A sermon based on Psalm 89:1-5 and 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 preached on June 22nd, 2014.
We hear it over and over again on the local news. There’s a fire in an apartment building. Flames are growing, shooting out the second story windows. Smoke too.
There’s a crowd slowly gathering outside in the parking lot watching all this happen. They’d like to help, they think to themselves, but running inside is just too dangerous. They’ve called 911 and hope crews show up as soon as possible.
And as these sorts of stories go, there always seems to be one person—perhaps someone driving by, even—who sees the flames and smoke, pulls their car over, and rushes in to see if anyone or any thing inside can be rescued. And isn’t it always the case that when the news crews show up 20 minutes later and report on that apartment fire, that person is sought out for an interview and says something like,
I just did what I needed to do.
And even though a graphic will be added to the bottom of your TV screen labeling that person a “local hero”, that person will object to the label and say,
Anybody would do the same thing I did. I was just here.
Everyone watching looks on, and knows this recently dubbed “local hero” is just being humble. This “hero” may have saved a couple lives that day and in doing so, risked his or her own.
Our culture likes heroes. We like the idea that there’s someone among all the rest of us who would swoop into whatever situation and save the day—in whatever way the day needed to be saved. And all the rest of us think,
Wow, I could never do what he just did.
Which effectively makes us unheroic, doesn’t it?
Heroes are extraordinary people who show up when things get dangerous and save them from getting worse. All the rest of us ordinary people watch them do their thing.
There’s that myth out there, isn’t there, that some people are built to become heroes while the rest of us stand and watch them work? So whenever the so-called heroes are interviewed afterward by the local news team, they feel the need to say,
Anybody would have done the same thing. I was just here.
We think about saints like we think about heroes. Namely that we’re not one of them. Just as no one gets in front of a television camera and identifies them self as a hero—even when others say they are, not one of us would ever stand up in the middle of church and declare our self a saint.
Sainthood is for other people, we say.
In fact, Catholics declare people saints only after they’ve died. And it is only after a stringent series of standards, including the standard of performing a miracle, that anyone can be vetted into sainthood in the Catholic Church.
That kind of sainthood isn’t for any of us, we can safely say. We’re no saints. Saints behave better than we do. They drink less. Spend more time in church than we do. They say less bad words. They always remember to say their prayers. All the rest of us, well, we’re just regular people living ordinary lives.
Both heroes and saints, they’re a totally different breed. They’re extraordinary people, we say.
This week, the Church enters Ordinary Time.
Most Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopalian, and Lutheran churches follow a similar calendar where we all move together from one church season to the next. And since the beginning of Advent, we’ve moved from one special Sunday to the next. Whether it’s Trinity Sunday, Lent, Easter, or Transfiguration Sunday, we’ve been hopping from one miraculous Gospel story to another.
Now as we enter the dog-days of Summer where the heat index is just above the point of being bearable, as kids are on summer break, and we’re heading in and out of town more often, we settle down into a new routine. Families have a bit more downtime—or at least that’s the idea, and we, the family of God, settle down into Ordinary Time.
So many of us live our lives in such a way that they’re really isn’t anything ordinary about it. We’re go-go-go all the time—from here to there. In and out of town, from this side of town to the next. Our days are packed. There really isn’t anything about our lives that are ordinary. We’re addicted to the extraordinary, aren’t we? Our calendars are booked, whether we like it that way or not.
Our kids need to overachieve, we think, just so they can make it into the university of their choice and in order to do that, they need a resume of extra-curricular activities that’s at least two pages long. And who’s gonna drive them to all of those activities if it isn’t the parents.
“So you take this kid here and I’ll take this kid there and maybe one day this week, we’ll get to see each other.” Parenting and family-life itself has somehow become more like event-management than anything else. Heroic in its own right.
And I wonder if we’ve let our calendars dictate our life or if we let our lives dictate our calendars. It’s hard for a family to figure out what ordinary is anymore—but if there’s any time during the year where we’re likely to find “ordinary”, it’s now when the kids are out of school. Summer is a good time to ask ourselves a question: What are you doing with your ordinary time? It’s also a good time to ask ourselves if we’ve become addicted to the extraordinary, and if we’ve lost a sense of what “ordinary” really is. There’s a holiness in the ordinary that I think would be a shame for us to miss, and I’ve found a poem that captures this so well.
Make the Ordinary Come Alive by William Martin:
Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is a way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples, and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.
Paul greets the young Christians in Corinth. The Corinthian church was one of Paul’s biggest problems. There was infighting. Some of the Christians there thought they were better than other Christians because they could speak in tongues. Some were much more wealthy than some others and the rich ones attributed their wealth to being favored by God more than the poor ones. The Church in Corinth was a holy mess. And Paul writes them to sort it all out.
And in this passage we have Paul greeting the Corinthians and giving us some indication of what he has to say in the rest of the letter—Paul mentions spiritual gifts and being called into fellowship with one another. But the most striking thing in these words here comes earlier on when Paul calls them saints.
Paul writes, To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.
Imagine for a second you were Paul, and you just got wind of all their bickering. Would it ever occur to you to call them “saints?” If I was in Paul’s situation, my opening words would be,
To the church of God that is in Corinth, don’t make me come down there!
But no, Paul calls them saints.
Clearly they’ve done nothing to earn sainthood. They’re acting like brats. But with all confidence, Paul tells them that they are equipped with everything they need for faithful living, and even though they’re squabbling and bickering back and forth, God has already given them everything they need to live holy lives—lives that will be lived in glory to God. Sanctified lives.
Paul is confident that they are a people set apart from all the rest—that they have a special, divine purpose, and that in and through their lives, God will speak. They are saints not because of their extraordinary status or their impeccable behavior. They are all saints only because God has called them God’s own. There is no other qualification.
And that’s why we all saints. There’s no use denying it. You are a saint. Not because you’ve earned it. Not because this place is filled with a bunch of Mother Teresa’s. You are a saint simply because God has called you a saint. There’s no extraordinary feat for you to accomplish. There’s no miracle for you to perform and then leave evidence of. You don’t even have to do something heroic.
Our lives are not filled with moments for that. In fact, most of what we do is altogether ordinary. And Paul says that’s where the blessings are. Through these words from Paul to the church in Corinth, we learn that the holy makes the ordinary come alive. The holy resides in ordinary time. In the simple gifts of our everyday. In those instances we too often overlook because we’re too busy being addicted to the extraordinary.
And the saintly resides not in the spectacular, not in the heroic or the miraculous. The saintly resides in all of us because God has made us holy—even us ordinary folks moving through ordinary time. Thanks be to God for that.
All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!