This is the text of the message I prepared for Lakes Entrance Uniting Church for Sunday 18th June 2017.
Today is the day between days.
Today is the “Easter Saturday” of June. It’s not the “Holy Saturday”, the day between God’s Friday and Resurrection Day when we sit in vigil awaiting the return of our Lord in triumph from his ravaging of Hell. No, today is not that day. Today is “Easter Saturday”, the Saturday at the end of Easter week when the moment of resurrection and chocolate has passed, the bunting is looking frayed, the coloured foil detritus from our body weight in refined sugar is looking on accusingly, and it’s all a bit silly now that we are still naming the days at all.
Of course, it is not Easter Saturday at all. For starters, today is Sunday. For seconders, it is the second Sunday after Pentecost, so we’re not even in the Easter season any more. The liturgical directory suggests that our chapel should be dressed in green, not white, if we even bother with such things, because today is really nothing special.
Last week was Trinity and we celebrated the three-in-one nature of our God. I spoke of how God is made of different stuff to us, and of how Jesus set aside the stuff of God to be shaped and embodied in the stuff of humanity. I also spoke of how Jesus’ being shaped of human stuff means that God knows what it is to experience human emotions like grief, pain, risk, death, and restoration. Stirring stuff.
The week before last was Pentecost and we celebrated the birth of the Church in wind, fire, exultant worship, and inter-racial, intra-faith extravagant declaration of the salvific purposes of God in the world.
Next week we will celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the Uniting Church. Nor just a date on a calendar but a reminder of the century-long effort of Australasian Protestants to form a new nation and a new church for that nation. We will remember that while church union occurred seventy-six years after the federation of our six colonies the desire of our forebears had been there all along. We will remember them.
Wondrous days! Hallelujah! Our God reigns! Our God pours out God’s spirit on women and men, young and old, urban and rural, local and tourist, wealthy and povertous; Euro and Asian and Koori and Anglo and African and American and all combinations of the same. Our God takes on human form to reveal to us the wonder of God’s self, God’s ways, God’s nature, God’s plans, and our worth and value in God’s eyes. Our ancestors responded to this great unifying vision of God the perichoretic one and sought in the birth of a new nation, with a continent for a country and a country for a continent, an expression of Church to match this great drive forward into the wonderful twentieth century of Victorian enterprise (by which I mean the age and its dear queen) and Victorian victory (by which I mean the feats of that wondrous colony, the jewel in her majesty’s crown, Marvellous Melbourne and Australia Felix betwixt the Murray’s River and Bass’s Strait).
Heady days to come next week!
And then there’s today!! “The Second Sunday After Pentecost: Ordinary Sunday 11, Year A”. Doesn’t the very name of this day set your heart aflame? Think of those great words of encouragement I spoke to you last month, which I first heard in the global head offices of the Church Missionary Society, CMS, in Waterloo in London, in June 2001. “God, you have ignited a spark within each of us, now dear Lord we pray, water that spark!”
Hmm. I dunno about you but if anything is going to “water my spark” it is the thought of “The Second Sunday After Pentecost: Ordinary Sunday 11, Year A.” I mean, it isn’t even the Queen’s Birthday long weekend. And at least you people only hafta show up; I’m supposed to build an engaging service of worship around this profound and lofty concept and to write a sermon to make it sound interesting. (How am I doing so far?) I mean, you know that I came straight to you from University. I have more degrees than a compass, but I’ll admit it, I am desperately searching for God’s direction for today. Today is the most boring Sunday in June.
So how are you feeling? A bit ordinary? Me too.
[Sigh, big blowing exhale.]
Righto then, let’s look at the scripture passage selected for this auspicious day in the lectionary.
Bang! [Clap, thumb up.]
In Genesis 18:1-15 we read one of the most mind-blowingly unordinary stories in the Bible. It jumps straight in at Genesis 18:1 with: The LORD appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. It’s a hot day. Now this is a Bible story and as such it’s set in Palestine, so it’s always a hot day. For the Bible to indicate that it was a hot day suggests that it was a very hot day. Not ordinary hot this day is stupidly hot. It’s also the hottest part of this sweltering day, and Abraham is sitting in the door of his tent, trying to get respite from the hot sun in that little bit of breeze and shade. The tent has been raised near the oak trees, so I’m suggesting there’s some shade and some water available. Abraham is 99 years old, we know this because a year later when Isaac is born he’s 100. This is not a question of theology, it’s maths. I don’t have a degree in Maths but I’m pretty sure what a century minus a year looks like in numbers. So, it’s sweltering, it’s the hottest time of the day, and Abraham is very old. And as I have just told you, he is sitting in the shade. And while all this ordinary stuff is happening the LORD appears.
