Sunday, July 8, 2018
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Ordinary things can often go unnoticed, and their value not seen. That’s why today along with congregations all over the globe, we celebrate Sea Sunday. Today, we take time to think about and pray for seafarers whose jobs are frequently taken for granted. Every day cargo containing things we use every day has to be transported across the sea, and these individuals put their lives at risk. We don’t often think about that. In a recent update from the Albany Maritime Ministry they reported that last year 180 piracy and armed robbery incidents were reported to the international Maritime Bureau. Ninety-one seafarers were taken hostage and 75 kidnapped. These ordinary individuals are facing extraordinary dangers in order to be of service to so many, but their work is seldom recognized. It’s seen as ordinary.
In Mark’s gospel today the people hearing Jesus had the same problem. They didn’t know who Jesus really was. The people of Nazareth only saw the Jesus they had always known. At first they were in awe with his teachings. “Where did this man get all this?” They couldn’t believe the wisdom given to him and the power he possessed. But then they remembered. Wait, this is Jesus, Mary’s son. Mary’s son, mind you, not any mention of Joseph. For many, his paternity was questionable right from the start. But he was like any other Jewish child – he got dirty playing outside with his friends, he fell down and skinned his knees, he cried when his relatives died, and he went to school.
And as he grew he learned the family trade and Joseph taught him everything there was to know about carpentry. Jesus had ordinary hands – hands that were callused and rough like every other tradesman in the village, hands that studied the Hebrew Scriptures – the Torah – like every other Jewish boy. And as the people heard him teaching with such authority they soon questioned, who was he to be preaching in the synagogue with new and challenging ideas? He didn’t go to any special schools to learn this. And so naturally when the people in Jesus’ hometown remembered all they knew of him over the years, they thought, “wait, these ordinary hands hold no special power! Who does he think he is!” Jesus was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, but because of their unbelief the people of Jesus’ hometown couldn’t see it. They couldn’t look beyond the ordinary, and therefore couldn’t receive the blessings that were waiting to be received. They had put up a wall.
Our human sinfulness puts up walls too – walls of fear, prejudice, or selfishness – walls so dense and thick like a great dam that we push back the healing waters of blessings that God is ready to bestow on us. Just like the people in Jesus’ hometown, we often fail to see that God’s power is alive and working in the ordinary everyday people and things of this world. Yes, we are ordinary human beings, and God wants to work through us. Yet we often can’t believe that this is true. So we put up barriers because maybe we feel we or others have nothing to give. We are too ordinary. How can God work through me? How can God work through them? We try to rationalize these ideas – too old, too young, too simple, too different, too weak, too sinful, too far gone, too…ordinary.
Henri Nouwen in his book The Wounded Healer, tells a story about a fugitive hiding in a small village. The people were kind to him and offered him a place to stay. But when the soldiers who sought the fugitive asked where he was hiding, everyone became afraid. The soldiers threatened to burn the village and kill everyone if they didn’t hand over the fugitive before dawn. The minister didn’t want to hand over the fugitive or see the villagers killed so the minister went to his room and read his Bible hoping to find an answer. He read “It is better that one man dies than that the whole people be lost.” So the minister told the soldiers where the fugitive was hiding. The entire village celebrated because their lives were saved, but the minister was deeply troubled because the fugitive was killed. That night an angel came to him and asked “What have you done?” the minister said, “I handed over the fugitive to the enemy.” Then the angel said, “But don’t you know that you have handed over the Messiah?” “How could I know?” the ministered asked. Then the angel said, “If instead of reading your Bible you had visited this young man just once and looked into his eyes, you would have known.”
When we take the time to put aside our excuses and really see beyond the ordinary, we see the Messiah. Christ is revealed in the waters of baptism and in the bread and the wine of the Eucharist. He is revealed when we open our hearts and hands in hospitality, in love to everyone, just like Jesus. His outstretched hands were more than ordinary because of his extraordinary love for all the world.
Don’t mistake the ordinary things of this world as insignificant – simple gestures of kindness and compassion make a difference. We are not ordinary people, but beloved children of God. Our vocations –– whatever they may be: teachers, office workers, accountants, social workers, librarians, seafarers….are not ordinary jobs; they are callings from God. This is not an ordinary worship service, but a place where people can experience the living God. Invite them here. They may just be waiting for that invitation. Ours are not ordinary days; they are gifts of God to be treasured.
The Messiah was hidden among the ordinary and still is. Where do we see him? Where do we experience him? Is he only seen in the eyes of those whom we call friends or through the eyes of faith can he be found in those places where we are afraid to look? He is closer than we realize and it’s our calling to be his hands in the world. It’s our calling to let the Messiah be revealed through us – ordinary people transformed by God’s grace – no ordinary grace, but God’s extraordinary, unconditional, unfailing love.
Look into the eyes of those around you – really look – and you will see the eyes of the Messiah. Take their hand and reach out with the hands of Christ’s love, for his are not ordinary hands. They are the outstretched hands of God’s grace opened wide that have poured out on those who believe salvation, peace, and real freedom. The freedom that comes from living in the grace of God. We have been given an extraordinary power and responsibility from Christ to spread the gospel message ¸to live the gospel message. This is no ordinary mission we have been called to. It is God’s holy work. Live it to the glory of God! Amen.