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The Whole Is Greater Than Its Parts


Matthew 18:20

For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them.

Mary grew up in Kansas where her dad owned many acres and leased them to neighboring farmers. One year she and her siblings would be running through fields of corn, the next there would be wheat and the next alfalfa. It is a well-known principle in farming to rotate your crops to ensure healthy, nutrient-rich soil.

If you transplant a withered plant into a pot with fresh soil, the plant often responds and spring back to life. In both examples, the environment of the plant either facilitates or impedes its growth. Elements that were once beneficial but have been exhausted must be replaced with more supportive components.

In a sense, it is like that with the people surrounding us. What is the condition of our personal, social, and spiritual environment? In terms of our spiritual potential, we are like spiritual seedlings needing nutritive soil, sunshine, and water for sustained growth. Supportive friends provide a rich environment of acceptance, appreciation, approval, and encouragement in which we can blossom. Negative friends and associations can suck the nutrients right out of our soil, leaving us feeling withered in a short time.

That’s why it is important to surround ourselves with positive people with good attitudes, who are eager to help us find the God within. That is why we come to church, to be around our spiritual support group, and to be those types of people for others.

Each of us pursues our individual journey, yet our way is made easier by the love, encouragement, inspiration, and prayers of the people who support us in attaining our fullest potential.

There is the power in people coming together - socially, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. This can be evident in various ways in this world. For instance, I have heard, and sung in ensembles, which were stellar. I have hear choruses and quartets that moved me emotionally. They were a supreme joy to experience.

I have also heard choruses that weren’t so good – not necessarily because the voices were bad, but because the voices didn’t blend. I have heard choirs who contained some very well-trained voices, operatically trained voices. These voices are trained to be loud because they need to be heard over on orchestra. They need to have brilliance so their voices would carry. They are not trained to blend in with other voices. So, when we hear a chorus containing one or two of these kinds of singers, their voices stick out. Their singing may be awe inspiring and heart opening as a soloist onstage, but not so much in a choral situation.

One the other hand, a beautiful choir will have musicians who are trained vocally and to sing well in tune, but also trained to listen to each other, blend in and not stick out. On stage these voices would be pleasant, effective, and satisfying to hear as soloists, but may not carry over an orchestra.

In this last instance, this is what we describe as the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Each individual has come together with the intent to create something that they could not create alone. This is what Jesus described when he said, “For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them.” Community and fellowship develop when two or more come together in prayer because the Christ Spirit will be amid them.

We know that God is always with us, and we can voluntarily tune into that Presence at our choosing, and still the law stands: when two or three are gathered in prayer, with a focus on Spirit, Christ is with us, meaning that all the attributes of God are present: love, wholeness, abundance, strength, and peace.

There is power in a team of people coming together. I like the expression, “No one of us is smarter than all of us,” and this was proven in a test of ten college students. Each of their IQs was measured and the average score was 113, a little above average. But collectively when they took the test as a group, their IQ was 145, which is considered genius level in the top 99.865 percentile.

Each student supplemented the others. Much like rotating crops, supplementing our soil, or taking nutritional supplements ourselves, we can “fill in the holes” through reaching out past ourselves to a carefully chosen team of people.

We’ve all heard the story about the Turtle and the Hare. The turtle wins the race because the quick rabbit got lazy, overconfident and took a snooze. Well, suppose the rabbit thought about how he had underperformed and challenged the turtle to another race. Only this time, the rabbit went full out the entire race. He beat the turtle in a landslide victory. Although slow and steady is good, fast and reliable is better.

Now suppose the turtle did some thinking herself and considered her attributes. She made another challenge, with a slightly different route. This time, as in the previous races, the hare took off like a jet. But then near the finish line there was a stream too broad for the rabbit to jump. All he could do was watch as the slow and steady turtle plodded up to the stream, crawled in, and swam across to the other side, where she plodded across the finish line.

Although both slow and steady, and fast and reliable, are good, better yet is to identify what we are good at, our core competencies, and change the playing field to suit our strengths.

One last scenario: Suppose both the hare and turtle, who had become friends by now, started to appreciate each other’s differences, skills, and aptitudes. If they combined their strengths, they could do even better. So, they decided to run this last race again. This time, the rabbit picked up the turtle and dashed to the stream. Then the turtle crawled into the stream with the rabbit on her back and swam across. The rabbit then picked up the turtle and sprinted to the finish line in record time.

