My personality type is one that revels in being different, unique, special. I find great delight in seeking out a new way of doing things, a new perspective, taking on a new challenge–just because it’s never been done that way before. I’m not exactly adventurous, but I like to be ‘different’ or ‘special.’ However, sometimes this flies directly in the face of ‘synergy’: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Sometimes being different means feeling alone, on your own, or forgotten… where is the beauty in this? Sometimes, being brought together is much greater than standing alone; no matter how wonderful I think I am.
For whatever reason while I was reading these stories I thought of one of my Dad’s favorite TV shows: Mike Holmes; Holmes on Homes. Mike Holmes is a Canadian contractor/carpenter/home inspector extraordinaire. Normally, when things go wrong in a house you call a carpenter or a contractor. But when things go REALLY WRONG, you call Mike Holmes.
He brings in his TV crews and work crews alike. They inspect the home from top-to-bottom and find all the places and problems all the other contractors/inspectors missed. And then, he brings in the distraught homeowners, usually in tears at the mess they fear is at hand… and Mike gives them the bad news. Usually it is something along the lines of a total gut and remodel project. Everything must go. We’ve got to take it all down and start from the bottom up… or this house will crash in on you while you’re watching my show on TV.
So, in the way that only DIY shows can—the next TV segment is just that—gut and remodel, and in between all this action and rebuilding there are interviews from the homeowners repeating the problems Mike told them about, and gushing over how grateful they are that Mike is there to fix it.
In the final reveal of the house—we’ve got more tears and usually fewer words from the homeowners. Some go crazy at the change, some are simply in stunned silence… and the whole thing is amazing. Breathtaking… almost to the point of me wanting to make something go wrong with my house so that Mike Holmes will come and fix it…
And even though the show is called “Holmes on Homes” it’s not all about him. He has an entire crew that he has carefully picked, and assembled for this kind of job. Like The Avengers—each one chosen for their skills and talents and together they make an unstoppable team. Alone, each one would be vulnerable and incomplete, but together, they are amazing.
Now, getting back on track—we’ve got Amos, using the example of a plum line. I remember my Dad showing me how these things work …To be honest, I at first thought you only used plum lines when installing pipes… but I have since learned I was mistaken. A weight is placed on the bottom of a string which is attached to a structure or object you are building and gravity pulls the weight to make sure the structure is “plum” or ‘vertical.
Amos is in dialogue with the King of Israel, telling him what God has instructed him to say—that the people of Israel are not ‘plum,’ they’re not shaping up the way they are supposed to—they are not measuring up, and God isn’t going to ignore this anymore.
We move to the Psalm and get this beautiful imagery of what the world could look like when things are ‘plum’ and when things come together—Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet—Righteousness and peace will kiss each other and Faithfulness will spring up from the ground—Righteousness will look down from the sky.
This is poetry. Shear, raw, beautiful poetry. A poem of a soul and a heart longing for ‘things’ to be put together, to be brought together… and that in this bringing together good things will be found—things like; steadfast love, faithfulness, and peace. And in some ways, I bet many of us have had these kinds of longings—for things to be made right, to be put back the way they were meant to be—or to be finally put together in a way they haven’t ever been before…
This is how we wind up at this strange reading from Ephesians. Paul is writing to a group of communities who are trying to figure out what it means to follow in the Way of Jesus as a community. And, Paul being a fairly passionate writer opens up his letter to this community with nothing less than a poem.
We don’t really get all that in English—but this is a poem of blessing, almost prayer-like. And in the original language it’s about 12 lines long—and all one sentence. But, since English speakers can’t hang on to a sentence for that long, we’ve put in some commas and periods and made 6 really long sentences out of it.
So, we hear that it’s poetry and maybe want to write it off. After all, the apostle Paul is known to be a great teacher, we don’t want to waste our time on some rhyming poems about roses that are red, and water that’s blue—and how Jesus loves both me and you.
We want instructions. We want rules, we want to know how to live and follow this Way of Jesus…
We want Mike Holmes to come in and shake things up—tell us where others have messed up and how we can finally make things right. Or, we want the plum line from Amos—to constantly measure if and when we’re not traveling down the straight and narrow path…
But Paul’s poetry is both about head knowledge and heart knowledge. He is welling up from inside and about to burst with all that he has to share with this community—he’s bursting with encouragement, with excitement, and with the wonder and awe of this presence we call… God… and how grace works in our lives, and how he’s seen love change the hardest of hearts… and he even moves on to wrestle with questions about ‘the meaning of it all.’
