Cornucopia. November always makes me think of a cornucopia. I remember, as a child, my mother had a centerpiece on the dining room table each fall with a cornucopia. I had no idea of the significance, but it sure looked nice. Webster’s dictionary defines cornucopia as “a curved goat's horn overflowing with fruit and ears of grain that is used as a decorative motif emblematic of abundance; an inexhaustible store; abundance.” The thing about a cornucopia is that it is filled with many things. For instance, most traditional cornucopia’s have an assortment of fruit, maybe a few pumpkins, a cob or two of corn and gourds, usually overflowing onto the space around it. It isn’t just filled with grapes, or apples, or pears. It isn’t only filled with one type of gourd, or one color of corn. It’s very diverse.
In some ways the Church is like a cornucopia--filled with abundant blessings! Growing up in the church I remember fine Germanic people who shared a lot of common values. It was a cornucopia of blessings, but one that was filled with pretty much the same “fruit”. It somewhat reflected the values of the larger community and there were shared values. Think about the diversity of the Church today. In many places it is no longer homogenous—and that’s a good thing!
Diversity. Webster’s dictionary defines it as “the condition of having or being composed of differing elements variety; especially the inclusion of different types of people (as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization.” We live in a Nation filled with diversity. Our God actually created diversity—another act of His grace—taking something that mankind had abused and ruined and turning it into something useful again. Remember the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. The people, speaking one language, tried building a tower to God. We read in Genesis 11:6-9, “And the LORD said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.’ So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city... And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth.”
God blessed this diversity as mankind spread across the world, ushering in customs and practices that probably began to adapt to the context of where the people were settled. For instance, those who were in the Northern climates probably wore more clothes to stay warm than those in the desert. Dialects changed as languages flourished. Perhaps architecture and style also became more distinct depending where you lived. All of these things and so much more impact the diverse nature of the human race.
In Acts 2, on the day of Pentecost, we see God doing a new thing among those who confessed the Resurrected Jesus. He sent the Holy Spirit who came to rest on people like tongues of fire. There we read, “Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language… Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” In the midst of diversity, God created unity as everyone heard the powerful message of the Gospel of Jesus in their own language. The message brought unity in the midst of diversity for those who believed. Unity in diversity? What a crazy thought!
We certainly are living in a time filled with diversity. We see diversity in our neighborhoods, in schools, and in workplaces. Today we see diversity in the realm of politics, in the realm of “popular” culture, even in the realm of the Church. Political diversity in recent times has become strongly antagonistic, and all the tweeting is for the birds! Diversity, in many ways, has become divisive in our world today. Satan loves keeping us isolated in fear. Rather than accepting the wonderful differences that God has created around us, we often find people hiding behind racism and hatred of many kinds towards others. Prejudice is alive and well, and not only in regard to ethnic differences, which has resulted in violence and senseless deaths, but also in terms of socio-economic differences and perceived class status. At times it seems that the cornucopia is filled with rotten fruit.
Diversity doesn’t demand that we all agree or that we compromise our beliefs. Unity is a choice, and it is not the same thing as uniformity. We can find unity in the midst of diversity through the power of Jesus at work in us. How many times does the Bible call us to love each other? I could tell you, but I would prefer that you take a few moments and look it up. Jesus spoke it to His disciples several times before His crucifixion, giving them a new commandment which was to love each other in the way He loves us. As a parent I can tell you that my children are very different from each other. We lived in a diverse household. It was love that held it all together, and we had a cornucopia full of it!
What might happen in the Church today if rather than only reading about Jesus’ love or only talking about Jesus’ love, we actually started living Jesus’ love, taking it to the next step? I don’t mean that we only share the love of Jesus in the confines of a church campus, but in the community surrounding the church. Wouldn’t the church become far more diverse than it already is today? Wouldn’t people who have always felt unwelcomed by the church see that God’s salvation in Jesus is also for them?
God has given His Church a cornucopia overflowing with His love, filled with His grace, filled with His joy and hope. It is given to all through the Word and Sacraments, where the love of Jesus is alive and available to all people. God’s call on each of us is to enter into this diverse world with His love, grace, joy and hope to reach those who live in sin and fear. The gifts are already poured out!
In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving an official national holiday. It was a time when this nation was sorely divided, and many had died from the Civil War. There was racial hatred and issues with slavery and oppression, divisions between the North and The South. In some ways, it was akin to the world in which we currently live. In his Thanksgiving Proclamation Lincoln called on this nation to turn from the hatred and anger and pause to give thanks to the Almighty God for all His blessings. He wrote, in part, “And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”
God has filled His cornucopia with this diverse world. May we pause to always give Him thanks for all of His blessings, for the forgiveness of our sins, and for His abundant love! Then, may we share His abundant love as we equip, empower and engage to connect people to Jesus! Live in Thanksgiving always!
In His peace,