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The Holiness of the Ordinary

Holiness of the ordinary
I have accepted the self-imposed and other-reinforced assignment of considering the holiness of the ordinary. How does that which is such a part of the backdrop of our human experience as to be profaned take on the air of eternal significance and other worldly importance?

What sets apart one activity, object, or person from the other in the eyes of God and, eventually, of spiritually enlightened man?

As I often do, I went to the scriptures of my answers, initially focusing on the few uses of the word, “ordinary” in the New International Version from which these biblical quotes come.

Any of these scriptures would be sufficient fodder for a sermon on the subject. I offer these as note-crumbs from my morning’s biblical feast.

1 Samuel 21:4
But the priest answered David, "I don't have any ordinary bread on hand; however, there is some consecrated bread here—provided the men have kept themselves from women."
1 Samuel 21:3-5 (in Context) 1 Samuel 21 (Whole Chapter)

Here is an example of how something sacred, holy, and consecrated was used for very ordinary purposes. The priest wanted to make sure that the men in David’s band had not been with women in recent days. David replied that they had been too busy fighting a war to have had relations with women. In fact, the women had stayed away from them.

It makes you wonder if David had a twinkle in his eye.

Whatever his demeanor, David made a point that while the men in his company had been doing something very secular, even profane, God had consecrated them almost against their will.

Holiness had been thrust upon them by circumstances.

Isaiah 8:1
[Assyria, the LORD's Instrument ] The LORD said to me, "Take a large scroll and write on it with an ordinary pen: Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz. Isaiah 8:1-3 (in Context) Isaiah 8 (Whole Chapter)

In Isaiah, a very sacred task is being conducted with a very ordinary tool. The sacred and awesome Word of God was to be penned with a common instrument.

God still uses common instruments – people – to accomplish His ends and communicate His truth. 

Acts 4:13
When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.
Acts 4:12-14 (in Context) Acts 4 (Whole Chapter)

Here, God uses ordinary men to communicate an extraordinary message. It was their ordinariness that grabbed the attention of the community. Otherwise, they might have been written off as speculative intellectuals spouting irrelevant eccentricities of philosophical curiosity.

The conclusion of the observers was that these men had been with Jesus who takes ordinary things and makes them holy.

Holiness in this case, is defined as something dedicated to God’s exclusive use as were Peter and John. Being with Jesus marked them forever. It did not removed their humanity but it made them forever immune to insignificance.   

Acts 7:20
"At that time Moses was born, and he was no ordinary child. For three months he was cared for in his father's house.
Acts 7:19-21 (in Context) Acts 7 (Whole Chapter)

Moses is distinguished as something beyond ordinary, even from birth. His parents could see it. The king’s daughter would see it. Perhaps no one else could. As he grew, he became more ordinary on the outside, but God always knew who he was and what he had been made to be.

When God found Moses after a long hiatus from the limelight, he was doing ordinary work in an ordinary place. Every day was most likely filled with certain repetitive tasks that a man of his intellect and past cultural exposure may have found boring.

But Moses seemed to relish the boredom of the ordinary because it was his refuge. It gave him security. However, he could not stay in the rut. There was something more. He had been created for a purpose. For him to stay one more day in Midian than God intended, would have been to desecrate that which was holy – his life. 

Acts 21:39
Paul answered, "I am a Jew, from Tarsus  in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city. Please let me speak to the people."Acts 21:38-40 (in Context) Acts 21 (Whole Chapter) 

 Rome was no ordinary city. But it was not a holy city. It was just important and powerful. Just! It would be consecrated at a later time by the blood of martyrs and the birth of the underground church.

Galatians 4:23
His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise.
Galatians 4:22-24 (in Context) Galatians 4 (Whole Chapter) 

Abraham had two sons. One was born by ordinary means, the other by extraordinary intervention of God’s promise and power to activate His promise. Yet, pregnancy and birth look about the same to the naked eye. Though as old as the hills, Sarah participated in an extraordinary and holy event through the same old tired, crude, time-honored methods.

It made the ordinary holy. 

Galatians 4:29
At that time the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now.
Galatians 4:28-30 (in Context) Galatians 4 (Whole Chapter)

What makes the ordinary holy is the activity and influence of the Holy Spirit in the midst of our times and routines. Isaac was born by the power of the Spirit. When men and women are born anew that way today, it does not necessarily change their appearance (though smiles and attitudes do change a lot in the countenance). It doesn’t mean that our base bodily functions begin to take on a sweeter aroma. We don’t stop eating, sleeping, and perspiring. We still need baths.

What it does mean that the most ordinary things we do daily are somehow sanctified by who we are and what we are becoming in relation to God and His purposes. We can no longer wash dishes without it being a religious experience.

Everything is life has reflective value. Every tidbit of the life experience has theological significance for us to uncover and celebrate.

Celebration of the ordinary is the rightful expression of the holiness of the ordinary.

Humanity becomes a dance of grace.

Everything is uplifted and stamped with God’s seal of “The Lord saw that it was good.” (See Genesis 1 to be reminded of all the created elements and life forms that God called good.) 

Hebrews 11:23
By faith Moses' parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king's edict.
Hebrews 11:22-24 (in Context) Hebrews 11 (Whole Chapter) 

The writer of Hebrews may have heard Stephen’s last sermon – or he may have heard about it from Paul, but it deserved repeating in a fresh context. The message here is faith. It is our faith response to the Spirit’s activity and God’s intentions that makes the holiness of the ordinary real to us. Even in the presence of something extraordinarily scared – whether a moment or an object, without faith, we are oblivious to reality.

Faith, according to Hebrews 11, is substantive and evident. It illuminates the spiritually obvious for souls in oblivion.

When considering the holiness of the ordinary, faith is the lens through which we view the profane and humdrum world when we are gasping for the fresh air of wonder.

So then, what sets apart one activity, object, or person from the other in the eyes of God and, eventually, of spiritually enlightened man? It is nothing less than the activity and influence of the Spirit and the response of faith.