Sunday, July 31, 2011

1 Corinthians 12

Typically when I'm posting a sermon manuscript I use the sermon title as my blog title, but this week my sermon didn't really have title.  Apologies to my Pre-ministerial Seminar professor who always stressed the importance of a catchy title.  I have a (sorta) good reason at least.  I'd struggled all week to write a sermon called "Expect the Unexpected".  I'd even, with permission, collected illustrations from friends to use in it.  But Saturday afternoon as I put finishing touches on my manuscript (which should have been a sign in the first sermons are usually done by Thursday at the latest), I realized that I could not preach what I had written.  It was awful.  Don't try and tell me it really couldn't have been that bad, because it was that bad.  It was horrid.  So, at 2pm Saturday afternoon, I threw that manuscript out and started over from scratch.  New text, new focus, new sermon.
The funny thing is, the sermon I wrote was the sermon that had been niggling at the back of my head all week.  It was the one that I wanted to preach in the first place, but since it wasn't lectionary-based, I wasn't going to preach it.  But G-d is bigger than the lectionary.  And He always gets His way in the end.
As I sat at church tonight, watching congregants come in, praying away the headache that had showed up about 2 hours earlier and was threatening to turn into a migraine and turning myself completely over to the Spirit, a congregant named Dick came up and grabbed my hand.  Dick was beaming from ear to ear and told me that he had been hoping that I'd be the preacher tonight.  I can't quite explain how that made me feel.  It was definitely a confidence and morale booster.  These people are becoming my congregation.  These are my people, the ones who know my name and who look forward to the weeks when I get to preach.   It was a good reminder of why I'm in seminary.
Afterwards, another congregant came up to me with tears threatening to spill out of her eyes I told me that I'd hit the nail on the head.  That my overarching illustration had met her right where she was at.  Incredible.  I'd been a little nervous that I was stretching things a bit.
My confidence is building and I'm starting to stray more from my manuscript.  I still like having it there, but I'm not as tied to it as I used to be.  I even came out from behind the pulpit tonight during the scripture reading!
Without further ado, here is my manuscript.  For those of you who aren't interested in reading it, there is nothing following it so you can stop reading now. :)

Your order of worship today says that my sermon is titled “Expect the Unexpected” and that my text comes from Matthew 14.  I hope you really did expect the unexpected because I will not be preaching from Matthew 14 this evening.  Rather, I will be preaching from 1 Corinthians 12:12-28.  That passage is found on page 1114  of your Bibles.  Listen now to the word of the Lord.
Read 1 Corinthians 12:12-28 about the body of Christ.
Living in North America with modern medicine, we all have a pretty decent idea of how the body needs all of its parts to function properly, except perhaps the appendix.  We seem to do just fine without that.  We also know what happens when our bodies fail to function properly.   If one part isn’t working correctly or if one part is in pain, the entire body is affected.  Most of us don’t need reminded of that truth.  And we’ve probably all heard sermons drawing parallels between our human bodies and the church, since that is the metaphor presented in this passage.   I could preach another one of those sermons, but it wouldn’t really tell you anything new. And, if you are anything like my father or grandfather, your eyelids would start to droop and you’d drift off before I got halfway through.  So that’s not the sermon I’m going to preach.  Instead, I’m going to draw on a different analogy.  You can tell me afterwards if it worked for you or not.
I don’t know how many of you are sports fans in general or how many of you are fans of competitive swimming in particular, but I am a swimmer.  I used to swim competitively, but haven’t raced formally in almost 8 years.  That doesn’t mean that swimming has left my blood.  I think it’s there to stay.
Growing up in rural Ontario we did not have the luxury of an indoor pool. The closest indoor pool was 45 minutes to an hour away.  Instead we had the local outdoor pool which was open for about two and a half months a year, typically from mid-June until the end of August.  Which meant our swimming season was short and intense. It also meant that we didn’t stand a chance against the clubs that could practice year round.  But that wasn’t a problem because we had our own association of swim teams, all of which had equally short seasons and practiced at outdoor pools.  There have always been 6 or 7 teams in the association depending on the current political situation.
A swimmer’s season consists mostly of practicing. For the outdoor recreational clubs, such as the one I belong to, it means practices with the team two to three times a week for an hour or two at a time, and as many individual practices as you can fit it or are committed to.  But the big excitement is Saturday morning.  That’s when the rubber meets the road or in this case, the bodies meet the water.   Our swim meets are Saturday mornings, three times during the summer and one big final meet for the ribbons and trophies at the end of the year.   It takes a lot of people to run a swim meet, and unless you’ve ever been part of the organization or running crew, you probably don’t realize it.   But every person there is crucial.
This is the place I am inviting you to journey to with me.  To one of those Saturday morning meets.  Meet the people involved in running a meet.  Then I will share with you how this fits into our passage for tonight.
Firstly, there are the coaches, who never ever get enough recognition.  Most of them are volunteer coaches who donate time to coach these swimmers.  They spend time that they could spend earning money guarding at their local pool or teaching private lessons to coach the swimmers.  Not only are they at every practice and every meet, they spend time outside of that putting together relay teams, entering swimmers in meets, ordering matching racing suits if that is what the club has decided they want to do for that year, and a million other tasks that I can only begin to imagine.  The coaches are usually among the first to arrive at meets and the last to leave. They make sure their swimmers get to the right races at the right time, they encourage the first time swimmers that they really can do this, comfort the swimmers who have gotten disqualified on a technicality and go to bat for the swimmers who feel they’ve been treated unjustly.  They also have to deal with the parents, a job I do not often envy!
Secondly, there is the marshalling team.  Marshalling, when related to swimming, is the act of assigning swimmers to heats and lanes, which sounds quite simple, but it’s not. The marshalling team starts working on Thursday, inputting all entries into a computer program and assigning heats and lanes electronically.  The computer person on the marshalling team makes sure that during the first three meets that there is never a pool with just swimmers from one team in it and that heats are roughly based on time so that you don’t have the fastest swimmer in an event swimming against the slowest swimmer, because that would be a really boring race.  The computer person also strives to make sure the pool is all the way full, every time, so that the meet doesn’t drag on forever and ever.  Sometimes that means getting really.  For the final meet every heat of every event has to be arranged according to time down to the hundredth of a second.   She also gets to deal with coaches who keep trying to enter late swimmers at the last minute.
Once the computer person is done with her job the entire file is sent to the very important people on the marshalling team who print “cards” for each swimmer.  A card is like an entry ticket.  You need your card to swim your race.  It has the swimmer’s name, team, event number, and heat-lane assignment on it.   Before computers took over the world, coaches had to write all this cards by hand and marshalling just had to sort, seed and put heat-lane numbers on them.  Computers have eliminated that step.  The card printers print the cards and sort them into the marshalling box, a water-resistant file box that keeps the cards separated by event. 
Then, also on the marshalling team is the grand or head marshal and her assistant or assistants.  They have final say on which heat-lane a swimmer swims in and they hand out cards.   The grand marshal stands before chatty children and indifferent teens all Saturday morning calling names, handing out cards, and seating heats on the marshalling benches or chairs, so that they are ready for their races.  The grand marshal is responsible for always knowing what event is in the pool, which events have been called to the marshalling area and when to call the next set of events.  I don’t envy her job at all either.   Her assistants make sure that to always have the next event’s cards ready to go, deal with last minute changes such as a coach or parent pulling a swimmer from an event or no-shows.  The assistant also moves the swimmers from the final bench to the end of the pool, ensuring one last time that every swimmer is at the right lane, or if it is a hundred meter relay event, the right end of the pool, as well as the right lane. 
