Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Ordinary People

ed. note:  This was Pastor Sandy's introductory sermon to Girdwood Chapel on July 6th.  It's a great way for you to get to know our new pastor, in her own words.

Ordinary People                                         sermon: 7.6.2014                Sandy Ward
Good morning. 
This is a story about a very ordinary person, in a very ordinary life.  There is nothing glamorous, and no one is going to write an epic drama mini-series depicting this life.  But in this ordinariness there is something very awesome and very empowering…
It was a blustery fall day, in fact it was Halloween, and the doctor was trying to finish his obligations.  I was one of his obligations – or rather my mother and I were his obligations.  I had to be born so he could go out of town.  I was both a trick and a treat that night in Moline, IL. 
Over the next seven years, my older brother and I were joined by another sister and brother.  It was the 60’s and my dad went to work each day at his job as a tool and die maker, and my mother stayed home and raised the children.  We were… a very ordinary family.  We walked to our school two blocks away, went to lessons and after school activities, and on Sundays my mother took us four kids to Sunday School and church service at the Watertown Baptist Church.  I remember it being a medium size church with one male pastor, and a male youth pastor that was hired later.  This was the church my mother’s entire family attended, 3 aunts, 3 uncles, 9 cousins, grandma, mom and my 3 siblings. 
I grew up memorizing bible verses and the books of the Bible.  John 3:16, King James style, was the central verse of this church’s ministry, long before churches had mission statements and ministry plans.  The minister lived in a parsonage that was connected to the church.  Worship was every Sunday morning, Sunday night and I think there was a mid-week service.  When I was in high school, we had youth group on Sunday evenings. It was a …very ordinary church.
I was an ordinary middle child, who went to an ordinary school and ordinary church.  I even went to Normal, IL for college.    In the years that followed college I moved to Chicago, worked in corporate America and went to grad school at night.   I was living the dream of the 80’s – working in corporate America, getting an MBA.  I had a nice car, a condo in the city,  By some folk’s standards, I had it all… but after about 10 years of that I wanted something more meaningful. 
I was growing restless; I drifted in and out of church attendance, not really finding a downtown church to latch onto. I was struggling with how to live in a self-absorbed, fast-tracked world while really wanting to make some sort of social contribution.  I had growing need to serve others. 
In July of 1989, I met my husband on a boat in Wilmette Harbor.  We were sailing together on a mutual friend’s boat in a regatta on Lake Michigan.  Two years later we were married outdoors at Windpoint Lighthouse in Racine, Wisconsin.  Our son, Cameron, was born a year and a half later.  It was 1992, and by this point I had left corporate America and was working as the Marketing Manager of a hospital, starting  to make some contribution to society.  And with a new baby, it was time to get serious about getting back to church.  (How ordinary is that story?)
In 1994 we moved to Ames, Iowa, we began to find a family routine and values around worship, mission and fellowship at the First UMC in Ames.  With a one year old in tow, and another baby on the way, now my identity was as a wife and mother.   When we moved again to East Lansing, Michigan, it was easy to connect with a new church.  Now we had 2 preschoolers (Cameron and Blake), my husband was in law school and I was working at Michigan State University.  At church I was a Sunday School teacher and my husband ran the sound board, and we chaired the outreach committee, and many of our neighborhood friends were also our church friends.
Fast forward ten years.  We had been raising our children with Church attendance and activities as a regular part of our lives, when we moved to Columbia, MO.  We found a new church and it was easy to connect because now we had school age children.  I was employed working for the church – first in a more regional setting then later at the church we attended and were members of.  My oldest son graduated from high school, my husband had a good job, my younger son was growing up, and life should have been savored and appreciated.  But I knew there was something more.  Thoughts of attending seminary had floated in and out of my mind, and I had this very compelling feeling that each job and each experience had been building to something greater.  This was my call and I either had to live into it, or forget it.  I knew I had to be true to myself and my God.  So, like many of our household business discussions, I decided to bring it up with my husband over lunch.  I said “hey, I want to talk to you about something”… and he said “you want to go to seminary”.  I was shocked!   “yeah… how did you know?”  He said “I thought you should have gone years ago”.    What a gift that was to me.  I felt peace, and a solid sense of direction. 