And in good, honest, and true poetic fashion, I would guess he chose his words so carefully. I would assume he put deep thought into that one giant 12-lines of a sentence. This is a moment for him to bring others into this conversation about what God is doing in this moment, and to encourage them.
Right in the middle of his poem and prayer of blessing God, Paul begins to answer his own questions about the meaning of life… Paul writes—“as a plan for the fullness of time, God spoke to us saying that God will gather up all things in him—that is, Jesus, things in heaven, and things on earth…that we…might live for the praise of his glory.”
Or, we might read it as… God’s economy is to sum up all things in Jesus.
The word for “plan” falls short on our ears. Plan makes it sound too ordered, too structured, too rigid. The word is actually ‘economy’ which really means—to manage a household.
My household growing up was a bit chaotic—even with my Mom managing all our schedules, dinners, birthday parties, homework projects… Maybe, we can view this image of God’s household—in such a way that God doesn’t prevent chaos from happening in the same way my Mom couldn’t prevent all my final exams from happening in the same week, but God walks with us through it and is present.
Then we get to this piece of what God is bring together—and Paul says things in heaven, and things on earth—literally… everything. God is bringing together, summing up, everything. Nothing is left out, not the salmon in the Puget Sound, not the frogs in our wetland backyard, not the trees from the forest fires in Colorado, and not that girl at the coffee shop who was rude to me when I was having a bad day and just wanted a cup of coffee… nothing is left out. All of us, all of creation is being gathered together in Jesus.
There’s a phase that was brought up in conversation about this text—The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Synergy. Meaning, you and I can both work to do something great on our own… but what is even greater is when we are working together.
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
I keep thinking of Mike Holmes. He’s an inspector and a contractor. He’s got a whole crew of carpenters, electricians, plumbers, and then his TV crew on top of that. Each of them has a specialized gift, unique and wonderful and hard to understand… but when they are thrown together on one house that is falling apart—it’s amazing. The house looks completely different. And not one of them, no matter how great at their job they are could finish the house on their own…
But on a softer, more poetic note—the image of a flower comes to mind.
Each petal of a rose is beautiful. Soft. Delicate. Rich in color and smell and texture. When you rub a petal between your fingers nature sings and is at peace. It is beautiful. It calms and soothes a tired spirit. In a world of concrete and cars even a single petal of a rose can be a comfort and a joy beyond comparison.
But a rose has more than just one petal. Each petal is placed gently on top of another. Forming rows and bending in circles, glued through invisible forces to the top of the stem, protected by thorns and leaves and held up and fed by roots and water and dirt and sunlight.
The whole rose is much greater than the sum of just its petals and leaves and thorns.
Paul in his rich beautiful language seems to be trying to tell this community—this group of people—look, you are all petals and leaves and stems and roots, joined together in the dirt and water and sun of this earth. And you are being brought together.
And everything is brought together through Jesus… through this carpenter with a bad reputation, without a home, and without honor… everything is brought together in a beautiful mess that we do not understand… and God has called it beautiful.
Together, summed up—in God’s economy, we are more beautiful than when we are alone.
I think, maybe we catch site of this. I think we can see moments in our lives when we are being brought together, and held together through the love of God. And I think sometimes, we catch a glimpse and have to stop and look again.
Maybe it’s not always a Mike Holmes situation… maybe we will never get the full force of the gut and rebuild overhaul or transformation on our lives… Maybe we won’t always recognize the ‘crew’ of electricians, plumbers, carpenters, or inspectors walking in and out of our daily lives… Maybe we will never get to look back and see how things were brought together or made complete.
Maybe, this bringing together happens quietly, over cups of coffee or late night conversations.
But in these quiet, still moments of life, you can almost hear the flowers growing. You can almost see them get taller and taller.
And in those moments, I wonder if we can also catch site of God’s way of living—God’s economy of bringing things together so that peace reaches up from the ground and love comes down on us from the sky.
And we are welcomed—all of us, to be a part of this—this beautiful mess that we do not always understand, held together in Jesus.