Saturday, January 13, 2007

One Body: homily for Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

One of my earliest memories as a young girl is attending Easter services. At the time I lived in Salt Lake City and on this day my mother, great grandmother, and I went to temple square for services. I was all dressed up in my Easter best. The hall was very crowded. I was distracted by all the hats and people squeezing in, until the Mormon Tabernacle Choir began to sing. I remember their voices and the view from my pew like it was yesterday. I must have been 4 years old, but I was awe struck.

To this day, the image of that Easter morning is my vision of the Christian life: lots of people all gathered to celebrate. We come from different backgrounds, different expressions of our faith. Tonight we are gathered, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopal, each with our own practice of faith and particular beliefs.

Eugene Peterson, a pastor, professor, and author of many books on our Christian faith has written a version of the bible called, The Message. It is not an interpretation it is a reflection an offering of our scripture in common language which aims to unpack the meaning of the passages, not the literal interpretation. The Messages says this :

“You can easily enough see how this kind of thing works by looking no further than your own body. Your body has many parts—limbs, organs, cells—but no matter how many parts you can name, you're still one body.”

As we gather to celebrate this week, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we are invited as one body with many parts. It is our baptism that unites us in this body. Through baptism we are all given the gift of the Spirit.

We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into a large and integrated life in which he has the final say in everything. (This is what we proclaimed in word and action when we were baptized.) Each of us is now a part of his resurrection body, refreshed and sustained at one fountain—his Spirit—where we all come to drink. The old labels we once used to identify ourselves—labels like Jew or Greek, slave or free—are no longer useful. We need something larger, more comprehensive.

In baptism we are all brought into the family. At St. Hilary’s where I serve, in the month leading up to baptism we prepare the candidates for the day. And we add them to our weekly prayer list, praying for them by first name only: in baptism we all have the same surname, the same last name: Christian.

Tonight we gather as that family, the Christian family. I am Terri Christian, this is Bob Christian, Coleen Christian, and Peg Christian. You too are named Christian. Like any family we are not all exactly alike. We express ourselves in ways authentic to who we are.

But even as we express ourselves in separate and unique ways, we are one. The image of a choir conveys this one-ness in a very special way. That is why I like that we celebrate this night with an Evensong. Singing together is a form of prayer. We gather, each of us with our own voices, some high, some low, some soft, some loud, some trained, some not. And as we gather to sing and pray we learn how to blend our voices in sweet music. We learn how to harmonize as one voice. We become for a time one voice, the Christian voice.

But I also want you to think about how this keeps your significance from getting blown up into self-importance. …What we have is one body with many parts, each its proper size and in its proper place. No part is important on its own.

I invite us on this night to think about and pray about those things that we have in common and not worry about the things that make us different. Focus on our baptism, the one common event that makes all of us here Christian, a name given through the Trinity of God our Creator, Christ our Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit who is the giver of life.

The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don't, the parts we see and the parts we don't. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.

Think about the ways in which we can be a blended voice harmonizing into the universe. Ponder how we can be more alike and sing about our common strengths: love of God, love of Christ, love of one another, love of self. In a few minutes we will raise our voices and sing the beautiful hymn. There’s a sweet sweet spirit in this place.

I can only imagine that as we sing this hymn God will look upon us and smile, like a parent experiencing a moment without sibling rivalry. God will smile and indeed a sweet sweet spirit will be in this place

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