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Networking. It is something that is talked about in computers, organizations, people—in any type of system where information is passed along—including plants. For example, what is the world’s heaviest living organism? It is a grove of Aspen trees named Pando, which is located in Utah’s Fishlake National Forest. It appears to be a multiple trees (about 47,000), but it is in fact a single organism, networked together through its root system and is estimated to weigh approximately 6,600 tons. Estimates also have it at 80,000 years old, making it the oldest living organism known. That is the world heaviest organism, but what is the largest, as in area? Armillaria solidipes. Also known as the honey fungus (mushroom) located in Malheur National Forest in east Oregon. Through its network of “roots” it covers an area of 3.7 square miles. That’s a lot of cream-of-mushroom soup!
We humans like our networking as well. There are over 4 billion users on the internet. Facebook alone has almost 2 billion active users (which, by the way, is a lot of wasted time at work… and home for that matter.) But, when we look at our connections, it is often by the visible attributes of others that binds us together: family, work, race, creed, and so on, but these types of connections like the Aspen groves and the mushrooms are above the ground, but is there a “network” below the surface that binds us together with an even greater strength? A true story for you and it’s hard one.
———- This part of the sermon contains violence ———-
It has been twenty-four years since Rwanda was ripped apart by a bloody civil war. Within Rwanda, there are two primary groups: Hutu and Tutsi. They look alike, share the same language, live side-by-side, but in 1994 “drunken soldiers and self-appointed militiamen from the Hutu tribe rampaged through the country and systematically murdered almost one million Tutsi men, women, and children.” Just in the last few weeks, mass graves—that some were trying to keep hidden—have been discovered, which is bringing to the surface wounds that have not even begun to heal. A Hutu woman told the Associated Press, “Those who participated in the killing of our relatives don’t want to tell us where they buried them. How can you reconcile with such people?” But some have tried.
As early as 1997, three years after the war, Hutu and Tutsi children were once again sharing classrooms, but there were still some who held onto the hate. Catherine Claire Larson in her book, As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation From Rwanda tells of one event that took place in a school for teenage boys. She begins:
There was a noise of chairs scuffing against concrete as students ducked under their desks, covering their heads. Just then shots burst through the closed door and three men entered the classroom, two carrying guns and one a machete. No one had remembered to shut off the generator, so the students did not even have darkness to cover them, and the desks were a feeble shield.
“Do you know me?” asked one man in uniform, speaking French, the language spoken most commonly in the Congo.
“No,” whispered several of the students.
“Well, you are going to see me,” he continued, moving to the front of the classroom. “I am going to ask you one simple thing.” Phanuel tried to get a better glimpse of the man. He looked young, perhaps 22 or 23. “I want you to separate yourselves between Hutu and Tutsi.”
Phanuel froze, returning his eyes to the ground. He listened; no one seemed to make a sound except he could hear one of the girls whimpering.
“Do you want me to repeat?” came the rebel’s voice, louder, angrier. “I want those of you who are Hutu to go there and those of you who are Tutsi to go to the other side.”
Phanuel felt like his heart would beat out of his chest. As a Hutu, he knew that he could say something and perhaps spare his life, but he couldn’t imagine betraying his own friends. He knew also that as a Christian he didn’t have that option. He prayed, “Lord, help us.” It couldn’t have been more than a few moments that the rebel waited for an answer, but to Phanuel it seemed like time had slowed. And then there was a voice. Phanuel winced.
“All of us are Rwandans here,” said Chantal from the front of the classroom. A shot rang out in reply. The students gasped – the bullet hit Chantal squarely in the forehead.
“Hutu here! Tutsi there!” yelled the man.
“I don’t want to die. Please help my classmates not to separate,” Phanuel prayed again.
Then the rebels walked out of the room. Phanuel wondered what was happening – were they leaving? A moment later, an explosion shattered the soft sounds of crying and rapid breathing. Glass exploded and one of the walls crumbled. Excruciating pain shot through Phanuel as debris rained down on him. He could hear his other classmates wailing and groaning. When the smoke dissipated a bit, he heard the rebels move back in.
“This is your last chance,” came the voice. “You will separate or you will all die.”
Just then Emmanuel said in a steady low voice, “We are all Rwandans.”
The response from the rebels was the same. He was shot and killed. Then, regardless of Hutu or Tutsi, the rebels fired on them all, killing most.
———- End ———-
Like the Aspen grove and the mushroom field, there are many things that connect us that are visible, above the ground. Race, creed, religion, Hutu, Tutsi, but… “All of us are Rwandans here.” All of us are of God.
Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” Jesus said, “We are all Rwandans.” Yes, we are individual branches, but there is but one vine from which we all grow and that is Jesus.
And understand, I’m not talking about salvation or Christian or who’s right and who’s wrong. Right, wrong, or indifferent, we are all Rwandans here. We are all of God. The vine from where you grow is the same vine for every individual on the planet which, as of 2:21 p.m. this past Thursday was estimated to be 7,618,062,630 souls. Which means regardless of who you see or encounter, that person (the good, the bad, and the ugly) is a part of you.
I suppose I shouldn’t read the news so much because when I do, these are types of sermons you’ll get. And I could go into some wide ranging political rant, but even the politics we speak are nothing more than these visible attributes that we believe bind us together, but instead do nothing but tear us apart, and while we are so focused on the outward visible, we completely forget and disregard the one and only thing that does bind us all together and the one thing of greatest significance: God. He is the vine, we are the branches. We are all Rwandans here.
No, I’m not naive. I know there is suffering in the world and I know there is evil in the world, but just a few weeks ago we celebrated the resurrection of Our Lord and in just a few more weeks, we will be celebrating the gift of his Holy Spirit, being poured out on all flesh. Yet, sometimes we look at those events, and say, “Eh,” as though they didn’t change a thing. As though they didn’t give us eternal life. As though they did not bring us into union with our God. As though they did not bind us all together as God’s children.
John said, “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” Now, I suppose we could limit our definition of “brothers and sisters” and say that it only pertains to Christian believers, but John also says, “We love because he first loved us.” God loved us while we were still his enemies. So if God extended that grace to us, then perhaps we should extend that same grace to those around us and see them all as our brothers and sisters. Perhaps they are not all “in Christ,” but they are his creation and they are a part of us.
Your reward may be no better than the one received by those boys in Rwanda who stood up against the rebels, but in face of hatred, evil, pettiness, be brave, be courageous, say to it, “We are all Rwandans here. We are the children of God, bound together in His Spirit and His love.”
Let us pray: Lord, we pray for the power to be gentle; the strength to be forgiving; the patience to be understanding; and the endurance to accept the consequences of holding to what we believe to be right.
May we put our trust in the power of good to overcome evil and the power of love to overcome hatred.
We pray for the vision to see and the faith to believe in a world emancipated from violence, a new world where fear shall no longer lead men to commit injustice, nor selfishness make them bring suffering to others.
Help us to devote our whole life and thought and energy to the task of making peace, praying always for the inspiration and the power to fulfill the destiny for which we and all others were created. Amen.