HEBREW BIBLE LESSON Psalm 34:15-22
GOSPEL: John 6:48-69
SERMON: “Earthly Bread – Heavenly Bread”
Silverware, glasses, salt & pepper, butter, milk and bread. I’ve had that list, in that order, memorized since I was six years old and it became my job to set the table for supper. Except for great holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas we ate in the breakfast room back of the kitchen. Silverware was kept in a drawer in the kitchen, glasses were up in the cupboard, salt & pepper were on the table, but had to be set at each place (everyone had their own – no table conversation interruptions allowed for ‘pass the salt please’), butter was also on the table, just had to be moved to the middle, milk was in the fridge and bread, well the bread was kept in the freezer.
My mother was a genius at stretching the food dollars, and nothing irritated her like bread allowed to get moldy. So the bread was kept in the freezer, where mold did not have a chance to grow. Dutifully each night whoever set the table would get the bread out of the freezer, but no one ever actually ate any bread for supper – because – it was always still frozen. Still bread was understood as a staple of life and would be on the table for every meal. Perhaps in reaction to that particular quirk of my childhood, I never freeze my bread. I like it fresh and would rather have to throw out some moldy bread now and then than to eat frozen bread.
Nevertheless, bread is a basic food for life.
Can you imagine having sausage gravy without biscuits? Or lasagna without a nice slice of garlic bread? Can you imagine going to the Olive Garden and not getting breadsticks with the salad? The only people I know who eat hamburgers or hot dogs without a bun are people on the Atkin's diet.
Bread is important. You can't have a BLT without the toast. You can't have a sub sandwich without a Hoagie roll. Enchiladas or burritos without tortillas would just be a mess. Lox and cream cheese wouldn't taste right on anything but a bagel. An Egg McMuffin without the muffin would just be an egg. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich would be a sticky mess without the bread. Try and imagine soup without crackers or a patty melt or reuben without rye. Just the smell of baking bread can evoke all kinds of warm and toastie memories. Now, my purpose wasn't to drive you nuts or get your mouth watering. But to make it clear how important bread is to our everyday life.
According to the gospel of John Jesus calls himself the Bread of Life. In John’s gospel we’ve heard Jesus say he is the Good Shepherd – he takes care of us; he’s the light of the world; he is the gate for the sheep; he is the true vine; he is the way, the truth and the life. Of all those declarations, to hear that Jesus is the Bread of Life tells us how essential to life he is. Think for a moment just how basic food, not just bread, but any food is to life. Jesus is that essential for spiritual life.
John’s gospel relates that Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. This is the original “hard saying” of Jesus. There are many things Jesus said that are difficult to be certain we understand, and understanding often means they will be even more difficult to accept. John continues, “On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
Well, this is one of those places where we have to talk sense to those who would take every word and verse of scripture literally. Do we think that Jesus is suggesting cannibalism here? Not at all. Jesus does not intend to say that everyone must literally chew on his leg or drink his blood. It’s a simile – Jesus is like bread to us – as essential for spiritual life as bread is for physical life, for the most part on a daily basis.
United Methodist pastor and university professor Leonard Sweet considers this passage in terms of a hunger for relationships in our culture today. Commenting on the overabundance of TV so-called “reality shows” Sweet notes that “There isn't a night left that you can't tune in a bachelor, a bachelorette, a wannabe millionaire dad, mom, a house-full of sleazoids, all trying to establish some kind of relationship with someone else.
“It might be a love-connection, as in the matchmaking bachelor/bachelorette series. Or it might be a conniving alliance against someone else as in the Survivor or Big Brother shows. These shows, regardless of their plot, all revolve around who can establish the most successful relationships.
“Dr. Phil everyone's favorite relationship guru spends all his time trying to teach relationship screw-ups how to fix the stunted, stymied, diseased relationships they inhabit. No matter how nauseating, mind-numbing, bizarre, or insulting we find these shows, the church needs to sit up and take notice of them for they are themselves signs of the times.”
People do need meaningful relationships. In spite of the technology we’ve developed for communicating quickly with each other, Sweet goes on to note, “We're a remote-controlled, security-fenced, internet-commuting, environmentally insulated society. We're increasingly cut off from genuine experiences and expressions of community. We're increasingly remote from real dynamic relationships. Our high divorce rates, our fractured families, our corporate superstructures and our ‘let's-just-move’ mindset all evidence our failures at relationships.”
