More Than...Extraordinary

Acts 2:1-6

(Inspired by John Wesley’s sermon, “Scriptural Christianity”)
By: Michael Roberts in collaboration with Lauren DeLano

How was your day? Imagine someone saying, “Oh, it was nothing special, pretty ordinary.” Or, you prepare a big meal and then ask someone if they enjoyed it and they say, “I would describe it as ordinary.” We often associate “ordinary” with boring, mundane, nothing special. But in matters of faith, “ordinary” is worthy of our attention.

When Wesley first explored this word, he was dealing with people who were looking for God in the extraordinary. People were looking for God in great signs and wonders, in burning bushes or prophetic dreams. People wanted answers written in the sky.

Wesley reminds us that these kinds of extraordinary “manifestations of the Spirit” are given sparingly – that’s his word. Extraordinary gifts only come to a few and only at special times. On the other hand, ordinary gifts of the Spirit are for all, and they bind us together rather than set us apart. Look at what the Apostle Paul says about this. He asked, “Were all prophets?” No. “Do all have the gift of healing?” No. “Does everyone speak in tongues?” No. (I Cor 12:29-31). Wesley says, “maybe not even one in a thousand.” So, perhaps we need to focus more on the ordinary, everyday ways in which the Holy Spirit moves in our lives.

Perhaps we need to focus more on the one thing that God wants for everyone, every day. And what is that one thing? It is Christ in our hearts, where we are able to live our ordinary lives knowing that we are loved, and with Christ here (heart) we are able to grow in and share the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, faithfulness, and temperance/balance/self-control (Gal 5:22-23). With these common blessings at work among us, we are able to, and I quote, “walk with Christ in the work of faith, in the patience of hope, and in the labor of love.” (I Thess 1:3). This is how God works through us in our every day, ordinary lives.

In reflecting on my ordinary week, I can think of a couple of times when I clearly saw God at work. This week I set with a family in a hospital room who were gathered around a husband, father, and grandfather who had recently entered hospice care. There were no miracle healings. There were no extraordinary signs. But in the midst of our gathering, God’s eternal grace flowed through tears and even laughter as stories were told. God’s peace, the peace beyond our ability to explain, was there. It was a holy moment.

For another example from my ordinary life this week, on Wednesday night, I met a mother and daughter standing in the parking lot, wondering which door to enter. There were people going in all directions – to children’s choirs, to “The Well” for dinner, to youth and mid-youth. As I asked if I could help them, two of our mid-youth came running out to meet them. They had invited their friend to come to mid-youth choir and then to mid-youth. They took her away as quickly as they had arrived, and what I noticed was the smile on the mother’s face. It was such an ordinary thing for 7th grade girls to do but, I promise you, I saw Christ in the midst of that ordinary moment.

We heard the story of Pentecost earlier, when the Holy Spirit came upon the church in a mighty way. It might be easy for us to get hung up on the big event and lose sight of the purpose. Yes, on this day, the disciples were given the power to speak in other languages, but the bigger miracle was that others heard the good news. The Spirit moved in their lives and, by the Spirit, many came to know, deep inside, the One who gave his life for them and opened up the way of life for all. They came to know the One whose love for us is stronger than death itself. And then they all received a common calling, the true test of the Spirit’s work in our lives. They wanted to share this good news with others.

This calling to share God’s love is a big part of our vision statement as a congregation. We say that “God’s love comes to us on its way to someone else.” If we try to hoard this love or keep it to ourselves it will grow as stale as old bread. This love grows only as it is shared. In our ordinary, everyday lives, the Holy Spirit is at work, empowering us to speak words that will help others hear God, and to act in ways that help others come to know God’s love. That’s the ordinary common calling of the Holy Spirit upon all disciples. This movement started at Pentecost.

There was a Ted Talk not long ago where a scientist, Suzanne Simard, spoke of how trees communicate with one another. Before this discovery, it was thought that trees competed against one another for water and light, but instead they send messages back and forth, through an elaborate underground network, to balance resources, to share information about dangerous diseases, and to support one another. In this vast network, trees aren’t seeking extraordinary gifts to outdo one another, but instead, they use the gifts that are all given to cultivate healthy community.

Could that be a parable for us? I think of what the Apostle Paul says, when he cries out, “I beg you to live a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph 4:1-3). This is the ordinary, everyday work of the Spirit in our lives. We might miss this work, we are looking up for some extraordinary sign. If we are too focused on the extraordinary, we are likely to get off track in our spiritual lives. We are likely to hunger and thirst for power rather than for the blessings of God. We are likely to retreat into modes of self-protection rather than give ourselves to the self-sacrificing love of Christ. That is not what God wants for us. And so we focus, intentionally and daily, on the ordinary, everyday gifts that God gives.

If you are following along in the series by reading the paraphrases of Wesley’s sermons, then you’ll note that he tends to end his sermons with questions that call us to self-examination. I want to do the same. Are you growing in the ordinary fruits of the Spirit, the fruits given to bind us together and create healthy relationships and community? Are you open to God’s love as it comes to you on its way to someone else? Are you being attentive to, what Wesley calls, the “ordinary channels of God’s grace” – things like weekly worship, daily prayer, reading the scriptures, the God-given resources that keep us growing in our ability to listen and to follow? May the common gifts of the Spirit and the ordinary fruit of the Spirit become a regular, everyday part of your life.

And now, here’s one more question. What did you think of the sermon today? If you talk about that over lunch, today and today only, I hope the word “ordinary” is a part of your conversation. Amen.