Tag Archives: holy

The Holy Ordinary – Mark 1:29-39, Isaiah 40.21-31, and 1 Corinthians 9:16-23

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, on February 7, 2021

[after one Bible readings]

Isaiah 40.21-31, and 1 Corinthians 9:16-23 may be found at the end of the sermon

Mark 1:29-39  As soon as [Jesus and the disciples] left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
32That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
35In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

[sermon begins]

 

Shuffling into the kitchen in cozy pajamas. Eyes focusing just enough to get there but stepping on the dog bone anyway. Choosing a favorite mug, chipped after years of use – the right shape, color, and substance to hold the heat in as long as possible. Pouring steaming, fragrant liquid. Sipping carefully to take good care – warm, tasty, comforting, energizing. The day begins…a moment of the holy ordinary. A moment so normal that, if you blink, you miss it. There’s a similar Jesus moment in our Bible reading today. If you blink, you miss it.

The guys had a long morning at the synagogue. Getting back to Simon’s house, maybe they’re tired and hungry, looking forward to a warm meal and a peaceful place to put up their feet and plan their next move. Only it wasn’t peaceful. They found illness at home. Simon’s mother-in-law was “in bed with a fever.”[1] A lounging lunch was a longshot. Well, thank God for Jesus! He took her hand, lifted her up out of bed, and the fever left. She served them lunch after all! Simon’s mother-in-law recovered and dished up the holy ordinary.[2] If the guys hadn’t missed her absence due to fever, they might have missed what it meant for her to serve them. The same Greek word for “serve” is used a few verses earlier when the angels “waited” on Jesus in the wilderness.[3] I wonder if Simon and the guys had a new awareness of the holy ordinary too.

Walking into my mother-in-law’s home was like encountering the holy ordinary in the work of the angels too – warm, fragrant food filled with love…although if I’d said that angel-bit to her she might have kicked my keester to the curb. I point this out NOT as a moment to idealize and prescribe a self-serving notion of Biblical womanhood where homemaking is sacralized as women’s work over and against other vocations. I point this out because Jesus makes the holy ordinary possible in this story. I’d argue that he makes the holy ordinary his priority in this story. This unnamed mother-in-law was Jesus’ second healing in the Gospel of Mark and faith was not required. He simply healed her, and she went about her ordinary life…her holy, ordinary life.

Extraordinary moments capture attention and inspire imagination but it’s the holy ordinary moments that form the bulk of our lives. I watched an interview of Paul McCartney that gets at this a bit. Stephen Colbert asks Paul how he deals with the emotional connections that fans have with him. He describes the normal guy that he is at home, “slobbing out, watching television, like anyone.”[4] “Slobbing out” sounds like the holy ordinary equivalent in a life of extreme celebrity. These extraordinary extremes dominate the culture. Perfect example in today’s matchup between the youngest and oldest playing quarterbacks to have won Super Bowls. Extraordinary moments push our mind’s eye beyond what we think is possible and allow us to celebrate human achievement.

The trouble with these extraordinary people and moments is not found in and of the people and moments themselves. The trouble is with us. Our imaginations become limited by societal definitions of “winning.” Limited imaginations that turn Isaiah’s sacred scripture about eagles wings, about God’s encouragement of the people beleaguered by their exile into Babylon, into fight songs for sports teams. The extraordinary overshadows the holy ordinary, demanding attention like the demons in the Bible story. Jesus made small work of those demons, too. Silenced them. And went to bed. He woke up the next day at O-dark-30 to hide and pray. Simon and Company found him, followed him, and proclaimed his message of good news with him. This isn’t to say that the disciples don’t get distracted by the extraordinary – just wait until next Sunday’s shiny Jesus mountaintop transfiguration. Rather, it’s to say that the disciples kept their eyes on Jesus and the win of the good news which IS the holy ordinary in God’s economy.

Eight years ago last week, I was ordained to the call of Word and Sacrament and could be called “Pastor.” It was a wonderful evening here in Augustana’s Sanctuary. Close friends, long-time neighbors, Augustana folks, and family from near-and-far shared that moment with me and the Holy Spirit. It was an extraordinary moment in my life. That same evening, I was installed as a Pastor with Augustana. The following years have been filled with the holy ordinary moments of a pastor – visits in homes and hospitals, phone calls, ministry committees, worship, preaching, charity, and justice. A call rich with meaning and little fanfare. Moments that I couldn’t have imagined even just a few years earlier. During ordination and installation, there was a moment when Gretalea and Mel Johnson stood at the pulpit on behalf of everyone else and announced, “You have been called to be among us to proclaim the good news.” Every pastor has this announced by their congregation. It’s an extraordinary announcement. It’s also an announcement that can be misinterpreted, as if pastors are the sole proclaimers of the good news.

But one of the things that tugs at my mind about today’s Bible story in Mark is that the ordinary moments were created by Jesus with what was available to him, with what was normal to him, with what was ordinary to him. It got me thinking that what we often describe as radical or outrageous grace is simply ordinary to God. So ordinary is the good news that it takes people from all walks of life to announce it in all kinds of ways…and, yes, this means you too. One way was through the band of misfits that Jesus called his disciples. Another way was Simon’s mother-in-law who popped up from a fever to serve lunch. Another more real time example is today’s pile of ordinary things at the communion altar – diapers, wipes, feminine hygiene products, socks, and underwear – for ordinary people who need them.

