1 Corinthians 12:4-12 (ESV)
Always in Rehearsal
What brought you to worship this morning? Some of us are here for the music, some of us to pray together, some of us to hear the Scripture and learn about God’s Word. For some of us, worship is a space for our children to learn about love and values. The poster on our bulletin board reminds us that worship is “the one hour every week we get reminded that life is more than getting up and going to work, dealing with problems and worrying about everything under the sun.” Good reasons all.
Those of us who lead each Sunday work hard to craft a worship service that speaks to you individually and as a community. We choose music to engage your hearts and write what we hope are wise words to engage your brains. We design altars to draw you visually into the faith story we tell each week. We invite you to share your greatest joys and your deepest concerns in prayer. We ask your participation in the responses you find each Sunday in your bulletin and in the offering we take. We do our best so that we glorify God together. We want it to be perfect because we have this notion that God deserves our very best. But God doesn’t invite us here to perform perfection. Sunday worship is not a performance; it is a team sport. In fact, worship is our team’s weekly practice for doing the work of Jesus; a rehearsal for living love beyond our doors.
The things Jesus calls us to do; feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, advocating for the oppressed, sharing our abundance with those who have been forgotten or targeted, living our lives as a peace prayer is not only hard to do, it speaks to values that are not the norm in our society. Christians are called to serve others, not be served. Christians are called to celebrate human difference as a gift and not something to be feared. Christians are called to resist injustice and to advocate for those who have been forgotten. Christians are called to state plainly that the world that is not as God would have it to be and to model better ways of community in harmony with one another and the creation. Christians are called to be givers, not consumers.
These are counter-cultural values – ones that don’t often come naturally. We need a space to learn them and practice them with each other. Worship is that space. Each and every Sunday, we rehearse following Jesus. Dr. Susanne Johnson, a professor of Christian Education at Perkins School of Theology teaches that, “Christian worship, when authentic is counter-cultural. It is our way of living out an alternative vision of reality.”
Each Sunday, we rehearse living out that alternative vision of reality. In worship, we practice what the Church preaches. We practice listening for the Spirit as the Word is sung. We practice being agents of peace as we hug and shake hands during the passing of the peace. We practice the power of praying with and for each other and the world. We practice generosity at the time of the offering. We practice service by feeding each other at communion. We practice teaching and learning as we participate in the Children’s Message or reflect on the Scripture as it is read. Regular worship attendance does not make us perfect Christians; but over time, practicing in worship shapes us together into the Church - the image of Jesus for the sake of the world.
Each of us has different gifts we bring to our weekly rehearsal. As Paul tells us in his letter to Corinth, “there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” In the same way that soccer practice sorts out the goalies from the forwards and a Broadway musical rehearsal figures out the set designers and the singers, weekly worship helps us discover our own gifts and we help team members discover theirs. None of us have all the gifts – to be the whole Church of God, we need each other’s gifts of ministry. Paul speaks of different kinds of ministers; healers, teachers, prophets, discerners of the Spirit, wisdom seekers and miracle workers.
Most likely, you did not encounter these gifts as part of your high school curriculum or your college core of study, but you will learn and explore them in every Sunday rehearsal. You may have a gift you didn’t know you had until a team mate tells you, “Wow – you are a great Sunday School teacher” or “You are really good at asking the right questions about the direction of the Church” or “I feel so much better after talking with you” or “thanks for organizing us for the Women’s March” or “I really appreciate your truth-telling” and so on. We see Jesus reflected in each other and together we magnify that love as the Church in the world outside our walls.
Right now, the summer has (finally, hopefully?) arrived and Eliot is in the midst of transition. Each of these factors tends to serve as an unwritten permission slip to miss weekly practice. We all need times of rest and reflection, the chance to see new places and be with those we love freed from the always insistent calendar we live with most of the year. It is not my intention to beat people over the head because they aren’t in worship. And it certainly isn’t my intention to beat you over the head. After all, you showed up for today’s rehearsal! But I want you to know that no matter the changes in staff or the long days of summer, our interim Pastor Rick and I will still be holding rehearsal every week.
During this interim time, particularly as we go into the program year in September, it is especially important that we gather to practice regularly. Each one of us has gifts necessary as we rehearse what Eliot will become for the sake of the world. The Spirit is always doing new things, but we still discern them the old-fashioned way; we pray together, we listen for the Spirit together, we talk together, we break bread together, we serve together. We still need each other to be the Church. So, tell everyone you know – friends and neighbors, long-time members, and those who haven’t been here for a while – that Eliot Church is always in rehearsal. There are no auditions or try-outs. There is a part, a position, for each and every one who comes. So let’s continue our rehearsal by singing the rest of the song we began during the Children’s Message. I’ll sing the verses– please practice the chorus with me:
I am the Church, you are the Church,
You are the Church. We are the Church together.
All who follow Jesus all around the world,
Yes! We’re the Church together!
The Church is not a building; the Church is not a steeple.
The Church is not a resting place.
The Church is a people.
Sometimes the church is marching,
Sometimes it’s bravely burning,
Sometimes it’s riding, sometimes hiding,
Always its learning
And when the people gather,
There’s singing and there’s praying,
There’s laughing and there’s crying and
there’s always rehearsing. AMEN!