament keep us humbly united as out of many, one.