Note: A few weeks have passed since I last posted a blog. Today I realized that I should include my weekly sermon on line. Therefore, today this posting is the sermon for Sunday, August 10, 2008:
Today is the 13th Sunday of Pentecost. We are at the end of summer. School is about to begin. Farmers are between tasks—except for the hay around here. Life just keeps going on, it is just an ordinary time in our lives. In fact, during licensing school, I learned that these weeks after Pentecost, especially through the summer clear until November, are also known as “Ordinary Times.”
In our culture, we tend to center our lives around events. I have lived all but five years of my life on a school year calendar, not the typical January 1 to December 31 calendar. When a school calendar is published, it typically includes one three-day weekend around a holiday each month. Teachers attempt to keep student attention during the “ordinary” days by developing extraordinary teaching activities.
We seem to avoid the ordinary. We work to keep our lives filled with the extraordinary. I believe that because we are Christians no day has to be ordinary.
Consider some of the stories we have in the Bible. The lectionary includes two extraordinary stories today: From the Old Testament we have the story of Joseph being sold into slavery by his own brothers. A second story from the New Testament is that of Jesus walking on water to reach the boat. Both of those stories are extraordinary, but they share a common thread—faith in God.
Here is my point: As long as I have faith in God and believe that Jesus died for our sins, no one day is ordinary.
Think about Joseph. He was just born into a Jewish family filled with all the traditions of that culture. He simply was the baby in the family. If you continue reading the story of Joseph, you wonder how in the world he maintained his faith in God, but he did. He had to be afraid when his brothers threw him into that well and then turned around and sold him to the Ishmaelites. But Joseph never let go of his faith in God during his servitude. He never forgot his family. What an extraordinary story of faith!
I expect that Joseph did indeed celebrate every ordinary day with praise to his Heavenly Father.
When I get up in the morning and begin my daily routine, I find myself reviewing the plans for the day. I look at the ordinary and know that each day is a gift. The potential to make that ordinary day into an extraordinary one is done simply by my mindset; and my mindset is that “today is the day that the Lord hath made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” No ordinary day is ordinary when God is the focus.
Now let’s look at Matthew’s story for today. Here we have recorded one more miracle. We know that storytelling was a means of sharing the history of the people and the lessons of the teachers. The extraordinary story of Jesus walking on water sticks in one’s memory. The story is used to make one very clear point: as long as you believe that Jesus is the Lord and stay focused on that, even you can walk on water, too. In the Life Application Study Bible, the study notes includes this statement:
“Peter was not putting Jesus to the test, something we are told not to do. Instead he was the only one in the boat to react in faith. His impulsive request led him to experience a rather unusual demonstration of God’s power. Peter started to sink because he took his eyes off Jesus … His faith wavered when he realized what he was doing.”
Now I ask you, on these ordinary days when we are tested, do we keep our focus on God? Do we cry out to God for help? Do we turn over the circumstances of our day to God and let go?
I assure you that I do not. I want control. I want to manage the situation and find a successful solution. I work on leaving it to God. I do talk with God, and I work to do better. That is how you can take the ordinary times of our lives and letting God make them extraordinary.
There is nothing more delightful than getting up on these work days, going through your morning routine, and heading to work only to drive right into the sunrise. As I drive down DD, I am treated to the sunrise over Bristol Ridge. Sometimes the clouds seem to mask the glory, but the clouds also create glory. The sun’s rays can change the color, they can break through a crack in the clouds and create a spectacular view of how the sun reaches out to us. And yes, I am speaking of the yellow orb coming up over the horizon, but it can also mean the Son, the Messiah, Jesus Christ. When you see the parallels, the ordinary sunrise becomes extraordinary.
How do you reach a point in your life when you take the ordinary and make them extraordinary? I think the answer lies in the practices we follow in our daily life to improve our relationship to God. The practices are having a devotional every day, praying every day, and living God’s commandments every day.
Devotions do not have to be a chore, they can be a break in a long, tiring day. Sometimes it is better to start the day with a devotional, sometimes it is the best way to put your mind at ease and go to sleep. And there is always a chance during a break at work or at lunch to spend a few minutes in devotion.
We do not have to be good at creating devotionals; we just have to develop a daily routine with devotion. I use the Daily Guideposts, the one in book form, each night as I close down the day and climb into bed. It sits on my night table, and it takes only a few, few minutes to read. Pick a day and you can see that these contributors are taking ordinary experiences or thoughts and sharing them with us. A verse from the Bible and a short prayer wraps around these thoughts so it connects all the pieces so well.
One reading this week was about the relationship of one man to his dog. Old as she was, walking “the character Arte Johnson played in Rowan and Martins Laugh-In who shuffled along taking half steps.” We know that dog because we see our own pets reach that age and we value them, just like God values each of us.
Praying is another practice we do but we struggle to develop an automatic reliance on that conversation with God. Personally, prayer became a much more comfortable routine after a study on prayer. I actually have gone through two of them: the first was shortly after my son was born and I joined one during the day while he was an infant. During that study the memory that has stuck for 25 years is the structure of the Lord’s Prayer—it truly is a template. The most recent study was from the Companions in Christ study entitled The Way of Prayer. The most enlightening, maybe epiphany, moment was the realization of how you really can be in prayer 24/7. You simply live your faith. Prayer can be no thoughts, just an emptiness while you listen for God. It can be gazing at beautiful things. It can be action as you go through your day living your faith at work, at home, or at play. Those flash thoughts that pass through your mind as you go through your ordinary day can create extraordinary prayers and you can hear God.
Finally, living God’s commandments is almost like armor in today’s world. We are Christians, but sometimes we just wear down with all the non-Christian experiences, thoughts, and circumstances we confront each and every day. But, and I emphasize this, as long as we live the commandments God has given us, especially the Greatest Commandment from Matthew 22:37-40:
Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all you heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
If follow these two commandments, we can prevent being sucked in by all the non-Christian, ordinary elements of our lives. We can become extraordinary models of how Christian life is the best way to manage in this earthly world. (NIV)
Have confidence. Any ordinary day we may be hit by a challenge. We may tire of the political jabs, the stories of crime, the reports from Iraq, even the prices at the stores, but that is just life. Our goal as Christians is to take these ordinary days and transform them into extraordinary ones. We can demonstrate to others how our Christian lifestyle frees us from the ordinary. Read a devotional every day. Pray. And practice loving your neighbors next door, across town, even across national boundaries. You will have an extraordinary life now and forever.
Dear Heavenly Father,
We love you. We thank you. We ask you for strength to keep your commandments. We want to take these ordinary days we have and make them into extraordinary. –Amen