The reality TV trend is really a relationship TV phenomenon. In a culture filled with false and failed relationships people who are hungry for fulfilling human connection turn to Dr. Phil and “Survivor” for advice, information and instruction. People watching at home can feel connected and actively participate by logging on, calling in or texting their vote.
When Jesus spoke about the greatest sign God had given, the gift of the Son, the miracle of establishing a living, breathing, saving relationship with the one who offers us eternal life this was a relationship as basic and essential to living a true life as bread was to keeping the body alive.
No wonder Jesus called himself the Bread of Life. The relationship between the Son and the world is just as essential and life sustaining. Every culture has some sort of bread that represents the basic sustenance of life. Whether it's with manna in the wilderness or a tortilla, or pita-pockets or bowls of rice, breadfruit or Wonder Bread. . . It’s easy – and important – to bring bread for North Kent Community Services or Kids Foodbasket to fill some empty stomachs. Will you who are generous with basic food gifts offer this world the sign of a Son? Will you crumble some bread of truth to a famished world this week? Will your life and lips introduce someone to the Bread of Life?
HEBREW BIBLE LESSON Hosea 2:2-23
EPISTLE LESSON Matthew 18:15-20
SERMON: “If the Church Were Christian . . . (part 2) . . . Reconciliation Would Be Valued over Judgment” When I was growing up in Chicago my best friend was a girl who lived next door. Her name was Belinda, but everyone called her “Binna” because that was all her brother, who was about two when she was born, could manage to say. When I think about nicknames, “Binna” wasn’t all that bad, compared to what her brother had to deal with. He was named Lambert after his father, and the nickname for him became “Lamby.” Horrible thing to do to a child, especially a boy – call him “Lamby.” That lasted until he was 12, at which point he declared that he was to be called “Bert,” and anyone who called him “Lamby” would get a hard punch in the stomach. It only took one child to test the threat for the rest of us to believe he meant it. Sadly, it seems that violence, whether on a global or personal scale, too often becomes the way we settle our disputes and get what we want.
Binna and her family were Catholic, and one of the things I clearly remember was that Saturday, about 5:00 p.m. Binna’s family would all stop whatever they were doing and go to “Confession and tell a priest everything whatever they had done wrong that week. Then the priest would routinely prescribe a certain number of prayers to be said. Only then would they be okay to go to mass on Sunday morning.
In our Reformed tradition we include a prayer of confession and assurance of pardon as an essential part of worship. The theological theory is that as imperfect, sometimes even rebellious people of God, we ought to confess our sins and receive pardon before getting closer to a Holy God through the reading and proclamation of Scripture. Sometimes it feels like we place more emphasis on what we have done wrong than on what God has done right: the forgiveness of sins, the assurance of pardon.
Again and again, Jesus told us that God loves us, that he came so that we could be reconciled to God. Over and over again when someone approached Jesus with a request for healing, beyond the desired physical healing, he offered spiritual and emotional healing when he told them that their sins were forgiven. The only people I remember him openly criticizing were the Pharisees when they were busy trying to discredit and embarrass Jesus or to condemn people whom they believed were their inferiors.
If the Church would be truly Christian, while it would not condone sin, it would also refrain from mercilessly condemning the sinner. Our task is to tell the truth in love. Judgment is God’s job. This approach opens the church to welcome all kinds of people.
I came across this piece during the week. I regret that I did not take note of the author, but it is too important not to share. The author wrote:
It’s easy to poke fun at some of the things churches say on their welcome sign. It’s easy to question some of the things that make it inside a church bulletin. It’s easy to say “this is bad,” but it’s a lot harder to say “this is good.” Anyone can critique, but creating is a lot more difficult.
So what does a great welcome message look like? What does an awesome welcome message look like?
It looks exactly like what “Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Community” has in their church: . . .
We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor, yo no habla Ingles. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying new-borns, skinny as a rail or could afford to lose a few pounds.
We welcome you if you can sing like Andrea Bocelli or like our pastor who can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re “just browsing,” just woke up or just got out of jail. We don’t care if you’re more Catholic than the Pope, or haven’t been in church since little Joey’s Baptism.
