When I was a kid – junior high and high school aged – I made money in the summers by mowing grass. I mowed lawns all over the neighborhood. In retrospect I undercharged, so that may have been why I had so many customers. Most places I used my own mower and gas. One day the husband of an older couple only two doors down from my house asked if I would do his lawn. He normally did it himself, but he was laid up for a few weeks because of a surgery. I hauled my mower over got started. Though they were on the same block, their back yard seemed really long, especially compared to other lawns I did. When I was done, he said: “You got everything, but those lines aren’t very straight.”
At the time I was a little confused. This wasn’t a ballpark. By the next afternoon the stripes wouldn’t even be visible. But apparently they were important to him. As a myopic thirteen-year-old with a push mower, those were about as straight as I was going to get them. He hired me a second time, and I slowed way down to get the lines straight as I could. In my mind, it was tedious and frustrating. When I was done it seemed markedly straighter than my previous effort and I asked him how I did. He shrugged and said, “A little better I guess.” I was deflated.
When he asked a third time, I thanked him but told him I had too many lawns to add another customer. To this day, I have no idea why straight stripes with less than a 24-hour lifespan were so important to him, but if I met my thirteen-year-old self I would tell him to stick with it.
In a weird pre-adolescent way, I felt unfairly judged. But in my own way I was judging him. After all, he did ask me back twice, and I was the one who severed the relationship, at least on a lawncare level.
To some people, it makes perfect sense that straight mowing stripes are important. To other people, they will never be important. We’re not going to understand each other on this controversial subject. Yet we all have to keep mowing.
We seem to get stuck on the idea that we have to understand each other to coexist peacefully. Certainly we should make an effort, but sometimes we just won’t. Sometimes we just need to agree the grass needs tending, and deal with each other’s quirks.
As we gather around Christ’s table, we’re not all going to agree on everything. We will feel very strongly about some of these areas of disagreement – we may even think they should be obvious to anyone calling themselves a Christian – but there are much bigger things we need to accomplish together. Maybe when you’re recovering after surgery and I bring you a casserole, you would have preferred a salad. Maybe when you makes posters for the bake sale, I would have preferred stenciled letters over freehand. So what? In the end we’re working for the same cause.
During the Thirty Years War in the seventeenth century, Lutheran theologian Rupertus Meldenius wrote: “In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity.” You may have heard it attributed to Augustine … but let’s not make a thing out of it.
Our Essential is Christ’s table. Let’s start by gathering around it freely and charitably. We’ll work the rest out … or we won’t. The table remains.
May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.