June 18, 2023
Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.
These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. ***
Last week I attended a traditional funeral service. Unlike a “Celebration of Life” that has become common nomenclature for a variety of post-death rituals which have developed in our culture in recent years, this service wasn’t at a park, the VFW or the home of a family member. It wasn’t led by the deceased’s fantasy football friends but by an ordained minister. This service included a church, a rite, a proclamation of the Gospel, prayers, music of the faith and finally the commendation of the deceased at the burial of the casket in the church cemetery.
At the cemetery the pastor said, “We die two deaths. The first being the date when the last breath leaves our body and the second death is when no mentions our name anymore.”
Then he asked us to look at a grave marker etched with the name, the date of birth and date of death of some soul at rest. Next, he said something that struck me. “Notice the dash between those dates.” That little line tells a story of the span of all that comprises this life, with much of it be rather ordinary for most folks.
In churchly realms the summer and early fall is known as Ordinary Time. It is the season without the fanfare of Christmas or Easter or the spiritual discipline of Advent and Lent. In Ordinary time the biblical narrative moves from the post-Easter appearances of Jesus and the dramatic accounts of Pentecost with fire from heaven and speaking in tongues to what sounds like a boot camp in the orders Jesus gives his followers. Ordinary time. Nothing novel or marvelous. Just the regular rhythms of life.
I’ve been thinking about that truth alongside this bible passage of Jesus going here and there “proclaiming the good news of the kingdom” and calling the disciples and giving them instructions to proclaim the “good news that the kingdom of heaven has come near. Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.”
Throughout the summer in the series of biblical readings known as the lectionary, we hear about Jesus’ teachings and miracles and his life with the disciples. It is good to remember the stories and overlay them upon our lives.
“When we see in everyday life things that are petty, ordinary, and banal, we generally fail to remember them, because the mind is not being stirred by anything novel or marvelous. But if we see or hear something exceptionally base, dishonorable, unusual, great, unbelievable, or ridiculous, that we are likely to remember for a long time. . . Ordinary things easily slip from the memory while the striking and the novel stay longer in the mind.” Ad Herennium , An Anthropologist on Mars by Oliver Sacks
At the start of this ordinary season, the lectionary serves up stories that call forth faith and trust.
Last week in the reading from Genesis, God asks Abram to leave his home and follow him to a new land. In today’s reading Jesus asks the disciples to pick up his cause and be tending to people.
Following God is an act of faith. It sounds big, but notice it involves some pretty regular things — venturing out, pitching a tent, having a meal with new friends. Following God — responding to the call — takes us from a known place to another place, a place that will become a new and different home.
Ordinary Time reminds us that faithfulness and following isn’t something odd or particularly heroic. To understand life as a spiritual journey is the ordinary state of things.
The readings this summer provide an invitation to follow God through the everyday landscapes of our lives. It isn’t a call to the spiritually humdrum. Instead, following in the midst of the ordinary is to awaken ourselves to the extraordinariness that surrounds us. We are invited to find the unusual, the unbelievable, and the wonder of daily life. We journey through the prosaic to discover the poetry of faith. The mundane is transfigured and magical.
For all the hoopla of Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost, the truth of the matter is that the Divine is the God of Ordinary Time. All the ordinary, regular, forgettable years. It is all a journey. Sometimes we just don’t notice.
Yet, all along we’ve been traveling to a new land infused with the Divine and places where tax collectors and sinners become friends, where touching a hem heals, and where wakes become celebrations.
Ordinary holds such promise.