by Ken Francis
(Based on John 1:29-41; Isa 49:1-7; Ps 40:1-11)
A parable: A homeowner locked up his house and went away for a long time. It was a beautiful house, in the classic style, but in the course of time it began to run down and deteriorate; and became occupied by a homeless woman. Other than a comfortable place to sleep, she found little in the house to sustain her, but she did find a store of seeds, which she planted in front of the house. They grew into a modest flower garden, which the woman tended over many years, and which drew admiration from passers-by, who wondered how such a shabby, decaying house could sport such a lovely, well-cared-for bed of flowers.
When the owner returned, he too marvelled at what he found, and wondered who had been responsible.
I’ve long been conscious of the value of being ordinary! I’ve thought of it as the ministry of being ordinary, or simply the ministry of being present.
All the readings prescribed for today, in our lectionary, for this second Sunday of Epiphany, are about callings. I’ve just read about the calling of Peter and Andrew, but we could similarly have read about the callings of Jeremiah, St Paul, Ezekiel and Elisha. All great biblical heroes. But – you may have noticed – I chose two other readings – the Psalm and the Isaiah – that were of a more general call – to all of us.
Note that Andrew’s mate, also called by Jesus, was unnamed! My wife has always pondered, as we’ve whiled away time across a coffee, what about all the ordinary people of Bible times? Did God not have need of others – unnamed, anonymous people? We read of so few of them. Or their callings.
And, what about us? Are we called in similar ways? It’s easy to read about Peter’s calling, for example – “Follow me,” it says in Luke’s account, “and I will make you fishers of men” – and think it applies to us personally. Maybe it does! But I’ve been following Christ for decades, and he hasn’t made me a ‘fisher of men’.
I remember once noting the outrageous things happening in Somalia: so-called warlords were intercepting and stealing any food aid the UN was sending to that country, so famine was rife. And a friend and I decided we were going to lease a cargo ship, load it up with supplies, and take it to Somalia ourselves. We were highly motivated … wanted to do it for the Lord … felt called to … but it never got off the ground!
I have another friend, in Hamilton, now ninety years old, who for decades has been travelling back and forwards from the Sudan, establishing churches and teaching pastors in that scorched, war torn land. He, apparently, was called to that work. I wasn’t.
So, what about we ordinary folk? We can’t all be Peters – or Jeremiahs or Moseses … or missionaries. If we all strive to be Peters we just end up frustrated and guilt-laden. So, what is there for we ordinaries to do?
I give you that shabby old house as a metaphor for our world. While we wait with longing for the full renovation to be done, the flowers we plant along the frontage tell the neighbourhood that someone new is in charge and that one day the whole house will match their beauty.
There is plenty we ordinary people can do, if we take it up. I have some ideas.
A line from something I was listening to the other day really struck me. It said, “The world is full of lonely people afraid to make the first move.” Does that strike you? Do you know any lonely people? Think for a moment. Is there anyone you might make “the first move” towards? Someone in your street? Perhaps someone in your family – even someone from whom you’ve been estranged. It may be someone you wouldn’t naturally be drawn to … might not appeal to you … But, there you go – it’s time to plant some flowers.
Or … I saw something about the Beatitudes. In the Beatitudes (in the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew’s Gospel), Jesus lists a bunch of types: the poor in spirit; those who mourn; those who hunger and thirst after righteousness; the persecuted; the meek … there are nine groups mentioned. And this commentator, Dallas Jenkins, suggested that this list was like a map.
Huh? How could the Beatitudes be considered a map? Well, it’s a map to help us find Jesus. Again – huh?! Yes – he said, find these groups of people and join them; embrace them … and that’s where you’ll find Jesus.
So there’s a thought! Do you know anyone meek, poor in spirit, a peacemaker? There’s your cue.
Or … does the plight of the poor and marginalised in the world trouble you? Is there anything we can do to minister there … in an ordinary way? Can we plant flowers in their front gardens? We’re relatively wealthy here in NZ. Do we deploy the resources God has given us – to share, mind you – wisely? Let’s review our giving – to charity, relief work, mission … particularly in suffering countries.
We can all be homeless people, somehow planting flowers in this shabby world. We can be ordinary, but even within that we can sense a calling – even a ministry. You might be being called to be a Moses or a Peter. That would be wonderful. But you might be being called to be an anonymous, ordinary, present person. There’s nothing wrong with that! Just be an extraordinary ordinary person, serving God in your specific habitat – a deliberate planter of flowers.
[Father God, may we take up the challenge this week. Let this not be just a nice word, a nice parable, but a cue to take some initiative to find someone to embrace: someone poor in spirit, or pure in heart. Someone perhaps lonely or persecuted in some way, or someone unlovely … or discouraged or depressed. May we seek such situations with intent, trusting in your guidance and calling, that we may be you to them. Amen.]