Ordinary Time: Thoughts on appreciating God in between the highs and lows.

Ordinary Time

Genesis 1: 26-31

26 Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ 
27 So God created humankind in his image,
   in the image of God he created them;
   male and female he created them. 
28God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ 29God said, ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so. 31God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

This is the time of year school children all over the United States have anticipated for months.

The last day of school.

Summer vacation!

As Alice Cooper described it in his song “School’s Out for Summer”, “No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks, out for summer, out till fall, we might not come back at all.”

According to Wikipedia, Cooper has said he was inspired to write the song when answering the question, “What’s the greatest three minutes of your life?”.

Cooper said:

“There’s two times during the year. One is Christmas morning, when you’re just getting ready to open the presents. The greed factor is right there. The next one is the last three minutes of the last day of school when you’re sitting there and it’s like a slow fuse burning.

I laughed when I read that.

It’s so true.

Who here doesn’t remember the anticipation and joy of the approaching summer vacation from school?

Watching the clock as the last day comes to an end.

Kids?

Teachers?

But what I also find amusing is Cooper’s reference to Christmas.

That’s true too!

Who here doesn’t remember waiting for the OK to start opening the presents?

These are the kinds things we anticipate with expectation of great joy.

And then:

School’s out!

The presents are opened!

The moment has arrived and there is great joy.

And when such moments arrive, we should say, “Thank God!!!!!”

Then there are the other times.

Times of life’s darker sides.

Struggles.

Tragedy.

Illness.

Loss.

Desperation.

Funerals are like that.

A loved one dies.

There is a gathering of friends.

There is a service of honor and faith.

Eulogies.

A graveside farewell.

A luncheon.

Everyone leaves.

Lonely grief.

When such things happen, we should be saying, “Help me, God”.

And in between those highs and lows, what do we have?

Ordinary time.

Times that are neither high nor low.

We are not dancing.

We are not weeping.

We just are.

What do we do in those times?

We live.

But often we treat those ordinary times between the ups and downs something like this.

I play tennis with a young woman who has a son who just finished kindergarten.

School’s out!

They were both excited.

Time together.

On his first day home, she took him to breakfast and then to the zoo.

He asked her at the end of the day, “Mommy, are we going to do stuff like this every day?”

“No, honey,” was her response, “Most days we’ll just be staying home.”

His response?

“What am I going to do?”

Within two days, she was ready to send him back to school.

Summer vacation had become ordinary time.

Routine.

Nothing exciting to do.

Nothing much to celebrate.

Meaningless.

But it’s not just kids.

As we grow older, we have mountain top kinds of experiences.

I remember what it was like when I was a chaperone on mission trips my son went on.

Lots of excitement as we waited to get on the bus.

Lots of time together on the worksites and with the VBS kids we always spent time with.

Then, the last night emotions peak.

Each kid stands up and proclaims great faith and unending friendships with all who went on the trip.

Really intense.

Then, back home.

That mountain top experience?

Now it’s just a bunch of pictures on social media.

Back to the real world.

Nothing exciting.

Nothing to celebrate.

Meaningless.

It’s adults, too.

Over the past several years, I have met with folks who tell me they can’t wait to retire!

Alice Cooper might sing, “Work’s out forever!”

You all know I have a brother, Tom.

We had a conversation a while back that worries me.

Tom is doing everything he can to retire.

He was retired for a bit but was lured back to work by his old boss and his wife.

When he was retired, I made a point of asking him, “What do you do all day?”

And, “How do you spend your time?”

See, I can’t imagine being retired!

What would I do all day?

What challenges and what accomplishments would I have?

Nothing exciting.

Nothing to celebrate.

Meaningless.

That’s when I realized my own problem.

I am afraid of ordinary time!

Tom was … unhelpful.

He sort of smiled, shook his head and I think I heard him mutter under his breath, “get over yourself!”

Then he said something profound.

“Jeff, you just have to find stuff to do.”

“Stuff you enjoy.”

“Stuff that has to be done.”

“Stop and just enjoy the life you have.”

It wasn’t until I was writing this that I realized, Tom was saying I needed to learn to love ordinary time and be thankful for it!

Tom’s advice is just as good then.

“Find stuff to do.”

“Stuff you enjoy.”

“Stuff that has to be done.”

