An old Cherokee was teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside of me,” he said. “It is a terrible fight between two wolves. One is evil—he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good—he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you and inside every other person, too.” His grandson thought for a moment and then asked, “Which one will win?” The grandfather answered, “The one you feed.”

What does a Native American legend have to do with today’s scripture?

There’s a lot going on in the world that might make us angry. Choose one: poverty, disease, war, terrorism, the refugee crisis, politics, abortion, sexuality, human trafficking, corporate greed, general violence, the list goes on and on. Getting angry is not necessarily a bad thing. Anger can spur us to positive action. It can unite us against evil. On the other hand, anger can divide us. We take sides and go to war against one another, sometimes with words and sometimes with action. Either way, we might feel justified to speak or act out against any who disagree with us. There’s our side and there’s the wrong side. Civil disagreement is rare because clearly we are right, so what’s there to talk about?

“How good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters live together in unity!” Is unity possible when there’s so much in the world that divides us? Here’s the thing: all that stuff happening in the world is not what divides us; our response to all that stuff is the issue. We can all agree that nobody should have to live in poverty. No child deserves to grow up in a violent neighborhood or an abusive home. Nobody really wants war or other conditions that result in people fleeing their homeland. We can all agree on the basics. Where we disagree is on how to solve these problems, and our disagreement only results in gridlock. How can we attack the world’s problems when we’re so busy attacking each other, posting inflammatory memes on Facebook and coming up with snarky Tweets?

The church has a duty to set an example of peacemaking and reconciliation. We the church should be the model of unity, a beacon of light and hope for a very dark and fractured world. Even if we individually don’t see eye to eye on something, we can still keep those eyes on Jesus and live out his mission together: to share the good news of salvation in all the world, to feed the hungry, heal the sick, care for the poor, and show kindness to the outcast. Speaking of seeing eye to eye, do you know where that saying came from? “The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice;  together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see  the return of the Lord to Zion” (Isaiah 52:8, ESV). Together they sing. In unity. Because they all see the Lord’s return to Zion. One day our Lord will return to this earth. Will we be singing in unity, or will we be arguing with our brothers and sisters?

How can we be unified when there’s so much in the world that divides us? Getting back to that Cherokee legend, which wolf do we feed? Do we go looking for a fight? Do we saturate ourselves in news that provokes us, that which confirms our bitter opinions? Do we fill our eyes and ears and minds with discord, hatred, and violence? Or do we take Paul’s advice to the Philippians: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” For the church there is only one side: God’s side. We can choose to be with him, fixing our place there by feeding our souls with truth, nobility, purity. Or we can oppose him. Which wolf will you feed? Whose side are you on?

(reflection on a sermon by Pastor Josh Van Leeuwen, preached Feb. 26, 2017; listen to the sermon podcast here: