May 27 2016

Focusing on What We Have in Common

a_DSC6135Recently I preached a sermon to my congregation on the need for unity among believers. These days it seems like those who have been explicitly called to love one another and to work together for the kingdom of God spend an inordinate amount of time time fussing and fighting.  This happens in both individual churches and also denominations.  Sometimes the things that divide Christians are admittedly quite significant but most of the time it seems to be more petty or superficial things that cause divisions.  Some will argue whether we should use “trespasses” or “debts” when reciting the Lord’s Prayer.  Others become upset if the pastor does (or doesn’t) wear a robe.  In my forty years of ministry I have been appalled by some of the things I’ve seen churches fight over.

_DSC8801In the message I preached on unity one of the things I suggested as a solution to the divisiveness that hurts our life and witness as Christians is to focus more on what we have in common instead of on what we disagree about. Although it tends to be the differences that cause the trouble, the truth is in most churches the members have far more in common than things that divide them.  The apostle Paul reminds us that we have “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:5-5)  We might also acknowledge that we have one hope and the same calling to love God above everything and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  If we could just pause to remember that we have far more in common than we have differences it would go a long way in helping to restore and maintain unity in the church.

The conflict and divisiveness I see in churches these days can also be seen in many other venues. America itself is very much a divided nation these days and the number of things we are divided over is legion.  The current presidential race definitely showcases this divisiveness.  Internationally, we also see conflict and divisions on both large scales and small.  We may all be part of the one human race but we certainly do not agree on a lot of things.

CR Jasper NP Mt Edith St Clair 330In a church setting disunity and divisiveness can lead to tension within the fellowship or perhaps even church splits. On the larger scale, conflict and divisiveness within and between nations can erupt into riots and protests, and perhaps even war.  The stakes are high when disunity and divisiveness prevail, whatever the setting.

I mentioned that one of my suggestions for creating peace in the church was to try to focus on what we have in common instead of our differences. I think that would help also on a national and global level.  Political parties need to do this.  Entire nations need to do this.  And there will always be things people can agree on.  There will always be things they share in common.  One obvious and very important common denominator for all groups is the very earth we all share together. Surely we can all agree that since the earth is our home it is important that we take good care of it.  We may draw up  political borders but in the end this “pale blue dot” is home to all of us.  We share the same atmosphere and breathe the same air.  We are all dependent on the same sources of water—our rivers, lakes and oceans.  We must all depend on the same web of life.  We all live here and we all die here.

web-and-dewNow would be a good time for us to pay heed to the wise words spoken by Chief Seattle: “Teach your children what we have taught our children—that the earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons and daughters of the earth.  If men spit upon the ground, they spit upon themselves.  This we know, the earth does not belong to us; we belong to the earth.  This we know, all things are connected like the blood which unites one family.  All things are connected.  Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons and daughters of the earth.  We did not weave the web of life; we are merely a strand in it.  Whatever we do to the web we do to ourselves.”  It is my hope and prayer that before it is too late we humans will begin to focus more on what we have in common and not on that which separates us.  And I’m not sure there’s a better place to start than this place we all call home.


(I took the first image at Yosemite NP, the second and fourth image at Henderson Sloughs WMA, and the third image at Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada.)

Dec 12 2012

The Fragile Web of Life

Last Thursday Rob and I took a guided tour of a swamp trail at Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in southern Florida.  Since this is a habitat I hardly know at all I learned a lot from the naturalist leading the tour.  One of the things he kept stressing is how in nature everything is connected.   This made me think of a couple of my favorite quotations concerning nature.  Long ago Chief Seattle said, “Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.”  John Muir spoke similar words when he said, “When we try to pick anything out by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

The naturalist leading our tour emphasized the impact flora and fauna have on one another.  He also talked about the impact of humans on the earth.  Everything we do impacts our world one way or another.  In southern Florida this is evidenced in what has happened to the Everglades.  Development and a number of poor decisions over the decades have greatly threatened the survival of this unique habitat.  This is tragic for a number of reasons.  One reason, just alluded to, is that the Everglades are unique.  Marjory Stoneman Douglas, who fought valiantly to protect this region, noted that “There are no other Everglades in the world.”  If what exists in southern Florida disappears this will be the end of a beautiful and special ecosystem.

Another reason the loss of the Everglades would be tragic is the wondrous diversity of life that exists there.  The Everglades serve as the home for countless birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals.  It also serves as host to magnificent flowers, ferns and trees.  Humans have severely altered the flow of water that has sustained the Everglades for eons.  Much habitat has already been lost and more is threatened.  This will affect every living creature and thing in the region.

Still yet another reason the loss of the Everglades would be tragic is spiritual in nature.  This portion of North America, like the rest of the planet, is God’s Creation.  As I have noted numerous times on this blog, God makes Himself known through His Creation.  If we lose unique habitats like the Everglades we actually lose opportunities or means of learning about God that we will not find anywhere else.

I am an environmentalist not just because I care about the well-being of the planet and its inhabitants.  I am an environmentalist because I am a Christian who understands that God cares for this planet and uses His Creation to teach us about Himself.  If we do not protect what God has made it will be like removing books from the Bible and never being able to read them again.

In the web of life humans are affected by the rest of the natural world.  We must never forget that everything we do, likewise, affects everything else—even God’s ability to make Himself known to us.  If that isn’t incentive enough to take Creation Care seriously, I don’t know what is.