What are We Afraid Of?

A Sermon for Epiphany 6; Jeremiah 17:5-10, Psalm 1, 1 Corinthians 15:12-20, Luke 6:17-26

Very early in my working life, Jim was a mentor to me, as I struggled to understand who I was in relationship to work. Later he became in mentor in understanding faith. He developed cancer, struggled through many grueling treatments, which did not yield the best of results. I will always remember hearing him say I now understand that God will heal me through death. It took another decade or so to begin to really understand. At his funeral his family became a mentor to me; they all appeared dressed in their finest white; explaining later, This is an Easter celebration.

After the funeral in a church parking lot conversation, mom said to me If we really believe what we say, what are we afraid of? What we say comes from our Christian creeds or statements of faith. From the Nicene Creed, we say at Eucharist, we say

On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

From the Apostles’ Creed, we say at morning prayer and Baptism we say

 the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

And so we come to today’s reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.

In biblical times resurrection was not a widespread idea. Most thought resurrection was impossible, you died and that was that. There may be an occasional miraculous event, but they were few, and no one knew anyone had. (1st and 2nd Kings make a few references (1 Kgs 17:17; 2 Kgs 4:18) to resurrection. Some prophetic writings expect a general resurrection at some time in the future Isa 26:19; Dan 12:2; cf. Job 19:25-27; Ezek 37:1-14) (Sampley).

In the 1st century, there were many thoughts about the resurrection. The was a Greek idea of immortality without a body (Gaventa and Petersen). Epicureans rejected any notion of an afterlife, Others denied resurrection of corpses (Gaventa and Petersen). Both fit with the general Greek thought that the body was corrupt, better to be done with it. Some thought that the body and spirit separated at death, the body stays on the earth, and the spirit goes to the atmosphere. Some strands of Jewish thought hoped for resurrection, others longed for a bodily resurrection (2 Maccabees 7), while some Hellenistic Jewish expressed hope for a redeemed and renewed world (Works). Many Jews in the Holy Land affirmed the importance of physical creation and the body which shaped their thoughts on resurrection (Keener and Walton).

Into this collection of wildly varying thoughts of resurrection comes Paul with his teaching of Christ’s bodily resurrection and the resurrection of bodies of all who have faith, who believe in Jesus, God’s Christ. The gospel, the good news, Paul preaches is grounded in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. If Christ is dead, Paul is a liar or a fool, the gospel is empty, nothing but hot air. If Christ is dead, there is no faith, there is no forgiveness, there is no hope (Bratt). And this is true because Paul believes that God cares for the physical stuff of creation, all of it, including us, including our bodies. God’s caring is revealed in conquering sin, through conquering death, through the resurrection of Jesus (Works). For Paul Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of the end of time, the beginning of the resurrection of all things, not of a selected group of individuals. Jesus’ resurrection is the cosmic expression of divine victory over death; it is the transformative event of history  God’s culminating but not yet finished purposes in all of creation. (Gaventa and Petersen; Sampley) So, to deny the resurrection of the dead means there is no victory over death, that we are still captive to our sins; without recourse, without hope (Sampley).

Paul’s calling Jesus first fruits draws on the Exodus sacrifice of giving the first of the harvest to God which assures the rest of the harvest will be as abundant, (Ex23:16-19). So, if Christ, the first fruit of humanity, is resurrected, the resurrection of all humanity is assured (Works; Sampley).

A sidebar here. In Greek, the noun ‘faith’ has a verb equivalent. English does not so we cannot say ‘faithing,’ like we can say ‘believing’ as the verb form of ‘belief.’ The result is translators use ‘believing’ when ‘faithing’ is what was written. And in English ‘faith’ and ‘believe’ are slightly different, so ‘believing’ has a different inference than ‘faithing’ would have. Thus we have to be diligent in our reading, in our hearing, and in our thinking.

Now ~ why does all this matter? Some Corinthian believers bragged that they had already arrived at the fullness of the life of faith. Therefore, they boast that they have advanced beyond others their faith (Sampley). As we know such boasting never ends well; it is one of the sources of controversy that Paul’s letters address.

