Good Morning! Did you notice the change in the color of the altar cloths and cross hanging? It is green because we are in ordinary time.
I never liked the term ordinary time, because I thought it meant plain, unexciting, boring. But in some research I did this week, I found out that Ordinary Time is called “ordinary” not because it is common but simply because the weeks of Ordinary Time are numbered. The numbered weeks of Ordinary Time, in fact, represent the ordered life of the Church—the period in which we live our lives neither in feasting (as in the Christmas and Easter seasons) or in more sober reflection (as in Advent and Lent), but in watchfulness and expectation of the Second Coming of Christ.
Likewise, the normal liturgical color for Ordinary Time—for those days when there is no special feast—is green. Green vestments and altar cloths have traditionally been associated with the time after Pentecost, the period in which the Church founded by the risen Christ and enlivened by the Holy Spirit began to grow and to spread the Gospel to all nations.
How do we live these numbered weeks of the church year well?
That made me feel so much better, because a good chunk of the church year is spent in ordinary time, and I didn’t want it to feel as if those weeks were not important or of value. So, how do we live these numbered weeks of the church year well? I think our readings today give us some excellent ideas. Let’s look at those readings again.
In the first reading we find the boy Samuel, being called by God. Samuel is going to go on in his life to be a powerful prophet for God, but at this point he doesn’t know what God’s voice sounds like. So he runs to the priest Eli, who finally figures out that God is speaking, and he teaches Samuel to say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening!
Surely part of our living in Ordinary Time must be listening to and for the voice of our God. That brings up some questions: are we truly listening for God, expecting God to speak to us, to direct us? If we are not, who can help us learn to listen to God’s voice? Can you write down in your worship folder some names of people of who could help you listen for and recognize God’s voice in your life? Why don’t you make a commitment to call one of them this week to help you? And if we are listening to God as he speaks to us, who are we helping also to listen for God’s voice? (our children? Our friends? Our spouse?) Can you think of ways you could be more intentional this week about doing that… why don’t you write those down in your worship folder as well. These are not mutually exclusive activities… you could look for someone who can help you better hear the voice of God in your life, while you help others do the same thing. It’s not about being perfect before we begin to reach out to others, we are simply asking them if we can join them in this journey together.
We can and should be always listening for the voice of our God, because as Psalm 139 reminds us, God is always present. I love this psalm! I love the reminder that even when I am not aware of God’s presence that he is there at work in my life. God is always present with us, even when we are not aware of Him… think of a baby being formed in its mother’s womb, unable to even process reality… yet God is present there as she/he grows. Utter helplessness being held by the God who knows her.
Why don’t you read that psalm again to yourself… anyone want to share what phrase stands out most to you? You don’t need to tell us why, just share the phrase. The phrase that stands out for me this morning is: “you lay your hand upon me.” This is one of the best ways to listen for God’s voice, and that is through our reading of Scripture. If I was reading this psalm for my devotions, I would listen to what I felt God was speaking, like this morning: you lay your hand on me. Then I would spend some time praying, thinking, asking why that particular phrase might be God’s word for me this morning? Once I have thought and prayed about that, I might spend some time just quietly thanking God for speaking to me again today and letting those words soak into my heart for the rest of the day.
Part of living in Ordinary Time is learning to listen carefully for God’s voice, it is helping others listen for that voice, and it is remembering that God is always present with us; creating, sustaining, holding us. It is allowing time for his word to speak to us.
As we move on to our reading from 2 Corinthians this morning, we see again that our ordinary time living is in the presence of our Triune: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit God. We are reminded that that Jesus Christ is the Lord, and that God by His Spirit has made this knowledge available to us so that He is glorified. Our God is the One who all spiritual forces will bow down to and recognize His authority, so there is nothing we need to fear. And yet… this is again where I love the honesty of Scripture, we have this power of God available to us… yet we will suffer. But in our suffering, we do not fear that God has abandoned us, indeed, we believe we can persevere through it all because He is at work in us… helping us to do so.
Part of living in Ordinary Time is learning to listen carefully for God’s voice, it is helping others listen for that voice, and it is remembering that God is always present with us; creating, sustaining, holding us.
This week, I read the biography of a woman, Christina who grew up in the slums of Sao Paulo, Brazil. The things she suffered as a young child were unimaginable to me who has grown up in the security and relative safety of white America. Christina lived in a huge garbage dump, and she and her friends scavenged for food in the dump because there was never enough. By the time she was 7 years old, 7 years old, she had been sexually molested, and seen her mother repeatedly sexually assaulted. She had seen one of her best friends kill his step father to stop him from beating his mother again, another of her best friends was captured, lined up against a wall, and shot to death by the police simply because these dump children were seen as expendable. Christina, herself, had killed an 8 or 9 year old boy in a fight because he took her food. I do not know how children, how people live in such horrendous conditions and yet survive. For Christina, God was a far off God who never helped or protected her. Her survival depended solely on her ability to run fast, and to always be alert to the conditions and people around her. As an adult, she has no use for such a God.
The promise of this 2 Corinthians passage is that God is always present, and is helping us in our suffering. That is such an amazing promise! And it is one that I have clung to at various times in my life.
