On June 28, Pastor Rich was away giving a talk on his book projects at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Girard, PA. Joy Johnson offered the sermon for the day, “Nothing Ordinary.”
When Pastor Rich suggested I deliver a sermon this Sunday, (prompted by someone near and dear to me), my mind immediately went back to my days at the United Methodist Church where I would lead a talk as part of Sunday School opening.
Sometimes, I would have my talk all typed out, double spaced, and would be all prepared before Sunday morning rolled around.
Other times, if it had been a particularly busy week and week-end leading up to Sunday, I wouldn’t know exactly what I would say until I said it. Call it: “divine inspiration.” Call it plain, dumb luck. Or, you could call it….a gift.
Now, I don’t flatter myself that I possess any particular talents or skills as compared to any of my colleagues at work, my friends, my family…..and certainly not as compared to any of you whom I am honored to call “church family.” No… I am an ordinary person…and all of you, if I may say, are ordinary people. That’s not to say we’re uninteresting, or boring or lacking in talent. On the contrary, I maintain that we are full of it – talent, that is, and each of us has extraordinary, God-given gifts that lie within us, sometimes utilized, sometimes not, but always available and ready to be put to the work that God asks us to do.
Today’s Gospel reading tells us about two extra-ordinary accounts of Jesus. Jesus as the healer, Jesus as the miracle worker, Jesus with supernatural abilities. Indeed, Mark’s Gospel illustrates that we worship and serve a powerful God who can stop life-draining bleeding with a touch, and who can rescue our bodies from near-death, or actually death itself.
But as a person on earth, Jesus, like each of us, was ordinary a lot of the time. Think about it! Jesus was born of a woman; Jesus got hungry and tired, and thirsty. He enjoyed his family; he worked as a carpenter, he had human reactions to things….he wept, he yelled, he played, he traveled…..he lived ….and yes, he died. By many accounts he did ordinary things!! Yet he exists today as our most extraordinary savior.
Do you remember WWJD? What Would Jesus Do ……I recall vividly the amount of merchandise stocked in my bookstore 10 / 15 years ago bearing these letters: bookmarks, posters, key chains, bracelets, coffee mugs, cards, and more. These things remind us to ponder the Christ-like path that is available to us as a route to living our ordinary lives in extraordinary ways, the way Jesus did.
How do we do that? Folks, look around! Do it. Look above you, beside you, in front of you…..not only have each of us been given the gift of a beautiful facility in which to worship and do God’s work, but we are literally surrounded by ordinary people doing such good and bringing such true and lasting meaning to this place, and indeed to this community.
The examples are many. At the risk of leaving out truly remarkable examples, I feel compelled to remind you: the maintenance committee and others have been working for weeks and even months on landscaping, repairs, (mandatory and voluntary!) in order to maintain this facility and ensure that we have a clean, safe, approachable facility in which to worship and generate outreach activities. Their work is never done! You might say that Pat and Mark and Lee and Ron and everyone on maintenance team are sharing their gifts…gifts of hard work and the ability to get things done in service to this congregation and the community. I believe each of these folks are sharing their gifts. If you don’t believe me, try following a pre-injured Mark Davis around some time. The Energizer Bunny has nothing on himJ. I’m still tired!
Sometimes this service and work of the church can feel very ordinary….committee meetings, council meetings, errands, reports, announcements, digging in the dirt and spreading mulch, mowing, cleaning the cobwebs out of the corners, clearing brush, calling contractors, calling contractors back…even washing the dishes and making the coffee….(you get the picture)…but we need to look to the heart of why we do what we do…
We see in the scriptures in more than one place the emphasis on the church as being where the members of the body of Christ exercise their spiritual gifts. It shouldn’t be news to any of us that God expects us to “share.” Really, the heart of what we do and why we do it comes back to the fact that we follow a phenomenal Savior who, in some ways lived an ordinary life, yet did life-altering, history-changing things with his literal God-given gifts.