We’ve become so used to the extraordinary but what would a world be like where everyone had holy ordinary moments all day, every day. Everyone’s equal worth is simply assumed. No one even thinks about whether or not to give when something is needed because there’s plenty to go around.  That would be extraordinary wouldn’t it? And yet, the message here is that’s simply the way it works in the ordinary good news of Jesus. That’s how much Jesus loves us. We breathe, serve, live, and love as the holy ordinary way of God – and so do our neighbors. Thanks be to God for this extraordinary good news.

___________________________________________________________

[1] Mark 1:29-30

[2] Grateful for Pastor Kari Reiquam’s comments in preacher’s text study this past week about Simon’s mother-in-law and her holy ordinary work.

[3] Mark 1:13

[4] “How Paul McCartney Handles Fans’ Emotional Connections.” The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. September 24, 2019 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vdGlGwlgxTk

___________________________________________________________

1 Corinthians 9:16-23  If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel! 17For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. 18What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.
19For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. 20To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. 21To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. 22To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. 23I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

Isaiah 40.21-31  Have you not known? Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
22It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to live in;
23who brings princes to naught,
and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.

24Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows upon them, and they wither,
and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

25To whom then will you compare me,
or who is my equal? says the Holy One.
26Lift up your eyes on high and see:
Who created these?
He who brings out their host and numbers them,
calling them all by name;
because he is great in strength,
mighty in power,
not one is missing.

27Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
28Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
29He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
30Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
31but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.

 

An Ash Wednesday sermon from the Hebrew Bible in Isaiah 58:1-12

A Sermon for Ash Wednesday from the Hebrew Bible in Isaiah 58:1-12

Pastor Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on February 18, 2015

 

[sermon begins after the Bible reading from Isaiah]

Isaiah 58:1-12 Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. 2 Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God. 3 “Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. 4 Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. 5 Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? 6 Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? 8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. 9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10 if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11 The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. 12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

[sermon begins]

In the Bible reading this past Sunday, Jesus’ disciples asked each other the question, “What could this rising from the dead mean?”[1]  They asked this amongst themselves after Jesus told them that he was going to be killed and that he was going to rise again.  The question for us today on Ash Wednesday, and for the next 40 days of Lent, isn’t so much about rising from the dead – although certainly the end of the story is reassuring.  We will get to the resurrection soon enough in the Easter season.  The question for us today on Ash Wednesday, and for the next 40 days of Lent, is much more about the first part of Jesus’ teaching to his disciples about him being killed.  The question for us becomes, “What could this Jesus dying on a cross mean?”  Lent opens up space and time to ask that question.  Ash Wednesday is a moment when we begin to ask it in earnest.

Rabbi Harold Kushner talks about the desire to be taken seriously and how that plays out in our lives.  He writes, “We want to be judged because to be judged is to be taken seriously, and not to be judged is to be ignored…But at the same time we are afraid of being judged and found flawed, less than perfect, because our minds translate ‘imperfect’ to mean ‘unacceptable, not worth loving’.”[2]

The language of judgment has fallen out of favor.  You might read in an article or hear someone say, “I’m just describing that situation for now without putting a judgment on it.”  Or, after you get done telling someone about something you’ve done, the person listening to you might say, “Just sit with it for a while without judging it.”  These are often wise words that create some room around a volatile situation, ramping it down a notch or two so that necessary decisions can be made or so that a relationship might be salvaged.

However, being brought back around to something you have done or are still doing that hurts other people or yourself is exactly the kind of judgment that’s about being taken seriously.  Not taken seriously by just anyone, but taken seriously by God.  So that when you encounter sin from which you finally can’t escape, there is the hope of being taken seriously by God.

The Bible reading from Isaiah teases us with our seeming desire for God’s righteous judgment and delighting in drawing near to God.  Then Isaiah flags the ways we play this out as self-serving, losing sight of God in the process.  Isaiah begs the question, “If you’re wondering where God is in your life, is it possible that you’re pursuing the wrong things?”[3]   Ash Wednesday and Lent offer us a time when we’re able to ask this question together, accompanying each other as our flawed priorities and our very selves are marked with ash and called out as flimsy and fragile.

As you and your priorities are marked with ash, consider beginning a Lenten practice that signals a different priority.  Isaiah gives us some things to choose from including letting the oppressed go free… sharing bread with the hungry, cover the naked, not hiding yourself from your own family…removing the yoke from among you by not pointing fingers or speaking evil and meeting the needs of the afflicted.  Other options to add as a Lenten practice could include praying for others at Chapel Prayer here on Mondays mornings or Tuesdays evenings; praying for other people as a link on the Prayer Chain who receive the weekly prayer requests by e-mail; or showing up for the Making Sense of Scripture class on Tuesday mornings or Thursday evenings.  There are many more practices across the Christian tradition that could serve as a reordering of priorities during Lent.

In the meantime, like the flawed people to whom Isaiah is writing, we come together before the God who says, “Here I am.”[4]  In God’s presence there is a holy judgment.  A holy judgment that takes you seriously because you are so worth loving even, and maybe especially, when you least believe you are worth loving.  You are so worth loving that God steps into the mix to show you just how much you are worth loving.  God’s love frees us to ask the question in love, “What could this Jesus dying on a cross mean?”  Let’s spend some time over the next few weeks asking it together.



[1] Mark 9:10 – So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.

[2] Harold Kushner.  How Good Do We Have To Be? A New Understanding of Love and Forgiveness. (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1996).  http://www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/howgood.html

[3] Matt Skinner on Sermon Brainwave for Ash Wednesday on February 18, 2015 at workingpreacher.org. http://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=594

[4] Isaiah 58:9 “…you shall cry for help, and [God] will say, Here I am.”