We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome soccer moms, NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like “organized religion,” we’ve been there too.
If you blew all your offering money at the dog track, you’re welcome here. We offer a special welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or (came) because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.
We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid or got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake. We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters, bleeding hearts … and you!
“Bravo” exclaimed the blogger, “to Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Community! That should be made into a poster and hung in church offices (narthex & conference rooms!) around the world.
“I love the thought [of] a few members of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Community getting together and saying, “Let’s invite everyone to come meet Jesus!” And then they started writing their list.
And it got long. Why?
Because everyone needs Jesus.
Everyone changes when they meet Jesus.
And they wanted to make sure everyone knew [was] invited to meet him.”
We work pretty well at being inclusive around here. It’s not easy. On whatever site it was that I saw that piece, there were comments following, and the first one was this:
“I would love to see this tolerance extended to the intolerant even. Why is it okay to accept everyone except the man who is blinded by racial prejudices or the Christian who believes in traditional marriage, or the old lady who hates the drums. It seems like some groups are fair game for bashing and some are not. Inclusiveness can be very exclusive in places. You have extend love to Truett Cathy (Chick-Fil-A) and Ellen DeGeneres to really be grasping the ideas in this welcoming article.”
I think it’s biblical for the Church to be that inclusive, inclusive even of those who are not so inclusive by nature.
Of course one trouble that comes with including everyone, is that inevitably we end up with disagreements. We have different ideas about how to go about things, what our priorities are. Jesus gave us a model, a proper procedure for dealing with disputes.
15 ”If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
So if you have differences with someone, the first person to talk to is that person. Perhaps it’s all just a misunderstanding. Maybe they thought you did or said something you didn’t actually say or do. Perhaps the words were heard right, but the intent was misunderstood. Talk it over, one on one. Both parties may save face by dealing with their differences in private. Many issues can be quickly resolved if we would just talk to each other instead of about each other.
There are all sorts of medical privacy laws these days – your doctor, the hospital, the lab – they aren’t supposed to tell people anything about you without your permission. I remember going for an MRI in 2010, and the receptionist in radiology asked, “If anyone inquires if you are here, may we tell them that you are?” They can’t even tell someone I’m there without my permission. Church folk are not so legally bound to keep personal stuff private.
There’s a short story about four elders who met for a friendly gathering. During the conversation one of them said, “Confession is good for the soul. We should confess our troubles. We would feel much better.” After a short discussion they all agreed. The first one confessed he liked to go to movies and would sneak off away from his office some afternoons. The second confessed to liking to smoke cigars and the third one confessed to liking to gamble. When it came to the fourth one, he wouldn’t confess. The others pressed him saying, “Come now, we confessed ours. What is your secret or vice?” Finally he answered, “It is gossiping and I can hardly wait to get out of here.”
Jesus instructs his followers first to talk to the person from whom we are estranged. (For some reason it is more difficult to talk it over with a human being we can see than to tell it to a God we can’t see.)
So many differences can be solved privately. The whole world doesn’t need to know your business. It is both kind and respectful of others to keep our differences out of the public eye.
In the washroom of his London club, British newspaper publisher and politician William Beverbrook happened to meet Edward Heath, who was the Prime Minister of the UK in the early 70’s. But then he was a young member of Parliament, about whom Beverbrook had printed an insulting editorial a few days earlier. “My dear chap,” said the publisher, embarrassed by the encounter. “I’ve been thinking it over, and I was wrong. Here and now, I wish to apologize.” “Very well,” grunted Heath. “But the next time, I wish you’d insult me in the washroom and apologize in your newspaper.”
There is something to be said for allowing people to save face.
Talking directly, one on one, doesn’t always work, so plan B is to invite a couple of other people to sit in on the conversation. Even back in the first century they struggled with “he said/she said” disputes. If private conversation, which allows for clearing the air and saving face doesn’t work, take a couple of impartial witnesses along. It’s amazing how much more carefully people choose their words when there are witnesses!
Unfortunately, sometimes that doesn’t work either. Step C is to take the matter to the whole church. At 51 years old, we are a very young congregation. You would be amazed, perhaps fascinated, to read the minutes of congregational meetings in churches like White Pigeon – the oldest church in our presbytery – chartered in 1830. Records were kept of people brought to account before the congregation for their misbehavior and wrongdoing.
