Over the past week, I’ve been working to get my garden prepped a bit for spring and to start some of the seeds that will be set out after Mother’s Day. And I was reminded as I dug my fingers into the dirt that soil is so incredibly diverse and complex. That just one handful of the stuff contains more living organisms than there are people on this planet.
And in every part of the soil, every one of those organisms has a part to play, impacting chemical and physical properties. And all of these living organisms live off of and feed off of one another. It is their interaction that makes soil healthy and thriving and good.
In his book, The Third Plate, Dan Barber describes two ways of seeing what is happening in the soil that surrounds us.
One, is a class system… or a battlefield…
We’ve all seen those videos of a tiny fish being eaten by a bigger fish, being eaten by an even bigger fish… that’s some of what happens in the dirt beneath our feet. One way of looking at all of the interaction beneath us is to focus on how microbes are eaten by protozoa, which are eaten by centipedes, ants, and beetles.
But another way of thinking about all of that diversity in the soil is as a system of checks and balances.
Fred Magdoff is a soil scientist and he thinks that “When there is sufficient and varied food for the organisms, they do what comes naturally, ‘making a living’ by feeding on the food sources that evolution provided… What you have is a thriving, complex community of organisms.”
And all of that diversity and interaction in the soil is what makes our food taste good.
Magdoff says, “Taste comes from a more complex molecule that gets eaten, taken apart, and put back together in a different way. The plant takes this, and all the other molecules, and catalyzes them into phytonutrients. Taste doesn’t come from the elemental compounds (like calcium or nitrogen). It comes from the synthesis” [The Third Plate, Dan Barber, page 85]
That’s really why you and I want all of that diversity in the soil after all. Because we want the things we grow to thrive and taste good. We want it to bear tasty fruit!
In musical composition, unless it is a solo piece, it is the interaction of the various instruments each playing their part, yet working together that create harmonization.
And in the church, it is the way that we each utilize our various gifts and we each play our part as hands or tongues or livers that allows the Body of Christ to make a difference in this world.
But sometimes, the church acts more like a battlefield than the Body of Christ.
When Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthians, he was responding to the way factions and power and pride were tearing the community apart.
Corinth was a port city and as such it had incredible diversity. Ideas from across the globe all mingled and freed slaves lived amongst wealthy entrepreneurs. The church reflected this diversity… but that created a power contest between the believers who argued with one another about which ideology or status was better than another.
At every turn, Paul reminds the people that their diversity should be seen not as a source of division, but as a blessing. Because of their varied gifts and perspectives, they could do far more together than any of them could do on their own.
We’ve experienced this as a church, haven’t we? We have incredible diversity as far as our age and our political and theological perspectives and yet look at the amazing things that we have done together.
We raised over $5000 for Joppa in a weekend with a garage sale last year that brought so many different people together.
We built on Faith Hall and paid it off in record time because every person did their part.
We successfully launched Children’s Church because of the incredible work of so many different volunteers and people who were willing to try something new.
Today is the last day of Third Grade Bible, which is an amazing way our more experienced folks help our young people learn about this amazing book that guides our faith journey.
None of that could happen unless the various parts of THIS Body of Christ were willing to step up and play a part.
You might be a foot or an eye or a spleen, but you play a part in this church. We all play a part. You might think that you are too young or too old or too busy to make a difference, but Paul says you are wrong. You are an essential part of making the church work!
Or you might think that church would be a whole lot simpler if everyone was just like me, but again, Paul says we are wrong. It takes all of our different perspectives and experiences… even when they make things more complex… to be the Body of Christ God has intended for this community.
In the United Methodist Church right now, we are divided. We are different. And we feel differently about human sexuality. We can’t always agree about how we should be in ministry with those folks on the margins, whether they are refugees or poor or elderly or tattooed or whatever else marks them as different from the majority. And underneath all that disagreement is that we don’t all read the scripture in the same way.
And sometimes, that diversity feels like a war. It feels like the battle described the soil beneath us or in that clip from Minions. We are chewing each other up and spitting each other out. And I hate the way my brothers and sisters are hurt and damaged by actions and words that cut to the core of their very being. And I’ve watched as some people have walked away from the Body of Christ because of it.
When you focus on the conflict that diversity creates, you want to strip out everything that is different to protect yourself and others. We want simple things. We want unity, which means, we want to all be the same.
But I believe, and Paul believes, that to be healthy, we need diversity. We need difference. We need checks and balances. We need reminders of the importance of the scripture and justice and mercy and love from people who don’t see it the same way we do.
We need to listen.
We need to hold one another accountable.
We also need to challenge one another.
We need to be willing to speak the truth in love.
And together, the interaction of all of our different parts creates something beautiful and mysterious and powerful.
John Wesley claimed the Moravian Motto: “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, love.”
There are key things that are pretty essential to who we are as not only United Methodists, but as Christians: ideas like believing in the Triune God, and understanding that grace plays a role in our lives. Core things, without which we simply could not be the Body of Christ.
But there are other things that are non-essential. What style of music or which translation or scripture or if we prefer percolator coffee or ground coffee or whole bean pour over. In those things, we are called to allow the freedom of diversity and expression and to give room and space for our siblings in Christ to be different and to share their varying gifts.
But no matter what… in all things, we are called to love. To respect each other. To listen. To disagree without being disagreeable. To be open to the moving of the Holy Spirit.
In all things, Love.
It is not a coincidence that this chapter on what it means to be the Body of Christ comes right before the chapter on love. Because the only way we make this kind of community work is through love. We’ll talk more about that next week.
In the same way the soil beneath our feet thrives on diversity and competition and interaction and synergy – this church thrives because we are different AND because we love one another. And through God’s grace, that means we can do more than any one of us could accomplish on our own for the Kingdom of God.