November 21, 2021, The Extraordinary Ordinary, by Pastor David

Revelation 1:4b-8 Grace and peace to you, from the One who is, who was, and who is to come, from the seven spirits before the throne and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the Firstborn from the dead, sovereign of the rulers of the earth. To Christ—who loves us, and who has freed us from our sins by the shedding of blood, and who has made us to be a kingdom of priests to serve our God and Creator—to Jesus Christ be glory and power forever and ever!  Amen. Look!  Christ is coming on the clouds for every eye to see, even those who pierced Jesus, and all the peoples of the earth will mourn over Christ.  So be it!  Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says our God, “who is, who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

For just a moment let’s be quiet to listen to God’s voice echoing in this place from the scripture and that beautiful anthem. Let’s feel that voice in this sacred space made by the prayers of the last century and a half. 

November 21, 2021 The Extraordinary Ordinary

Last summer after I came back from a family reunion, I read a letter to you that my mother sent with carbon copies to all her brothers and sisters and cousins. If you remember the (slightly embarrassing) letter it was about Thanksgiving, 1962, the first time, evidently that I gave a public prayer.  I was 9 years old and I had been bugging her about how I could help, and she finally suggested that I write the grace. 

She said there were 17 people around the table as I gave a prayer of thanks for everything I could think of from A to Z, including P for “plumbing so wonderful” while the food got cold. It was not the last time, certainly, that people have wondered when my prayer would be over, but a 9 year old gets away with a lot, so I’m sure I didn’t notice.

I remembered this story again this week as I prepared for this Thanksgiving Sunday and read the Revelation passage which says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says our God, “who is, who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” Alpha and Omega, as Bret Mulligan, the classics teacher in our midst will tell us, is Greek for A to Z. Alpha is the first letter of the greek alphabet and Omega the last. God is saying in this last book for the Bible. I am in everything. Look carefully and you will find me. 

When I was growing up, we sang the Gloria Patri in church every week. I know a lot of you did too because I’ve heard how you resonate with the words, “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be.” I notice that our passage to day is different than that.  
Instead of God who was, is and ever shall be, the passage says, God who is, who was, and who is to come. The emphasis is God in the present, always in the present. God who is with us when we are laughing or crying, who is with us when we are kicking ourselves or when we are full of ourselves. God who is with us now, and who was with us when they founded this church, and God who is coming as as we try to figure out what the church can be for future generations.

God is not only present with us in every-thing from A to Z, but in all times and all places, but especially right here, right now. 

Revelation is a strange book. If you’ve ever read it, you know it’s hard to get your head around it. But it has some wonderful things to teach us. A few weeks ago, we read from a later part of Revelation where the writer addresses this letter to “the seven angels of the seven churches.” We have learned that the angels of the church are real - they are the corporate personality of the church that helps determine how the institution acts in the world. That insight alone helps us understand a lot about the world.

But what I want us to notice in particular today is an odd combination in the book between ordinary and extraordinary. It starts as an ordinary letter in the style of the time, “Grace and peace to you,” introducing the speaker and acknowledging the recipient. So it seems like a regular letter, but at the same time it is an apocalypse, talking in symbolic terms about fantastic occurrences in a realm beyond ours, where the forces of good and evil are at war.

Even as suffering goes on below, the victory of the saints, according to Revelation, is already accomplished in the heavenly realm. The community is greeted by the God who is was, and who is to come; God who holds all time in the divine hand not just the past, but the present and future. 

This vision would be of no use to people if heaven and earth are always on parallel tracks. But in John’s apocalyptic vision, the triumph of heaven becomes an earthly victory as well. This is the promise of Christ the King Sunday, that God’s kin-dom is being made real on earth. As Christians we live in a tension between the triumph that has happened in the resurrection and the not yet - the expectation that the triumph is yet to be completed. Revelation describes that completion as happening with the City of God coming to Earth. Our river of fabric in our sanctuary symbolized the river of life described in Revelation, flowing through the City of God. 
We have trouble trusting that revelation, trusting these parallel tracks of the ordinary everyday and the extraordinary truth of God’s real presence and triumph over the difficulties of this world. On this anniversary Sunday, I want to suggest to you that God is present for real in every moment - that every ordinary moment contains glimpses of the ordinary if we slow down and pay attention. 

One of the best expressions I have seen of this truth was portrayed by Thornton Wilder in the classic play Our Town. Maybe you’ve seen it. Wilder imagines a town where a tragedy has happened, but the lead character Emily is given a chance to come back from the dead to one day in her life to remind her of her life on earth. Over the warning of fellow members of the graveyard, she chooses to go back to her 12th birthday, which she thinks will be an ordinary enough day. When she gets there at the invitation of the stage manager who oversees her visit, she finds it almost too much to bear. Here’s what she says at the end of the play, as she is with her family who can’t see her:

Emily: I can’t bear it. They’re so young and beautiful. Why did they ever have to get old? Mama, I’m here. I’m grown up. I love you all, everything. – I can’t look at everything hard enough. Oh, Mama, just look at me one minute as though you really saw me. Mama, fourteen years have gone by. I’m dead. You’re a grandmother, Mama. I married George Gibbs, Mama. Wally’s dead, too. Mama, his appendix burst on a camping trip to North Conway. We felt just terrible about it – don’t you remember? But, just for a moment now we’re all together. Mama, just for a moment we’re happy. Let’s look at one another.

I can’t. I can’t go on. It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another. I didn’t realize. All that was going on in life, and we never noticed. Take me back – up the hill – to my grave. But first: Wait! One more look. Good-by, Good-by, world. Good-by, Grover’s Corners. Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking. And Mama’s sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths. And sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? – every, every minute?

Stage Manager: No. The saints and poets, maybe they do some.
Emily: I’m ready to go back. I should have listened to you. That’s all human beings are! Just blind people.

Today, as we celebrate 144 years as a church, as we remember the lives of loved ones who have left us, as we welcome new people as part of our community, as we honor Pastor Joanne and wish her well in her ministry, as we award Terri Leone and thank her for her care for our congregation - it’s all almost too much to take in - the beauty and extraordinary presence of God in every ordinary moment. On this day, for a moment, we open our eyes and dare to take in the beauty of it all- the extraordinary ordinary. 

In this Thanksgiving week, we might give ourselves the task of writing a Thanksgiving prayer. You could just make a list, giving thanks for everything from A to Z, from Alpha to Omega, from Abbott and Arnott to Vivino and Woolston, from young to old. And don’t forget to give thanks plumbing so wonderful. 
This is God’s good news. 

Responsive Hymn 728 Come Sunday