A missed sunday - not necessarily
I was Ordained in April 1985 and tomorrow will be the first Sunday since that day that I have not gone to church. This storm better be as real as the forecasters are predicting. I worry though that sometimes they get all excited about the possibility of the biggest storm. They take out their fancy interactive maps, computer models and graphics, they get ready for outdoor shots with the wind blown snow battering the poor reporter, and they act like New Englanders have never survived a foot of snow before. And then we're hit with something less. But in the interest of safety, we have cancelled our Sunday Service for tomorrow, January 20th.
But we can survive, all is not lost. We can still give a Sunday morning hour to Jesus anyway. This Sunday remains the Sunday within the "Week of Prayer for Christian Unity," which is a program of the World Council of Churchs, and the UCC is one of those churches. I think its purpose is evident.
Here are the prayers that we could have shared in together tomorrow. Maybe we can offer them up in our own homes, but still together in spirit:
And here is the sermon that I would have liked to share with you in person:
“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Ps. 19:14)
This is the Sunday within the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This is a worldwide event called annually by the World Council of Churches, and the United Church of Christ is a member of this ecumenical organization. This year’s theme is "Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue ..." from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy.
I imagine that the word justice sounds good and pleasing to everyone, but I imagine as well that the definition of justice could lead to all sorts of arguments. There are law and order proponents of justice. There are social activist proponents of justice. I dare not even talk about the definition of justice here in church when it comes to the particulars of, for example, The Wall because it is so divisive that it could actually harm the congregation.
This same separation of word and definition comes into play when we talk about unity. What does Christian unity mean? Well, one thing is for sure, unity does not mean the same thing as uniformity. In other words, we don’t have to all be the same for unity to be real.
That amazing first-generation Christian by the name of Paul makes this perfectly clear. He lays the foundation for Christian unity by emphasizing the diversity of gifts that the one Holy Spirit shares among believers.
Jeff read these words for us today: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
Unity may actually be opposed to uniformity. Unity is the profound appreciation for a deep connection that is not marred by lesser differences. Look at the change in your pockets. You’ll see there the old motto of the United States: e pluribus, unum, which is Latin for “out of the many, one.” Unity is not destroyed by diversity. I would even say that it’s made stronger.
Hitler talked about a thousand-year reign for his pure Aryan race. He never even made ten years before the world united to destroy his hatred, but the diversity of “out of the many, one” is still here and is still inspiring.
Or take today’s Gospel story of Jesus at the wedding feast in Cana. So many wedding couples choose to have Pacabel’s Canon played on their big day, but this piece probably would not be a cellist’s first choice of favourites. It’s basically one line repeated forever.
If you get the chance, watch The Piano Guys’ YouTube video of playing Pacabel’s Canon at a wedding. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LV5_xj_yuhs.
The cellist falls asleep while playing this piece as the processional because it’s boring for him. Then he has this dream of being able to play something much more exciting where the cello’s part is vibrant and changing. Toward the end of the video he wakes up from his daydream and everyone is staring at him. He shakes off the sleep and starts playing that one melody all over again and the wedding procession resumes.
Diversity makes music appealing. The same note, the same phrase played continuously is just noise, not music. It’s the diversity that holds a composition together.
So Jesus is at this wedding feast in Cana. It’s still a wedding even if Pacabel’s Canon isn’t being played. I’ve seen a cartoon that says, “Jesus helps throw a party for a few people and the world’s still talking about it 2,000 years later.” But Jesus really did save that party.
He’s there with His friends, and His friends are a different lot. We don’t know much about the disciples, but what we do know tells us that Jesus attracted a group of followers that otherwise would have little to do with each other.
Simon is sometimes called the zealot, a fervent nationalist, a hater of all things Roman. Matthew is a tax collector for the Romans. These are as unlikely friends as Donald Trump and Elizabeth Warren. But they’re sitting together at the wedding with Jesus.
Peter and Andrew are brothers, and so are James and John. Both sets of brothers are fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. Did they get along as toilers of the same hard profession, or were these two families competing against each other? We don’t know, but they’re together at table with Jesus.
Philip and Nathanael are friends and they may both hail from the village of Bethsaida. There seems to be a tradition of tension between Bethsaida and Jesus’ hometown. When Philip tells his buddy Nathanael about Jesus, Nathanael’s immediate response is: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” And yet, the two of them are at the wedding in Cana with Jesus of Nazareth.
Those first followers were a diverse group, but that very same diversity may have made them strong enough to outlast the threats and turmoil that tried to destroy Christianity before it really got started.
Each of the disciples was different. They probably heard Jesus differently. And eventually, they preached Jesus differently.
One of the things we talk a lot about at Bible study group is that the biblical writers approach Jesus from their own perspective. The Jesus we see in John’s Gospel, for example, is definitely not the same Jesus that Paul preaches. And yet it is all of those different voices that come together to form our one Bible about our one Saviour. Their diversity makes their witness stronger.
Or think about our church here. Paul spoke about a diversity of gifts all flowing from the same Spirit and for the common good. Think about how many people fit into the different necessary slots of our congregation to make it work.
One person is gifted with the ability to serve as a Trustee, another on Benevolence, another as a Deacon, another in the choir, another in the Sunday School, another among Real Folks, another as a Steward, another at meals, another as greeter, and so on.
All of these diverse gifts, says Paul, are shared by the same Spirit for the common good of building the church of Christ. When we meet for our Annual Meeting [now next Sunday], don’t think about that gathering as only about money, reports and vacancies. We gather for the common good and the Spirit will be there to share God’s gifts with us. We may not think that we’re up to the work of this or that church position, but maybe the Spirit thinks differently. Trust in the Spirit. We don’t do church work on our own – ever.
And in closing, on this Sunday within the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, lets remember that unity is not uniformity, that the differences among denominations are not about right or wrong, better or worse. Those differences help to make the church stronger so that all people may find the particular home where they may worship most comfortably and effectively, but all of that worship glorifies God and hopefully inspires us.
Let’s celebrate our Christian diversity and our Christian unity, and for this may we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Enjoy the snowday, but try and find some Sabbath time for Jesus.
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