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.