Divided We Fall, United We Stand

Hands Across America logo from 1986
Hands Across America logo from 1986

What were you doing on May 25th, 1986?

Don’t worry if you can’t remember. Usually I can’t remember that specifically either except for the fact that there was a big event that day I was a part of. It was Hands Across America. The event literally took place all across the country with people holding hands to form a chain of human beings over 4,000 miles long in support of fighting homelessness and hunger in America. It was said that approximately 6.5 million people participated in the event from the Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA to Battery Park in New York.[1] The event took place at noon on the West Coast and supposedly lasted for 15 minutes. I say supposedly because for those of us away from the media center, we had almost no idea what was going on. My friends and I were in high school at the time and decided to be a part of it. During the 80’s, big fundraising events to raise money and awareness for social causes were huge at the time. Band Aid sang “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” USA for Africa sang “We Are The World,” huge concerts were being performed like Live Aid and Farm Aid. So when Hands Across America came up and offered a chance to participate, we all wanted to join the movement. But it was sorely disappointing. Standing there on some nameless bridge, waiting for some sort of signal and not sure of what was happening, suddenly people started shouting “Hold hands! Hold hands!” So we stood there holding hands with our arms outstretched and after a few minutes, it started to hurt. It became a test of endurance instead of a symbol for unity against homelessness and hunger. We didn’t hear any music. No one was singing. And then suddenly people started letting go and walking away. I don’t know if it was officially over or if someone just got tired and gave up. But to think that at least for a moment, nearly 7 million people stood united for something they believed in.

What if we could do that for more than a few minutes?

And what if we could stand united not with just 7 million people, but nearly 7 BILLION people worldwide? How amazing would that be? That’s the vision that God has for his church. If you turn in your Bibles to Ephesians 2:11-22, we’ll read what that vision is supposed to be like. Ephesians 2:11-22. What could we do united together? Maybe the better question is, what couldn’t we do and why wouldn’t we do it? We end up being held back by our own humanity. We are held back by things like pride, ego, and fear and those get in the way of us being able to stand together against problems that could and should be solved. Often the things that divide us are not worth being divided over, not when compared to the problems we face. Yet somehow we cannot find it within our hearts to “agree to disagree” for the sake of something greater. But that’s exactly what God calls us to do.

11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

This issue of circumcision was a big one for the church.

Bigger than gay marriage or gender equality or child welfare because it defined for the entire church from that point forward who would be allowed “in.” It defined for the entire church from that point forward who would be allowed “in.” Every Jewish male had to be circumcised. Every single one. And so early Christians believed that a person must abide by Jewish law to become Christian and that included circumcision. Can you imagine how painful that would be? We struggle with simply coming forward and confessing that we are not the Lord of our own lives. Back then, if you were a man, you had to give up a lot more than that! But God revealed through his disciples that Gentiles didn’t have to follow Jewish law to become saved. They only had to follow God’s law of the new covenant. So in Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus, he is reminding that church at one time they were excluded from God’s house and through Christ, God made them united. He is telling them explicitly to put aside the law “with its commands and regulations” and to become one body. He reminds them that they are not foreigners and strangers but “fellow citizens… and members of his household.” The church was beginning to forget that.

It’s something we still have a hard time remembering.

We have fought so often in the house of God that we truly are a house divided and Jesus tells us clearly in Mark 3, that a house divided cannot stand. But we haven’t listened. We have split over race, baptism, belief in the Trinity, transubstantiation, in any number of issues, the church has split. I told you about a church a friend of mine served at that split over a couch. That’s why we have today over 30,000 different denominations. 30,000. Because we have yet to find a way to resolve our differences together. Instead of listening to God’s Word we instead go our own way about it. Like playing a video game, we simply hit the reset button when we don’t like how it’s turning out. But that has never solved anything. In fact it makes it even more difficult to come together later on. When I was working on my thesis I had the opportunity to interview Bishop Roy Sano, the very first Japanese-American Bishop in the Methodist church. We met at a Methodist conference in Atlanta between the UMC and the AME and CME, the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, both predominantly black churches that split away from the Methodist church when they encountered prejudice and racism. They were there to discuss a covenantal relationship between the three churches and I had asked Bishop Sano what the chances were that we would be united once again. He said very slim. It was something he had been working on for a long time, but at this point the AME and CME would have to give up a lot to become part of the UMC and there wasn’t a real need to do so. But imagine how much stronger we would be had we not split up in the first place? Had we been able to see beyond our short-sightedness and engage in dialogue with one another. Together, the CME and AME have over 3,000,000 members. That’s 3,000,000 more people working in harmony with us.

