And I heard him murmur… “I’m just wanting to have an ordinary day…”
The church I serve calls this time of year ‘ordinary.’ I listen to my neighbors, I watch the news, I open my facebook page, scroll up the twitter feed and it seems that this time of the year is anything but ordinary. I get the point. We must call it something. Hardly anyone anymore has a clue what the 24th Sunday after Pentecost means anyway. In this day and age, though, why would any of us, especially in the church, be content with being ordinary? Ordinary as in ‘expected?’ Ordinary as in ‘typical?’ Ordinary as in ‘commonplace?’ It seems the world is crying out that we all be so much more. More as in moving from ‘good to great!’ More as in exercising the ‘extraordinary’. More as in restoring the reality of ‘remarkable’ as a way to describe the kind of life we desire for ourselves and those around us. Ordinary? Who needs that? But, maybe that’s the point—that there is such a thing as ‘ordinary’ and what we see and hear about life on the planet these days is not. And… that ordinary is a thing worth reclaiming.
I like how Webster refers to the term ordinary…
- a prelate exercising original jurisdiction over a specified territory or group(2):a clergyman/clergyperson appointed formerly in England to attend condemned criminals b :a judge of probate in some states of the United States
- (often capitalized): the parts of the Mass that do not vary from day to day
- the regular or customary condition or course of things —usually used in the phraseout of the ordinary
Wouldn’t it be great if we could tell our friends and families… “hey, I’m heading out into the ordinary today!” But most folks these days, especially in cities like Baton Rouge, Dallas, Tulsa and Charlotte have to look and duck before heading out in to the streets. And while I think I know a little bit about the definitions part one and two, the rest of the world is tuned in much better to part three—the customary condition or course of things. Ah, there it is… what we are all looking for when it comes to our days being ordinary! “Customary condition.” When was the last time someone asked you about that? Of course that is only if you are content with the way things are… and when no one complains when any of us tries to make it all better. The angst occurs when people regress and forget that each person on the planet has been created in the image of God and deserves their moment of respect. That would be ordinary. At least where I come from.
I don’t want to be misunderstood here, though. Ordinary is not the same thing as dull or boring. I have an ex-wife who called me boring once, but if you ask my fraternity brothers from college and my friends throughout life they will tell you that I’m anything but that! So, let me get back to ordinary as I think that is the ‘time of the year’ so many people are yearning for. It’s like that old saying… “I’m not really sure what I want, but I’ll know it when I see it.” That goes for picking cars, houses, delis, churches and the like. Somewhere deep inside each of us we have this image of what is best and preferred and it seems no matter what side of the table one sits at there is a call for something better. But, even at that, I hear few asking that things be ordinary. Maybe we’ve forgotten what ordinary looks like so even when it’s right in front of us, we can’t see it!
I have people tell me from time to time…when I officiate a wedding or funeral or when I’m called on in public to pray at a business dedication or a banquet… “good job, Pastor, that was nice.” You gotta know that’s like fingernails on a chalkboard to a clergyperson like me. Good job? That was nice? Are you kidding? As if it was expected I’d be terrible at officiating a wedding or leading a family through funeral service? I guess it could go off the tracks; but I don’t roll that way. I have my reasons. And praying in public? Well, first off Jesus sort of made it clear we not do that… at least that we do not draw attention to ourselves… but why would a minister be expected to pray a bad or inappropriate prayer at a banquet or business dedication? That’s the ordinary thing I do. I don’t expect any less; nor does God. Maybe we’ve moved so far from ordinary that it’s just plain refreshing when it smacks us in the face.