The story doesn’t end there.  It’s actually a new beginning.  Because, through this journey, I began to discover that even the most ordinary people are something special.  And through my own Bible study, this is one of the scriptures that has really really embraced and empowered me; 
Psalm 139:13-14:
 For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.”
 In this passage, the psalmist is David, and he is writing in praise for the formation of each and every person -- unique and not of ourselves or our parents, but of God.  Think about it, each and every muscle, bone, organ and blood vessel is in place to work together in exact symmetry and proportion and is designed exquisitely to deliver energy and function when we need it.  These verses transcend the scientific concept of humans as merely biological happenings. David is so eloquent in making the case that each human is a deliberate and intentional work of our omnipotent creator.  Our very being, our self, wholly and complex, is the will of God and we belong to God in every aspect of our being.   
            Look especially at 3 words in this passage:  formed, fearfully and made:
First, the word “formed”, from verse 13 ““For it was you who formed my inward parts”:  Albert Barnes,( in his article in Sacred Texts), comments that the literal translation of v.13 should be “Thou hast “woven” me in my mother’s womb”, “meaning that God had put the psalmist’s parts together, as one weaves cloth – God made us human, forming our parts and uniting them in a bodily frame and form.” [1] 

Second, the word “fearfully”, from verse 14, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made”:   Dr. C. John Collins, a theologian at  Covenant Theological Seminary, writes that when you interpret verse 14 from the Hebrew, it is better translated as “I am fearfully (or even better, awesomely) wonderful”.   Fearfully is derived from the root word “yara”,  In today’s culture, fear is usually associated with the instincts to run, defend or retaliate.  But “yara” actually encompasses a larger meaning of awe, reverent respect, and honor.  At its root, the word denotes obedience to the divine will, so another meaning might be “reverently”.  Albert Barnes provides a translation of “fearfully” as things suited to produce fear or reverence – things in creation which are suited to inspire awe”. [2]   

Third, look at the word “made”, also from verse 14:  The common Biblical translations usually say “I am fearfully and wonderfully made…”, but actually, the word “made” translates closer to “be separated, distinct”, with a nuance based on the Hebrew verb that means “set apart for God’s gracious attention.”[3]  

Putting it all together, using the wisdom of Barnes and Collins, a better interpretation might be ‘God put me together in my mother’s womb, uniting all of me together in a human body.  I am revered as an awesomely distinct being, set apart for God’s gracious attention.’ 

We are living proof of God’s wonder, wisdom and knowledge.  We are created in the image of God, according to Genesis 1:27 “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them”. 
When I first began this journey of exploring a call to ministry, I was asked to tell my story.  I told a humble, “Readers Digest” version and a colleague said to me, “you have something to shout about – you are the daughter of the King”.  What a conviction!  God created me and gave me exactly what I need, to be able to do what I am called to do.  I am created to share the good news of the love and grace of our Lord and do good works.  I am created to serve as Jesus served, lead as Jesus led, pray as Jesus prayed and love and Jesus loved. 
And I think we all have a call to serve God in one way or another.    God has created you uniquely, formed and framed by God.  Each of us was reverently, wondrously, strikingly, remarkable, differently made, in ways beyond human explanation.  We are to know God, just as God knows us.  God has given you exactly what you need to be able to do what God calls you to do.  You are empowered to live a God filled life, by virtue of the wondrous creation you are. 
 While I may have had a pretty ordinary life by most people’s standards, I am far from ordinary in God’s eyes.   I AM the daughter of the King!   And there is nothing ordinary about any of us – we are all children of our living and loving God – each of us uniquely created to live out our own faith, our own call, our own identity in the world.  You are sons and daughters of the King!!
On this weekend when we are celebrating our country’s independence, we remember all those who have done a part to protect our freedom -- many of them from very ordinary walks of life, but all of them courageously stepping up.  But in each of us, ordinary or not, God has created us with beauty and purpose.  Remember that you are the daughter or son of the King, and that each and every one of us is an “awesomely distinct being, set apart for God’s gracious attention and reflection.    

[1] Albert Barnes.  Notes on the Bible:  Psalms Chapter 139, 1834,, 2010
[2] Albert Barnes.  Notes on the Bible:  Psalms Chapter 139, 1834,, 2010
[3] C. John Collins.  “Psalm 139:14:  “Fearfully and Wonderfully Made” Presbyterian: Covenant Seminary Review 25:2 (Fall 1999): 115