Under Pastor Jean’s leadership and the hard work of many, Community United hosted an outstanding Faith & Science camp the week before last. Working with little to go on from last year we have been hearing about what a truly uplifting and beneficial experience it was for 18 kids and I venture to say several adults who were able to give of themselves to make it happen.
I encourage you to think about the amount of practicing and preparing that goes into the music that Cheryl, the choir, and the wonderful soloists and instrumentalists provide to the congregation. Are they sharing their gifts? You bet they are!
If you have not had a chance to visit the Church’s new website, I encourage you to visit communityunited.church and witness the development of the site as a critical tool for outreach. Pastor Rich, Andy and others have worked tirelessly to see that we are represented well and have a top-notch vehicle in which to represent the church outside of these walls.
If you have not attended a Council meeting lately, or ever, you would be refreshed by the number of initiatives, activities and events that our church is involved in. The volunteerism for the Trinity Soup kitchen on the part of several in our congregation including Lorrie, Sally, Nancy, Kathy, Karen, Becky, Saundra, Jim, Eileen and Allison….and there are others…is a wonderful contribution of their gifts.
Julie directs a number of initiatives including the Food Pantry which serves many, who might not otherwise have enough to eat in any given week. The contributions you bring to the pantry help make that happen!
This list isn’t over yet…….!
The membership committee works every week to make sure we have our coffee, and that everyone is fed for special events. Barb and Dennis and Shirley and our own Dave Wooledge with his clean-up, “garbage ministry!” make sure to create that welcoming environment for all members and visitors. Their gifts of meaningful hospitality cannot be overstated.
Please note that under the direction of Tracy Davis, Community United has been paying its bills, collecting offerings, creating reports, checking records, and generally running a business in transition. Nancy has been instrumental. We are thrilled that Abi is coming on board. These are not small tasks and were it not for the gifts and talents and time and energy coming from many of you, it would not be happening, and we would not be experiencing the growth and excitement that I hope you feel happening within this building and indeed even beyond our property.
I would be remiss if I did not make mention of the incredible gift we have all, each and every one of us, been given in the person of Rich McCarty. His donation of his time and talents over several years is significant, and whether or not you are aware of it, he requested a reduction in his compensation recently to allow the church to begin allocating resources toward an expanded vision of service and outreach. If this is not a gift, I don’t know what is!
We are all ordinary individuals (even Pastor Rich 😉 Even celebrities and famous athletes, writers, musicians, scientists and artists are ordinary. It is when we discover our gifts, and everyone has them, and draw them out and apply them to the work of the church that we become more than ordinary. James Carroll, in commentary from his book, Christ Actually, said it best: he said, “The presence of God lies in what is ordinary.”
Indeed, there are many here doing wonderful things. They are demonstrating their gifts, perhaps far beyond their own realization. Truly, your presence here this morning, and all Sunday mornings is its own gift. What we need to remember is that we glorify God by getting involved; by doing, by giving, by showing compassion, by sharing our knowledge, by shepherding, by leading and indeed even by following.
The motto and logo for the United Church of Christ during the month of June shows a rainbow cross with the words, “God makes no mistakes. You are wonderfully made.” This is taken from Psalm 139, (one of my favorites)which says, I will give thanks to you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
It would be a terrible omission on my part if I did not mention the history that was made this week in our country. The most recent decision of the Supreme Court of the United States regarding marriage is thrilling. Thrilling in the sense that our national policy mirrors what the majority of states have decided. But what thrills me the most is that at this stage of my life I have been given, we have been given the ability to worship freely in such a marvelous place as this, that values true diversity in race, ethnicity, background, gender, abilities, orientation, and much more.
As far as gifts go, this church, this congregation and the people here are God’s extraordinary gift to each and every one of us. I speak of this from the heart, and feel that I personally have been placed at this time and this place to serve, to share whatever gifts I have, and to encourage others to do that same. We have been given something so special and so unique in the way of this congregation, our relationships here, and more importantly… in the way of our relationship with an “ordinary man” who has proven to us for more than 2000 years, and proves to us today, that there is truly nothing ordinary about the work of God.
This church is a gift. Jesus is the gift.
What more can we give in return?
Let us pray.