I am not one of those pastors who has their sermons mapped out years or months in advance. I've gone through periods of having songs selected and themes roughly outlined for the year. Suffice to say, I'm not in that space now. Even if I wanted to be, I just started a new church and I think I need to change my prerecorded tapes in order to craft worship that is relevant for the "getting acquainted phase" with this new congregation. For the time being, we are moving in a week to week mode. Hopefully, this will change.
Despite working in a weekly mode, I worked very diligently to get all of my ducks in a row. Oh, ducks...why must you stray? On Tuesday of this week, I emailed the contents of the order of service to the office and to the folks who do the visuals during the service. On Wednesday, I met with the music people, rehearsed with them, and selected music. On Thursday, the music was sent to the office for the bulletin and to those who craft the visuals. On Saturday, when I was still struggling to find the right message, I realized that it was going to be a late night. Rather than expecting someone else to open a text file on Sunday morning and scramble to put visuals to my rather unusual sermon, I stayed up until 3 AM finding photos that would move the congregation through the sermon. Needless to say, at 7 AM when my alarm went off, I was tired...very tired - so tired, in fact, that I didn't get up. I stayed in bed until 8 AM.
The worship service at my new church begins at 10 AM. While I wasn't working with an "excess of time," I did think that I had "plenty of time" to get to church. And yet, not so. I left the house a little after 9 AM. It takes about 20 minutes to drive the distance between my house and the church. I got about half way to the church when I realized that I had left my clerical collar on my dresser. I have worn a clerical collar since 1996 and this has never happened. Never. I quickly turned around and made it about half way back to my house when reality confronted me: There was no way to make it home and to church in the amount of time left. So, I made another U-turn and headed to church. This was going to be an embarrassing but not a fatal mistake. After all, I wear a robe.
Earlier in the week, some adjustments had to be made regarding the assisting minister and the sound board. Adjustments were made. Crisis averted. But, when I walked into the sanctuary without much time to spare, there was no one to run the visuals for the service. For the first time in 3 years there had been a miscommunication. Hey, they happen. So, I pull out my flash drive and pop it in the computer (I'm so prepared, right?). I open the internet and download the file with the song lyrics. Lo and behold, neither file will open. It is now time for worship to begin. No lyrics, no prayers, no liturgy for Holy Communion. And then, grace happened.
Song books were passed out to be shared. A lay person stepped forward to pull together the communion liturgy and other necessary components. I took a deep breath, laughed, and invited the Holy Spirit to move through the assembly. You know what? It did. We worshiped. Life continued - without a collar and everything.
The funny thing about this story, at least as far as I'm concerned, is that I often tell people that I rock worship old school. Not 1950s old school. But 1550s old school. I love incense, candles, and quiet. I like singing from hymnals and reading from Bibles. I enjoy hearing stories and being pulled into the imagination of the speaker. I like quiet prayer and shared prayer. Simple worship is beautiful worship. Today, as a result of the universe's sense of humor, we got to worship a little old school.
The even funnier thing? Today's sermon was on the wild unpredictability of God. I had spent a week crafting in detail a service to introduce people to the uncontrollable nature of God. I had planned, plotted, emailed, downloaded, and printed so that nothing would go wrong while we sang, prayed, and preached about wildness, wilderness, and the holy. Today offered a great object lesson with my own need for control and correctness sitting in the midst of the service. It was humbling.
It is true that preparation is important, that we can't just "fly by the seat of our pants" and move through life. It is also true that despite our best preparations, sometimes we have to let go and live not the plan we dreamed but the reality that is before us. I find that when I can do this - let go - then there is a lot of grace in the world, a lot of joy in the midst of error and chaos, and that community will inevitably arise to the occasion.
I don't know that I'm particularly glad that today's plan was not executed well. And yet, if it weren't going to go according to my plan, this was the best divergent path I can imagine. It helped those of us getting to know one another realize that becoming acquainted is often fraught with awkward moments. It reminded us all that, in the end, worship is not about our hopes but about God encountering us in community. And, while I don't know how others experienced today's service, God certainly was present for me.
Today was one of those "lesson days." And, I thank God for the gift of humor that allowed us all to laugh a little. Moreover, I am grateful for the wildness of God that constantly interrupts our plans for the sake of something more wonderful.