Sunday, June 27, 2010

Ordinary Time

A sermon for the Second Sunday after Pentecost
at St John United Lutheran Church, Seattle

Welcome to Ordinary Time!

Ordinary Time is a time in the church year that is sort of between seasons, or at least between festival seasons. One of the ways we tell the story of salvation in church is through the stories of these seasons, beginning with Advent and moving into Christmas, and then Epiphany, then Lent, then Easter, then Pentecost, and then last week Holy Trinity Sunday. As we tell the story week after week, season after season, we see the larger story arc develop. It’s like watching a serial TV show - like LOST, for example.

Now, I never followed LOST, my geek TV show was – um, Buffy the Vampire Slayer – but is anyone here a LOST fan? If you are a LOST fan, you probably know that if you watched it every week you start to see how the different episodes fit into a larger story.

Well, the stories we hear in church are like that too. When we hear them week after week, we can start to see how they tell a larger story over the course of the season.

So today we kick off a new season, a time we call “ordinary.”

I wonder what “ordinary time” will look like.

One way to get at it might be to think about what our own ordinary lives look like in this so-called “ordinary time.” So let’s do that. Let’s take just a few minutes to share with each other what’s going on in our lives in “ordinary time.”

So, please turn to your neighbor, and share with each other your low point during the week, what was your low light, maybe something you could have done without this week.


Ok, now, turn to your neighbor again, and share with each other your high point during the week, your highlight, the best thing that happened to you this week.

Well. I don’t know what you all were talking about, but judging from the way the volume jumped up there it sure sounds like there is some stuff happening in ordinary time. Some not so good stuff, for sure, right? Some of our low points can be pretty serious. But, then, too, our high points can be pretty serious, too. Ordinary time is not so ordinary, after all.

Today, we heard three Bible stories that set the stage for what is to come in ordinary time.
We have a story from 1 Kings, in a story from Galatians, and in a story from Luke in which we hear stories that really are not that far removed from the stories of our everyday lives. People struggle to make ends meet. People get sick, and they don’t get better. People hurt each other, and sometimes they hurt the very people they love the most. People get so excited about an idea that they can’t see the trees for the forest. People die, and funerals are held. This is the same world we live in.

And yet, just like the world we live in, there is more going on in these stories, isn’t there? In the midst of all the dirt, there are green shoots of life in places where we least expect it.

In the first of these stories, the prophet Elijah raises a widow’s only son from the dead. Well, actually the Hebrew isn’t clear about what happened. Scholars point out that the ancient text is ambiguous about whether the boy was dead or just seemed dead, looked dead, acted dead, or really was dead. It is as if the writers of this story found themselves tasked with reporting on an event that was so new they didn’t really know how to write about it. Raising someone from the dead? This hadn’t happened before. The thing that God did was so new that it was hard to be clear about what was going on.

In the second story, from Galatians, Paul tells the story of his life. Paul writes, “I was zealous for the traditions of my ancestors.” Paul is so zealous about these holy traditions, in fact, that he was, ironically, destroying the church of God. And then, Paul writes, God “called me through his grace.” As if something just happened out of the blue that changed everything. And then, without the proper training, without consulting with the authorities, without going through the proper channels, without jumping through the right hoops, without trusting the process, Paul just starts doing stuff, stuff like talking about what happened to him, he just starts telling people about the grace he’s experienced. He doesn’t need any theological training; he just tells them what happened.

And then, in the final story, from Luke, Jesus and all those who are travelling with him come upon a woman who is mourning the death of her future. Luke tells us that her only son had died, and she was a widow. Her grief must have been deep; that would be easy to assume even if the first words Jesus says to her didn’t acknowledge her tears. But in the first century, there would be even worse hardships to come. As a widow, she was already one of the most vulnerable people in society. This woman was facing a very uncertain future, if one could say she was facing a future at all.

But when Jesus shows up and starts doing crazy things. He breaks the religious rules by touching a coffin. Then he raises a dead person to life, and in so doing raises the widow to life, too, raises this family to life. And when the bystanders see what has happened, it changes the way they see the world. “God is back,” they say, “looking to the needs of his people!” Jesus lifts up first one person, then a family, then a whole village, until, Luke tells us, “the news of Jesus spread all through the country.”

Well. All well and good for Bible stories, but can the same be true here, in our ordinary lives? Can God do a new thing among us?

Last week the (RED) campaign released a film on HBO and YouTube called The Lazarus Effect. It’s about a new class of antiretroviral medications for HIV/AIDS patients. These tiny little pills are so effective that witnesses have been talking about a Lazarus Effect, after the man Jesus raised from death to life. These people are near death, and they are coming back to life because of pills that cost 40 cents a piece. This is a new thing happening in the world.

Last fall our neighborhood saw a series of arson fires put an end to local businesses, restaurants and gathering spaces. And now, less than a year later, several of those businesses are preparing to reopen once again – new life, right in our neighborhood.

And right here at in this congregation, new things are happening. Babies are being born. New garden plots are being divvied up. Plans are being made for summer potlucks with the neighbors. Concerts are being organized. All sorts of new things happening, like green shoots coming up out of the ground.

What will our green shoots look like in the days and weeks and months to come? I can’t say, but given the things that happen in ordinary time – the things that have happened in your life this week, the things that happen in our Bible stories, the things that are happening in the world, in the neighborhood, in our congregation, given all of these things that happen in ordinary time, well - if you’re wondering what’s going to happen next, you might just want to be prepared for anything.

Welcome to ordinary time.


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