The Lawnmower of Unity

I mowed my lawn last weekend. That’s not a particularly newsworthy announcement, but it was a great learning experience. You might be surprised at what you can learn when you’re mowing the lawn.

I converted my mower from a rear-bagger to a mulcher this year. I’m finding that it makes the task of mowing my lawn go by a lot quicker, and with a lot less of the negative emotion associated with emptying the grass catcher into plastic bags and hauling them to the curb for pickup. My neighbor, Bill, is still doing the bag routine. He and I were both mowing our front lawns, which are about the same size. Bill was halfway finished when I started, and we both finished about the same time – proof that my mulching investment is paying off. Bill, wrestling with bags of grass, also noticed the difference. He’ll be buying a mulching kit for his mower this week.

While Bill and I were standing in the yard discussing the fact that lawn mowing is a part of the curse, I made a remarkable observation. Even on careful examination, it was impossible to tell where my yard left off and Bill’s began—the transition was seamless. We had both mowed to exactly the same height, and in spite of the difference in style, our two lawns appeared to be one continuous stretch with absolutely no division. It might not seem like the sort of material that revelations are made of, but revelation is still the best word for the flash of enlightenment that I experienced while admiring our handiwork.

Think with me for a moment about the issue of unity. How much energy has been expended in our churches and in our society as a whole, attempting to generate unity. We have unity rallies, unity services, unity prayer vigils, unity breakfasts—all sorts of events designed to foster a sense of unity in and between our churches and different segments of our society. We expend all of that energy, and still we find unity to be a fleeting concept that hangs just beyond our grasp.

Yet, achieving unity is a remarkably simple thing, not nearly as complex as we try to make it. It is well illustrated by my neighbor and I mowing our lawns. Neither of us made a big deal out of making our lawns a seamless, unified patch of grass. We simply did what was right on each side of the property line, and unity was the natural result. If either of us had decided to cut our grass just 1 inch higher, that unity wouldn’t have happened. Because each of us mowed our grass to the same height with good mowers, the line between the two properties vanished.

Bill and I used radically different mowing styles. I mulched, Bill bagged. I mowed in a counterclockwise outside-in pattern, as recommended by the mower manufacturer. Bill mowed with a diagonal pattern, as recommended by others. Both techniques were appropriate to our individual mowers. In spite of the divergent methods, we still produced a unified lawn.

Our churches and communities can achieve unity the same way. Rather than focusing on the production of unity, focus on the truth of the Gospel and on doing what is right with that truth. Picture a triangle, with two people at the base, each in an opposite corner. As each travels toward the third point—symbolizing Jesus—the closer the two become. If they both follow the right path, they end up unified, standing together shoulder-to-shoulder in the presence of Christ.

Unity doesn’t have to mean uniformity. We can maintain our own distinctive differences and still experience unity. In fact, we can celebrate our distinctive differences while we celebrate our unity in Christ, and actually learn from each other, just like my African-American next door neighbor Bill and his white-guy neighbor (me) do on a frequent basis. As we discuss the things that are different, we find out that we have even more in common. As we both pursue Christ, we grow closer in our bond of unity.

“For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:13, NNAS)

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