Finally, the Lord tells us, if none of the above works, treat them as you would “a pagan or a tax collector.” In other words, write it off and leave them alone. Maybe you can agree to disagree. It’s one of those “Dr. Phil” kinds of questions: Would you rather be right or would you rather be happy?” I am learning that life is much more fun when we let go of being right – even when we are right.
None of us can control how others behave. The only person we have a hope of controlling is our self. When Jesus sent the disciples out two by two, he advised them that there would be people who would not accept or welcome them. If that happened, they were to shake the dust off their shoes and move on.
If the Church is to be Christian reconciliation must be valued over judgment.
HEBREW BIBLE LESSON II Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33
EPISTLE LESSON Ephesians 4:25-5:2
SERMON: “Manners Matters”
You all surely remember the story of the three little pigs. Recently I came across the sequel, “The Three Little Pigs Return. Years had passed since the crisis with the wolf. The family of the three little pigs had settled down comfortably in their brick house in the suburbs. Gradually boredom set in. Something was missing in their lives. The three pigs decided that what they were missing had to do with love. They determined to go out and seek love’s meaning.
The first little pig went to the university library and read all she could on the subject of love. When she had finished she had learned a great deal about love, but her life was still empty. The second little pig read in the newspaper that a famous pig was coming to town to deliver a series of sermons on the subject of love. The second little pig attended all the sermons and was filled with enthusiasm and lovely feelings. His emotional high lasted for a few days, and then his life became pretty much as empty as it had been before.
The third little pig invited two other pig families over to their house one evening and all the little pigs began to share their life stories, continuing until late in the night. They found this so interesting that they decided to meet together regularly to share experiences and life together. In time they came to care about each other very deeply. One evening, after the other families had left, the third little pig said to her siblings “Now I know what love is, for I have experienced it.”
Love. “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” “They Will Know We Are Christians by Our Love,” “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know.” We talk about love a lot in the church. We use it as a measuring stick. The author of I John wrote, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God,” and goes on to say that whoever doesn’t love doesn’t know God. That’s a pretty clear evaluation. Well and good. But how does one go about being loving aside from the kind of love we reserve for spouse and family? That’s precisely what Paul is getting at in this part of his letter to the Christians in Ephesus. He zeroes in on some manners matters that will demonstrate to one another and to those outside the church that the love of Christ lives in them and has transformed them. After all, why would anyone want to join these fledgling Christians if they aren’t any different, don’t have a different quality of life from everybody else?
We have the Ten Commandments. If I were to give a quiz this morning, most of us could list most of them. No other gods, no graven images, don’t misuse God’s name, keep the Sabbath holy, honor mother and father, don’t steal, murder, commit adultery, lie or yearn for what belongs to someone else. (Exodus 20). But how do we show love for one another?
Not stealing, murdering or lying will surely be a part of it. The Apostle Paul gives us a guide for more than getting along, for being loving towards others. The first of the manners that Paul says matter is putting off the old self of impurity and greed and putting on the new self, as we were created to like God in true righteousness and holiness. Mainline Christian churches (Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, UCC, etc.) are all losing members and support all across the nation. There are surely a number of reasons for that. If I knew a single cause I would write the book and make a fortune. But one factor is that the Church today is rarely consistently different from the culture that surrounds it. Why be a part of or join a church if there is nothing different about it from any other ‘service organization’?
And yet this church in its baptismal liturgy proclaims: “In baptism God claims us, and puts a sign on us to show that we belong to God. God frees us from sin and death, uniting us with Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection. By water and the Holy Spirit, we are made members of the Church, the Body of Christ, and joined to Christ’s ministry of love, peace and justice. . .
“Through baptism we enter the covenant God has established. Within that covenant we are given new life and are guarded from evil, nurtured by the love of God and God’s people. On our part, we are to turn from evil and turn to Jesus Christ. I ask you, therefore, to reject sin, (emphasis added) to profess your faith in Christ Jesus, and to confess the faith of the church, the faith in which we baptize.”
