The Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year C, 2016 – 1 Kings 18:20-39; Psalm 96; Galations 1:1-12; Luke 7:1-10
Ordinary Time. After Easter’s empty tomb and the red blaze of Pentecost, the long green season that runs from June through November. This is the season we now enter, in the Christian year. I suspect we tend to think of it as just a little dull—or maybe a lot dull! But is it, in fact? Is the ordinary dull; can the ordinary be dull, now, in Christ? I want to think about Ordinary Time with you this morning, and ask what this time in our Christian lives means.
“Ordinary” actually stands for the numbers that order the weeks—today is the Second Sunday after Pentecost, next Sunday is the Third Sunday after Pentecost, and so on all the way to the Reign of Christ at the end of November. But the name conveys well enough the every-day character of this time. The great world-upending events of Good Friday and Easter, Ascension and Pentecost, are past, and on Trinity Sunday we have seen the Lord, and the name of the Lord is joy.
This is the time that follows, life in the regular round; life as most of us live it most of the time.
But when the church claims this time for Christ’s own, when the church names it the time after cross and empty tomb, after the Holy Spirit’s fire, it names it something much more than ordinary.
The time becomes taut with promise, and news of God’s power keeps erupting, salvation peeking around the corners of the everyday.
Hobbits can help us with ordinary time. Hobbits are possibly my favourite people in the world. They are the little people. Hobbits, they themselves would tell you, are not heroes. Wizards and Striders are heroes. Hobbits on the other hand enjoy second breakfasts and birthday parties, a good pipe and a good joke. “Their faces were as a rule good-natured rather than beautiful, broad, bright-eyed, red-cheeked, with mouths apt to laughter, and to eating and drinking” (Fellowship of the Ring, Prologue 1). Yet it is a Hobbit and his friend who carry the ring to Mordor. It is a Hobbit who resists the pull of the Ring to possession and to power, when Men cannot resist, and Wizards and Elves do not dare try. It is a Hobbit who can pity even a Gollum, and spare him, so that even Gollum can in the end play a role in redemption. Hobbits, of all people, stand at the centre of the great battle for the soul of Middle-Earth, Frodo and Sam Gamgee from the green and ordinary Shire.
There is power in their ordinariness. What is the power in their ordinariness? “There in that green and pleasant corner of the world they plied their well-ordered business of living…They forgot or ignored what little they had ever known of the Guardians, and of the labours of those that made possible the long peace of the Shire. They were, in fact, sheltered, but they had ceased to remember it” (Prologue 1).
They were, in fact, sheltered, but they had ceased to remember it. Their ordinary days are a gift of grace.
In the movie, the Shire is brilliantly, beautifully green—and this seems to me just right.
This is what life looks like wrested from the darkness (and lo, it was very good). The Shire’s ordinariness is precious, because it has been won and is being won for a price. Behind and beneath the ordinary life of the Shire (that ordinariness of hearth and home and field that is its happiness) there lies a whole history–of heroes and battles and dark places, of long roads and the struggle in the human heart, of friendship and betrayal, of power-hunger and steadfastness. It is a story that spans heaven and hell, darkness and the dawn. In the lee of this great story, the hobbits live and thrive, and their green days are a sign of the battles that have been fought, and an assurance of the dawn.
Just so we live, in ordinary time. Behind the ordinary days, always the good news: the cross and empty tomb, Christ with us in death and Christ with us for life, Emmanuel. This great gift of God with us to save. This is the green beauty of our everyday. Ordinary time is the time made possible by grace.
But there is more to it than this. For the Hobbits do not stay in the Shire. They carry a terrible ring toward a consuming fire. These little people find themselves unexpectedly on the long road and in the dark places, swept into a battle. And this is the other side of Ordinary Time. It is the place of God’s power, God’s battle to save.
Elijah is a case in point. Suddenly in the midst of this everyday, the fire of God. It is a day like any other when Elijah comes before King Ahab; a hot, dry day like all the days that have gone before it for 3 long years, another day of drought in Israel where the people cannot commit to God. And Elijah says, “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” Let us see, on this ordinary day, who is God. And the 450 prophets of Baal limped about the altar from morning until noon and cried to their god and made their own blood flow, and nothing happened. Then Elijah said, “Pour water on the burnt offering and on the wood. Do it a second time. And a third.” And the water ran all around the altar and filled the trench also with water. And Elijah said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel…Answer me O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering entire and even licked up the water that was in the trench. In the midst of their ordinary day, suddenly the people know the presence of God. God has been with them all along, every day of the drought that God commanded, every day of Elijah’s exile from the land. But they did not know, and they did not turn to God. Elijah’s fire on this day like any other calls them back to the presence of the Lord.
In the days of Elijah the Tishbite Israel’s God sends fire. In these last days he sends his Son: Jesus erupting like fire into the streets of Galilee, burning a path with his word into our limping hearts, Jesus lifted up on the cross, rising like the flames of the burnt offering to God.
Jesus the fire of God flaming among us, his cross a firebrand rising over all the ordinary days.
Heaven comes down to earth, in Elijah’s fire, to consume the dross, to kindle in the people’s hearts a renewed faith. Jesus lifts earth up to heaven on his cross, our human hearts rising into the fire of God’s love, our dross burnt off, our lives made new.
Ordinary Time starts with Elijah’s fire, because this is the truth about our days. We have been touched by fire, God with us in the Christ to convict and to lift up and to save.
This ordinary time in which we live is lit with the knowledge of the fire of God in the face of Jesus Christ—in the cross of Jesus Christ—and so it is made extraordinary. We know the Shire is true. Think of that. Day in and day out, in the good times and in the bad, in all dark places and long roads we know the Shire is true. We see it aborning here in this place. Think of Communion: every week all of us united at this altar in the love of Christ, in his love for us given in the body and the blood, in our love for him, all of us sharing in the Eucharistic feast. It is in the children that you can see what we are given here in this place, in Christ’s peace. They can’t wait to be able to take Communion; Beatrice comes every week to Communion with her hand already outstretched: they know something very special is happening here among us each week, and they long to be a part of it. Here in our Communion is the glimpse of the green and pleasant land, Christ with us and we with each other, he in us and we in him; a glimpse of our home, the Shire, God’s peace running under and through all our ordinary days.
We know that the Shire is true. And that knowledge, that joy, lights a fire. This is not the kind of thing that can be kept in a corner. It will out.
Like the Hobbits, in the face of the dark and lonely places, we will find ourselves called out, to be in the dark places a burning and a shining light, witnesses to Christ.
Yes, we are ordinary. But that is as it should be, because it is the ordinary that God loves and saves: this ordinary time is the place of his grace.
Frodo and Sam carried the ring to Mordor, and even Gollum had a part in casting it into the fire. We live every day in the knowledge of God’s peace, and our everyday is the place where God is at work, lighting a fire in us, calling us to be light in the ordinary world.