Faith in the Ordinary Times
Five loaves, two small fish, and God
Jesus away went to a lonely place by himself, but the crowds heard about it, and when he arrived, he saw a great crowd waiting. He felt sorry for them and healed those who were sick. When it was evening, Jesus said to his followers, "Where can we buy enough bread for all these people to eat?" Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said, "Here is a boy with five loaves of barley bread and two little fish, but that is not enough for so many people." Jesus said, "Tell the people to sit down." Then Jesus took the loaves of bread and fish, and looking to heaven, he thanked God for them. Jesus divided the food and gave it to his followers, who gave it to the people, as much as the people wanted. When they had all had eaten and were satisfied, Jesus said to his followers, "Gather the leftover pieces of fish and bread so that nothing is wasted." So they gathered up the pieces, and filled twelve baskets with the leftovers. There were about five thousand men there who ate, plus women and children. (Matthew 14:13-21, John 5:1-9)
I do feel that whoever designed the church's calendar, didn't really plan it out very well ! Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, all come along close together in the first half of the church's year. But then, from May right through until November, there are no more major festivals. It's all green 'Ordinary time', when nothing much happens, except to count Sundays after Trinity. And by the time we get to twenty odd Sundays after Trinity, frankly, it can start to feel a bit monotonous, perhaps even slightly boring !
But then, isn't life often like that too ? We all have our high points and low points, but for most of us, most of the time, life is probably fairly routine. Nothing much happens. We keep going with the normal, ordinary, everyday things that have to be done, at home, at work, at church. When life is like that, does it start to feel a bit monotonous, perhaps even slightly boring, sometimes ?
Did you know that the early Celtic Christians recognised three different types of martyrdom ? They had 'Red Martyrs' - who were people that died for their faith. 'White Martyrs' - were people who journeyed into the unknown, to preach the gospel. And they had 'Green Martyrs'. These were people who didn't do great heroic deeds. They didn't perform miracles. They didn't travel to unknown places. They stayed where they were, and they kept things going. They stayed faithful to God in the ordinary, repetitive, perhaps even sometimes slightly boring, day after day, routine tasks and frustrations, which make up most of daily life.
Although we no longer name people 'Green Martyrs', they still exist - I'm sure you can think of some. They are people who don't make the headlines. They don't have books written about them. Yet, at home, at work, at church, year after year, they are the people who encourage and empower others to do great things; who help and support others in what they do; who undergird everything with prayer; usually in the background; often overlooked and unacknowledged. They are the people who get things done and keep things going. Without them, little would get started, and even less would keep going - making Green Martyrs vitally important for everything the church achieves !
I suspect most people here are probably Green Martyrs - people involved in the details, who get things done, who keep things going. And if occasionally we wish we could do something a bit more exciting, we need to remember, that we each have a unique part in God's plan. Whatever that is, it's vital to the mission of the God's church in the world, and only we can accomplish it !
In the highest and lowest points of our lives, we probably find it easy to involve God. But when it seems there's nothing much going on, sometimes it can be much harder to do.
During these 'ordinary times', we may feel that God isn't interested in the everyday details of our lives, and so it can be difficult to keep our faith alive and vital. We know God sees the 'big picture', but is he really interested in the ordinary details of daily life ?
If you suspect God isn't interested in details, look at the passage in Exodus with God's instructions for building the Ark of the Covenant and the 'Tent of Meeting'. God tells Moses exactly what he wants, right down to the smallest details. He even stipulates what the Priests should wear, including their underwear ! (Think about that next time you're shopping for new undies !)
Or if you think God doesn't get involved with ordinary situations or people, have a look at the passage in 1 Samuel where Saul goes searching for some lost donkeys, and returns home anointed as Israel's first King !
Or the book of Ruth - A childless widow, travels to a foreign land to look after her grumpy mother-in-law. Ruth became the great grandmother of King David, and one of Jesus' ancestors !
Or think about the Christmas story - A young, unmarried, ordinary girl, becomes a mother. Her baby is Jesus, the Saviour of the world !
The Bible is full of stories of God working though ordinary details, in the lives of ordinary people, to achieve extraordinary things.
God can do more than we can ever imagine, because He can use the most ordinary things, to create something extraordinary. Like using five loaves and two fish, to feed a crowd of more than 5000 people. (John makes sure we know they were only small fish - can you tell he's a fisherman ?)
We may think that what we offer to God is something too small to be useful - Andrew certainly did when he offered Jesus the boy's picnic, but they offered it anyway. Jesus accepted their offering, and it became something extraordinary. I don't suppose the boy was the only person in the crowd that day that had brought food, but he was the only one who offered anything to Jesus. Did you notice Jesus' amazing generosity ? He could have simply provided enough food to tide the people over until they got home. Instead, everyone who present that day ate until they were satisfied, and afterwards, 12 baskets of leftovers were collected. (I suspect that was Jesus also providing food for the disciples the next day !)
When we genuinely offer something to God, he will never reject it. God can take even our smallest, most ordinary, actions or offerings, and make something remarkable happen, even though we may never know what he does.
But it can be difficult to involve God in the ordinary details of our lives. How do we live out our faith in our daily routine ? How do we make God central in our lives ? How do we involve God in everything we do ?
Returning to the early Celtic Christians, no doubt their 'Green Martyrs' faced the same challenges. I'm sure that's why they had prayers to accompany everything they did - even ordinary, everyday tasks - like milking cows, making butter, making the bed. Although milking cows and making butter isn't high on my 'To Do' list, their rhythms of prayer do suggest ways for us to involve God more in our daily routines.
I may wonder if God wants to know that I went to the supermarket ? Or was late home because of heavy traffic? Or heard some music that made me want to get up and dance? Or something in the news made me cry ?
But perhaps at the supermarket, I could pray for the person on the till, or the others in the queue ? Perhaps in a traffic jam, I could pray for everyone stuck in it? Perhaps I could give thanks for the talents of musicians, whose music I hear ? Perhaps I could pray for the people in the news ? Perhaps when I hear an emergency siren I could pray for the emergency services and the people they help ? Or pray for the people on my bus ? Or for whoever I phone or text or e-mail ? Or for those I work with ?
Even if we feel our lives are ordinary, God is never ordinary, so when we involve God in every aspect of our lives - be warned - he can make extraordinary things happen !
Going back to the church's calendar, perhaps we could start a campaign for a new major festival ? It should be sometime between May and November, during the church's green 'Ordinary time'. It will be a time to recognise and celebrate, all of the 'Green Martyrs' in our churches, and all the things they do. They definitely deserve it ! But it could also be a time when we all remember that with God, nothing is ever ordinary - and that includes us !
You might also find these passages helpful :
Read : Exodus chapters 25-28 : If you are ever tempted to think that God is only aware of the 'big picture' and is not interested in details, have a look through the specification God gave to Moses for building the Ark of the Covenant, the Tent of Meeting, and the Priests' robes (including their underwear !)
Read : Ruth chapters 1-4 : is the story of some very ordinary people, whose ordinary lives God uses in an extraordinary way. . . .
Read : 1 Samuel chapters 9-10 : If you are ever tempted to think that God is only aware of the 'big picture' and is not interested in details, read how Saul goes looking for his father's donkeys, and after an amazing series of 'coincidences' (?!) is anointed by Samuel, as Israel's first King. . . .
Read : Matthew 1 : How many of the people in Matthew's list are familiar ? Many of these people are only found in this list, they are not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible ! They were 'ordinary' people, living 'ordinary' lives, and yet they are listed as Jesus' ancestors. God works through 'ordinary' people and situations, to achieve extra-ordinary results. . . .
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