So, when my church thinks of this time of the year as ordinary time, what is it that we think ordinary is? According to the calendar it would be the time from the Festival of Pentecost to Christ the King Sunday and for those who are not versed in liturgical time that means the Sundays and weeks following 50 days after Easter (often around mid-May) when the Church celebrates its birthing with Jesus’ giving the Holy Spirit power for all time and eternity to the Sunday (around Thanksgiving weekend) before the four weeks of Advent which is, for those of you not steeped in liturgical language, the time Christians get ready for the celebration of Christmas. Confused? Don’t worry, it won’t last. You see, the thing is we do this every year. Over and over. It’s the ordinary thing liturgical church people do! Just as the world lives from year to year … January 1 to December 31… with all of its celebrations and resolutions, the Christian Church marches to a calendar that is built around the life and work of Jesus. And even when I think about this… I have to ask… what in God’s good green earth is ordinary about that? What God has done in the life and story of Jesus is God’s own move from good to great! Ordinary? Expected? Commonplace? This was the extraordinary shift in the view of life and culture from as far back as anyone can remember… some even call the ‘center of history’…the remarkable moment … the indwelling of Jesus as Son of God and Savior of the universe…the fixed piece of time 2000 years ago by which the Church marks time to do its work in the world. What seems to be ordinary for those who live deep in the calendar of the culture is not so ordinary for those who mark time re-living the life and ministry of Jesus. And vice versa? Sure. Need a proof text for that? Well look at Christmas Eve 2016. That’s December 24… a Saturday where 100’s of 1000’s of worshipers in the greater Houston area and all over SE Texas ready to celebrate Jesus’ birth and the good news of ‘God with us’ (Emmanuel in Hebrew!) will go head to head with the evening Christmas Candlelight service versing the NFL as they have scheduled the Houston Texans to play at home at 7:25 pm. Can someone explain what is ordinary about that? But, that’s not the bigger issue here… it’s only a symptom.
“What will the world say about you when there’s nothing left for you to say or do?”
When I listen to the news and I take the negative bent of what I hear as ordinary, then I’ve become complacent about how life should be. When I watch the 2016 presidential debates (all this year up to last night) and think this is the ordinary way we do this I’m scratching my head for nothing as it’s taken the country a long time to get to the way this election process has unfolded. I’m not sure why, but when I see it, I’ll know it and lately I think I’ve seen it. And if you are like me, you don’t like what you have seen. Parents should be able send their children to the neighborhood store and not be fearful. It seems ordinary now that they are. I shouldn’t have to be patted down at the airport to go on church business, but I am and I don’t find that ordinary even though it is my expectation every time I fly. Children should have the expectation that they go to school to be challenged and learn all they can. For some that IS ordinary and for others they feel they are being singled out and discriminated against. There are reasons for all this. So, just what is this church of mine promoting that is so ordinary that everyone would want to flock to its doors? Here’s my short answer… the kind of thinking that I share at weddings and funerals and when I pray at business dedication or banquet… and what seems to be ordinary to me…
- Not a one of us asks to be here. There’s no sign up sheet for being born.
- Life is a gift. We get here when we get here. Most seem to be pleased; at least for a while
- Life is not the same for all. We get here where we get here. Papua New Guinea or Palm Beach or somewhere in between. It’s not our choice.
- Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. They didn’t ask to be here, either. This of course is taught and in church all my life I was taught this is critical to the stability of community. Some folks get it. Some don’t. Most can tell the difference of who does and who doesn’t.
- There are things we do in life and there are things life does to us. Some of this we have a handle on. Much of this we do not. Each one of us can make of life what we want. Some born into extreme wealth waste their lives away. Some born in extreme poverty seek a path to learn, grow and thrive. Most can see which of us does and who doesn’t.
- There are ancient ways in most cultures to feed one’s body and tend to one’s soul. Again, this is taught. Things like… “Love God. Love yourself so you can love you’re your neighbor.” There’s an old saying, “when the student is ready the teacher will come.” Jesus was a good teacher. Most knew that. Some didn’t like it. Some didn’t like him! Truth is truth no matter what day or what place or what standard one is born into. If ordinary time is to love God, love one’s own self to love one’s neighbor, then we all have some learning and loving to do.
- This life one lives eventually ends. For some, sooner. For some, later. Everyone finds this out. What people do with their lives (from Genghis Khan to Mahatma Gandhi… from Moses to Martin Luther to Mother Theresa) for the good and not-so-good impacts us all.
It doesn’t get more ordinary than that, does it?
It is said that Martin Luther used to get up in the morning and recite the 10 Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed. Then he would pray for an hour and if he thought the day to be more difficult than most… or ‘out of the ordinary‘… he would pray for two hours. Daily. I’m not sure that the world’s movers and shakers start their days like that!. What will the world say about you when there’s nothing left for you to say or do? How ordinary will you have become? Will you have moved from good to great? Seeking to be extraordinary? Will others call you remarkable?
May this be ordinary time for you and everyone you know…