Monday, June 29, 2015

Extraordinary time

You know what I miss most from my childhood? Summer vacation.

I guess I was what they call nowadays a “free range kid.” It was pretty much how we all grew up in those days. Where I lived, on the cusp between the suburbs and the country, the day was pretty much defined by how far our bikes could take us (within a geographical limit set my parents) and what we kids thought up. The only real restriction was to drop everything when the whistle at the nearby volunteer fire department went off every day at 6:30 in the evening and come home for dinner and to be in the house for bed when the street light came on in the evening. Except on flashlight tag nights or when epic games of wiffle ball were played “under the lights” in an empty parking lot!

Not that time was totally unstructured. There were chores to do, lessons to go to, a few organized sports, and things like choir camp and family trips…but I remember a lot of baseball, bike-riding, swimming at the town pool, and bouncing from house to house to watch TV, eat lunch, or have a snack. Along the way we’d do stuff, and, well, I must admit that some low-level mischief also happened that somehow or another my parents always seemed to learn about. (I could never figure out how….weird!)

Well, those free-range days are long gone. Not because of parenting style. I just grew up. (If you call this growing up!) And right about now as the program year winds down at Trinity and we enter that long green season the Episcopal Church calls “The Season after Pentecost,” I really long for summers when everything seemed wild and free.

The Season after Pentecost takes up more or less half of the church’s year. Trinity Sunday is always the first Sunday after Pentecost and this year it lands smack dab in the middle of the church year. How do I know this? Well, in our parish we pray for everyone in our congregation by name in all our worship and daily offices, so we divide up our parish list into twenty-six weeks so that everyone gets prayed for two weeks a year. (Check out your parish directory!) Pentecost Sunday was week 26. Today, Trinity Sunday, is the start of week one.

During the first half of the church’s year, from The First Sunday of Advent through Pentecost, we rehearsed all the big moments in salvation history: from our anticipation and hope for a Messiah last December, to his birth on Christmas, to his ministry that shows us that Jesus is the Christ in Epiphany season. In Lent, we turned towards Jerusalem and then in Holy Week move through the passion, his death and his resurrection. Then we recall the resurrection church—his rising from death, his appearances to the disciples, his ascension to heaven, and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

After all that drama, everything that comes after might seem pretty boring. But for the rest of the year, starting today, our Gospel and Epistle readings will focus on Jesus’ teaching and how we live those teachings in light of being a resurrection people. This year, from today forward, we’ll hear about Jesus’ teaching, his healings, his miracles, and his interactions with both the disciples and ordinary people from both the Gospels of Mark and the Gospel of John.

(The Old Testament reading and the Psalm will follow the epic story of Hebrew Scriptures, starting this year with the story of King David.)

The idea is that as we will hear about the work and teachings of Jesus, just as we learn and do the teachings of Jesus in our everyday life. So, while there will be a big feast here and there, like All Saints Day, the Season after Pentecost is dedicated to the everyday, real life journey of what it means to follow Jesus. Our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers have a nick-name for this long green season. They call it “ordinary time.”

We might be tempted to think of “ordinary time” as summer vacation.  After all, the program year has just ended. We will take a few months to rest and recharge—and we need to do that!—but in some very important ways the real work of being an everyday Christian has just begun! We’ve spent half the year hearing the story, and participating again in God’s salvation history, now the real work has begun. Now we have to live it!

Discovering, sharing, and living God’s in the midst of ordinary living is the real work of the Church. Where God changes the world is not just inside our sanctuaries but as we go out from here and live our faith wherever God has set us loose in the world. The Good News is that we are a free-range Church! Everywhere we go and everything we do is a chance to live and do the work of Jesus, to try on what he taught us, and to live by his example.

We may be free-range, but we are grounded and given the tools and direction we need to live as Jesus’ people in the world. Not only do we have our baptismal identity, scripture, prayer, and the Sacraments of the Church, we are held together by the very power of God!

Just look at how the Season after Pentecost is bookended. It begins today with the First Sunday after Pentecost…aka Trinity Sunday. Today we celebrate the fullness, majesty, and sovereignty of the One God united and expressed in each of the Three Persons of the Trinity. This is a Very Big Concept. We are moving into everyday Christian living just filled to overflowing with the mind-boggling wonder of the Bigness of the One God in three persons.

And where will it all lead? Glad you asked! Twenty-six weeks from now, at the end of November, we free-range Christians will be gearing up for Advent and we’ll celebrate another strictly theological Sunday on the Last Sunday after Pentecost…which is sometimes called “The Reign of Christ” or “Christ the King.” On that Sunday, we’ll look forward to how God will gather up all that we have done, learned, seen, heard, and told, and it will be placed before Jesus who reigns over all the earth…and who will bring earth and heaven together. Whew!

So what happens between Trinity Sunday here and the Reign of Christ there? Everyday life. That’s what happens. Everyday life, where Jesus shows up every single day. Everyday life where Jesus heals, teaches, blesses, and prays. Everyday life, where the power and majesty of God the Father takes our breath away in awe and wonder. Everyday life where God the Holy Spirit challenges us and encourages us as we learn and do the work of Jesus. Everyday life where we will discover, share, and live God’s love in all kinds of great and small ways.

You know what? I think the real test of the Church…What really tells the world who and whose we are… is in the everyday things that you and I, the gathered people of God, do. The real question is not how “Christian” we are at Christmas and Easter—as glorious as those festivals are—but in the summer or the fall when there is “nothing” to do…nothing, that is, except to be a friend and apprentice of Jesus Christ every day.

We are free-range Christians. Every day, fed by Scripture and Sacraments and grounded in the Church, we will go where God leads and practice what Christ teaches us, led and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Today may be the last day of our program year, but this is not the church’s summer vacation. Today, as with every “little Easter,” is the first day of the real life of the people of God.

What do you think? Maybe we need to change the nick-name of this long green season after Pentecost. It’s not “ordinary time,” it’s “extra-ordinary!

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