Thirdly, there is the starter.  He calls each heat to the starting blocks or pool edge, and starts each race with either a whistle or a starting pistol.  He’s responsible for judging false starts and takes a lot of flak from parents and coaches if they don’t agree with his call.
Fourthly are the timers.  Their job is exactly what it sounds like, timing the races.  There are 2-3 timers for every lane.  They start the stopwatches when the starter starts the race and stop them as soon as the swimmer touches in.  They also record the times on the cards.  Scoring will take the middle of the three times or an average of the three.  Timers have to stay very focussed and watch carefully.  No matter what happens, they have to keep their eyes on the swimmer in their lane. They get splashed during starts and finishes which some weeks is blessing and they wish there was more of it and other weeks a part of their job that they dread.  Without the timers, the winner of the race would be a guessing game.
Then there are the scorers.  They enter the times that the timers wrote down into a fantabulous computer program that decides who won each race and outputs a results list, in order by time, with finishing times, for every swimmer in each event.  The scorers are big fans of the computer program because it’s so much easier than sorting the swimmers based on time by hand and writing out the results list.  The scorers also assign points for the top finishers and calculate point scores for each individual team.
Then there are the lifeguards.  Sometimes I envy their job - except when the weather is miserable.  Guarding a swim meet is probably the easiest jobs a life guard will ever have since everyone competing knows how to swim.  In all the years that I’ve been involved in the swim meet, the guards have only had to respond twice –once because a swimmer dislocated his shoulder and once because a swimmer passed out in the water due to an acute asthma attack.  In both cases, the timers, coaches and runners and responded first.  The lifeguards mostly had to do the paperwork.  They don’t even find out about the routine asthma attacks, heat stroke, hypothermia and backstroke-concussions until after the meet is over, if they find out at all, but without them there, there could not legally be a swim meet.
Throughout all this are the runners.  The runners are often senior swimmers, or swimmers who have just aged out of competing but aren’t ready to let go yet.  They may be even more overlooked than the coaches, but they are just as crucial.  The runners belong to every part of running a swim meet.  They carry messages from the marshalling team to the starter, they carry cards from swimmers to timers in 25 meter events, they carry cards from timers to scoring, they post the results lists, the bring bottled water to the marshalling team and the starter and the timers and the scorers, they hold the kickboards in the water for the backstrokers so that there are no serious concussions.  They actually get to run on the pool deck without getting in trouble.
Then there are the parents.  The parents are the ones that bring their swimmers to every practice and every meet.  They are the ones that sit outside with little shelter since pools are notoriously bad at having shelter, from 7:15am until the meet is over, often early afternoon.  They are there rain or shine, hot or cold.  They bring snacks (it’s amazing how much food swimmers can put away) and extra towels and dry clothes and water and hot chocolate and sunscreen.  And they cheer the swimmers on.  Not just their own swimmer or their own team, but everyone.  Of course, they cheer loudest for one of their own.  And, they cheer knowing full well, that when you’re in the pool you can’t hear anything except for a dull roaring from around the pool.  If you’re a little swimmer struggling to finish your race, everyone knows your name and they all cheer for you by name.  If you’re a baby and get passed around a lot because your mom is on deck marshalling or timing, everyone knows which team you belong to and they always give you back.  Parents are the ones who make up almost all of the other jobs, except for runners, though sometimes a parent will be a runner.  They volunteer to time and to marshal and to help score.  Without them, none of the positions would be filled.
So, so far we have the coaches, the card printers, the marshalling team, including the head marshal and the assistant marshals, the starter, the life guards, the runners and the parents.  They’re all very important to a swim meet, but without the swimmers, there would be no swim meet at all.
