sermon preached at Church of the Good Shepherd, Federal Way, WA
by the Rev. Josh Hosler, Rector
The Second Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 7C), June 23, 2019
1 Kings 19:1-15a; Psalm 42 and 43; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39
If you’ve been worshiping in the Episcopal Church for only a short time—or more especially if Christianity is new to you—you may have heard only part of the story. I mean, it’s a huge story, the story of our faith. And you’ve been hearing parts of it each week.
Way back in December we began the Christian year with the season of Advent, a time of preparation that leads to Christmas. Advent is about the prophets, about their calls for justice and their frustration that the people didn’t heed their calls. Advent teaches us the necessity of Christmas, of God coming to be with us on our own terms. Then we get twelve days of Christmas joy.
Christmas leads to Epiphany, a day and a season in which we look from many angles at Jesus’ earthly life: his growing up, his baptism, his calling of disciples, his teachings, his healings. We learn with wonder about the man whose disciples came to know him as an equal to God and who struggled to make sense of their own wonder.
Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent, a time when things get real. We don’t shy away from talk of sin and the need for repentance. We are encouraged to make sacrifices for the sake of coming to a deeper understanding that God’s presence may be most obvious in the absence of other things.
The final week of Lent is Holy Week, the “high holy days” for Christians. We wash each other’s feet, pray at the foot of the Cross, and wait for the coming of a new light into our world.
On that Saturday night we gather in the dark to hear the stories of our faith and to baptize new Christians, and then all the lights burst on and we proclaim the Resurrection. We continue to celebrate Easter for fifty days, during which time we hear the narratives of Christ’s return to life, his mysterious appearances to his friends, and his ascension into heaven.
The fiftieth day of Easter is Pentecost, the day of the arrival of the Holy Spirit to build us up as a Church to go to every corner of the world and proclaim the Good News. And last week was Trinity Sunday, which shows us the continuing unfolding of God’s love in our hearts in ways we know we’ll never understand.
We share these events together every year. It’s our family history, our back story, our organizational mandate, our lifeblood. And then we spend the other half of the year doing … what exactly?
Now we stare down the calendar at the vast expanse of summer and fall. It’s “Ordinary Time,” a time when we’re not telling the Jesus story per se, but remarking on it and going deeper into certain aspects of it. It’s a subtle, less dramatic style of storytelling. From now until December 1, the color of the vestments and other trappings is green. We have entered the “green growing season,” the time from planting to harvest, the time when our faith grows within us in subtle, ordinary ways.
We still follow the same pattern of worship: gather, share the stories of our faith and unpack them, pray, share the bread and wine that become for us the Body and Blood of Christ, and then go out refueled to share the Good News with the world.
We hear today of the prophet Elijah on the run—hungry, angry, lonely, and tired. He is given divine food to help him go another forty days. He has a direct encounter with God … but God is not found in the flashy wind or earthquake or fire. God is present in the ordinary silence. Elijah may even experience that silence as a letdown, but nonetheless he is given clear instructions and hastens to carry them out.
We hear today from Paul, writing his angry letter to the Galatians and trying to set them straight: stop making distinctions among yourselves! Everybody belongs! It doesn’t matter where we’ve come from, what we’ve been through … God loves each and every one of us and is at work in our lives to reconcile us all to one another. And the Church gets to help with that work in special and specific ways, but they’re not all flashy ways … just ordinary life. Every day we find opportunities to be with one another as fellow children of God. Nothing out of the ordinary. Just people. Just life.
And we hear of Jesus entering into a chaotic situation and turning it ordinary, casting loud, raucous demons out of this wretched man and getting rid of the demons once and for all. When the people from that area return to the scene, the man has become … well, ordinary, sitting as a student at Jesus’ feet, “clothed and in his right mind.” (I’ve always wondered where the clothes came from!) So, go figure, when the people encounter the ordinariness, that’s when they ask Jesus to please just leave. It frightens them.
We often think that “ordinary” means “boring.” But sometimes our lives can be so chaotic, so frantic and exhausting, or so frightening and devoid of hope, that we crave the ordinary with all our being. When that’s what you need, church in Ordinary Time is the place to be. We have ritual and routine to ground your week. We have kind people who can lend an ear. Ordinary Time can be a shelter in the storm, every single Sunday.
When we begin the season of Advent again, we’ll all be slightly different people, changed by the Gospel, always growing. And no doubt we’ll have also some new people among us who haven’t been through the story before, and we can delight in sharing it with them.
A lot of us make summer plans. Some of us travel, while others just try to change up the routine. When I travel, I enjoy checking out different churches. I might go in for something very different, but I usually stick with Episcopal churches because that’s just what I do! It’s fun to drop in on our compatriots in other places, also telling the story, also drawing closer to God through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.
This means that many of us go missing for a time in the summer, and also, you never know who might drop in. The community shuffles a bit, and we have fewer extra activities going on. If you’re new to Good Shepherd at this time of year, be patient. We’ll have special newcomer classes this fall, and guided opportunities for learning specific things together. If all goes according to plan, we’ll also have a few weeks of relative chaos this fall as the Landscape Campaign comes to fruition. Then we’ll have new plants, better sight lines from the street, a gorgeous place for reflection on the front lawn, and a smooth walkway from our worship space down the hill to Seaman Hall. Just a few thousand dollars more, and we’re there.
You’ll also hear more about what happened at the College for Congregational Development, where Mary Aronen, Tate Egger, Deb Smith and I just spent a whole week learning together and imagining together. We have so many things to share with you: new lenses through which to look at our congregation, new ideas for helping us all grow in faith and gain and practice skills for the Christian life.
But all of that comes later. Let’s not lose sight of the ordinary.
One year when I was the Associate for Christian Formation at St. Thomas in Medina, my spiritual director and I were ruminating on Ordinary Time. I confessed that I had come up with a marketing slogan for this season: “Make your Ordinary Time Extraordinary!” And we would follow that slogan with new faith formation programs! Big, exciting events for kids! A full summer of wow! Wow! Wow!
And my spiritual director said, “Stop it! It’s called Ordinary Time. Let it be ordinary! And take a vacation.”
This half of the year is supposed to be ordinary. The Good News is mind-blowing enough; we don’t have to add to it. We just need to keep reminding each other of it. For the time being, make this Ordinary Time just plain ordinary. Join us at church. Listen and pray. Reach out to others. No big deal. Just each other. Just Jesus, dead and risen. Just the unfathomable mystery of God’s grace given to us through the Holy Spirit. Amen.