Listen online at: https://4allpeople.sermon.net/21405156
We have been on a journey.
Whether you realize it or not, over the last six months the church calendar has carried us through the stories of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
The church year does not begin on the 1st of January, but on the first Sunday of Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas. We start the journey by preparing to encounter Christ born among us anew. We celebrate Christmas and then move in to the season of Epiphany where we hear the stories of Jesus’ life as a light that overcomes the darkness. After Epiphany we move in to Lent and focus on the journey that leads to the cross.
But we are not a crucifixion people, we are a resurrection people.
So we celebrate Easter and in the weeks following we seek to understand the meaning of resurrection in our lives. After the Easter season we then celebrate Pentecost–the birthday of the church–when the Holy Spirit was poured out and people could speak and hear the good news of Jesus Christ in their own language.
I love the seasons of the church.
I am a liturgical geek.
One of my favorite authors and pastors, Nadia Bolz-Weber has the liturgical calendar tattooed on her arm. I may not love the church calendar as much as she does, but I do find it extremely meaningful.
I love the focus and intention of the church seasons and the invitation to practice spiritual disciplines that come with them. This year, thanks to Pastor Kevin, many of us practiced “40 Days of Decrease” during the season of Lent and experienced what it meant to have a stronger relationship with God when we had less distraction in our lives. That practice had a significant impact on many of our spiritual lives.
But this journey, that began more than six months ago, has come to an end.
Today, the church calendar begins a new season known as Ordinary Time.
Ordinary time is not the most inspiring name and it is the longest season. Ordinary Time stretches across the next 23 weeks. 23 weeks without a Christmas or an Easter or any high holy days. 23 weeks without an invitation to fast or to feast. 23 weeks of an ordinary journey.
While I admit that I am not a fan of ordinary time, it is where we live our lives.
We don’t live most of our days gathered under Christmas Trees or wearing Easter bonnets, we live ordinary lives filled with going to work or school, doing laundry and cutting grass, cooking meals and paying bills, driving kids around or waiting for parents to pick us up, just living out our daily routines.
We have been on another journey over the last six weeks, through the book of Galatians. In this book we have heard the dramatic stories of how God’s grace calls us and invites us in, transforms us and is always at work making us more like Christ. The letter to the Galatians is written by Paul who had this life-changing experience of being knocked off a horse by a flash of light and hearing the voice of the Risen Christ asking, why do you persecute me?
And yet while Paul had this dramatic experience, he spent the next three years in the Arabian desert in preparation for ministry. Days that were so ordinary he never talks about them in his letters. We know about this one day when Paul had a big experience and we really know nothing about the next three years.
But what we see in that is that God’s grace is as powerful and pervasive and present in the ordinary times of life as it is in the handful of life-changing experiences that mark our lives. It is God’s grace that sustains us on a daily basis that gives us the ability to live lives of endurance and perseverance.
A life of faith is not only marked by significant sufferings or excessive celebrations, but is found in the day-to-day ordinary moments.
So what is it that gives us the strength to keep going in the long journey of life?
As many of you know, last weekend I went on a long journey myself. I ran 100 kilometers, 62.1 miles, on a five mile loop trail in Canal Fulton.
Over the last week, pretty much everyone has said to me that they could not do that. The truth is, that with the right training, most people are capable of doing it. But the secret to being able to run for a long distance is simply to have enough fuel: eat enough food, drink enough water, and have enough sodium and electrolytes. As long as you keep your body properly fueled, you can keep going.
And the race I was at did the best job I have ever seen of providing fuel. There was a never ending buffet of waffles and tortillas and pizza and everything you can imagine. The secret of running long distances is that it is the only sport where you run from buffet line to buffet line.
If you fuel your body properly, you can run a long way.The same is true for our spiritual lives. If we want to walk faithfully through the long, ordinary seasons of life we have to properly fuel ourselves.
So how do we do that? How do we spiritually fuel ourselves?
