A trip to Monterey Bay Aquarium recently showed me the awesomeness of plankton. Yup, I said plankton! This microscopic plant life is at the heart of the whole community that makes up the Pacific Ocean. Still, I’ve never given it the thought, intention or appreciation it deserves.
I didn’t start out admiring plankton, though. I mean, who does?
Like most everyone else, I stood with eyes wide as the huge sevengill sharks glided by. And when the rocket-like yellowfin tuna darted in and out of a school of anchovies, I wondered at them too. Even the twisting tentacles of the giant Pacific octopus held me captive! All left me in awe of The Creator that imagined such magnificent creatures.
Yet, here I sit writing about these, the tiniest members of this vast underwater community: PLANKTON!
Here’s why: If this small, forgotten group is ignored or even threatened, the rest of the ocean community is affected. It is the tiniest or most micro of the “community” that needs our attention in order for the macro community to live well.
This “plankton revelation” led me to the big idea for today: Our community, whether it be school, church, work or town, is better when the “least of these” is given its rightful place and voice.
In many cases, it is the “big fish” of our community that we pay attention to most:
the movers and shakers, the team captains, the corporate executives, the pastors and leaders in our churches.
But what about those that don’t fit into the usual idea of being important? How do we honor and include those that tend to be on the outside edge: the quiet kid with a speech impediment, the guy working at the gas station., the elderly lady that sits alone in the back pew?
Unfortunately, humans seem to have a strong urge to discount that which doesn’t fit in or threatens in some way. But this urge is the antithesis to building a compassionate and complete community where there is a place for everyone.
I come from a town that has made great efforts to organize care for people without housing. Food banks and shelters, family housing and job training. These are all wonderful services, and I am proud our community leaders have seen the need. And yet, there is still the stigma that these individuals are not an essential part of our town, only an essential problem.
How do we go from seeing “the least of these” as a bother to seeing them as a Brother?
From seeing an eye-sore to seeing a Sister?
The Apostle Paul had an idea:
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
Philippians 2:3-4( ESV)
I am sure that the sevengill shark never thinks of plankton. Sharks don’t have the capacity to see past their “selfish ambitions.” They can’t appreciate the significance of each member in their ocean community.
God made humans different and with the capacity for compassion. We have been given a divine ability and humility to reach out and speak out for all.
I work with middle school students that need extra support in school. As I go in and out of many classes, I notice the kids that fall to the outside edges academically, emotionally, and socially. However, the greatest changes happen when support comes with dignity and a listening ear. Someone, be it peer or teacher, reaches to the outside edge and invites them back in to community.
Below are just a few scenarios. I am sure you see so many more in your own micro and macro communities. All are valuable and all in need of thought, intention or appreciation.
This is where you come in, friends! Here is your mission, should you choose to accept it:
1. Think of a micro community that you’re in daily or weekly.
2. Imagine someone that is living on the outside edges in some way. See a face or name?
3. As you think of them, listen to what you feel; sympathy, curiosity or compassion? Fear, repulsion, or annoyance? Dig deeper into the “why” and be as honest as you can.
4. Ask God what He wants to do in you and through you. He’s led you to read today and even brought a face to mind. Sounds like He has an idea!
5. Formulate a simple plan to “look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Nothing fancy at first; just one action or interaction.
A note of appreciation
A word of encouragement
A gesture of kindness
A sincere greeting
A listening ear for more than a passing moment
6. Now let that grow and pick up speed in the next month or two. See where it takes you! I think God will surprise you!
If you need a little more encouragement to accept this mission and have your own revelation, think on what Christ says about valuing the least revered in our communities:
“Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”
Matthew 25:40 (ESV)
May this be the start of your own “Plankton Revelation” and may you be blessed in the voyage!