This month, the youth from our church participated in a service project at the Dakota Eco Garden. For those who may not be familiar, the Eco Garden is a self-described “green solution to homelessness”. Our youth had the opportunity to hear the story of its founding. When the city of Fresno moved to dismantle the encampments of homeless persons downtown, a few active citizens formed a kind of ad-hoc committee under the conviction that there must be a better way. Over time, this committee developed the idea of the Eco Garden. It’s a small plot of land on the West side of town where people who are homeless are invited (after an application process) to camp, receive mail, shower and wash their clothes, until they’re able to find permanent housing. However, there is more the Eco Garden than just this. The site also features an organic garden that all residents help to maintain, a grove of fruit trees that will in years to come provide not only food but also shade and shelter to the residents, and an eco-living quarter designed by engineer Art Dyson. This is a small living structure designed in innovative ways to provide heat, cooling, and electricity off the grid and without any carbon footprint. It uses solar power and a system of one-gallon water jugs as insulation.
Perhaps the first thing that our youth noticed when arriving at the Eco Garden was the emotional atmosphere. Both the staff and the residents here are people of hope, positivity, and innovation. They bring into the project a sense that good and meaningful solutions to the issues facing us are always available, and we’re limited only by our imaginations and our courage. There was a palpable excitement in the air that was only enhanced by that unique sense of passion and hope that young people can bring to a project. One of our youth group members, Jade Morones, even brought with her a $50 donation that she had taken upon herself to collect from friends and family in preparation for our trip. We were all excited to be there and energized to learn that a project like this existed in our city.
However, as the tour was ending and I asked the obvious question, “So, how can we help today?” a familiar cognitive dissonance began to set in. The director replied with a nervous smile, “Well how do you feel about pulling weeds?” Of course, we didn’t mind pulling weeds at all and our youth got right to work. We pulled weeds. We hauled dried up stalks to the compost pile. We tied up tomato plants so the fruit wouldn’t touch the ground. We sorted and organized a large pile of nuts, bolts, and screws. We tediously put grommets, over and over, into a tarp so it could be hung near a resident’s tent. And we had a great time doing it. But her hesitation in asking illustrated something significant about service projects like these; even at the coolest, most innovative, most exciting projects, the most helpful thing we can do is often quite mundane. When serving at a free kitchen for the hungry, the most helpful person may not be the one handing the tray of food to the client and receiving the “thank yous”- it may be the one scrubbing out the old walk-in freezer or organizing the receipts. When working for the children’s program at a place like FIRM or Stone Soup, the person organizing emergency medical forms into a searchable database may be just as invaluable as the one singing silly songs and reading Bible stories. In short, the lived reality of doing service like this is often much less glamorous than we may have been conditioned to expect.
This, I think, speaks deeply to our Christian faith as we reflect on the one we call the “suffering servant”. Our historical creeds, our hymns and our liturgies all speak in grand terms of Christ’s service to us and to the world. We rightly marvel at the miracle of incarnation, God becoming flesh and dwelling among us. We stand in awe of the Christ’s courage and faithfulness each Holy Week as we remember how he confronts the powers of sin and death for our sakes at the cross and overcomes them in the empty tomb. We celebrate the Christ who heals the sick and miraculously feeds the hungry. All of this is true and good, and we should be celebrating these things. However, I some times wonder if we miss part of the true miracle of Christ when we focus so intently on the spectacular.
In our lectionary season, we are now right in the middle of what is ominously called “Ordinary Time”. This is just what it sounds like- there are no major church holidays to grab our attention during this part of the year. Our Easter celebration is now long past, and Christmas feels ages away. There are no advent wreaths, no ashes and incense, no tongues of fire to adorn our altar. This time of year is ordinary.
However, perhaps the Spirit is still up to mischief among us in this ordinary time. Perhaps, if we open our hearts and minds, we will discover something sacred and exciting in the ordinary. In our Scriptures, we use this season to focus on the many teachings and parables of Jesus in the gospels. These aren’t the Sundays of the most dramatic miracles or the confrontations with Chief Priests and Pharisees. These are the Sundays of Jesus walking long and dusty roads with us, telling us stories, scolding us, and talking with us about the Reign of God. These are the Sundays where Jesus sleeps and eats, laughs and jokes with us. These are the Sundays where, bit by bit, through his faithful presence in the ordinary parts of our lives, Jesus begins to woo us once again and open our hearts, to invite us to think and pray and wonder in new ways. Where, through conversation centered in rather ordinary stories and metaphors about sheep and farmers and quarreling neighbors, Jesus begins to awaken us to a world in which God is active and moving in the ordinary. Each of those ordinary things holds something of the sacred in them, some clue to what the Reign of God is like. And each small and ordinary deed becomes, if we will let it, an act of faithfulness. Indeed, this is where the God who has already become flesh, now dwells among us.
And so in response, may we all move through this ordinary time enlivened and excited by the truth that because we are and will always be the Body of Christ, our ordinary day to day- our pulling weeds and hauling muck, our making spreadsheets and running errands, our scrubbing freezers and painting walls, our spontaneous conversations and musings on the nature of life, and simply our presence- is a holy worthwhile and important part of what it means that God dwells among us. And may we in doing all this, see the face of God in the ordinary.