The swimmers are the ones that show up to practices week after week.  They are the ones who never give up, even if they never win.  They are the ones who give up Saturday morning cartoons to go to a swim meet. They show up for a swim meet, no matter what the weather is.  And they swim.  They are in the pool for warm-ups at 7:30 am every Saturday morning - except one…Canada has a random holiday weekend the beginning of August.  There’s no meet that weekend.  They swim when it’s raining out, but not when there is thunder or lightening.  They swim when it is snowing out, which has only happened once as far as I can remember. For the record, that was not a fun meet.  They swim when it is cold and windy and the last thing anyone would want is to be wet. And they swim when it’s hot out and you can’t leave wet footprints on the pool deck because it evaporates too fast.  They range in age from preschoolers to 18.  You can start competing as soon as you can get yourself from one end of the pool to the other without assistance.  Some of them have been swimming for years, others are just starting.  Without the swimmers there would be no swim teams and no swim meets.
The church is very much like a swim meet.  There are lots of different jobs in the church and they are all very important.  If the head marshal didn’t show up for a swim meet, there would be chaos.  If the timers weren’t there, the scorers wouldn’t have any times to calculate scores from.  If the scorers didn’t figure out results, the point of the meet would be lost.  If the swimmers weren’t there, there would be no meet at all. 
Some jobs don’t seem very important.  Most people don’t even know who the computer person is, but if she didn’t do her job, the card printers and marshalling team would have nothing to work with, the swimmers wouldn’t be able to swim, the starter wouldn’t be able to start the races, the timers would have nothing to time, the scorers would have nothing to score, the parents would have no one to cheer, the runners would have nothing to run.  It’s a small invisible job, but if it doesn’t get done, everything falls apart.  If any of the jobs don’t get done, things fall apart.   It’s the same in the church.  Maybe you don’t see the cleaning staff or know their names, but if they don’t do their jobs, the church would fall into disrepair.   If the secretary didn’t do her job, you’d have no order of worship (hold up order of worship) or church newsletter and no one would know what was going on.  If people didn’t volunteer to serve coffee after the service, you’d all go home without coffee and a time of fellowship.  If no one volunteered to teach Sunday school your children or grandchildren, nieces and nephews wouldn’t have teachers.
Other jobs seem very important, but they depend on a lot of other jobs and come with a lot of responsibility.  Everyone knows who the head marshal is at a swim meet.  It’s been the same person for over a dozen years now.  But she has a lot of responsibility and puts up with a fair bit of the fall out if something goes wrong. Same with the starter and the coaches.  Everyone knows who they are, but if something goes wrong, they’re the ones who have to deal with the angry parents. Everyone in the church knows who the pastor is. The pastor also has a huge amount of responsibility and the pastor is the one who gets to deal with upset congregants as well as the everyday affairs of the church.  It’s an important job, but also a job with a lot of responsibility.
Not everyone can do every job.  Not every parent volunteer as the organization skills to be a head marshal or the computer skills to do the job of the computer person, or the resources to be a card printer, but every parent can do something, even if it is just being a team parent and looking after swimmers while other parents volunteer to be timers or runners.  Not everyone in the church can do every job.  Not everyone is called to be a pastor or a secretary or an elder or deacon, but everyone is called to something.   Paul lists some things that people within the church are called to: apostles, teachers, healers, helpers, administrators, and others.  Not everyone can do every job, but everyone can do something.
Maybe it’s been years since you taught a Sunday School class, but just because you are a more mature member of the body doesn’t mean you are no longer called to be part of it.  Maybe the thought of teaching Sunday school terrifies you, but you’d like to help serve coffee or help with an outreach program or mentor a young person.  Maybe you are a young person and don’t think you can be part of the body yet, but the church needs every part.  Maybe you can get involved helping in nursery or helping pick up orders of worship after the service on Sunday, or if you’re an older younger person, maybe you can help with Sunday school or children’s ministry.    Maybe you want to write letters to the missionaries.  I encourage you to figure out where you can serve and become an active member of the body.   The church needs you, just like the swim team needs every member and volunteer it has.  Regardless of how small or big, invisible or visible, insignificant or significant a job seems, it is an important job and keeps the body of Christ running smoothly.
You are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it.  What part are you going to be?

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