1 And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. 3 So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.
4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. 6 So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
Luke 2:1-7 (New King James Version)
This is the Christmas story. This is the story of God directly intervening in human history and taking on our flesh. This is the story of God being born in an actual time (roughly two thousand years ago), in an actual place (the city of Bethlehem), to actual parents (a young woman named Mary, and her fiancé Joseph), dealing with actual problems (ranging from Rome’s occupation of Israel to their inability to find an adequate place to welcome a child into this world).
This is a story of God truly being with us…and it’s an extraordinary story.
1 Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them, came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. 2 But they found the stone rolled away from the tomb. 3 Then they went in and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 And it happened, as they were greatly perplexed about this, that behold, two men stood by them in shining garments. 5 Then, as they were afraid and bowed their faces to the earth, they said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 He is not here, but is risen!
Luke 24:1-6a (New King James Version)
This is the story of the resurrection. This is the story of God overcoming the worst that this world has to offer: rejection, betrayal, denial, isolation, torture, and death. This is the story of a real person – who is fully God and fully man – willingly enduring pain and suffering so that we don’t have to deal with the pain and suffering of being separated from God.
This is a story of God truly being for us…and it’s an extraordinary story.
1 When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. 4 They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.
Acts 2:1-4 (Common English Bible)
This is the story of Pentecost. This is the story of the Holy Spirit coming down from the heavens like a fierce howling wind or a raging fire, to rest on us – Jesus’ followers. This is the story of the Holy Spirit overtaking the disciples, allowing them to speak in languages they had never spoken, to proclaim the good news of Jesus to people they had never met so that they could know the deep love that God has for us all.
This is a story of God truly being seen and known through us…and it’s an extraordinary story.
But today’s not Christmas. Today’s not Easter. Today’s not Pentecost. Today’s not the day we mark our calendars to celebrate the birth of Christ, or the resurrection, or the coming of the Holy Spirit.
So what is today? Well, it’s November 13. It’s the day that Benjamin Franklin famously wrote that there is “Nothing certain but death and taxes” in 1789. It’s the day that Walt Disney’s animated film Fantasia first premiered in 1940. It’s even the day that Hawaii sent out its first shipment of canned pineapple back in 1895. And although those are all interesting historical facts, they aren’t exactly events that changed the course of human history.
So in the grand scheme of things, what is today? Well, for us at Melbourne Heights, it’s our fourth Sunday in our new church home…so we’re all settling into a regular routine. We’ve found our regular parking spaces and places to sit in the sanctuary. But that’s not all, today is also our last regular Sunday before we enter into our first holiday season in our new home. And even though all of that is important in the life of our church, it’s not like we’re going to commemorate the anniversary of our fourth Sunday in our new space next year.
So what is today? Well, today is an ordinary day.
And ordinary days are…well, ordinary. They’re not the kind of days we circle on our calendars. They’re not the kind of days we find ourselves counting down to. They’re not the kind of days we buy fancy new dresses or suits for. They’re not the days we’ve been planning for months.
But as John Lennon famously put it in his song Beautiful Boy, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.”
"Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans."
Ordinary days are when most of life happens. But ordinary days don’t get much attention. Extraordinary days do.
Let me show you what I mean. I’m going to list off a bunch of days for you, and I’m willing to bet that you have some idea of what you’ll be doing on most of those days. Like Thanksgiving Day. Thanksgiving is now only 11 days away. So at this point, you probably know where you’ll be going to celebrate Thanksgiving or how many people are going to be coming over to your house. You have an idea of what you’re going to be cooking, and you may have already put a shopping list together of all your ingredients. But the point is that you have some idea of what you’ll be doing on Thanksgiving.
Or how about Christmas? Now, in our world today Christmas feels like it’s way more than just one day. So you probably already have an idea of what you’ll be doing all throughout the Christmas season. Whether you’re planning on coming to some of the events we’ll have happening here at Melbourne Heights, or if you’re making plans to visit some of your distant relatives, chances are your calendar is already filling up. So you have some idea of what you’ll be doing on Christmas.
But what about Mother’s Day? Or the Fourth of July? Or even next Halloween? All of those days all still months away…but there’s a good chance you already have some idea about what you’ll do on these extraordinary days.
But what are you planning on doing this Thursday night? Now Thursday’s pretty ordinary, so you probably haven’t given it any thought. And that’s not a bad thing, that’s just how we’re programmed. We focus on the extraordinary, and the ordinary is an afterthought.
We focus on the extraordinary, and the ordinary is an afterthought.
And that’s even true in church. In church, we spend a lot of time thinking about the extraordinary. We’ll spend months planning out the special events and activities that happen around Christmas. We’ll spend weeks trying to finalize every detail of the worship service on Easter Sunday. We might even encourage you to dress in red when Pentecost Sunday rolls around.
But we don’t really spend a lot of time thinking about the ordinary. Maybe it’s because faith is just easier when we’re focused on those monumental moments when God directly intervened in our world and changed everything…or maybe it’s because we know there’ll be more people at church around Christmas and Easter. But whatever the reason may be, we never really focus on the ordinary.