The point is this: by surrounding ourselves with people of various aptitudes, personalities, core competencies, gifts, talents, and perspectives we can optimize our efforts, take advantage of the prayers and brilliance of those around us, and the chances of reaching our potential are increased in every circumstance.

Some think, well I don’t really count much; I never contribute or say anything. Please understand that our importance is not based upon what we say. Whether we speak aloud, or not at all, is of little consequence when we are part of a group: it is our spiritual participation that is important. Are our prayers in alignment with those of the group? Are we mentally supporting the others and allowing Christ’s spirit to flow through us? That is what is critical. It is nice to individually acknowledge someone, it can make them feel our support more deeply. But in a group, like a congregation, it is our willingness to turn our thoughts to a specific person or circumstance along with others that is most meaningful. Our combined prayers are greater than our individual efforts.

Mother Theresa once said: "None of us, including me, ever do great things. But we can all do small things, with great love, and together we can do something wonderful."

It is sometimes difficult to gather people of like mind around us when you need them most. When this is the case, let’s take a tip from Napoleon Hill, author of “Think and Grow Rich”, published in 1937. He formed a Master Mind group, but it was all done mentally, with his imagination. He invited various powerful figures into his group and would call regularly scheduled meetings with these people to affect the ends he was after. So even in our minds we can surround ourselves with people who support our spiritual goals.

This is not to say that everyone we associate with must believe exactly what we believe. If that was the case, what a life of solitude we would have! I am keenly aware that not everything I say in church is going to be what you believe. But it is my hope and prayer that I can offer acceptance of someone’s belief system and encouragement in whatever path they take to knowing God.

We don’t need to believe the same to support another’s journey. Let us surround ourselves with people who make us a part of their agenda. They appreciate us where we are, who we are, what we are; they approve of us just as we are, and they accept us just as we are. I believe we do a magnificent job of that here at Genoa Community Church.

We know that nobody needs fixing – that is between them and Spirit; it’s not our business to fix someone. Our business is to love them, serve them, encourage them, inspire them, support them, and allow them to find that indwelling Christ and let it express through them as God wills. That is what they need, and how we can serve.

We each have an opportunity to be part of a team. We are currently each a part of many teams, if we will open our hearts and minds to it. We have families, spouses, golfing buddies, and other friends. They can form a team, if we are willing to seem them in that light.

We are part of a church, a community, a State, a Nation, and a global community. We are all Children of God and part of a large spiritual family.

And perhaps the most important team of all is the one comprised of us and God; each of individually are teamed up with God in a magnificent journey of cooperation. We are the hands and feet and body of Christ; a splendid example of teamwork. We are taught, “With God all things are possible?”

It reminds me of a story. A preacher was driving down a country road when he came upon a beautiful farm. It was by no means a new farm, but the house and buildings were well constructed and in perfect repair and paint. A garden around the house was filled with flowers and shrubs. A fine row of trees lined each side of the white gravel drive. The fields were beautifully tilled, and a fine herd of fat dairy cattle grazed in the pasture. He had been raised on a farm himself, and he knew a great one when he saw it.

It was then he noticed the farmer, on a tractor, hard at work, approaching the place where the preacher stood beside his car. When the farmer got closer, the preacher hailed him. The farmer stopped the tractor and then shouted a friendly “hello!” The preacher said to him, “My good man, God has certainly blessed you with a magnificent farm.” And then, there was a pause as the farmer took off his cape and shifted in the tractor seat to take a look at his pride and joy. He then looked at the preacher and he said, “Yes, He has, and we’re grateful. But you should have seen this place when He had it all to Himself.”

We are all farmers on the path to knowing and understanding our divine natures as God reveals Himself to us. Whether we accept God’s help and the support of others God sends our way, or take a solo route, Christ whispers to our hearts along the way. My prayer is that we listen well to the whispers and follow.

Henry Ford made this profound statement: “Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.” I pray is that we may come together first as friends, then as a community, joining more and more hands and hearts, until this entire world can appreciate each other’s’ differences, abilities, aptitudes, perspectives, and fill in the holes, so that we can at last run the race together.

Oh, Patrick, you are so naïve and unreasonably optimistic. Perhaps. But the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Each of us has our part to play in God’s plan. Yes, there will be times when God asks that we be a soloist. But I pray that when He needs an ensemble we will come together, abandon the ego, let our hearts shine and our voices ring as we revel in the glorious harmony of a team led by Christ. Let us find joy in embracing the fundamental team of ‘me and God’, then watch the grand journey unfold.


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