1 Samuel 8: 4-11, 16-20; Mark 3:20-35
June 27, 2021———-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Guest Preacher, Rev. Christy Ramsey
We have all felt like Samuel. No, I’m not talking about being called old by the people, although we may have been there, too. I’m talking about Samuel going crazy. This is crazy Samuel time. When you know what is right. When you know what happens, and what will happen, and how the world is arranged, and you tell the people that. In no uncertain terms, you tell them the reality of having a king, for example. The high taxes. The forced labor. All the stuff.
And the people, they don’t argue. They don’t have a conversation, much less the compromise or consensus. They just say, to all your wonderful reasons of how the world works, they say no. No. No. All the stuff you said, all the great reasons you gave, we say no. We want a king. We want to be like other nations. Did you hear it? We want to be normal. Who can say hallelujah to being normal? I haven’t heard more consensus around an idea ever. I want to be normal. All praise to the God normal, where everything is normal.
I want to talk to you about normal, that that isn’t normal. And they’re proud of that. I can tell you for sure you are not normal. And I just have to say one day, one morning, my first Nevada Day parade. First, we have the governor riding atop a military half-track, going down Main Street. I go, what? That’s not normal, the governor in a military half-track going down the main street. That’s a little odd. Then next, a few floats later, we have a convertible with sex workers telling us to come on down to the brothel for the Nevada Day Special. Okay, that’s not normal for this Ohio boy. And then, to finish up the parade, we have the synchronized shooting rifles drill team. Okay. We really don’t think that’s normal in Ohio or anywhere I’ve been. We shoot guns together in a parade. Not something we do.
And we talk about going into a pharmacy or a grocery store, and there are slot machines, and a whole room full of them. Now, people have told me all my life that the way I eat is a gamble, but here we have the slot machines to prove it. Normal. People wanting to be normal. We want to be like the other nations. You know, they have a king that goes out before them and fights their battles and does the things that other nations do. We want to be normal.
And I’m here to tell you that the Bible is against normal. Well, that’s not totally true. I mean, the Bible is sort of split. The people and God come down differently because God is against normal. The people, they’re all for it. And you could say the whole story of the Bible could be, look at the lens between God saying don’t be normal and the people saying, yeah, we really want to be normal. And that’s all story of salvation. The abnormal love and grace of God calling normal people into abnormal community.
And it’s not just the Hebrew Scriptures. Our reading from the Gospel, we have the family of Jesus saying why can’t that kid just be normal? Why can’t he get a normal job? Why is he fooling around with demons? And you see that it says “restrained.” The family didn’t come to talk to him. The family didn’t come to be with him in his meeting. The family didn’t come to dinner. They were outside. They were there to restrain him. Was this some kind of early intervention? To try to convince him to change his ways? To get him out of that cult he was starting? They wanted him to be normal.
Does that ever happen today? I think if you go to any Pride event, you don’t even have to go to the parade. You can just go to the people that came to watch the parade. And they will tell you about their family, wanting them to just be normal. Not be who they are, but be normal. Not be with who they love, but be normal. Study just came out in Canada that one out of 10 gay people up in Canada have been forced into some kind of conversion therapy. One out of 10 in 2021. To be normal. Do we worship normal?
Normally, in a typical year, 300 children die of ‘flu. Every year, year in, year out, 300 children. 600 parents. Let me see if I get my math. Hundreds, thousands of grandparents lose a child. Normal. Oh, it’s normal. But this year, with us wearing masks, keeping distance, washing our hands, zero children died of the ‘flu. Zero. That is not normal. When you tell me, you want to go back to normal, I’ve got to say, hold on now. Have you thought about what normal was? Children dying? You want to go back to normal?
You know, with normal, for people of color, every time they get a traffic stop, to be in a life-or-death situation, to be somehow an unwilling participant in a murder edition of Simon Says, that if you don’t do what I say as quickly as I said in the right quickly way, your life is in danger. That was normal. It was normal for us white people to deny, ignore, explain away, and say, oh, they must’ve done something wrong. Oh, if they only did things quickly, or did follow instructions, or did this. It was just normal for people to get killed, people of color to get killed over a traffic stop, over a minor violation, over a misdemeanor. Is that normal we want?
How about women? This is the only year, year and a half, in the recent history of our country where women were not constantly told to smile. They’re so much prettier when they smile. Where men would tell women how they should feel, how they should look, how they should act. Heck fire, you didn’t even have to wear makeup if you didn’t want to. It used to be normal to tell people how to live and how to smile and how they should be in the world. And now we can put the mask on. They don’t know if we’re grimacing or whatever. Do you want to get back to that normal?
What about us religious folks? Yeah, maybe you’re not a person of color. Maybe you’re not a woman. Maybe you don’t have children young and susceptible to the ‘flu. We’re all in church. We know what normal is at church. Want to get back to the normal. Do we? I mean, with normal, that if you are not able-bodied and could not sit quietly without interruption for an hour – hour and a half if Christy’s preaching – you weren’t allowed to be in church. You couldn’t be there. You couldn’t be a part of the community. Oh yeah, we had homebound ministry. God bless everybody for doing all that. But you couldn’t be with the people. Couldn’t be with the Zoom.
