Have you ever seen The Pixar Short Film "For The Birds"? If not, check it out HERE before reading on.
Lets talk about these birds for a minute. At the beginning, it’s pretty clear these little birds enjoy their space enough to fight over it with one another. They act pretty selfishly, actually, don’t you think? If you looked at that telephone line closely you could see that the line was more than big enough for all the little birds, but they just don’t want to share. Their space gets especially messed up, though, when the big bird hits the scene. They are all squished together and that really makes them angry. Though they weren’t even friends with each other to begin with, they find a common enemy and they turn on him like vultures. They tweet about him, they gossip about the big bird, and they laugh at him. He’s pretty goofy and not like them at all. When he tries to hang out with them, they get rid of him.
I like to call this a “lunch table” situation, otherwish known as the “Forest Gump bus dilemma”. This film really takes me back to school days when that one really awkward, goofy looking kid walks into the lunch room and is trying to find a place to sit, but everyone say “seat’s taken,” or think it. People all over the cafeteria who don’t get along with one another all agree on this – that kid isn’t welcome. We see this at church too, and in the workplace – people just aren’t sure about the new guy, so they talk about him and spread rumors, gossip, not taking into consideration that the very person they’re talking about is, in fact, a human being with feelings like they are. But, no, that doesn’t matter. Those little birds just chatter away, not thinking about the big goofy bird in the room, not making room for him, not befriending him, but separating themselves from him and hurting him with their words and avoidance and exclusivity, and gossip, only thinking of themselves.
Lets consider Galatians 6:1-10:
“Brothers and sisters, if a person is caught doing something wrong, you who are spiritual should restore someone like this with a spirit of gentleness. Watch out for yourselves so you won't be tempted also. Carry each other's burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are important when they aren't, they're fooling themselves. Each person should test their own work and be happy with doing a good job and not compare themselves with others. Each person will have to carry their own load. Those who are taught the word should share all good things with their teacher. Make no mistake, God is not mocked. A person will harvest what they plant. Those who plant only for their own benefit will harvest devastation from their selfishness, but those who plant for the benefit of the Spirit will harvest eternal life from the Spirit. Let's not get tired of doing good, because in time we'll have a harvest if we don't give up. So then, let's work for the good of all whenever we have an opportunity, and especially for those in the household of faith.”
Well, well… it looks like these birds are dealing with problems similar to those of the church in Galatia. It seems that Paul is reminding the Galatians not to participate in these group shaming activities like bullying and gossip, leaving others out, treating people as if they are less than we are because they look different, speak different, act different, have different customs, etc. It seems those little birds are fooling themselves because they sure seem to think they’re important, that they deserve their space, that they are better than that big goofy bird that's nothing like them.
We deal with problems similar to those of the church of Galatia too. Sometimes we are that big, goofy bird. We come into a new situation and all we desperately want is to be accepted by those around us, and all those around us are doing is excluding us. That hurts. A lot. We have all been there at some point or another. Sometimes we are those little birds. When we’ve gotten settled in our ways it’s easy to stick to the people we know, the other little birds like us, and to ignore those other big birds that don’t fit into what we already know. Those big birds in our lives might not even be people; they might be perspectives that are different than ours that we reject, they might be opportunities we reject, and, yes, they might be people that we make fun of, or ignore, or exclude, or neglect to invite into our group to share space in our lives. We’ve been the big bird, we’ve been the small bird. When life throws us situations that that give us the opportunity to act like those little birds in the film, what are we to do?
1. We are to carry each others’ burdens. That means including the outsider and understanding the outsider so that the outsider becomes the insider; we’re not to add to others’ burdens by excluding them, laughing at them, and forcing them away. That can be really tough when everyone else is making fun and excluding. But we can remember what it's like for us when we've been there, and we can do our best not to exclude. Not only are we to not add to their burden, but we are to gently correct those who are doing so. We are to be examples for others of what justice and equality look like. We are to listen, and understand; we don’t always have to agree, but we are to honor other people.
2. We are to believe that each person is as important as we are. The scripture today reminds us that if we think we’re important when we’re not, we’re fooling ourselves. Everyone has something to offer. Everyone’s voice deserves to be heard. Everyone’s perspective deserves to be valued. Every person deserves to be honored, not humiliated, not excluded, not judged, but loved, understood, and included. Not always agreed with, but heard and accepted.
This is who God calls us to be. This is the type of person Jesus exemplifies – the guy who shares meals with the hated, the guy who calls the poor to be leaders with him, the guy who touches those who are unclean, the guy who forgives the unforgiveable, the guy who accepts those nobody else will accept. If we agree that we are to be like Jesus, which I think we do, then we are to accept, to honor, to include, to understand, to love those who are big, goofy bird that look different than us, sound different than us, think different than us, act different than us. That’s a tall order. It’s not easy.
But the good news is that somehow in carrying each others’ burdens, in gently correcting our friends and neighbors in their judgmental actions, in being corrected ourselves, in treating people as if they are as important as we are (because they are)… we will produce great things. We will build great relationships, we will encounter wonderful ideas and fantastic creativity, we will be challenged, we will learn how rewarding it is to love our neighbors. And if we don’t, well, we saw the film, didn’t we? We will get caught "naked as a jay-bird," so to speak. We will never get to know the joy that we’re missing out on, the joy that God wants for all of God’s people. Why would we produce devastation in peoples’ lives when we could produce good instead? Why would we want to live barren, naked lives ourselves when we could live lives full of joy and peace and goodness instead?
Watch out for those big birds, those ideas, and those people, that you exclude, that you ignore, that you judge, that you humiliate. Perhaps it is time for those of us who have received the Holy Spirit to make space in our lives for those people. Perhaps it is time to invite them to sit on the telephone pole with us. Perhaps it is time for us to change the end of the story, to change the end of our story.