“Finding God in the ordinary”
A Sermon for the
Second Sunday after Pentecost
June 23, 2019
There is always a bit of surprise in coming into church this day and seeing green. After all, it has literally been months since we have seen this color. And in those cold days before the beginning of Lent, it was a color that we did not see much of outside in nature. Now, at the beginning of summer we see lots of green-in grass, in trees, in hedges—and in the abundance of flowering plants and bushes. It is, sadly, a color which we have come to take for granted. We see so much of it everywhere that it just becomes routine, even common, and ordinary.
In some liturgical traditions the word “ordinary” is used to describe these days after Pentecost. Originally it did not mean ordinary as we understand the word in daily use. It was derived from the Latin “ordinatus” or “ordo” meaning “counted” or “arranged.” For instance, today is called the “Second Sunday after Pentecost.” Thus it is a counted Sunday. Each of the Sundays and weeks which follow until the end of the Liturgical year will be counted in that order. And then a new liturgical year will begin with the Season of Advent.
I suppose that I prefer “Ordinary” to “After Pentecost” for two reasons. The first is that it gives the hint of an explanation as to what this Season is all about. It is about what happened in the life of the Church following the incredible drama of Holy Week, Easter and Pentecost. After the Apostles recovered from the shock of all those momentous events, they found themselves living the new life in Jesus. It was in that daily reality of becoming the Jesus Movement that they found their ultimate meaning and purpose in life. It was in the proclaiming of the good news of Christ to the very ends of the earth that they found their ultimate mission. It was in going out and teaching, preaching, baptizing and celebrating the Sacramental Life that they welcomed so many others into the Household of God. That, they discovered, was the “new ordinary” ebb and flow of their life. As we saw in our readings today, this hardly seems ordinary to us. But more about that in a minute.
The second reason that I like the word ordinary is that it reminds us of a very significant reality. If we want to find God, we will need to do so where we are. Everything around us has the possibility of revealing God’s presence, love and grace. But to find and experience that presence we will have to take the time to really see our current and ordinary reality. We will literally have to take time to “stop and smell the roses” which are all around us. Otherwise we will be so busy that we do not even notice God’s loving and empowering presence all around us—and in us.
How is it even possible to find God? The first step in this process is to have the mindset of someone who is looking for God. That description of the quest or search for God is at the heart of the monastic vocation. Saint Benedict, in the Holy Rule suggests that the person who is called by God and responds is one who is “truly seeking God.” The Holy Rule is a guide for the Christian Life, as St. Benedict calls it, a “School of the Lord’s Service.” As such it has meaning and value, not only to monastics, but to anyone who wishes to deepen their relationship with God. I would even go so far as to say that the guidance which it offers is of value to the whole Jesus movement. After all, it has been proven over more than 1500 years as a reliable way to progress in love and faith on the road which leads to union with God.
If we plan then, at each moment which comes to us in the course of the day, to look for and to find God, we may be sure that we will discover amazing things all around us.
The prophet Elijah gives us an excellent insight into the quest for God. It would be hard to imagine greater drama than witnessing the calling down of fire from heaven. To drive home the point that the God of Israel was far from ordinary, Elijah had a moat dug around the altar of sacrifice and covered the sacrifice on the altar with so much water that it even filled the moat to overflowing. Talk about monsoon season. Everything was so wet that it seemed impossible for fire to even ignite the sodden mess. Yet, when the Man of God prayed, the unexpected occurred. Such a mighty blaze erupted that the sacrifice was consumed, the altar was consumed, and the flames even dried up the water in the moat. One might have been deceived into thinking that this was the real presence of God.