But what about today? Why does all this matter today? Bruce Epperly suggests that survival after death is relational and connected to the realities of this life. Resurrection is this-worldly as well as beyond this life (Epperly). And that brings me back to my mom’s parking lot question If we really believe what we say, what are we afraid of? At one level she was saying we don’t have to be afraid of death, and that is true enough. And yet I’ve come to understand a deeper meaning; we don’t have to be afraid of anything, because the worst anyone can do is introduce us to death; but so, what! when bodily resurrection in the glory of God’s presence greets us. I’ll admit, the place and time of that greeting is unknown, and this was a central question for the Corinthians (Sampley). But even after all these years, unknown does not mean untrue.

Today, faithing in bodily resurrection taps into the power of the culminating transformative event of history; it is the source: of the glory, of empowering agency, by which Paul, following Jesus’ example, confounds popular wisdom (Kesselus). It is the strength by which we

  • can begin religious discussion from a place of vulnerability and humility (Pankey)
  • be calm in the face of a rebellious teen
  • know peace in the moment of existential challenge
  • have the courage to run into dangerous situations to save others
  • will confront a despot proclaiming a fake truth
  • can stand between a bully and their victim
  • give voice of outrage for killer denied their spiritual guide at the time of their death
  • proclaim that a bill outlawing abortion when Roe v Wade is overturned is not a stand for life, but the further oppression of women,
  • because it does not hold men accountable for their part in creating a fetus,
  • does not take into account the physical or mental health of the mother, or the father for that matter,
  • does not provide medical care, loving support, education and all other needs            for all children regardless of race, creed, color, social or economic status,
  • does not provide equal access to birth control, which would prevent most                unwanted pregnancies;
  • It ignores John 9(3-4) when Jesus says,

no one sinned, this man was born blind. Let the Glory, let the work of God be known (my paraphrase).

It is the strength that flows from belief in bodily resurrection that empowers us

  • to speak the hard truth to a friend and/or loved one
  • to sit with a loved one, friend or stranger as they receive devastating news
  • to be with another as they die.

It is the strength that flows from belief in bodily resurrection that empowers us

  • to acknowledge that yes, the 3 in 1; 1 in 3 God we proclaim does not make any sense, but is nonetheless true
  • to acknowledge that yes, there is no perceivable evidence that bodily resurrection occurs, nonetheless we trust the promise of our God.

It is the strength that flows from belief in bodily resurrection that empowers us to gather in worship week after week in a time when belief in such practice is precipitously falling; that gives meaning to our voice as together, using the form beginning on page 358 we reaffirm our faith     as set forth in the Nicene Creed …

 

The Nicene Creed

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified
under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son
he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic
and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism
for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come (BCP 358).

Amen.


References

Bratt, Doug. Epiphany 6 1 Corinthians 15:12-20. 17 2 2019. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 17 2 2019. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Kesselus, Ken. “Joining the Saints Epiphany 6.” 17 2 2019. Sermons that Work. <episcopalchurch.org/library/sermon>.

Pankey, Steve. Paul’s Logic. 17 2 2019. <wordpress.com/read/feeds/333491/posts/1312346053>.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Sampley, J. Paul. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The First Letter to The Corinthians. Ed. Leander E. Keck. Vol. IX. Nashville: Abingdon, 2015. X vols.

The Episcopal Church. The Book of Common Prayer. New York: Church Publishing, 1979.

Works, Carla. Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15:12-20. 17 2 2019. <workingpreacher.org>.

 

 

 

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From Glory to Call

 

A Sermon for Epiphany 5; Isaiah 6:1-8, [9-13], Psalm 138, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11,
Luke 5:1-11

 

Nearly a quarter-century ago I stood at the end of a line of eight candidates for ordination, and the cast of presenters, vestors, and supporters for each candidate, we were preceded by the Cathedral choir and choral members from the 8 associated churches, the cathedral clergy, and followed by, the bishop’s crew and the Bishop. We processed into St. Patrick’s Breastplate, you know its refrain

 I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity.

 and perhaps its musically different 6th verse

Christ be with me, within, behind, before, besides, to win, to comfort, and restore, beneath, above, in quiet, in danger, in hearts, in mouth of friend and stranger.

We chose it not just because of the power of the hymn, but because it is one of few that are long enough for such an entourage to process into the Cathedral.

