Notes From The Balcony

Progressive Reflections on Post-Modern Living in a Multifaith Age

Ordinary Time

Posted by John Montgomery on January 15, 2009

(Recently, I have posted a couple of sermons preached during the past couple of months at the Senior Apartments where I live in St. Charles, MO. The following sermon was given at Parkside Meadows Retirement Community on October 30, 2007, in the chapel service and on November 2, 2007, in the service held in the Residential Care Facility (assisted living).

No Ordinary Time

Luke 16:19-31

It is good to be in chapel with you. Our Roman Catholic friends have a helpful expression. They say that, when parishioners take part in the service, they are “assisting at mass.” In like manner by your presence, your sharing in the liturgy, your prayerful attitude, your heartfelt singing, you are “assisting” in worship.

Being relatively new at Parkside and living at the far end of the far end, most lf you don’t know me; and I haven’t had the privilege of knowing you. Some of you do know that I am retired United Methodist clergy. I spent thirty seven years in active ministry, twenty five of it as pastor of local churches and twelve as District Superintendent, supervising churches and pastors. But I would rather have the privilege of knowing you, about your family, what you did, your joys and dreams, how you feel about what all of us are doing in the autumn years of our lives.

Those of you who have been parents may have said it to a child, “It’s about time you did this-or-that!” Of course, life is about time. Time can be both friend and enemy. When St. Paul was writing to one if the early churches (Ephesians 5), he would warn that they should make th most of their time because “the days are evil.” I’m not certain I agree completely with that because I believe that life if glorious, even if there are evil people and evil happenings in the world, perhaps days of sorrow, but also times of joy. No ordinary time.

I’m a lover of poetry, was teethed on it, have one of my undergraduate degrees in English. Poets say things that many of us feel but can’t quite put into words. One of my favorite British Poets was Robert Browning. In one of his poems he imagines the elderly Jewish scholar, Rabbi ben Ezra, reflecting on his advancing years:

Grow old along with me,
The best is yet to be,
The last of life for which the first was made.
Our times are in His hand,
Who saith, “A whole I planned;
Youth shows but half, trust God,
See all, nor be afraid.”

I’ve often thought about the problems caused because my kids live in three different time zones. I try not to be grumpy when my daughter forgets and calls me at 11:00 p.m. when it’s only early evening in San Diego. Now there’s a sense in which Christians live in different time zones from the rest of the world. Of course, we live in our day-by-day schedules, one time zone, and the other in the events and calendars of our Christian faith.

I know there are lots of reasons why we appreciate our Chaplain, Le Remington. I like the fact that she follows the calendar of the Christian year, the great seasons if Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter, and Pentecost.

Generally she would be using the same scriptures as my home church in Chesterfield or St. John’s UCC on 5th Street here or 1st United Methodist on First Capitol. Now in some churches the days after Pentecost are called “Ordinary Time,” not meaning common or boring or mundane. The word “ordinary” comes from the Latin and means “counting” or “putting in order.” Thus today is the 18th Sunday after Pentecost. “Ordinary time,” but in name only.

Let me share a memory which is both painful and amusing. My late wife, Mary Leslie, was ill a number of years. Sometimes in our illnesses we don’t always make sense to others. But this was one of Mary’s emergency trips to the hospital. Now I beat the ambulance to the emergency room door, and I was by her side as they took her from the vehicle. In order to ascertain her condition, the tech was asking her questions. “Do you know who is president?” She answered,”Bill Clinton.” (This was in 1997.) Then, “Mary, do you know where you are?” And my heart broke when I recalled her answer: “No, but Jack’s here.””Do you know what season of the year it is?” She smiled and replied, “Of course, it’s Lent.” He looked puzzled: but so it was, and it was important to her. Our faith puts us in different time zones.

Sister Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun, is one of the best known Catholic writers in the country. One of her thirty books is called Listen with the Heart. In it she discusses how the routine parts of life the dull days, bring the gift of space; how they are times when thoughts of God can take hold of us, when we find the opportunity to make the godly life more real to ourselves and others. I laughed when I read her description of her days as a novice. Boring, but important, she said. The time when life went its long dull way, predictable to the ultimate, Monday the novices did the laundry, Tuesday there was chapel, altar breads to bake, and house cleaning. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, “we did it all again.” More of the same. Same old, same old. But then something would happen which brought the extraordinary to the ordinary. There were glimpses and gifts of God’s presence.

The Old Testament book of Zechariah is one of those parts of the Bible we often pick up and give up because it seems so strange. Visions and prophecies mean little to us. Strange images are alien to our understanding. Yet this was spoken and written at a time when the Hebrew nation was rebuilding. They had been defeated; the walls had been broken down; the temple had been destroyed. It was an ancient 9/11 of 2600 years ago. The people were disheartened and depressed. It looked like they were making no progress in reconstruction.

Month after month was passing by, seemingly little being accomplished, no end in sight. But the word of God came to the prophet. Who had despised the day of small things? For said the Lord, it will be not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit., Even the faint hearts, the weak knees, will find the glory of God’s life.

The ordinary becomes extraordinary with God. And this finally leads me to touch on the Scripture lesson from Luke, the story of the rich man and Lazarus. It was not so much that the rich man was so bad as it was that he neglected and overlooked opportunities tk do good. Alas, he had compassion only for his brothers. There were no fine hospitals then, no Parkside Meadows for the older folk. The rich man’s earthly life seemed to have no worry or pain while that was all Lazarus knew. We have often heard the phrase, “The Invisible Poor.” Probably Lazarus was invisible to the rich man, but both were visible to the God of love and judgment.

But what about our own ordinary times? When I was traveling among the churches in the towns and cities of out state Missouri, how often I heard it said, “Nothing ever goes on around here.” In recent Bible studies I have been pondering what went on when Jesus came here or there. The humdrum villages came alive; same old, same old lives were transformed. New insights were gained. The ordinary became extraordinary. There was hope even for the Lazarus people of life.

In the informal services of my early ministry we often sang:

What a wonderful change in my life has been wrought,
Since Jesus came into my life.
I have light in my soul for which long I have sought.

Never again would life be ordinary.

The church color for this season, “Ordinary Time,” is green.

It is the color of growth, even of spring, of new life. One of my early (and admired) bishops was Ivan Lee Holt. One of his many books was entitled The Return of Spring to Man’s Soul. It is this we find when Jesus partners with us through days ordinary and extraordinary. Always can we say the Psalmist’s words which I used for a call to worship.

“This is the day which the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

– J. C. Montgomery, Jr .

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