Thursday, August 23, 2012

Not So Ordinary Time

The church marks time on the calendar differently than “the rest” of the world.  It’s not about the school year or Tax Day or even really the meteorological seasons.  It’s God’s time.  When we live into the rhythm of the church year, it can remind us that as Christians we are called to live in and not of the world…it can help us remember that Christ shared good news for all people – and that we are not solely subject to the political world, the economic world, the educational world…we are people of God who can choose to mark time as people of God.

The “new year” begins with the first Sunday in Advent, usually in late November or the very first Sunday in December.  We proceed from Advent to Christmas to Epiphany…then depending on where Easter lands (a date dependent upon the lunar calendar), there are a few weeks of “season after Epiphany” or “ordinary time” when there is nothing specific that we wait for or watch for.  Then Lent comes, followed by Easter (which includes multiple Sundays) followed by a big celebration called Pentecost, which usually lands in May.  And then there is this very, very, very, very, very long stretch of “ordinary time” that takes us across the summer, into the fall and ends at Christ the King Sunday in November…back to Advent.

So…this long stretch of “ordinary time”…  What do we do with it?  I know that I am hardwired to anticipate what’s next, to look forward to something.  In the midst of the Christian year, there can be roughly 34 weeks that are “ordinary,” weeks that instead call me to be in the moment, right there in the place of life I find myself day in and day out, a beloved child of God just bumping along the wilderness road most of the time.

A lot of churches (protestant and Catholic) structure their worshiping and devotional lives around a prescribed schedule of readings – a three year cycle known as a lectionary – perhaps the most common being the “revised common lectionary” (visit a good resource here:  The lectionary provides a way of structuring the study of scripture through seasons of the Christian year.  Some people talk about it getting boring – but some others really appreciate the cycle of revisiting texts every several years as they have experienced life and bring something new to the text each time they read it (so Abram’s call may look different to me in year 1, 4, 7, etc..because I’ve changed jobs, experienced a death or a birth, moved to a new town, experienced inevitable growth because I am human and that’s what I do).  Another benefit to the cycle is that so many churches use it.  You may find yourself at lunch saying to a friend, “So, during my devotion time today, I read this fascinating scripture about [fill in the blank] and I was so struck by blah, blah, blah.” And lo and behold, your friend says, “No way! I read the same story.  I hadn’t thought about it that way, but here’s what I took from it...”  (OK, I work at a seminary and I realize not everyone has those conversations…but you could. You really, really could…)  At the very least, when you follow the lectionary, you will discover folks around you who have talked about the same scripture in church on Sunday. 

Back to ordinary time:  in the revised common lectionary, ordinary time is time when we learn the history of Israel or study the every day teachings of Jesus, or learn about the “heroes of faith.”  Mostly it is time to “be.”  Sometimes it’s called a green growing season (a reference to how it aligns with the Western agricultural calendar). 

It’s that point in “ordinary time” for me when the demands of the “rest of the world” are starting to heat up.  My calendar begins to fill with commitments for the kids’ schools, church, my own education and career, my husband’s school dates and evening meetings driven by the academic calendar because we both work in higher educational institutions.  The church is beginning to look toward the more active seasons of the Christian year with planning underway for Advent and Christmas.  It is really easy in roughly week 16 – 21 of ordinary time to be caught up in looking to other things…forgetting to just be….forgetting to mark time right now and give thanks for where God has me TODAY.

I encourage you as the world begins to press in and speed up, coming off something of a summer lull, to resist the temptation to be pulled forward into things that seem more exciting than this day that the Lord has made.  It’s really hard.  It’s hard with the calendar filling up to remember that today, this ordinary day, is the Lord’s day and there is meaning and purpose.  But try.  Really try. Consider pouring yourself a tall glass of water, a cup of tea or coffee, a glass of wine at the right point in the day and breathe deeply.  Feel the earth solid beneath your feet.  Remember that creation is an amazing and multifaceted thing.  Think on where God was present with you today.  And give thanks.  Or cry out in pain.  Or ask for what you need.  But be in the ordinariness of the day. 

