The Extraordinary Ordinary: Preaching from August to October 2019
The bloke next door
It is the very commonplace nature of so much of what Jesus says and does that is disarming. The lofty abstract language that might be expected of a great spiritual teacher is tempered by ordinary human experiences. In this quarter-year of gospel readings we hear Jesus speak of farming – barns, watering animals, and shepherding; of social events – wedding banquets, family relationships, and manners; of familiar experiences – making budgets stretch, losing things, anticipating the weather, and contending with illness. And all these things wrapped around a witty knack for yarn-telling.
There is no doubt about the humanity of the man Jesus. He is recognisably a person of a particular time and place. He is alert to his own circumstances in an insightful but thoroughly ordinary way. The things that signify human being are recognisably his. He ‘was made man,’ as the Nicene Creed puts it.
Here is the wonder of the incarnation – God’s Son amongst us as one of us. He laughs and worries and labours and thirsts – and all those other creaturely feelings and needs that mark every one of us. ‘True God from true God’ and a particular person of a particular time and place. Our particular voices must give voice to that particularity. Yes, we must speak of eternal verities but not at the cost of that human aspect. As Bishop Libby Lane puts it, we must speak of ‘the love and invitation of God in everyday ways.’
The commonplace of living
Again and again in the sermons that follow we are asked to use scripture to think through the commonplace experiences of our lives. Whether those commonplace things be about our use of money, a sense of loneliness, what sharing table-fellowship means, moving to a new house, or just where our efforts to build bridges with other people should be directed. In each instance we are asked to notice, in Jenni Beaumont’s words, ‘who is overlooked?’ – certain that God requires more of us than a casual acceptance of popular prejudices and an easy avoidance of inequalities that work to silence voices that need to be heard. In the ‘symphony of salvation’ (Victoria Johnson) every player has a part.
Grist for life
Examining the immediate isn’t easy. Real issues can amplify already disturbingly challenging words from scripture. Raewynne Whiteley so clearly demonstrates that in her use of the questions prompted by a local tragedy alongside Jesus’ parable of the Rich Fool and his barns (Proper 13). As she forthrightly concludes, ‘What we earn and what we own can’t save us. Only God can.’ Putting issues in an obviously human-shaped frame doesn’t necessarily make for comfortable listening, but it can be that grist for living of which Deirdre Brower Latz writes.
Brett Ward asks us to consider who is being transfigured in the Transfiguration. Using Saint Augustine’s expression ‘the eye of the heart’ he points to a kind of seeing that goes beyond the physical and conceptual – a ‘new kind of seeing makes all the difference. The eye of the heart is the eye that looks at the world from the place where God dwells – which is within each of us.’ Such seeing transfigures everything; turning the ordinary into disclosures of God. The humanely particular and the divinely eternal. Can incarnation mean anything less?
Christopher Burkett, Editor, and Director of Ministry in the Anglican Diocese of Chester. He holds a PhD from the University of Liverpool on collective memory and preaching.
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