Elijah quickly learned, though, that this was not the final answer in his quest for God. From this moment of victory the tables were quickly turned. Everything unraveled and came undone. The prophet left this moment of unbelievable success—a “mountaintop experience” and ran away into the wilderness. Queen Jezebel was not happy that Elijah had interfered with her agenda. And so, she put a contract on his life. She offered a huge reward for anyone who would bring her Elijah “dead or alive,” and preferably dead. Elijah thought that this was it. He went into hiding and found himself in a cave. From the sounds of his conversation with God, it appears that Eliah was not happy. After all, he had done what God asked and was looking for a happy ending. He thought that God would work everything out according to the “Elijah plan.” When that did not happen, he was confused, shocked, disappointed, and perhaps angry. Interestingly enough, Elijah was also brave enough to “give God a piece of his mind.”
In that cave, though, God opened Elijah’s eyes to see God’s presence in a completely unexpected way. God was not present in all the drama outside the cave. God was not present in the earthquake or in the tornado, or in the inferno—no, God was present in the silence of the cave. That was more than enough to convince Elijah. He realized that God was not finished with him. His career was not over. God had plans for Elijah which could only be fulfilled if he had the courage to leave the cave and go back into the world. God would be with him every step of the journey. Not even the wealth and power of Jezebel would get in the way of God’s plan. And so, in that moment of seeming defeat, Elijah moved on—trusting in God—to the greatest victory. He saw an astonishing reversal. The mighty were cast down from their thrones and the poor were lifted up. God’s justice was restored.
Another discovery which we make in the readings today, is that the “ordinary” includes everyone. Saint Paul makes that clear to us in the Letter to the Church in Galatia. For my money, the most surprising and powerful words which Paul ever wrote are contained in the passage we heard today: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” Wow! To God, none of the things which we humans spend so much time and energy worrying about matter. God is no respecter or persons. In God’s eyes every person, created in the image and likeness of God, is sacred. How sad that we spend so much time focusing on differences.
This is the very antithesis of the good news. It means that we look for ways to discriminate, and to determine who is or is not worthy of God’s love and acceptance. It means that we intentionally set about to exclude anyone who is different from us or who does not live up to our expectations. With God it is just the opposite. There are no binaries—them or us—male or female—rich or poor—heterosexual or LGBTQI—domestic or foreign—”red or yellow, black or white,” or brown. In fact, all those “differences” are just superficial. They are ultimately not important. The things which we share in common are far more important, meaningful and significant. Each variety offers something unique, special, and precious—something which we desperately need.
In God, In Jesus, there is a new creation. God is at work in the life and heart of every single person—without exception. The call to love and to serve God really means that, among other things, we are called to find God in every single person whom we encounter. Truth be told, we are more likely to find God in people we do not like, do not want to be with, who are different from us, and who challenge our basic notions of how things are supposed to be. Saints have told us that if we do not find God in the beggar on the street, we are unlikely to find God in the Sacrament on the altar. But how? By recognizing the inherent dignity and worth of the “other.” By speaking with them openly and honestly. By allowing them to teach us from their experience and knowledge. And by believing that in their presence and in their story, God has something to say to us.
It is no mistake that our Lord tells us that in reaching out to those who are in need, we minister to him. We must be concerned about the poor and needy. We must feed the hungry, clothe the naked, minister to the widow and orphan, and visit those in prison. We must work to break down barriers which separate and divide. We must work for justice—to end oppression, injustice, abuse and exploitation. We must work to preserve God’s beautiful creation so that there will be enough resources for everyone to have what they need. And, for us to be surrounded by wonder and beauty which reveal the love with which God has placed us in this garden and entrusted it to our care.
We find God, then, all around us. We find God in the beauty of creation. We find God in other people—and especially in the vulnerable, weak and needy. We find God in the oppressed, and those who are discriminated against—for any reason. We find God when we gather in Community. We find God in Holy Scripture, and in Sacrament. We have thousands of opportunities to find God each and every day.
The prophet Elijah, though, gives us a final insight. If ever there is a moment in which we do not know where to begin to find God, let us enter into silence. There, as we think, and reflect, and pray, we are sure to find God. It will be in the common and ordinary that, like Elijah, we have the most powerful and transformative experience of God.
Today I am not preaching in community, And so, this is a sermon which God thought I needed to hear.