Grace and peace go with you today…and every day.  

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, Year B

  • 2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33 and Psalm 130 •
  • Ephesians 4:25-5:2 •
  • John 6:35, 41-51
    For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  This is Newton's work.  His third law of motion.  Science.
    You reap what you sow.
    We are strangely connected and affected by our choices, well past their implementation.  Sometimes the connection between action and reaction is separated by so much time and distance that we cannot really see the connection between the two.  It is lost in our history somewhere. 
    But our actions always (always!) have consequences.  Some consequences are "positive," others not so much. Sometimes we go through life completely unaware of a chain of events in which we were participants. Knowing this - being aware that all of our choices affect others - has the power to ground us in something bigger. 

    Are there filters through which you would like all of your choices to pass? Are there times when you need to sort back through the chapters of your life to see how things are connected?  Are you able to be graceful with yourself when you realize that some choices cause harm?

    We are in a season when all you hear in the media is the discord among political groups as they grapple with what is best...and best for what or whom is often debatable.  And in the heat of that, it's easy to start casting your own stones, stating things in strong ways, making choices for or against people and ideas. Regardless of the outcome of any one election or the vote on any one bill, we all end up having to live with one another, with the consequences of our choices in the process, with the words that we have said and the choices we have made along the way.  How then do we guard our hearts and our tongues so that we are able to reach out to one another as beloved children of God - no matter what happens next?

    In our Hebrew scripture for this week, King David asks his military leader Joab to deal gently with Absalom.  David's family story is better than any daytime soap opera written. Absalom has fled his father's wrath after killing his brother Amnon, a murder committed in rage that Amnon raped Absalom's sister Tamar. But David later forgave Absalom and brought him back to the kingdom but would not speak to him.  (Did you follow all of that?  It's complicated.  And sort of feels like the fall out from David's poor life choices earlier...and each bad choice by each family member keeps digging a deeper pit of despair for the whole clan).  Joab has had a bitter falling out with Absalom in previous chapters.  Absalom encounters Joab and his armor bearers in the forest, and as he is trying to flee, Absalom is "hung" when he is caught up on a branch.  Joab orders one of his men to kill Absalom, and the man refuses, having heard King David order Joab to deal gently with Absalom.  Joab takes matters into his own hands and uses three spears to pierce Absalom's heart.  WOW.  It's like a bad shoot-em-up mafia flick.  Here is a whole group of people who have gotten so wrapped up in personal passion and power that they cannot even begin to untangle the knot back to the first offense!  And it is the downfall of an entire Kingdom in many, many ways. 

    Paul's letter to the church at Ephesus includes advice for living in harmony together.  Juxtaposed against the chaotic saga of David's clan, it feels like a reminder of what is good and true and right.  Deal gently, speak the truth, do not go to bed on your Anger but work it out.  But it's hard.  It's hard to get caught up in the emotion of whatever is going on to remember the big picture.  It's hard in politics, it's hard in church leadership, it's hard in our families.  How often are we able to stop as the emotion starts to take over, to take that breath and remember that those we are dealing with are precious in God's sight (regardless of how we think of them in that moment).

    Jesus, in John's gospel, is offering himself as the very bread of life.  Compared to Manna, he has something to offer that nourishes beyond bodily need.  Jesus is invoking God's covenant, that one made with Israel, and extending it to all who will follow.  Not just the Jew.  Not just the gentile.  Not excluding the sinner or the tax collector or the Roman.  It's as if Jesus is reminding them that they can get wrapped up in their differences, or they can remember that all shall be taught by God.

    Sometimes we think that the choices we make are life and death choices.  But surrounding every choice is a web of relationships and beings affected.  Is the choice the thing? Or the surrounding relationships?  In a season of polarized debate, hateful language, absolutes, are we willing to sacrifice our common humanity to be "right?"

    may the words of our hearts
    and the meditations of our hearts
    be holy and acceptable
    to You,
    for you are
    our Rock and
    our Redeemer.

    © laura & matt norvell 2012 - We share this with you and hope you'll share with the world; we simply ask that you let people know where you found these words. May Grace & Peace be with you.