Ordinary Time (May 27, 2018)
1 Kings 19: 1-13a
We come to worship today and the vestments, the little things in front of the pulpit here, are green. We have entered the season that the church calls ordinary time. There are four colors that you’ll see up here: the white are for the special days (Christmas; Easter, all 49 days of Easter, Trinity Sunday, some baptisms. Big events; special days. That’s the white). Then purple is for the seasons of anticipation of those special days: 40 days in front of Easter, four weeks in front of Christmas. Red is specially for the spirit day, when the spirit comes at Pentecost as we saw last week. It is red for the fire. Everything else is bumped into the category of ordinary time and it is green.
In case you’re wondering, that is over half the year. Our church year begins with the first Sunday of Advent, usually Thanksgiving Sunday, and we are purple. Then white for Christmas. And then there’s a little bit of green, but were able to get through about 6 to 7 weeks, and then Ash Wednesday is there and we’re back to purple. Again we’re anticipating, this time Easter, and then Easter’s 49 days end at Pentecost, right around now: late May to early or mid-June. If you do that now the whole main church year lasts from basically the beginning of December to the end of May: 6 months. And then everything else is ordinary time. Six months in the ordinary, in the everyday, in the non-special. Do we have the same enthusiasm? I mean it’s a real phenomenon that people come just for those special days. There are people who have been coming to church for several years and have never seen any color but white up here. Do we have the same enthusiasm on the ordinary days; when it’s not the day we been looking forward to? When it’s not the event?
It is the feeling of coming down the mountain. When you’re going up the mountain it was a difficult climb, but you can look forward to the summit and the view you’ll have from the summit; of just being on top of everything. That majestic view, sometimes even above the clouds; the kinds of views we stop and we take photographs of. But then after you reach the summit you have to come down. And whether physically or just in our minds, coming down often happens faster. It is less fun. It is just as hard of a trail, but it lacks the summit to look forward to. You can remember the view for the mountaintop, but it dwindles, and you’re left with a depressing feeling. The rest of the story is not always that fun to know. There is a reason after all that epilogues are short: because once the story is over, once the climaxed is reached, once Pentecost has happened we lose interest. Last week I said that Christmas is tied into Good Friday, which is tied in to Easter, which is tied into Pentecost. Once it has happened, the climax has happened, the interest can be gone. Epilogues are short because while we want to know what eventually happens to the character, we don’t really want to spend that much time there. We don’t want to live in the ever-after.
Of course, in real life we must keep living. The book doesn’t close on real life when the words “and they lived happily ever after” appear. How do we live in the happily ever after? Particularly when the “happily” is difficult to find in the happy ever after?
This, I think, is kind of where Elijah is in our story. He’s coming off the mountaintop, in his case quite literally. He’s just had the showdown of his life with four hundred prophets of Baal. He had a big show down where he proved that God was the true God, that God is more powerful than the cult of the nation, and he defeated and actually killed 400 prophets of the enemy. That’s a mountaintop for him. But when he came down, the queen, who is a member of this national cult, didn’t like that and promised to kill him. And he discovered that he didn’t have very many allies. Even with the massive climactic event he didn’t have very many allies amongst the people. And quite suddenly his honeymoon moment and his world came crashing down. And he’s left depressed.
I mean let’s not shy away from what is happening here. Elijah is depressed. Look at what he does: he cut ties with his protégé Elisha, he runs off into the desert alone, he will not eat, and when God‘s angel shows up he begs for death. He is depressed. One of the greatest prophets in history suffered from depression, at least for a little bit. It’s OK if you are as well. Furthermore, God does not shame him for it. There is no shame in it. God tries to help him. If you’re there, seek help please. But do not feel ashamed. For God does not shame him; rather God meets him where he was in the desert. He doesn’t shame him for not eating, but he makes him eat. Do you notice the distinction there? And he makes him eat because he says, “you’ve got to keep going. I have a purpose for you, and I need you to have strength to keep going and fulfill that purpose.”
It’s also important to note that he doesn’t say “Elijah, OK now we’re done. Go back where you came from.” Even though that is where eventually Elijah must go. Rather he says, “look Elijah I am with you. I will give you strength. I will give you nourishment. Go over there into the desert. I will meet you there. But the desert won’t be a scary place anymore, the desert won’t be as oppressive anymore, because you have the nourishment of God within you to go further. I will meet you there. You must go there to be able to fulfill what I have for you in the future.”
And then the story continues, and Elijah is back on a mountain, only this time it’s an ordinary: there’s no spectacle here, there’s no prophet on prophet show down here, just an ordinary mountaintop. God is still there, and God shows up here in the ordinary. God is not in the big special stuff that happens here; the big fire, giant rush of wind, the earth shattering earthquake. God’s not there. God, rather, was in the ordinary: the silence. The quiet. God routinely shows up in the ordinary quiet of our lives.
Yet we have a massive issue with the quiet. We can’t do silence anymore. In the early 2000s there was a movie series called Nooma, and each one came with a booklet that gave one little factoid about it. And the fifth one in the series was called “Noise,” and it opened with the host of the videos just lying on his couch. And he grabs the remote, and the view is kind of a scratchy view. The host points the remote directly at the camera the presses the button and a little number shows up inverted in the corner of the screen. You recognize that you are watching from inside the television. And it goes on for about a minute, just him flipping through channels. And then finally he turns the TV off, and it goes to a black screen for about one minute. After that one minute words appear and for the next 11 and you read the commentary about how we struggle with silence. It was a powerful video. But what impacted me the most was the little factoid: they got a significant number of people who returned the video to them, angry, demanding their money back, because it was only two minutes long. One minute of silence. They couldn’t handle one minute of silence. Really, they couldn’t handle 30 seconds of silence because they had enough time to get up and turn off the DVD player before the words appeared.
Do we do silence? Certainly I think God can appear in our lives through everything we have going on, but we must ultimately have some level of silence. For God‘s voice usually comes in a still, small package. God can come in the fanfare and trumpet blast of Easter, but for over half the year the church says that God comes in the ordinary moments of our lives; the ones we don’t write about in our biography. Do our actions say we believe that?
John chapter 10 famously says that God wants us to have life and have it abundantly. I firmly believe that that promise is for more than just the days where this vestment is white. It’s for more than just the high holy days; it is for the everyday. The Psalms tell us we are to rejoice and be glad in every single day that the Lord has made. That doesn’t mean we should make the Holy Days less special. We will be planning for Christmas, probably starting as soon as August. We plan for the special events to happen throughout the year. You should plan. But the scriptures remind us that life is not necessarily promised. That’s Jesus parable: you can’t build a larger barn because tomorrow is not promised. So look forward to the next mountaintop. But you can do yourself an injustice if you do not allow God to work in the ordinary time. So I encourage you to stop once in a while this week and invite God to speak to you in silence. Amen.