Saturday, January 20, 2007

Christian Unity Sunday

Did you know that we're in the midst of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity? My UCC desk calendar has it marked down, but I've never really observed it in an official capacity. But there's a first time for everything, so this year I'm doing something extra special.

I'm going to go be United Methodist.

Okay, so I'll really just be a UCC pastor in a UMC church. And it'll only be for an hour or so. And when you really think about it...will I be UMC by virtue of being in a UMC church, or will they be UCC by hosting a UCC pastor? Probably neither.

This is all to say that my Ministerial Association is playing Preacher Swap this Sunday to celebrate Christian Unity. The tragedy is that not every church in our area is participating either because of polity issues or because they just aren't a part of our group. So for our situation, I guess that a more accurate term for the week might be Week of Prayer for Mainline Protestant Unity. It's a start, I guess.

So anyway, I'm heading over to one of the two United Methodist churches that participate in our group. More specifically, I'll be preaching at their contemporary service. This means a couple things for me personally:

1. No tie.

2. No children's sermon.

3. Drums. Glorious, unabashed, loud ear-ringing drums. In church. Yeah.

A strange thing has occurred while putting together my sermon for this special day. Nowadays I speak from an outline...I loved the year or so that I spoke without notes, but it became hard to keep up every week. Anyway, my outlines usually make it to about halfway down the third page. The runtime ends up being around 15 minutes, which is what I generally shoot for. For this Sunday, I chose Paul's metaphor of the Body of Christ because it fit the occasion so well. You don't realize how long this passage is until you read it out loud. And my outline spilled onto about a third of a fourth page. I had to play with the margins just to cram everything back on to three. This is the longest sermon I've written in this form. I hope it keeps them engaged.

The thing about Paul's "Body of Christ" metaphor is that it doesn't need any gooping up. One commentary I consulted this week said as much...that this is one of those texts that is best served by the preacher getting out of the way. Paul has pretty much already laid everything out for us. We should celebrate it rather than go off on tangents that will hinder its profundity more than help it. We are the Body of Christ...all suffer and rejoice one is any less a part of the Body just because they or someone else says so. It writes itself.

I'm welcoming the opportunity to preach elsewhere, for the more superficial reasons listed above, but also for what this day will symbolize by our exchange. Comparatively speaking, we seem to have a pretty good group...pastors who welcome one another and enjoy each other's company. Very early on, I was struck by our Lutheran pastor's presence at my ordination. That communicated something to me about the support that I would find in this group. These are not people who force themselves to endure one another's company; who find themselves hopelessly linked by civic demands. Here I find an earnest network of churches willing to collaborate on mission projects and worship services. We are the Body of Christ, suffering and rejoicing together. For those reasons, tomorrow will be a good day.

The drums will help, too.