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So very ordinary

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Twelfth Sunday of Pentecost – August 12, 2018

1 Kings 19:4-8 and Psalm 34:1-8; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35, 41-51

When God acts, we tend to think it has to happen with bolts of lightning and huge miraculous events. Of course we all know that it’s anything between the ordinary and the very extraordinary. God is God exactly because God acts in marvelous ways, but is present in all we experience.

Let’s take a leap back in time. The time was: the 1960s, one early twilight evening. The place was: A New York City street.

A man is walking down the fairly busy street and, unfortunately, has enjoyed himself a bit too much at the local bar’s “Happy Hour.” He’s in a fairly thick state of inebriation. Up ahead and oncoming are two Catholic nuns walking along, wearing the old-style long black dresses or “habits.” As always, they walk fairly close together, even sometimes arm in arm, as they talk quietly about their convent school’s activities and spiritual matters relating to prayer, thanksgiving and God.

Upon seeing the hapless, drunken man slowly coming their way, they decide not to stare at him and shame him, but to simply look down at the sidewalk pavement as they proceed, silently saying prayers to themselves for his well-being in the embrace of the good Lord. When the gracious women have drawn even nearer to where he is, he accidentally, awkwardly lurches to his left, right into their oncoming path. The nuns simply and deftly separate for a moment, one nun going around to his left, and the other nun going around to his right, before they come together again and proceed to walk down the street arm in arm.

Meanwhile the man isn’t quite sure what has just happened. He turns around in his drunken grogginess and finally exclaims to himself in an inebriated voice, “Lord save me! What a miracle! How in the world did she do that?” 1)

This man was drunk and was seeing a miracle happen before him, which was actually an ordinary thing, two nuns walking down a busy street. When we are sober, we still tend to look out for miracles in order to see God. Don’t we remember  that God works in ordinary ways as well?

The Jews, according to our John 6 reading, were grousing about the fact that Jesus was just one of the neighbourhood kids. They watched Him play, and learn his trade. Therefore, because He is just like them, He can’t be all that special, and there’s no way He could be the one God sent to bring healing and redemption for the world.

The thing is, when I am in need or distress, when I am hurt or afraid, I want to see a God who shows in strength and through miracle, I want to call upon a God who answers clearly and quickly, and I want to rely on a God who is there, really there, when you need Him.

No wonder that the people in the crowd, even perhaps we, are put off, offended, angered even, by Jesus’ suggestion that He, a man just as they are, is the answer to their deepest longings and needs. 

Why not? This Jesus makes audacious claims. Who ever heard of a God having anything to do with the everyday, the ordinary, the mundane, the dirty? There just is no way He can make these claims.

The wonder then is that this is in fact what was happening. An ordinary man, the son of Joseph, was walking in their shoes, identifying with their, indeed with our most basic needs.

The crowd knows first-hand, of their own flaws and shortcomings, of their own faithlessness and failures. We too know of our doubts and fears, of our betrayals and broken promises, our petty grudges and foolish prejudices.

I certainly don’t always know how I can actually be claiming to preach God’s word on a Sunday. Think of performing a baptism with ordinary water. It’s from the same tap that we drink and brush our teeth. The same with communion, it’s ordinary bread baked with ordinary ingredients by an ordinary person, along with plain wine or juice that was purchased, nothing really special.

However this is the way God says to us that in the person of Jesus the Christ, and through the Holy Spirit, God is with us in every single normal concern, heartache and weakness. We are not too removed from the redeeming work of Jesus. He identifies with us. The water in the font speaks about it, the juice, the wine, the pieces of bread proclaim it. God self, Jesus of Nazareth is with us in our miseries, our struggles, as well as in our delights. We can not give up, there just isn’t a way that we can be unimportant to Him.

It is at the Font, as well as at the Table that God speaks to us most clearly, as God’s promise of forgiveness and acceptance, of wholeness and of life, is given to each of us in a form we not only can hear, but also see, taste, touch, and feel. And so the sacraments encourage us to raise our eyes from the confusion and ambiguity of life for a moment, so that we may receive God’s audacious and faith-provoking promises and thereby return to our lives in this confusing world with courage and hope. We are invited to spread this courage into the neigbourhoods in which we live, love and laugh. Jesus came to live in our neighbourhood and asks of us nothing more extraordinary, only the very same, to go likewise and live in our neighbourhoods and bring the difference that God is making through us.

1) https://www.enlightened-spirituality.org/Spiritual_Humor.html

 

Copyright 2018 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church

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