Picture of Rev. Schaefer courtesy of the NY Times
Picture of Rev. Schaefer courtesy of the NY Times

I bring this up today because of recent talks of schism in our own church.

Both conservative and progressive members of the United Methodist Church are honestly talking about schism over the issue of gay marriage. Talks were heightened this week when Rev. Frank Schaefer was reinstated as a fully ordained pastor after being “defrocked” by the church after a court trial.[2] Rev. Schaefer was asked by the court if he would be willing to promise never to preside over another gay marriage and after refusing to so state, they decided to take away his credentials in the church. The appeals court decided to overturn that ruling on the basis that the punishment didn’t fit the crime. It seemed to the appeals court that the original decision was based more on Rev. Schaefer’s unwillingness to commit to future action rather than on the violation itself. Instead they instituted a 30-day suspension which Rev. Schaefer has already served and gave him back his credentials. Because of this action by the appeals court, there are some who have said that we have reached an impasse and that a schism in the church, a split between those who support and don’t support gay marriage, is the only recourse. But is that really true?

Too often we are quick to pull the trigger on a situation when it doesn’t work out in our favor.

We don’t really make an effort to resolve the issue or to compromise. Instead we hit the reset button. We leave. We bail on the situation. And we think everything is alright. But the truth is, everything isn’t alright. Nothing has been resolved. Instead you have two groups of stubborn people instead of one. Each group is happy about one issue, but then they start fighting over other issues and pretty soon they split again. Today its gay marriage. But yesterday it was women clergy. Before that it was racial equality. What will it be tomorrow? Christ died that we might be united as one body in him, but instead we are determined to define our own religion to suit our needs. Instead of struggling together to work on our issues, instead of engaging one another in level-headed discussion, we end up vilifying the other side and going our own way. No matter what your stand on the issue itself, God clearly calls for us to stand together united in one body, “setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations,” as it says in verse 15. God’s purpose was to “create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace.” That is the Biblical model we are called as progressives and conservatives to follow. Everything else is our own human failing. Unity is the Biblical model we are called to follow. Everything else is our own human failing.

Hands Across America was almost 30 years ago.

It lasted for only a moment. A brief blip in the scheme of things. But it’s those kinds of moments that give us hope that we can put aside our selfishness and self-centered ambition and achieve great things together. That one day saw nearly 7 million people stand side-by-side for something they believed in, something not for themselves but for others. It raised over $34 million to fight hunger and homelessness in America. In fifteen minutes it raised $34 million dollars. What kind of impact could we have if we united behind a common cause? What kind of impact would we make if we actually followed the words of Christ? No matter what your opinion on the issue, I want you to carefully consider whether or not we should get in the habit of cutting our losses and running or if we should consider that maybe, just maybe, the good that we can do together can outweigh the struggles we have between us. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Lyrics to Hands Across America

The sky

So serene

Has felt the kiss

Of countless dreams

And this earth

That smells so sweet

Cradles us all

In its great heartbeat

So we must learn to love each other

See that man over there? He’s my brother

And when he laughs I laugh

And when he cries, I cry

And when he needs me, I’ll be right there by his side

Hands across America

Hands across this land I love

Divided we fall

United we stand

Hands across America

Mothers and Fathers

Daughters and sons

Should be living

Together as one

And I can’t help thinking

Again and again

The heart of a stranger

Beats the same as a friend

So we must learn to love each other

See those people over there? They’re my sister and brother

And when they laugh, I laugh

And when they cry, I cry

And when they need me, I’ll be right there by their side

Hands across America

Hands across this land I love

Divided we fall

United we stand

Hands across America

We are the river of hope that runs through the valley of fear

And there’s a lady who smiles who shines upon us saying all are welcome here

So we must learn to love each other

See that man over there? He’s my brother

And when he laughs I laugh

And when he cries, I cry

And when he needs me, I’ll be right there by his side

Hands across America

Hands across this land I love

Divided we fall

United we stand

Hands across America

 

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hands_Across_America *It should be noted that there were protests about the New England states being “left out” as well as Hawaii which had it’s own fundraiser – Hands Across Hawaii.

[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/25/us/methodist-panel-reinstates-defrocked-pastor.html

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One thought on “Divided We Fall, United We Stand

  1. I’ll try to work on this with one of the three computers at this facility tomorrow. There are functions I use in editing the site that seem to not be easy with the kindle fire (cut/paste). Awake at this hour with leg pain and too early for meds. Fortunately, playing with the kindle at this hour seems to have disrupted the pain waves. Thirteen minutes… then hopefully a restful night.

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