Ordinary People in Ordinary Time

Matthew 4:12-23

January 23, 2011

“Ordinary People in Ordinary Time”

In the language of the church calendar we are in what is called “ordinary time.”  This includes the Sundays of Epiphany and the whole season following Pentecost.  Our UCC desk calendars show this under the bold headings. For instance, this Sunday it says:  “Third Sunday after the Epiphany” and then in parentheses it says (Third Sunday in Ordinary time).

David Toole, in his essay in Feasting on the Word (Year A, vol1, 284f) was helpful in his discussion which casts this gospel alongside its location in the church year.  He suggests that ordinary time is ordinary because of what it is not about.  It is not about Christmas or Easter.  Lent is aiming towards Easter and Advent is aiming towards Christmas.  Then we have the 50 days following Easter…Easter season, and the 2 Sundays following Christmas…Christmas season.   All that Church year mumbo jumbo may not seem important.   But the church year really does offer us clues that help us live the life of a disciple.   Remember the church year provides a narrative  on the birth, life, death, resurrection of Jesus, and then the coming of the Holy Spirit and the growth of the early church.

We start by acknowledging that it’s easy to be a follower of Jesus at Christmas and Easter.  The crowds are big, the sights and sounds and smells are compelling and wonderful.    Easter time has the spring blossoms and in December snow is still a novelty.  At Christmas we have an amazing star.    At Easter we have an amazing empty tomb.

Here we are in January.  Weather is getting a little bit old.  Christmas lights are down.  Peace on earth has faded to an echo.  Easter lilies are a long way off.  It all seems so—ordinary, doesn’t it?  But ordinary is exactly the place and time from where Jesus calls the fishermen—from their ordinary lives and from within their ordinary relationships.

We tend to think that the fishermen left everything and hit the road, not to be seen again in their homes for years. There is really no evidence for that though.   J.  Andrew Overman (Church and Community in Crisis, 67) makes this comment:

Given the relatively small size of Lower Galilee and the close proximity of the Galilean places named in the Gospel, there is no need to assume that those who followed Jesus never returned home again.  In fact, that is quite implausible.  A far more likely scenario is that the group gathered around Jesus, being out on the road for a day or two, and then returning to their homes and town.  This is exactly the scene in chapter 8 when Jesus and his followers come to Capernaum.  They reside in Peter’s house (8:14)…I doubt the extent to which traditional, familial, and village ties were utterly severed within the Jesus movement…Jesus retained ties with his mother and his village, Peter did the same with his home and village, and the group was never more than a half-day to a day’s walk from their traditional homes.

As it was for them so it is for us.  We’ve accepted the call to discipleship but within the context of our everyday lives.   I suppose Peter and Andrew and the rest figured out ways to walk with Jesus and still stay married and manage to make a living.   In becoming a Christian our past, our relationships, our vocation are not obliterated (Thomas Long) but are also transformed by Jesus’ call to follow.    It’s a package deal.

Like Andrew and Peter we are ordinary people  in ordinary time living out an extraordinary call.    We have to live in the new world of the spirit but we don’t just leave the old behind.   So how do we do this, and do it well?  Let’s go back to the church year for some clues.  Christmas and Easter are the high holidays that inspire us.  Without the incarnation and the resurrection we have nothing.    Christmas and Easter gets us through the door.  For the everyday work it takes to balance relationships, jobs, time commitments, and a Christian vocation we need more sustenance.  And we get that sustenance in the scriptures we encounter in ordinary time.

I think about the weddings with which I have been involved.  All the planning and angst that goes into that wonderful day and then you get to the end of it and you realize you have a whole life ahead of you that you have to figure out.   And most likely you have not spent enough time planning for that! The wedding gets you through the door, but you need to have the tools to live the life that is beyond that beautiful day. In a marriage you don’t have to leave everything that you are, everything that has formed you—behind. But you do have to enter in and live in a new world.   And in poker terminology you need to be in “all in” holding nothing back.  Sustaining a marriage is like sustaining the life of discipleship—its never once and done and requires great tenacity and commitment.

The lectionary scriptures of ordinary are about the human Jesus…God incarnate.  Jesus lived the life that we know.  He sat at a table eating and drinking with friends.  He laughed at jokes and he told jokes.  He had a family and family relationships.  In ordinary time we read the words of Jesus.    He talks to us in sermons, prayers, parables.   In ordinary time we deepen our relationship with him through his words and by walking with him.    We learn how to be a disciple the same way that Andrew and Peter did.

In our gospel reading Jesus is walking by the lake and sees two unlikely looking candidates for the kingdom of God.  But hey, he had to start somewhere.    He calls them and says, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”   Notice what he did not do.  He didn’t tell them to go home and study up on Isaiah before heading out to do some people fishing.  He didn’t set up some practice role-playing exercises.  “OK…Peter you be the fisherman and Andrew you pretend to be the one being caught.  Then switch places.  We’ll practice for a few weeks and then get started fishing for people. ”  No.  Just knowing Jesus was apparently enough.  God doesn’t call the qualified.  God qualifies the called.  It’s all on the job training with Jesus.

I will never forget my first experience as a chaplain.  It was my first night on duty in a city hospital and I sincerely hoped nothing would happen since I had no idea what to do as a chaplain.  I had just gotten to the on-call room when the phone rang. It was the cardiac unit and I was needed right away.  When I got there a nurse came flying by and told me that I was to see Mrs. So and So  in the waiting room.  Her husband had been on life support for a number of days and the doctor was recommending that the machine be disconnected.  She needed help making the decision.  OJT with Jesus…and somehow we all got through it.

If we walk with Jesus, we can help others to walk with Jesus.  If we allow ourselves to deepen our relationship with the human Jesus we encounter in ordinary time, there will be more to share with others who need to deepen their relationship.

William Willimon says that the Bible is not so much a record of our search for God as it is a record of how God searched for us.  He goes on to say that we are here, (in church) not because we are searching but because we have been “sought, called, summoned.  You  are here because God has reached in, grabbed you, put you here, enticed , wooed , allured you here. “  Now we go out and catch others.

Think about who, besides God, has brought you here.  Who was God working through when your call came?   Chances are there is someone to whom you can trace your presence here today.    Maybe you were an infant being carried by your parents.    Maybe you came as a teen with a friend, or maybe you married into the church.   But there was someone, a Peter or an Andrew who was following the call of God by calling you.

My friend Jane tells the story about the first time she came to the church of which she is now a member.  She and her family had just moved to the area and her neighbors called her on Saturday and said “we’d love for you to come to church with us.   Do you want to follow us in your car or shall we just pick you up?”  There was nothing to which one could say no and Jane’s been there ever since.  That is how one fishes for people.  God refuses to leave us as we are…why should be content to leave others without the good news?

Last week Jesus said “come and see” and this week he says “follow me.”   Ordinary words said in ordinary time to ordinary people with extraordinary results.   Nothing ordinary about that!