Today we live in a culture, probably not all that different from the culture surrounding these Ephesian Christians, a culture given over to every kind of impurity, to the point where it recoils from calling anything ‘sin.’ Society says, “Whatever is right for you is right.” And yet both the New and the Old Testaments are clear that we are called to be God’s people and that God’s people are to be holy.
The second of the manners that Paul says matter is putting off falsehood, speaking truthfully to your neighbor (which we know from Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan means everyone). Tell the truth. Even when it’s not to your best advantage. This ought to be a “no-brainer,” but from national politics to office politics to church politics, we know that people bend the truth. The old Ann Landers’ yardstick still applies to everything that comes out of our mouths: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?
Then Paul talks about how we deal with anger. Everybody gets angry – from time to time.
There is anger, both the short-fused, everything just went wrong, snappish anger. And then there is the more deep-seated, slow-burning, “bitterness”-”wrath”-”shouting”-”slander” anger, not to mention the deep, stunting erosion of “malice.” The prescription: a prepared salve of “kindness,” “compassion” and most especially “forgiveness.” The community of faith is to apply daily a remembrance that “God in Christ has forgiven you” (v.32), and that we will be forgiven as we forgive others.
Forgiveness is a hard gulp to swallow.
It is so much easier to feel bad — and “pass it on.”
It is so much simpler to see the failure of others than our own failures.
It is so much more reasonable to “earn” respectability in the world, than it is to receive God’s free gift of grace and confess the hugeness of that gift.
It is so much easier to watch our checkbooks, our “bottom line,” than it is to watch our mouths.
It’s what you do with your anger that matters. But forgiveness is the salve (from the same root from which we get ‘salvation) for human anger.
This is the message the church has that is different from what the world around us offers: That God loves the world so much that he gave his only Son so that we might know the love and forgiveness of God.
That’s great. It’s nice to know. We feel relief from guilt and bask in the warmth of God’s redeeming love. What’s next? The answer to that question is in my last story for today:
A first year seminary student was told by the dean that he should plan to preach the sermon in chapel the following day. He had never preached a sermon before. He was nervous and afraid, and he stayed up all night, but in the morning, he still didn’t have a sermon. He stood in the pulpit, looked out at his classmates and said “Do you know what I am going to say?” All of them shook their heads “no” and he said “Neither do I. The service has ended. Go in peace.”
The dean was not happy. “I’ll give you another chance
tomorrow, and you had better have a sermon.” Again he stayed up all night; and again he couldn’t come up with a sermon. Next morning, he stood in the pulpit and asked “Do you know what I am going to say?” The students all nodded their heads “yes.” “Then there is no reason to tell you” he said. “The service has ended. Go in peace.”
Now the dean was really angry. “I’ll give you one more chance; if you don’t have a sermon tomorrow, you will be asked to leave the seminary.” Again, no sermon came. He stood in the pulpit the next day and asked “Do you know what I am going to say?” Half of the students nodded “yes” and the other half shook their heads “no.” The student preacher then announced “Those who know, tell those who don’t know. The service has ended. Go in peace.”
The seminary dean walked over to the student, put his arm over the student’s shoulders, and said “Those who know, tell those who don’t know. Today, the gospel has been proclaimed.” Those who know, tell those who don’t know: Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
GOSPEL LESSON Exodus 16:1-15
EPISTLE LESSON Ephesians 4:1-16
SERMON: “What Redwoods, Fire Ants and Legos Have in Common”
Philip Yancey is one of my favorite authors. In his book What’s So Amazing About Grace? Yancey quotes Mark Twain. Apparently Twain used to say he put a dog and a cat in a cage together as an experiment, to see if they could get along. They did, so he put in a bird, pig and goat. They, too, got along fine after a few adjustments. Then he put in a Baptist, Presbyterian, and Catholic; soon there was not a living thing left. In this area it might be Baptist, Christian Reformed and Catholic. As we know, it’s hard enough sometimes for a Presbyterian, a Presbyterian and a Presbyterian to get along.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians at Ephesus, “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
Paul was probably writing this letter from a Roman prison. He wanted the believers at Ephesus to end the Jew-Gentile conflict that was fracturing the church. He had a vision of the church that included humility as the people recognized their brokenness, gentleness towards one another since every one of us needs grace and patience, because none of us is perfect and reality is that sooner or later we will make mistakes. Paul didn’t see the church as a building people go to once a week on Sundays, or maybe twice a week if you’re on a committee or governing body. His vision of the church was one of community based on quality relationships. His vision was of a community sharing common beliefs and practices engaged in mission and ministry to the people around them, both inside and outside of the faith community.