Now, Ordinary Sundays aside: if I be chillin outside me tent on a scorcher of a day, and the LORD appears, that would probably spark my water, let me tell you. There is nothing ordinary about God showing up in the form of three men looking for a cold one each and a bit of a sit down. Of all the things on my list of what is ordinary, and then referring to the special category of what might be expected on an afternoon in summer, God showing up looking for a drink is not on that list. God showing up like that is unexpected. To say the least. And since you’ve not employed me as your preacher to say the least I’m going to say some more. Let’s read on.
Genesis 18:2 tells us that Abraham (99 and hot, but not in the good way) runs(!) from the shade and into the sun(!) to meet the men (who are the actual LORD). As you do: when the LORD appears.
In Genesis 18:3-5a Abraham invites “my lord” to stay, note that he’s speaking in the singular here, and in Genesis 18:5b they (plural) agree to do so. Now this is actually not extraordinary, you would expect Abraham and Sarah to show this depth of hospitality to strangers, and for strangers to think nothing of this extravagance, since that was the cultural norm. Travelling strangers in the desert, no matter who they are, even enemies, are to be given food, water, shelter, and provision for the road if they pass by your camp. Even so the sexes don’t mix so Sarah has done the baking but she stays away from the secret men’s business going on in the shade. So, what we read in Genesis 18:6-9 is not remarkable, other than that it is the LORD who is the guest.
In Genesis 18:10 we are told that one of the men suggests that Sarah will become pregnant and give birth to a son within the next year. Okay so that’s extraordinary, not part of the ritual of being a guest, but there you go. The man doesn’t mention Sarah’s age, but the Bible does: and it makes no bones about it. In Genesis 18:11 the point is made three times, just in case you didn’t get it the first time, that Sarah is each of “old”, “advanced in years”, and “that it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women”. So, she’s old, anciently old, and the menopause was a distant memory. So that’s pretty ordinary; I mean old women, especially very old women, tend not to be fertile. Thank you Captain Obvious whomever wrote Genesis 18:11 for making that clear, and in such a poetic manner! So you can see why Sarah has a chuckle about it, very much derisory in tone as well. “What are my chances, at my age, of getting lucky with that fossil I am married to?’ she asks in Genesis 18:12. She may have no ova left, but she’s a feisty one is our Sarah. Anyway, the LORD asks Abraham in Genesis 18:13-14 why Sarah laughed, again observing the code of dignity by which a male stranger doesn’t speak to a female, (so the LORD doesn’t actually ask Sarah), and declares that the LORD can do as the LORD desires. In Genesis 18:15 Sarah says I did not laugh and the LORD, in full pantomime fashion and in breaking character for a second says to her oh yes you did! And then the story ends.
What an extraordinary story for an Ordinary Sunday!
And this of course has been my point all along. There is no such thing as an ordinary Sunday. Yes, there are days on our calendar which are not unique as anniversaries, although I’m sure that with today being June 18th it’s important for millions of people in millions of ways regardless of today’s being a Sunday or the Sunday between Trinity and the UCA anniversary. But it doesn’t have to be Pentecost for us to expect the Spirit to fall upon us, or to rise up within us. The LORD is welcome here, now, today, on Ordinary Sunday 11. Isn’t he? And would today still be considered ordinary if God were really present here today? Or if the Word of God came to one of you with a word of promise for the future? I’m sure 91 year old NNN in our congregation today would not be the only one baffled if a baby were promised to her nine months from now, but what if God promised her a resurgence of love and energy in her spirit to complete the work she was allocated as a Christian? What if God spoke directly to 90 year old NN with a message that he was to see a new multi-million-dollar audio-visual suite set up in a new auditorium on this site, and that not only would he see it happen but that NN himself would be the one in the crawlspace in the ceiling connecting it all up? If God promised it, would you believe it? Would your response be like Sarah’s and to laugh behind God’s back; or would your response be like Mary’s and to ask for details and then praise God at the wonder of your being chosen for such a momentous task?
But let’s not get carried away with such big dreams. No seriously, I’m not about to criticise here. Let’s consider how excitingly small the promises of God can be. I’m gonna suggest that NNN doesn’t need a baby, but she might have been praying for perseverance and strength. I’m not going to say she needs perseverance and strength, that’s for her to discern. But do we have faith that God can do small miracles on a Sunday? Do we trust for the gift of faith, “that shy hope in the heart”, that God will come through for us in whatever it is we are praying and believing for? Or do we have the attitude that if NN doesn’t throw away his crutches right now and backflip up the aisle, all the while speaking in tongues, that we’re not interested?
So, today is an ordinary Sunday. Every Sunday is, even the ones with special names. Because every Sunday is the Lord’s Day, not just in recognition that it is the weekly anniversary of the resurrection of the saviour (which it is) but that every day belongs to the LORD because as Genesis 1 tells us every day was made by the LORD, each day with its own purpose, even for purposeful rest.
Truly, the only extraordinary thing about any given Sunday, including this one, is that the Christians do not expect God to do the amazing. If the LORD is amongst us then the miraculous is to be anticipated.
Every. Single. Day.