“Stop and just enjoy the life you have.”

The ordinary time.

The times where we just live in the world God gave us.

The one described in our scripture reading.

One of the things we talked about in our staff meeting this week was what it means to be created in the image of God.

It might mean that we are to live the way God wants us to live.

One way is the Jesus way.

We talk about that all the time here.

But what about the God way?

What does that look like?

Creating.

And maintaining.

What did God do?

Heavens and earth.

Light.

Sky.

Dry ground.

Oceans.

Time.

Fish.

Birds.

Mammals.

Us.

That was God’s ordinary time.

Why did God create?

One reason is that there would be a place for us.

Creation is God’s gift to us.

So is our life in it.

Our ordinary time.

Something that we often don’t appreciate.

And while we thank God for those moments of joy, those trips to the mountain top, and we ask for God’s help in times of trouble, we need to say something to God for the ordinary time as well.

Ann Lamott wrote a book called:

Help, Thanks, Wow; The Three Essential Prayers

It applies to the ups and downs of life.

We ask for God’s help when the dark times come.

We thank God when the joyful times come.

But what of the ordinary time in between?

That is when our prayer is:

Wow!

Wow, look at all God has done.

Wow, look at what God has given me.

Wow, look at the things I can only actually experience when the anticipation of joy and the dread of struggle are not distracting me.

Wow, ordinary time is pretty cool.

Ordinary time is routine.

Ordinary time is familiar.

Ordinary time is rhythm.

Ordinary time is schedule.

Ordinary time is predictable.

No one wants to live all their life in ordinary time.

We do need the joys of the highs and the challenges of the lows.

But ordinary time is when we can just live in the world God created for us and … well … enjoy it.

So, what do we do in ordinary time?

How do we show our appreciation of God then?

By considering all God has done and paying particular attention to it.

Enjoying it.

There is book that was recommended to me a while back.

It’s called “How to Train a Wild Elephant”.

It is a book about noticing things that are too easily missed.

It is a book about mindfulness and in some ways gratitude.

One exercise in the book asks you to take one raisin.

Look at it.

How does it appear to you?

Roll it around in your fingers.

How does it feel you?

Roll it around in your mouth.

How does it taste to you?

Bite it.

What is its consistency?

How does it taste now?

Swallow.

How was that experience?

And maybe say “Wow” and wonder that God gave us raisins!

(I’m not sure that one is in the book, but it should be).

We can be do this with our jobs, our hobbies, our chores, our joys, our concerns, our loved ones … you get the picture.

Take time to notice the ordinary things that make up our lives and say, “Wow, God gave me that!”

That is what our text is about.

When God created everything, the last thing he created was us.

Then God gave us something.

God gave us the earth and all that was in it and on it.

What were we supposed to do with it?

Take care of it.

Enjoy it.

And in these things God gave us, there were no mountain top moments.

There were no valleys of darkness.

There was just God, us, everything else created.

And things for us to do.

For some reason, this made me think of Snow White.

Think of us as the Seven Dwarfs.

Their song is Heigh ho, Heigh ho, it’s off to work we go and Heigh ho, Heigh ho, it’s home from work we go.

In between the whistle while they work!

They had up times – when they meet Snow White – and down times – whey they think she is dead.

In between – the ordinary times – they dig, and sing, and whistle.

They enjoy the ordinary times.

And we should, too.

We should be grateful for the routine, familiar, and often unexciting times.

That, to me, is why we should celebrate ordinary time.

That is what I need to learn!

When I mow the lawn, clean the garage, trim the bushes, paint the trim, pull the weeds – you know – the chores, how do I feel like I accomplished something important?

Because I am doing something God created me to do.

Enjoy myself.

But in a particular way.

It comes from the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

First question:

Q. 1. What is the chief end of humankind?

A. Humankind’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy God for ever.

Here that?

No challenges to overcome.

No mountain tops to experience.

Just glorifying and enjoying God, even in the ordinary.

Wow.

Certainly there are times when we need to thank God.

Certainly there are times when we need to ask for God’s help.

But the main point of my message today is that we need to acknowledge God in the ordinary time as well.

So, we need to just sit back and look at all God has done with wonder, even in the mundane times.

Glorifying God and enjoying God for ever.

That is ordinary time.

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