This kind of church, or faith community, requires interdependence, trust, depending on others and being depended upon. This kind of church involves making mistakes and seeking and receiving forgiveness. So Paul writes, “4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all Jewish Christians, Gentile Christians, -- all the same. There are no first or second class Christians. Paul knew that division weakens the Body,
Most of your probably know that Coastal redwoods are the tallest living species on Earth. They can exceed 300 feet in height, and can be 18-20 feet in diameter, nearly 12 feet above the ground. The Mother of the Forest, a 329-foot beauty, was the tallest tree in Big Basin Redwoods State Park. The tallest coast redwood anywhere at 367.8 feet, “Tall Tree,” lived in Redwood National Park and was 44 feet around at its base. It was reported to have lived from 668 BC until some time in the 1850’s when it ultimately died as a result of someone stripping off its bark.
The roots of a coastal redwood are very shallow, growing only four to six feet deep, spreading out from the tree as far as 125 feet. That’s really isn’t much support for a tall, heavy tree. Floodwaters can erode top layers of soil, exposing the roots and weakening a tree’s support system. Heavy rains and strong winds can bring even the biggest giant crashing to the ground.
But the roots of individual redwoods frequently grow intertwined with those of their neighbors. By “holding hands” underground, the roots form a network that allows the trees to withstand even great storms. (illustration provided by Mark Hughes in an e-mail correspondence with Homiletics.)
Those amazing huge trees have something in common with tiny, annoying fire ants. These painful pests have developed a stunning way to survive huge rains that flood their colonies which happen rather frequently in American South or their native Brazil. They’ll link together and assemble into flat waterproof rafts that float atop the flood waters. The disc-shaped rafts are actually water-repellent due to the interlocking pattern between the ants. Some ants in the raft even remain submerged below the water’s surface, but the structure of their interconnection traps air bubbles between them that these ants use to breath. On top of the raft, other ants surf along until the colony washes up onto dry ground.
Some of us might wish that scientists could devise an efficient way to drown these stinging insects, but linked together, they’re so water repellant that an ant raft can float for up to two months! The key to these rafts is the strength of the interconnection between each ant. The whole raft is held together as the ants clutch to one another with jaws and claws. By measuring the force required to break these links, scientists have determined that the ant’s grip force is on par with that of a human being able to suspend six elephants off the ground.
Ants, Redwoods and as you saw with the children, Legos all depend upon their connectional nature. So to the church. To be the Body of Christ that Paul envisioned we must focus on what we have in common and let go of whatever would divide us.
When I was a kid growing up in Chicago we always had the Chicago Daily News delivered to the house. And one of the first columns everyone wanted to read was Mike Royko’s. He told a story once that came to him from his “friend,” Slats Grobnik (a rough-edged Chicago character of his own creation who frequently showed up in his columns). Slats, who that year was selling Christmas trees, told of a poor couple who showed up, late in the season, in search of a tree. There wasn’t much left on the lot, and certainly nothing in their price range (which was next to nothing).
Finally, they came up with a Scotch pine that looked okay on one side, but was bare on the other. Nearby was a similar tree that was much the same. They asked Slats if he’d sell them both trees for $3. Realizing he wasn’t likely to sell either sad-looking tree for any price, Slats agreed.
A few days later, Slats was walking down the street and saw a beautiful tree in the couple’s apartment window. It was thick, full and well-rounded. He knocked on the door and asked them where it had come from. They told him how they had placed the two trees close together where the branches were thin, and had interwoven the good branches. Then, they had wired the trunks together.
“So that’s the secret,” Slats asserts. “You take two trees that aren’t perfect, that have flaws, that might even be homely, that maybe nobody else would want. If you put them together just right, you can come up with something really beautiful.” [--Mike Royko, One More Time (University of Chicago Press, 1999), 85-87.]
And so Paul writes, “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
We have One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism. Let us come to the Table as one family united in what truly matters, trust in our Lord, Jesus Christ.