Ordinary People John 1:43-51
Take a minute and look around at the other people in this sanctuary. Look to your right and to your left. Look in front or behind. What do you see? You are probably seeing some ordinary people. Do you see anyone who is likely to be our next president?
Don't get me wrong. I'm not "down on" the people of this congregation -- far from it. I'm not suggesting that we aren't important. I just want to draw your attention to the fact that most of the people assembled in this sanctuary today are a lot like the people you would meet in a supermarket -- or at Wal-Mart -- or just walking down the street. Most of us don't get our picture in the paper very often. You won't see us on the national news.
I am reminded of first being called into ministry to serve as the pastor of a particular small rural church. A friend said, "I am familiar with that neighborhood. You will like it there. Those people are the salt of the earth."
He was right! They were the salt of the earth! The people in that congregation were pretty ordinary. One was a printer. One was an electrician. One worked for a restaurant chain. If I mentioned their names, none of them would register. You have never heard of them.
But they were good people -- the salt of the earth. They took care of their families. They took care of their church. They took care of their community. They prided themselves on preparing the children to take care of themselves.
The salt of the earth! Those were Jesus' words. He told his disciples that they were the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13). The people in that little congregation long ago were the salt of the earth. You are the salt of the earth too. We are the salt of the earth -- the seasoning that makes life palatable -- the preservative that holds life together. Salt is ordinary, isn't it -- just as we are. But it is also important -- just as we are.
I was reminded of that when I read our Gospel lesson today. The verses just ahead of our scripture text tell about Andrew coming to follow Jesus. You probably don't know much about Andrew. He was one of Jesus' apostles, but he was pretty ordinary -- a fisherman. We know of only two things that Andrew did. He invited his brother, Peter, to follow Jesus (John 1:40-42). And he directed Jesus' attention to a boy who had a few loaves and fishes -- the loaves and fishes that Jesus used for the Feeding of the Five Thousand (John 6:8-9).
Let me go over that again with you. Andrew was pretty ordinary. He did only two things that we know of. He brought his brother, Peter, to Jesus -- and he let Jesus know that there was a boy with a few loaves and fishes. But listen! The Holy Spirit touched those two things, and we are still blessed by them today. The man that Andrew invited to follow Jesus was Peter, who became the greatest apostle. The boy that Andrew pointed out to Jesus provided the starting point for a great miracle -- the Feeding of the Five Thousand.
And then, in our text today, Jesus invites Philip to follow him, and Philip does so. Philip was another ordinary man -- an apostle, but an ordinary apostle. We don't know much about him either. Our text tells us that Philip invited Nathanael to come and see Jesus, and Nathanael did. Later, Philip introduced some Greeks to Jesus (John 12:20-22). Then -- we think it was the same Philip -- he baptized the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8). That's about all that we know about Philip.
My point here is that both Andrew and Philip were ordinary men -- but Jesus chose each of them to be apostles. Neither of them did a great deal, but each of them, by the grace of God, did what God called him to do.
Why should that matter to us? It matters for this reason -- God, from the beginning, has chosen ordinary people -- people like Andrew and Philip -- people like you and me -- to do his Godly work.
The fact that God most often chooses ordinary people is no accident. For one thing, there are so many ordinary people that it would be a shame to leave us "on the shelf"-- unused.
But there's an even better reason why God uses ordinary people -- often preferring us to those whom the world calls great. When an ordinary person does something and it works out well, nobody is likely to say, "What a genius!" They know better. They are familiar with our clay feet. They know that we have good days and bad. If we hit a home run, they know that God must have caused a favorable breeze to carry the ball into the stands. So people are more likely to give God the credit he deserves when he uses an ordinary person to do his work.
And there's another reason why God loves to use ordinary people to do his extraordinary work. It is this. God gets great joy out of taking the little thing that we do and turning it into a miracle. It's the kind of joy that we get by helping a child learn how to walk -- or to paint a picture -- or tie her shoes. God gets that kind of joy out of transforming some little thing that we did into a masterpiece. God does that all the time -- everyday. There are more miracles lying around than we could ever count -- and God has used ordinary people to accomplish most of them.
Some of you have heard of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Kubler-Ross was a psychiatrist who did groundbreaking work in the care of dying people. Most of us don't like working with dying people. It makes us uncomfortable, because we feel helpless in the face of impending death. Even doctors and nurses feel uncomfortable around dying people. They feel as helpless as the rest of us.
But Kubler-Ross understood that we can help those who are dying. We can help them by our presence -- our touch -- our love. She helped to transform the way that dying people are treated in hospitals and nursing homes.
While working in a Chicago hospital, Kubler-Ross came to know a very ordinary woman -- a cleaning lady responsible for mopping floors and emptying wastebaskets. But Kubler-Ross noticed something quite extraordinary about this ordinary woman. When this woman would spend some time cleaning the room of a dying patient, the patient would almost always become quieter, more content, more at peace.
Kubler-Ross questioned the cleaning lady to find out how she did it -- how she had such a positive effect on dying patients. The woman explained that she had lived a hard life. She had experienced fear. She understood grief. The worst thing that had ever happened to her was the death of her three-year-old son. The little boy had developed pneumonia, so she had taken him to a public health clinic. He died in her arms while she waited her turn. The woman told Kubler-Ross:
"You see, doctor, the dying patients are just like old acquaintances to me,
and I'm not afraid to touch them, to talk with them, or to offer them hope."
Kubler-Ross got that woman promoted. The hospital created a new position for her. She was no longer a member of the custodial staff. She became "Special Counselor to the Dying."
I tell that story as a way of saying that each of us, no matter how ordinary, has something special to give -- a special reason for being alive. To uncover our special gift, we need to listen for Jesus' call. We need to hear him say, "Follow me!" Jesus MIGHT call us to be a minister or a missionary or a physician or a teacher. But we can be sure that he DOES call us to love our neighbor -- to help the needy -- to serve quietly in a thousand small ways.
When we heed his call, Jesus will make something important of our lives. He will unlock blessing after blessing that we can give to those around us. He will transform us from ordinary people into angels of mercy. And when that happens, we will find that we are the ones who have been truly blessed.
Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty UMH #64
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Here I Am, Lord UMH #593