Last week I shared with the congregation in worship about my most recent whitewater rafting trip. I went rafting with the guys’ 9th and 10th grade Sunday School class. They have terrific teachers who do fun things like this to bring the class together and they were thoughtful enough to invite me to tag along. The day was beautiful and the Ocoee River was churning. In these trips we are in a boat of six, heading for a common destination, guided around hazards as well as right through rapids. We work together and sometimes we capsize together. At our very first rapid – a powerful class IV I might add – one of the rafts belonging to another group hit the rapid at an awkward angle ejecting three in the boat, one of which was the guide. The end result was the guide broke an ankle and the two other paddlers were too shook up to complete the trip. Still, we all paddled on eventually making it wearily to our destination safe and sound.
Every time I raft I am reminded that this is a beautiful picture of the church, particularly the shared unity. The bigger the church the greater the complexity and therefore the greater the dispersion. On any given day there are numerous ministries taking place, mission endeavors being developed, and services being provided. On Sunday, the day when most churches around the world gather to worship the One Lord, we joyfully gather to 3500 Walton Way ext. to one of three morning worship services as well as one of 62 Sunday School classes. I believe our complexity is a gift that enables us to minister to a greater number.
Yet there are times and seasons in which we need to take a step back and simplify for a time of just being together. In October we have just such an occasion through the Four Great Sundays.
I have been asked the question more than once: why? Why make all of these changes, upsetting our schedules and routines, even if it is for just four Sundays? I could tell you it is matter of renewal and revival, and that would be true. I could tell you that it is a matter of having different experiences in the life of the church, and that would be true. I could tell you that as with traditional worship this will be a good opportunity to experience other valid styles of worship and I could say the same thing for the contemporary. All of this would all be true.
Yet it is more basic than all of this. It comes down to the very essence of what makes church a church. It comes in one word: unity. In 1 Peter 4:8 the author writes: Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind.
What is the church? It is the place where you and I gather in the name of the most High, the Holy One, God Almighty, Father of Jesus the Christ his only Son. It is where we put aside petty differences and labels that divide. It is the one place where we sit together, we cry together, we laugh together, we pray together and where we celebrate this fascinating and wonderful life that God has given us; this life that from the beginning of all time God created us to be in the unique image of God.
When we say “I Am FBC Augusta,” we are not claiming superiority to other churches; neither are we saying church is all about self-promotion; we are not saying that we all look alike, think alike, or are otherwise uniform.
We are saying the prayer of Jesus matters – that we be one. We are saying that Jesus was resurrected not just for the privileged few, but for all the world. We are saying that there are some things that are worth our coming together, that are worth committing our life, and if need be worth dying over.
This world needs that kind of church. This region and this city need that kind of church. And I want to be part of that kind of church. Don’t you? We will not be left “up the creek without a paddle.” Thanks be to God.