But this week after reading: Never Stop Walking: A Memoir of Finding Home Across the World, I have begun to wonder if we as God’s people need to take more seriously our responsibility for being God’s presence for people like Christina, whose lives are shaped by a deep longing for safety, security, for hope but who live in such conditions that they never find those things.
We cannot fix all the problems of all the people in the world. And one of the ways at Northgate we have begun to reach out to those who have less than we do is through sponsoring children in Gahanda, Rwanda through International Child Care Ministries. If you are interested in doing that talk to Chris or I after the service. But I’m also wondering if we are called to get involved more locally? Are there people around us who need a place that is safe, that can provide some kind of help for them? How can we bring God’s protective presence to them? Who are they? How can Arbor House become a place in Batavia that helps people regardless of their circumstances? Do you have any ideas? Write them down on the index card in your worship folder and bring them up with you for Communion, putting them in the basket.
Ordinary Time living is recognizing that in our suffering, God gives us strength to endure. It is also a time for us to take seriously our responsibility to incarnate for others in need God’s loving presence.
Finally, in our Gospel reading, we find that in Ordinary Time we are to keep the Sabbath in a way that is for our and others’ good. My confession to you as I bring this part of the message to you, is that I’m not very good at it. I will start trying to keep Sabbath, then life gets in the way, and I find myself constantly going, not taking the time God commands us to take.
So I’m going to keep things pretty simple here:
We are commanded by God to keep the Sabbath. It is the fourth commandment of the Ten Commandments: Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work… This commandment stands between the three about worshipping God and the six about living rightly ordered lives with the people around us. Perhaps we are having the difficulties we have with others because we are not taking seriously this command to take one day out of seven to remember how dependent we are on God for his provision in everything?
Marjorie Thompson, in her book Soul Feast says:
“Keeping the Sabbath means trusting God to be God, recognizing that we are not indispensable… in light of God’s rest (on the seventh day of Creation), our anxious, compulsive activities may be exposed as little more than efforts to stay in control, or to fabricate life’s meaning out of constant activity. The purpose of Sabbath rest is to free us inwardly for full-hearted worship. Genuine worship flows from a heart that trusts God to uphold the universe.”
Living in ordinary time means we receive the blessings of rest and provision that God offers us. It means keeping Sabbath. So I am committing to you to become more intentional in my Sabbath keeping. For most of us, Sundays are to be a day of Sabbath, but for some, work keeps that from being true, so we need to find creative ways of finding space in our weeks for true Sabbath celebration and rest.
I read a blog this week about ways to make Ordinary Time a little less ordinary. I’m going to pass three of those suggestions on to you, and let’s be checking in with each other to see how we’re doing as the numbered Ordinary Time weeks pass by… We’ve talked about a lot of stuff today:
In addition to intentionally listening for and to God’s voice, we can:
1. Keep a gratitude journal, journaling can be one way we are more aware of God’s speaking in our lives, and of the times and places where he is present with us.
Some scientific studies have shown that people who regularly “count their blessings” are happier than those who don't. Often we are so focused on the negatives in our lives we overlook the positives. So, during Ordinary Time, take a small notebook and, once a day, write at least five things you are thankful for. They don't have to be earth-shattering; “a cup of coffee” will suffice. Then, on Sunday, read aloud your list, saying before each item: “God, I thank you for…” It seems like a simple activity, but it can literally be life-changing as a concrete, permanent record of the blessings of your life that is hard to overlook even when you are feeling down.
We talked about persevering when times are hard, and helping others to do that too. A second suggestion in this blog was:
2. Act out
One of the reasons our faith can become stale is because it becomes too cerebral. Instead of "doing," we spend most of our time "thinking." So put your faith in action. No, that doesn't mean you have to start vigils at abortion centers or volunteering at soup kitchens—although those things are good and may be just what some people need. You can act out your faith in smaller, more homey ways as well. For instance, Jesus told us if we had two coats, we should share with those who had none. Most of us probably have at least two coats in our closets, so paring down our clothes could be a great place to begin. During Ordinary Time, simplifying, eliminating and giving away those things that we no longer use can become a great act of faith… and a great faith-builder.
Finally, we were reminded that keeping Sabbath is God’s intent for all of us to live whole, balanced lives. The blogger suggests some practical ways to do that:
3. Keep the Sabbath
The weeks of Ordinary Time are ideally suited to creating family rituals or rituals with our friends that keep the Sabbath as a special day. Without the pressure of holidays and holy days, we can design our own personal practices that make Sunday a day to anticipate. As with most things, these don't have to be elaborate. Perhaps stopping at the doughnut shop on the way home from church and letting everyone pick their favorite could become a “tradition”. Or reinstitute a sit-down family dinner Sunday evening, even if you are sitting down to eat take-out. Or read aloud or listen to a book on tape. Just find something you and your family can enjoy and save that activity for the Sabbath.
Ordinary Time is only ordinary if we think of it that way. If we consider these weeks, not as the long boring stretches between the good stuff, but as a time to try new things and refocus our energies on our spiritual growth, Ordinary Time can become one of our favorite—and most rewarding—times of year
Listen to this sermon: