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The Ordinary in Glory
December 11, 1988

LUKE 3:7-14

Christianity is an earthy religion, a down-to-earth religion for ordinary people who live ordinary lives, despite efforts at times to make Christianity so spiritual that you had to live in a cave or go in a monastery to make it. Or despite efforts at times to make Christianity so heavenly it was no earthly good or relevant. Despite efforts at times to make Christianity a religion of the elite, a people with money and influence ,or people who are ordained, or people who are were learned. Despite such efforts, Christianity is for ordinary people who live ordinary lives. I'm glad the shepherds were visited by the angels and were invited to go to Bethlehem—simple, ordinary shepherds, as well as the wise men from the east, for Jesus was born not just for the learned, but for the ordinary folks as well. In fact, glory is also found in the ordinary.

We're looking for glory this Christmas, looking for glory as a Christmas gift. Most of us need some glory, some affirmation, some recognition, some splendor, some joy. We need glory. Jesus told us glory comes from God. The sermons in Advent are spelling out the words of glory. I chose “grace” to stand for the “g” in glory, because grace is the foundation. Under it all, the gospel is the unmerited, unrestricted, unreserved love of God for you. In many ways, God tells you, “I love you”. So I chose “language” to stand for the “l” in glory and one of the languages God speaks is Holy Communion, the language of love.

This morning, we look at the “o” in glory. I struggled to find a word which begins with “o” that reflects the theme of glory. Orange doesn't quite fit. But ordinary rings a bell. Where we look for glory? Where do you look for the magnificence and the splendor of the presence of God? In Christmas where do you look? The glory of our faith is its simplicity, its practicality. You do not need to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, Jerusalem, the Vatican, or even Salt Lake City. Pilgrimages, called tours today, are very interesting, educational and even inspiring, but they're not necessary for finding salvation. Where do you look for glory? One place to look for glory, often overlooked because its taken for granted, is in the ordinary things of life. Christianity is an earthy religion for the spiritual and the natural are intertwined, intermingled, not to be divided. Look, for example, at sacrament, the sacred acts, the sacramental, the holy acts of our faith. What is the substance used to convey the holy? What is the substance used in our sacraments to convey the grace of God? Not something esoteric like incense or ostentatious like gold or silver, not something rare like a bald eagle feather, not something exclusive like skin color, nationality or gender.

No, in Christianity, the holy, the holiness of God, the grace of God is conveyed through water, bread and wine. The substance used in baptism is water. The most common, the most ordinary, the most universal substance we have, as well as the most necessary is water. Bread and wine are used in the sacrament of Holy Communion. In Jesus time, bread and wine were the staples of the diet, the necessity of the diet in Jesus’ time, like rice in the far east, potatoes in Ireland, tea in Britain, yams in Tonga, grits in Arkansas, biscuits and gravy in Oklahoma, tortillas in Mexico, and zucchini in California! I never heard of zucchini in Minnesota and I wish I never did! But the point is this: water, bread and wine are the ordinary common necessities of life. Glory is found in the ordinary.

When I was in Japan as a missionary many years ago, I had the privilege of being invited to a tea ceremony. It was an abridged version because the complete ceremony takes several hours. A tea ceremony in Japan makes a ritual out of the ordinary experience of making and serving tea. Tea is the staple of the Japanese diet. Every gesture is planned. The preparing and serving of the tea are done in slow motion, calling attention to every detail, giving lots of time for meditation, reflection and prayer, and performed within the company, the fellowship of people. The Japanese have taken the staple of their diet and turned the ordinary into the extraordinary.

And that's what Christians do with our sacraments. We take the ordinary and turn it into the extraordinary. Turning the ordinary into the extraordinary is where you can find glory. Our liturgy, our vestments have origins in common ordinary life. The robes which clergy and choir wear are essentially the common ordinary dress of Jesus’ time. And while the styles changed, worship services retained the dress code of Jesus’ time so we wear robes. Last spring I taught worship and preaching to potential Lay Speakers on the Delta District. We discussed vestments. I said that I wear a robe in Sunday worship service for two reasons: Number one, wearing a robe prevents me from putting my hands in my pockets. And number two, when I wear a robe I don't have to worry whether my fly is unzipped—an occupational hazard. I don't know why women ministers and women choir members wear robes! Well, I'm being facetious. There are other reasons to wear robes. Robes reduce the attention paid to individuals because of their necktie or dress. We dress alike up here in the channel. We dress alike in order to call less attention to ourselves and more attention to God who is symbolized through the music and the symbols of worship like candles and the cross.

Candles also have their origin in the ordinary. Candle power was the means of light. I suspect though that in Jesus’ time, oil lamps were used, but somewhere along the line candlelight became standardized in worship.

The stole which ministers wear is the symbol of ordination. The stole stands for, represents the yoke, the yoke of Christ, which we wear and carry. But the stole has a very common ordinary origin. In the early days of the church, in those small windowless churches where the services became quite warm, during the serving of the Mass the priests would perspire. So they began wearing cloths around their shoulders with which to wipe the perspiration out of their eyes. So this is a sweat cloth, which now represents the yoke of Christ. And that's the point:  our religion is a down-to-earth religion. The glory of God can be found in the ordinary common things in life and experienced by ordinary people.

So how can we experience the glory in the ordinary this Christmas? How can we turn the ordinary into the extraordinary? First, be attentive. Watch. Be alert. Be ready. The key word of Advent is “watch”.  Be ready, because you don't know when the ordinary may be transformed into the extraordinary. Because you don't know when the party is to begin, be ready at all times. “Don't fall asleep” was the message of Jesus in many of his parables. Don't fall asleep because the party may come and go. And you in your preoccupation may miss it. Everything around you has the potential of glory in it for those who watch, for those who are ready, for those who are expecting. Everything around you has the potential of the extraordinary—washing dishes, cleaning the house, sitting at the computer, waiting on customers, watering plants, having a baby, feeding a baby, changing the Pampers, shopping, driving on the freeway, all are ordinary events and have the potential of glory in them.

The poem for meditation in the bulletin this morning by Elizabeth Barrett Browning reads, “Earth is crammed with heaven.” That's the message of glory. The ordinary is crammed with glory waiting to burst forth. The ordinary is waiting to be transformed into the extraordinary. And what you may have been discounting as an ordinary experience where you were bored or where it's tedious, may suddenly be transformed into an experience of wonder, of delight, of love, of joy. You may find yourself not just doing something ordinary like walking in a park, you may find yourself in the very presence of God. That's glory. Therefore be ready. Watch, be expectant.

Secondly. To find glory in the ordinary, be steadfast in prayer. “Pray constantly,” Paul told us. And what did he mean? Underneath your words, your actions, your thoughts, have your spirit tuned to Jesus Christ. Practice breath prayer. A breath prayer is with every breath breathe in the Holy Spirit. Pray, “Come Holy Spirit, come. Come Holy Spirit, come.” And let the words just say themselves in the back of your mind and in the depths of your soul.

To be in constant prayer means to do your ordinary tasks in the spirit of prayer. Work can be prayer offered to God. Paul told us in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “Whether therefore you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Watch, prepare to receive glory by giving glory to God in whatever you are doing. The practice of constant prayer is one reason for participating in Sunday worship, and other worship experiences. It is our duty, it is our privilege, it is our joy to gather every Sunday as the people of God to offer God worship, and also by participating in retreats like the Advent Retreat yesterday, or in covenant groups, or the Walk to Emmaus. All these things keep us fine tuned, keep us tuned in on the Holy Spirit's wavelength, keep us focused on Jesus. To find the glory in the ordinary, keep in prayer. Keep an attitude of openness to God, inviting God into your life. Constant prayer is inviting God into your life by doing everything to the glory of God in a spirit of prayer.

Thirdly, the scripture lesson this morning from Luke which told of John the Baptist, the one who announced the coming of the Messiah, contained a challenge often overlooked. To be in constant prayer, to have an attitude of readiness and watchfulness for the glory in the ordinary, to do everything to the glory of God means in particular to live an ethical, moral life. Christianity is a down-to-earth, practical religion. To do whatever you are doing to the glory of God means to do something worthwhile, something helpful, kind and right. John the Baptist was an earthy guy. He wore simple animal skins and ate natural food off the land. He was a simple guy. And his message was very practical. When the crowds believed him and came to be baptized, they asked him, “What then shall we do? How do we serve God? How are we to be saved?” He didn't give them an other-world religion and tell them to withdraw from the world and go into a cave. He was very practical and down to earth. He did not give them esoteric liturgies to perform. He didn't tell them to wave incense and make incantations. He didn't tell tell them to work themselves up into an emotional frenzy. He didn't tell them to go to Jerusalem and make animal sacrifices in the temple. What he told them was to live an ordinary life—a good life, an ethical and moral life.

The tax collectors said to John the Baptist, “What shall we do?” John replied, “Collect no more than you are authorized to. Don't cheat. Don't take advantage of your position. Don't take money under the table.” Some soldiers came to him and said, “What shall we do?” John the Baptist replied, “Rob no one by violence or by false accusation. Don't intimidate people. Don't take advantage of your position and don't steal.”

When the multitude asked him, when the ordinary folk asked him, “What shall we do?” John the Baptist said, “You who have two coats, share with one who has none. You who have food, share with those who have not.” Whatever you do, do to the glory of God, which means: Don't lie, or steal. Don't take advantage of other people. Share your possessions, share your resources, share your money to the glory of God. Watch and be alert how you can help people, for in sharing and helping you will receive glory, not the glory of acclaim, but the glory of God's presence.

So where do you look for glory this Christmas? Look to the ordinary—the water, the bread and wine of daily life. Watch and be attentive to those around you and the needs of the world. Look to the ordinary and whatever you do, do it in a spirit of prayer. Do it to the glory of God.

© 1988 Douglas I. Norris