And you know Zoom’s in the Bible. You all know that; right? I’m telling you. You know what they call the Internet? The cloud; right? You’ve heard that. Cloud? The Internet? What’s it say in the Bible? Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, (Hebrews 12:1) Zoom, we’re talking about you. And if you weren’t in town, if you were visiting out of town, if you moved out of town, you were cut off from community. If you couldn’t get it together, and you couldn’t be in the exact same time, the exact same place, you couldn’t experience worship.
And I’ll go further. Even if you weren’t disabled visibly, some people couldn’t come to church because of social anxiety. They didn’t like to be touched and hugged and nattered at. Maybe there was somebody that they weren’t comfortable being around with, they didn’t feel safe with. They had a divorce, and the other person got custody of the church. You know how that goes. But with Zoom online, they could come and could worship together.
I don’t like to be hugged. I’ve got things, and I pay people to listen to. You don’t have to. But I don’t like to be hugged. I’ve got arthritis. I don’t wear a badge. I don’t have one of those wonderful placards that people are wearing now. But handshakes hurt me a lot of times. You know how terrible that is for a pastor, to not be able to handshake people? Not without a grimace? There’s other people that have more problems than I do that don’t want to be hugged, for one good reason or bad or whatever, and so they don’t come to church. With Zoom, they can come and be like everyone else.
Don’t be normal. Examine the normal. Sure, it’s great. I mean, this year has been four times the planning, twice the effort, for one half of the results. It is so much easier to copy and paste, whether it’s church services or our life, to just replicate from one to another, change the dates, couple things, and off we go. It’s so much easier, and that’s why people love the normal. But that doesn’t leave much room for God. If you embrace the normal, and only the normal, God says you have rejected me.
And you know what normal starts with? “No.” You can’t have normal without “no.” No, you can’t have your own feelings. You’ve got to smile all the time, women. No, you can’t be with who you love. No, you can’t be gay. You just decide to be gay. Stop being gay. No, you can’t be it. No, you can’t be a non—hugger and be in our church. No, you can’t be disabled and fully participate in worship. No. Normal starts with no.
What do you do? What can we do? Well, you know, God reminds us in Samuel, you know, his preference. He says, hey, remember the normal I took you out of? Remember the normal called slavery, and Egypt? Remember that normal? Oh, yes, another day of being a slave. Well, same day as the last. Another day of backbreaking work with no hope and no help. Okay, normal.
And God says no, no more normal. I want you to be a nomad. That’s a difference of being normal; right? And that’s what we’ve been the last year and a half. We’ve been nomads. We don’t know where we are or where were going. We’re saying, do we have masks? Do we not have masks? Is there contact? Is there not contact? Do we fog the place or not fog the place? Do we have to stay away? How many vaccines do we have? Do we have vaccines? Is it going to disappear? Is it not? Nomads. We don’t know where we are. We don’t know where were going. We don’t know what’s next. We kept planning for things, and we had to cancel them. Where does the virus come from? Where is it going? What’s going on? Nomads.
And when we’re not in our normal place, God has room to act. God has room to do wonderful things, just in the church. The church has made more changes and accommodations and advancements in the first month of the pandemic than we did in 20, 30 years. Thirty years we’ve been talking about there’s a whole world outside these walls we could bring in if we just used the technology. Oh, no, that’s not normal.
I remember – have you ever seen Father Jeff, he’s really into it. He’s very competent. But the day they closed church and said he had to go online, in Ohio we call it “deer in the headlights.” You know, where the eyes get really big. And he says, “What am I going to do?” And I go, “I’ll be there. I’ll be there Tuesday. We’ll figure this out. We can get it done.” So I come in, and he’s just, “What am I going to do? It’s not normal to not have church, but have church.”
And I asked him a couple of questions. I said, “Well, do you want to talk and preach to a camera? Because we could do it that way. Or do you want to talk and preach to people on a screen that you can see?” And he says, “Oh, I want to see the people. I have to see the people.” “All right. We’ll get you hooked up.” It wasn’t normal. But it was a way during a crisis for the people of God to come together.
And we were gathered from all over. People from all different places and times of the congregation were gathered together, and we could be together as much as we could, as cyber nomads, surfing the storms of the pandemic. You thought that was hard. It was. You did well. Some churches aren’t coming back. I have a church that right now they’re discussing whether to close or not. But you did well.
But good news. Don’t rush back to normal. Don’t rush back to normal. Because for so many people, normal wasn’t working. Normal didn’t let them talk to God. And if you are honest and introspective, perhaps normal wasn’t working for you. So don’t be too concerned if everybody around you doesn’t look at the world the way you do. That’s a little upsetting right now. Like Samuel, you’re going to say, “I have great reasons. I have the facts. I have the list. I have all the YouTube videos that you can watch and know that I am correct.”
But God says, don’t take it personal. We’re struggling with whether or not to go with me and be a nomad into this new world, or whether to return to Egypt and slavery and patriarchy and monarchy for the false god of normal. Friends, be nomads. Follow God. Be with God in whatever crazy place you are. Don’t try to shut down and shut out others by saying no to them, “No, that’s not normal.” Instead say, “Come along with us. We’re nomads on a journey together.”
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