Not so ordinary after all

Mark 1:4-11

Homily Preached at Zion UCC on 1/8/12

We turn the church year calendar to Epiphany.  We call this season ordinary time, in the special language of the church year.  Epiphany, and Pentecost, that long season of green on the altar, represent ordinary time because they do not contain the high holidays of Christmas and Easter, or lead up to those events as do Lent and Advent.  But these next 6 weeks or so are when we hear the stories of Jesus’ ministry, how he taught his disciples, and how he prepared the world for a new world to come.  His ministry grew and his disciples grew in faith and ability.    Ordinary time is when we really get down to the business of growth.   

On this first Sunday after the Epiphany, we change the paraments to gold.  Although most churches use green in this season, Zion designed special paraments for Epiphany.  We think the gold best symbolizes the star that was followed by the wise men.  The star reminds us that we are also following, also on a journey.  But the journey happens in ordinary time, in an ordinary way….just the same way that Jesus was born….in an ordinary way in ordinary time.

The writer Mark springs Jesus onto the stage, full-grown.   Our imaginations need to fill in a lot of blanks.  Jesus is around 30 years old at the time of his baptism and introduction to the wider world.   We do wonder where he’s been keeping himself!  The only two recorded instances of events from Jesus’ childhood are a gift from Luke.  In one of those instances Luke tells us the beautiful story of the presentation of the 8 day old infant at the Temple.  The wise old people, Simeon and Anna both recognized the divine Christ child in this human baby that cried like other babies cried, was held in his parents arms like another baby was held.  

Our anthem really expresses that this morning.  One line of lyrics says “The hand that first held Mary’s child was rough from gripping wood.”   In those first years, Joseph taught Jesus how to be a carpenter.  Mary taught him the things that all mothers teach.  I’m sure she taught him things like how to be kind, how to play well with others, how to sit at a table and eat with friends.  That’s something that Jesus learned really well.  In fact, we’ll share the table with Jesus today!  

We don’t know for sure how Jesus spent his 20s. Some scholars speculate that Jesus spent some of his early adulthood among the Essenes who lived in the desert and who observed a very disciplined and almost monastic life.  We can only speculate about that and it’s just as possible the he was simply in Galilee working in the family business.   But Jesus grew into adulthood just as we do and did, by being taught and led by his elders.  And then, as our gospel lesson proclaims, God publically recognized Jesus as his beloved son in a dramatic tearing of the skies as the Spirit poured down.

This recognition is what we call an epiphany…the identity of Jesus revealed to the whole world.  Just as Jesus was revealed as the Son of God at this baptism, so is our identity as God’s adoptive sons and daughters revealed in our baptism.   In our own special ways we are all children of God, and heirs of God’s grace.  The gospel text assures us this and teaches us how we are to be living our lives as brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.  We are family.  The head of the family is Jesus Christ, but under his headship we share in various leadership roles. 

Yesterday was our Consistory retreat and today we install 9 members who will serve for 3 years.  I was struck by the various occupations represented among our new Consistory.  They are all very busy people with full lives, yet they are willing to spend some of their “ordinary time” helping our church grow.  I’m always humbled as a Consistory meeting begins and this group of disciples rush in from various jobs, family life, maybe a quick dinner….maybe didn’t have time to even eat dinner…and yet there they are in their places around the table.  They weren’t born knowing how to do the tasks they will be asked to perform. As we know, God doesn’t call the qualified—God qualifies the called!  They will each bring with them a variety of experiences, shared wisdom, family history, and ways of being a disciple.  It will be a rich and fulfilling year.

Yesterday we tried to ascertain a direction for our efforts in the coming year.  Like the star that guides our boat….our leaders are here to discern the ways in which we can best fulfill our number one goal in church life….to make disciples. Using our strategic plan as a guiding star it was decided that a concentration of effort in the two areas of family life and  fellowship would be good focus.

Those efforts would not simply be for the purpose of making us feel good about ourselves or make us more comfortable.  We want to strengthen our church so that we strengthen our faith lives, increase the ways in which we pray and give praise to God.  We want to strengthen our church so that we fulfill Jesus’ command to go and make disciples.  We start inward but we work our way outward so that we can bring the good news to others.

Remember what the Psalmist said—how beautiful on the mountain of Zion are the feet of those who bring good news.  We are ordinary people living in ordinary time. But we do have a star to follow.  We have Jesus who loves us.   We have good leaders to follow.  And we have each other to go the mile and bear the load.  The long stretch of ordinary time carries us into the difficult task of discipleship.

God has chosen us.  And as Julian of Norwich said many centuries before:  “I understand that any man or woman who deliberately chooses God in this life, out of love—may be sure that he or she is loved without end.”  There is nothing at all ordinary about that.