Good morning everybody. May I speak in the name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
This week the Church enters the long period known as ordinary time, weeks and months which stretch out before us and will carry us back around to Advent. You’ll notice that our priests have green stoles on today, and if we were in church, there would be a green altar frontal too. Green is the colour of this season. When I arrived here, we were wearing Green, and so I realise, with some shock, that it’s approaching a year since I first joined you. How time really does fly!
Ordinary time is the period of the Church’s life which falls outside of the big, flashy seasons of celebration (Easter, Christmas) or preparation (Lent and Advent). And just as most of our days are quite ordinary days, outside of the extraordinary times of birth, or death, or celebrations, or transitions, such as retirement. Most of our life is spent in seemingly ordinary days. How it feels like that as we enter this third month of lockdown – a strange, extraordinary time, that has been made up, for so many of us, of a lot of ordinary same-old type of days.
So ordinary time could perhaps have a tendency to feel repetitive, long, or even boring. But its symbolic colour, Green, speaks to us here. Green is the colour of growth, of new things, of deepening roots, or planting and nurturing with good, rich soil. Of pruning, controlling. Yes, growth can sometimes feel boring. It can sometimes feel amazing – fresh spirit coursing through us like new sap rising. But it is not always comfortable. Periods of growth, or evolution, of responding to God’s call afresh can feel difficult, painful even.
In today’s Gospel reading I think we see the disciples in the equivalent of ordinary time, no big festival or event, just getting on with their ordinary lives – fishing, perhaps farming, tax collecting… And then they are called. And their lives change, in both subtle and outrageous ways. Their calling by Jesus comes with a new identity, apostle,, new friendships, new tasks, and new challenges. They are given extraordinary power, and privilege – cast out demons, heal the sick, raise the dead. Each one leading them to strange places, right into the heart of people’s lives. They are tasked with difficult, scary, yet amazing things.
So as we travel into ordinary time, as we look into our own lives – both individual and communal, what do we see God calling us to? Remember, we are to proclaim that the Kingdom of heaven has come near. That is what we must believe. The Kingdom of God, a new way of being, of seeing – that which Mary joyfully proclaimed when Jesus crashed into her life, into her body – a way of equality and freedom – of raising up those who are lowly, of scattering the proud. The kingdom of God is perhaps not always sunbeams, as in the animation today. It’s a challenge.
In our world around us we see that challenge. The past few weeks have shown the depth of injustice and inequality in our society. The COVID pandemic has shown how us both how much more susceptible those who live in poverty are to this disease, but also how necessary and cherished those who until recently were labelled ‘unskilled’ are. Recent world events have also unveiled, at least to those among us who have the privilege of being able to not see, the inequality of race which still exists in our society today. We, who have heard the message of Christ, know that all lives are precious, and yet we see in society that some seem to have mattered less. We are having to face the wrongs which our society has inflicted on others, the effects of that history which still is being played out today, and the new ways in which those evils are manifested.
As a nation we cannot feel proud of our involvement in the African slave trade, we need to examine why black people still have lower life chances today, why they still face racism and prejudice, and abuse, and we need to look at where slavery still exists in our world and our nation today. Cast out demons, Jesus calls.
In our town, we have a great pedigree for doing just this. William Knibb, son of this town – a Baptist minister who fought not only to free slaves in Jamaica, to advocate for abolition across the empire, but also provided the structures to enable slaves to live a truly free life – property and education. He was driven by his love for his fellow humans, the strength of his convictions, and his calling from God – in a speech of 1832 he said ‘Lord, open the eyes of Christians in England, to see the evil of slavery and to banish it from the earth’. If such things can be done in his time, what could we do today?
Jesus instructs his disciples to go first to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, a seemingly strange message for a man who, as we know, later embraced Samaritans and made disciples of all nations. But perhaps this is telling us to look first to ourselves, to what needs examination and pruning, and to be given the opportunity to grow and flourish.
Ordinary time is not easy, but, with God’s help, it is fruitful. Thanks be to God.