being surprised with the ordinary

god be with you

So here in the world of church we are transitioning into a new season.
We’re leaving behind the season of Christmas and we’re entering once again into the season of the … ready for this? … Ordinary Time.

Such an inspirational name, I know.
And today, Epiphany Sunday, marks that transition.

Now,
for those of us who are new to churchy things,
because we like to be a bit weird and do things differently,
we have our own calendar and way of understanding time and seasons.
The whole point of it is, well, a couple things:

Part of it is to remind us that there are bigger things that should mark our time and shape our movements than simply the change of weather and commercial holidays,
and part of it is to help us learn particular rhythms of being human and alive in this world.

Take Advent for example.
Advent helps us practice hope.
So instead of joining the rest of the world and, as soon as December hits, jump right into Christmas and sing carols for an entire month,
we say ‘wait, not yet’ and slow it down in order to talk about things like anticipation, expectation, and waiting,
all of it geared to help us as learn what we, as people of faith, do with things like darkness and despair.

Lent,
which we’ll get to next,
is a time when we practice what one writer of our Bible calls ‘dying to self;’
its when we try leaving behind things that no longer serve us, things that lead us into a life we aren’t meant to have, and things that hurt us and others,
or, alternatively, picking up things that will better serve us, are meant to have, and will serve ourselves and others,
but whatever we do,
we do it with the belief that resurrection happens,
that change, growth, and movement are possible,
and we can have the life we are here seeking and creating.

So remembering that the faith and spirituality of Jesus is about becoming new kinds of people living in and creating a new kind of world,
acknowledging these seasons and what they mean is a pretty formative practice for us as a church because it helps us take those rhythms and ideas use them to really enter into the whole praxis of our faith and spirituality.

Are you with me?

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And the season of ordinary time,
this season we’re going to enter into together now,
one way we can think about it is a season of surprises.

Its one where we,

remembering what Christmas taught us,
that God is speaking and leading us through Jesus,
and that those moments of incarnation – of God entering into our world and lives – still happen,

we practice being open to being surprised by God.

And not just being open to the transcendence of God – the bigness, out-of-this-worldness of God,
but more specifically, it’s about being surprised by the immanence of God – the closeness, the here-ness, the with, for, and in-ness of God.

Its a season where we practice finding in the strangest, most pedestrian, and unusual places, truth, beauty, connection,and opportunities for growth and life,
and through that surprise, coming to behold a pretty big truth:

the ordinary is extraordinary.
Its in the dirty, human, every day, mundane kind of stuff, that we can find something transcendent.

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And this truth should make us pull over with wonder and awe because it says something pretty powerful:

It says God is in every nook and cranny –
that even in a place like a barn in the middle of nowhere,
even in a mosque,
even in a crack house,
even in worship music thats not familiar,
the Spirit is alive and moving, waiting to be discovered.

It says that God is in every person –
that even in the people who don’t look, think, or act like us,
even in the people who drive us absolutely crazy,
and even in that person asking for change at the intersection,
God is inside them, waiting to be discovered.

It says that God’s even in us –
even in our most broken, dirty, every-day selves,
in the person we think God couldn’t possibly love or do something with,
God is still there, waiting to be discovered.

I mean, thats some powerful, liberating, world expanding stuff, isnt it?

And it’s there that we find the rhythm Ordinary Time challenges us to embody:

to be people who look to be surprised,
to be people who let those surprises change how we live, move, and have our being in this world,
who let them reveal us just how big, colourful, and beautiful God’s world is,
showing us that there is so much to think about, rumble with, and explore,
so many more stories to hear and people to meet,
so many more places to go and boundaries to cross,
coming to embrace it all knowing and trusting its there that we find God and find the life we are meant to have.

//
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So I offer this as a way to encourage us to each step into Ordinary Time purposefully and discover the extraordinary in the ordinary,
and to help us do that, I want to offer three things that could help us out along the way.

First: Shift Gears

If we’re going to be open to being surprised,
if we are going to, as Richard Twiss put it in the video we watched, “hear the sacredness in our neighbours music,”
if we’re going to meet God on some dark tabooed corner,
one of the first thing we have to do is shift gears and slow it down.

We slow down externally the pace with which we move around and go about our days.
We slow down internally how quick we are to dismiss, to analyze, and decide.
We slow down so we actually have a chance to see and discover the God who is in our midst.

Second: Sit With It.

My therapist and I have been doing a lot of work with listening to my emotions.
One of the tricks she’s taught me is to sit with them – the whole point being to not think but to feel, to let the emotion rise up, be felt, and do what it needs to do.
I think we can translate that to a spiritual practice for us this season.
When you are surprised, stop and sit with it.
Dont think, just feel.
Don’t use your head, just use your heart.
Just be present with it and let it do its thing.

And Third: Take Stock.

The original idea this morning was to do what we’ve done before where Id use Twitter to show how I have found God speaking to me through other people.
Id show you a few tweets from various people, the whole point to, yes, hear some other voices, but offer an example of discerning where and how the Spirit moves.
Anyway, I went through all my favourited tweets from 2017 and chose 10 that Id whittle down to about 4 or so that I could then show you.
The thing I saw though when looking at those 10?
Not a single female voice.
Not one.
I wasn’t cool with that.
And here’s why:

If we believe truly that God is a Big God and that She is moving in all places, all people, and all things,
and if we believe that by encountering those places, people, and things we can grow in our understanding and connection to God and therefore be enriched,
we need to make sure we have a diversity of experiences and conversations so we can actually have a chance of being enriched, having our worlds enlarged, and entering into the kind of colourful and diverse life Jesus invites us to have.

Which means taking stock.
We need to occasionally take stock of where usually see, hear, and experience God and ask ‘whats missing?’
We need to ask ‘where else can I go? ‘Who else can I listen to?’ ‘How else can I expand my world?’ ‘What is uncomfortable and unfamiliar to me?’
And then do the tough work of opening yourself up to those things, whatever they are for you, and being surprised to find God there.

//
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So,
my friends,
as we head into this new season,
may we enter into it boldly and practice being surprised,
and may we find in that a bigger, more colourful, more diverse life and world that we can begin to call home.

And to that, we all say …

Amen.

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