John Wesley called the fuel that keep us going “means of grace”. Most of the means of grace are things you would expect: prayer, worship, communion, reading scripture, music are all a means of grace. When we practice these we receive a gift of grace and we are strengthened to walk faithfully through the long seasons of our lives.
But there is a means of grace that I think we often undervalue and underappreciate and that is “doing good”.
When we do good for someone else a strange thing happens. We help someone thinking we are doing something for them, but in the practice of it we find that we are the one who is blessed. When we extend our heart to someone else, it is our heart that is filled.
This is the testimony of every person who has ever gone on a mission trip. Every person goes with excitement over the work that will be done and returns home saying I feel like I have received more than I ever gave.
This morning we are led by our children in worship, but that happens through the work of our Sunday school teachers. Why do they volunteer so many hours to teach? Because when they give of themselves their hearts are filled with grace.
This is Paul’s exhortation to the Galatians. He writes:
So let us not grow weary in doing what is right… whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.
Let us work for the good of who? The good of All! As a Church for All People we are called to work for the good of all people.
We see this lived out every day in the Free Store and the Fresh Market.
The Free Store sees 150 people a day, this last week the Fresh Market had a day where they saw 500 people. It is not a few paid employees that make it all work, it is dozens of volunteers who give of their own time every day so other people can have access to food and clothes.
But why do they do it? Why come and volunteer when you could sleep in and binge watch Netflix?
Because there is an inherent desire in every person to serve, to give back, to help, to do good, to participate in something bigger than ourselves.
When we do good we receive a gift of God’s grace that strengthens us to walk faithfully through the long, ordinary moments of our lives.
We often think of doing good as big things. In Matthew 25 Jesus says when you fed someone when they were hungry, clothed someone who was naked, visited someone in prison, then you did it unto me. We are lucky that we are a church that offers us the opportunities to do the very things Jesus talked about. We get to be a part of a church with the very people who Jesus called blessed in the Sermon on the Mount. So we have easy access to big works.
But doing good for others is not limited to mission trips or prison ministry or even volunteering in the Free Store or Fresh Market. There are opportunities to do good in the ordinary, everyday moments of life.
Look at the examples Paul gave to the Galatians.
“if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness”
This is a counter-cultural way of being.
As a culture, what do we do with someone detected in a transgression? We tear them down. We love to build people up, just so we can tear them down. In our own neighborhoods and schools and work places, what do we do when we hear of someone who has made a mistake? We gossip about them and say you can’t believe what I heard.
But Paul says, as followers of Jesus Christ, our role is to restore with a spirit of gentleness. Doing good happens when we are the means by which someone is restored, reconciled, and brought back in to community and not torn apart. And when someone else is restored, we are the one’s who again are nourished by grace.
Paul then says we are to “bear one another’s burdens”.
Doing good happens when we bear one another’s burdens. When we see ourselves as interconnected and interrelated and interdependent on one another.
It is easy to show pity to someone else or even to say that’s not my problem. But when we realize we are all in this together and that as Dr King taught us injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere and we help to carry someone else’s burden, we are blessed.
In fact, Paul says that when we carry someone’s burdens, that is how we fulfil the law of Christ.
The law is not fulfilled by circumcision or uncircumcision. The law is not fulfilled by the type of clothes you wear or music you like. The law is not fulfilled by having a liberal or conservative view point. The law if fulfilled when we carry each other’s burdens.
After all, this is what Jesus did for us. Jesus came in to the world to carry our burdens, to restore us, and to give us life.
When we do these things, we not only are strengthened by grace to walk faithfully in the long journey of life, we are connected to God’ s work in the world and made in to a new creation.
Paul says, a new creation is everything!
How do we become a new creation?
Only by grace.
Today is not only the end of one journey, but the beginning of another. We have heard the stories of Jesus life, death, and resurrection, we have celebrated the birth of the church, so let us now be practitioners of God’s grace, let us seek to do good to all people, so we may ever more be made a new creation in Jesus Christ.Amen.