Even right now, as a church, we have been focused on the extraordinary. We’ve spent the last few weeks together taking a closer look at Israel’s journey into the Promised Land. And as we’ve explored these stories about God’s people finally arriving in the place they had been waiting for, we’ve been thinking about where we’re at as a church right now. We’ve been thinking about the fact that we’ve just arrived in our own little promised land – our new church home, the place that God will use us to minister to and bless our community.
And all of that is pretty extraordinary. I mean, our church hasn’t really felt like we’ve had a home since before the pandemic began.
But there’s something wrong with never focusing on the ordinary. And that’s because most of our faith isn’t lived out on Christmas, or Easter, or Pentecost. Most of our time together as a church isn’t spent trying to sell a building or find a new place to worship – even if it’s felt that way the last couple of years.
The truth is, we live out our faith on ordinary days more than on extraordinary days.
We live out our faith on ordinary days more than on extraordinary days.
So as we wrap up this sermon series on the Promised Land today, we should spend more time thinking about, talking about, and even planning how to live out our faith on the ordinary days we’re already entering into.
So how do we do that? How do we live out our faith on ordinary days?
Well, I think a good place to start trying to answer that question is to take a look at a story near the end of the book of Joshua – which is the book that we’ve been exploring throughout this sermon series. So, if you’ve got a Bible close by go ahead and grab it and turn to Joshua 24. Joshua 24, and we’ll start reading in verse 1, where we’re told:
1 Then Joshua summoned all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, including their elders, leaders, judges, and officers. So they came and presented themselves to God.
2 Joshua said to the people, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Long ago your ancestors, including Terah, the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River, and they worshiped other gods. 3 But I took your ancestor Abraham from the land beyond the Euphrates and led him into the land of Canaan. I gave him many descendants through his son Isaac. 4 To Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. To Esau I gave the mountains of Seir, while Jacob and his children went down into Egypt.
5 “Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I brought terrible plagues on Egypt; and afterward I brought you out as a free people. 6 But when your ancestors arrived at the Red Sea, the Egyptians chased after you with chariots and charioteers. 7 When your ancestors cried out to the Lord, I put darkness between you and the Egyptians. I brought the sea crashing down on the Egyptians, drowning them. With your very own eyes you saw what I did. Then you lived in the wilderness for many years.
8 “Finally, I brought you into the land of the Amorites on the east side of the Jordan. They fought against you, but I destroyed them before you. I gave you victory over them, and you took possession of their land. 9 Then Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab, started a war against Israel. He summoned Balaam son of Beor to curse you, 10 but I would not listen to him. Instead, I made Balaam bless you, and so I rescued you from Balak.
11 “When you crossed the Jordan River and came to Jericho, the men of Jericho fought against you, as did the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. But I gave you victory over them. 12 And I sent terror ahead of you to drive out the two kings of the Amorites. It was not your swords or bows that brought you victory. 13 I gave you land you had not worked on, and I gave you towns you did not build—the towns where you are now living. I gave you vineyards and olive groves for food, though you did not plant them.
14 “So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone.
Joshua 24:1-14 (New Living Translation)
Now let’s stop right here for just a minute. Up to this point in this passage, Joshua has been reminding the people of Israel about some of the extraordinary things that God has done for them. He reminds them that their entire lineage started with a single man, named Abraham, who decided to follow God. God blessed this man, and his wife, with a child…even though they were well past childbearing years.
They’re then reminded that God provided for their people during a time of famine by sending them to Egypt. And they’re also reminded that God delivered them back from Egypt after Egypt’s Pharaoh enslaved them. And Joshua recalls all the extraordinary things God did to free the people of Israel – from the plagues, to the parting of the Red Sea, to their arrival in the Promised Land.
He then reminds them of their conquest of the Promised Land, when God gave them back the land their ancestors were promised.
So the people of Israel had followed God through some extraordinary times, but as we pick the story back up, we’ll see that none of that matters to Joshua. So let’s listen to what Joshua says in verse 15. It says:
15 “But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.”
Joshua 24:15 (New Living Translation)
To Joshua, Israel’s history with God doesn’t matter. What matters is their decision to follow God today.
What matters is their decision to follow God today.
“Choose today whom you will serve.” Why does Joshua tell the people of Israel this? Because Joshua knows that God has done extraordinary things for the people of Israel in the past. Joshua knows that the people have chosen to follow God going back to the days of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But Joshua also knows that none of it means a thing if they don’t choose to follow God today.
All of the extraordinary moments of our faith don’t mean a thing if we don’t choose to follow God on an ordinary day. And every day you make that choice.
You make that choice while you’re sitting in traffic. You make that choice when you’re checking out at Kroger. You make that choice while you’re in the office. You make that choice when you’re talking to your spouse. You make that choice when you’re playing with your kids or grandkids. You make that choice when someone asks you for help. You make that choice when you see someone who could use a hand. You make that choice dozens of times throughout the day without ever even thinking about it.
But if you really want to follow God in ordinary times, you have to choose to follow God this day. You have to choose to follow God this day in the words you speak and the words you leave unspoken. You have to choose to follow God this day in the actions you take and the things you leave undone. You have to choose to follow God this day consciously and intentionally.
So if you want to be the person God made you to be, you have to choose. If we want to be the church God calls us to be, we have to choose. We have to choose to follow God in the extraordinary and the ordinary. We have to choose to follow God today.