You may have noticed at the top of your bulletins that this is the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – and wondered why we call it Ordinary Time.
Actually, there are two parts to Ordinary Time – one begins after the Christmas Season ends with Epiphany and takes us up to Lent, while the second one starts after Pentecost and leads us back to Advent. Combined, they make up the bulk of the Church Year – 33 of the 52 Sundays.
Some believe we call it Ordinary Time because there are no major holy days in it, but that’s not true. The first Sunday after Epiphany celebrates the Baptism of Our Lord – which marked the beginning of His ministry on earth. As you heard last week, the hand of God tore open the heavens, the voice of the Father affirmed His Son, and the Holy Spirit came down as a dove and empowered Jesus for His ministry. Can anyone say that is ordinary? And the last Sunday before Ash Wednesday is Transfiguration Sunday – commemorating Jesus’ appearing in all His heavenly glory to Peter, James, and John, with Moses and Elijah there as a bonus. Is there anything ordinary about that?
The Sunday following Pentecost is Trinity Sunday. What is ordinary about the baffling relationship among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and their being one God? And the season ends with Christ the King Sunday – when we remember and affirm that Jesus Christ is Lord over all Creation just before we begin our Advent preparations. How is that ordinary?
The real reason we call it Ordinary Time is that we use “ordinal” numbers – like 1st, 2nd, and 3rd – to designate most of the Sundays. Adding to the misconception about it being an “ordinary” time is the color for the season: green, which for most people is not nearly as exciting as blazing red or pure white or royal purple. To be honest, some years I have counted Sundays “after Pentecost” in the bulletin rather than Sundays “in Ordinary Time” so we can keep the red hangings instead of replacing them with green.
There is nothing ordinary about Ordinary Time – or the green hangings, for that matter. Green is the color of life. The first part of the season follows Christmas and Epiphany, so we are encouraged to think about the new life Jesus came to bring. The second part follows Pentecost, to remind us that we as Christians live in the power of the Holy Spirit. Again I ask you, what is ordinary about those truths? They sound extra-ordinary to me.
God often uses the ordinary to do extraordinary things. Hear this story from II Kings, chapter 5:1-14.
Naaman needed help. He had leprosy, so he was going to lose his military career, he was going to be an outcast from Israelite society, and he would eventually die from the disease. Yet this famous prophet – Elisha – told him to wash in the Jordan River seven times. No magical incantations – no anointing with holy oil – no medicinal herbs. Just dip himself in the river. This self-made man was not told to offer a sacrifice – pray without ceasing – or do something heroic for God. Just seven quick rinses in the river. Not even a bar of soap.
And it worked. Just plain, ordinary river water. But God used it to do something extra-ordinary. When you see the green, remember that it is the color of life. God used ordinary river water – which was probably pretty green – to give Naaman his life back.
Now – let’s jump to the New Testament, to the Book of the Acts, chapters 3 and 4. It’s not too long after Jesus went back to heaven, and the Holy Spirit came down on Pentecost to empower the disciples to carry on His ministry.
Sometime later, Peter and John met a man who had been crippled since birth, who spent every day begging outside the temple gate. Peter and John did not refer him to a good surgeon or a physical therapist. They did not offer him any money. They did not even lay hands on him, anoint him with oil, or pray for him. Peter simply commanded the man – in the Name of Jesus – to get up and walk. And he was healed.
A crowd of people gathered because of the miracle, so Peter started preaching to them. That got Peter and John arrested by the Temple guards. The next day they appeared before the Sanhedrin – the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem. Hear about their trial in Acts 4:7-22.
What was the reaction to Peter’s defense? Luke tells us that the members of the Sanhedrin were “astonished” because John and Peter were “unschooled, ordinary men.”
A man was undeniably healed, and a couple of uneducated fishermen were able to argue from the Hebrew Scriptures how that miracle proved that Jesus was raised from the dead. Then, these two seemingly powerless men refused to stop preaching that Jesus is the only means of salvation.
Not priests – not scribes – not Pharisees or Sadducees. Just a couple of ordinary guys. But God used them to do something extra-ordinary.
When you see the green, remember that it is the color of life. God used two ordinary fishermen to give a crippled man his life back – and to declare to everyone who was listening how they could have eternal life.
During the more celebrated times of the Church Year, we deliberately do things that are out of the ordinary. We put Ashes on our foreheads or give something up or take on a new challenge for Lent. We go to Easter services before the sun comes up. We release balloons or doves or we confirm teenagers at Pentecost.
We light candles to count down the Sundays of Advent. We go to church late at night and pass the candlelight around the sanctuary on Christmas Eve. We sing of shepherds and angels and wise men and gifts.
And then we come back to ordinary time. But every time you see the green, remember that it is the color of life: of life given through Jesus and of life in the Spirit – life for all of our ordinary days.
And every time you see the green, remember that God can and will use you – as ordinary as you may think you are – to give that same life to this world. You may be called to do something heroic or attention-grabbing, but most of the time it will not be. More than likely, it will be something pretty ordinary.
Because God can use every simple act of kindness, every word of encouragement, every little prayer, every day of faithfully fulfilling your responsibilities at work, at school, at home, and along the way.
God will use your ordinary life to do something extra-ordinary. Why wouldn’t He? The blood of Jesus Christ has saved you and the Holy Spirit is at work in you – and so nothing is ordinary. Amen.