Being the alphabetically last of the candidates I, and my cohort could not see into the cathedral nave, and could barely hear, as the procession started. As we rounded the corner, the glorious sound of that hymn was inspiring. When I stepped into the nave and saw the uncountable people who filled the space to capacity, I was stunned. It was a glorious moment. It has stayed with me ever since. It has been a source of strength, a source of calm, a source of assuredness. It has been a reminder of the presence of the glory of God, in all the world. It was my Isaiah moment.

It was not an accident that the Old Testament reading that day was this morning’s reading from Isaiah. A quarter-century ago, as we planned this service, we chose this reading because of verse 8

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” (Isaiah 6:8);

all of us had heard God’s call, and all of us were responding Here am I; send me!

As strong as these memories are, this morning I am drawn to the first four verses. The image of God sitting on the throne, his robe filling all the Temple, thereby all the world (Mast). The seraphs, six-winged fiery serpents (Harrelson), singing Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory. (Isaiah 6:3) with such fervor, such enthusiasm, such passion, that the very foundations of the Temple in Jerusalem shook, and the whole place, the various outer courtyards, the court of Israelites, the court of the priest, the sanctuary, and the Holy of Holies was filled with smoke. All of which emphasizes the utterly sacred nature of God, a being wholly set apart and separated from all defilement and impurity (Harrelson).

The absolutely sacred nature of God terrifies Isaiah, and he confesses his and Israel’s sinfulness (Allen). Then, without his saying anything, a Seraph, think Chinese dragon, takes a coal from the Altar of God, touches his lips, and pronounces that Isaiah is clean; he no longer has to fear being in God’s glory.

Surrounded by God’s glory, having heard he is cleaned from all sin, Isaiah is ready to answer God’s call. I’m not sure he was ready to hear the details. God tells him to preach so that all the people will be blind and deaf, to tell them that they just don’t get it. (Mast; Giere). The people are so resistant to God, punishment has already been pronounced. His calling is to last until everything is destroyed, everything is uninhabited, and all the people are gone, leaving the land desolate and empty. All that is left ~ is a smoldering stump. But ~~ that stump ~ is a holy seed; hope (Tucker).

The journey through these verses takes us from glory to call through despair to hope.  We witness a similar journey in Luke. There is nothing here quite so visually stunning as singing, fiery, flying serpents, nonetheless, the Glory of God is present, because the people are here to hear Jesus, so many that Jesus has to get into a boat move a bit offshore just to be heard. The image may suggest the Spirit of God, the voice of God sweeping over the chaos, over the water of the deep (Gen. 1:1-3) (The Living Church). Together with John’s Gospel’s opening verses

 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God. (John 1:1-2)

we can know that the glory of God was present at creation; thus, the glory of God is present by the lakeside.

Just as the glory of God is less vivid here than in Isaiah, the calling is equally vague. Simon and his crew have been working all night, with no success. They are tired. They are ready to go home, when Jesus gets into their boat, and asks to be taken just offshore (The Living Church). When Jesus is done preaching, he tells them to row back out to the deeper waters and let their nets down again. His fishing expertise rejects the suggestion, a lifetime of fishing tells Simon the fishing is done. Nonetheless, since Jesus says so, off they go. As you heard, the catch is beyond all their imaginations. Simon recognizes the presence of divine glory, and as Isaiah did, recognizes his sinful nature, and pleads for Jesus to go away from him. There are no acts of cleansing. There is no asking. Jesus simply assures them, Do not be afraid. and continues From now on you will be drawing people into the glory of God’s presence (my paraphrase) (Allen).

A part of this journey is how God comes to us in the midst of our failures; God sees new possibilities, asks us not to give up, but to faithfully be open to new imaginations, by seeing more deeply, expecting more, trusting in the power of God’s glory (Epperly); and remembering that the extraordinary catch of fish happens in Jesus’ presence (Lewis).

Today the world is as chaotic as is was in Isaiah’s day, when the King has just died, and no one knew how the next King would act; and in Simon’s day just after a complete failure of a long night’s work. Their journeys affirm for us that the glory of God is present; in the midst of the fear of the completely unknown; and in the midst of fear of the failure of longtime customary success.  Their journeys affirm for us that the glory of God is present in the midst of our unclean, sinful ways, known and unknown; thought, said, done and undone. Their journeys affirm that our guilt has departed, and our sins have been blotted out (Isaiah 6:7). Their journeys call us to look and listen to perceive not only God’s glory but also, God’s calling.

In general, our calling is to witness to God’s glory. The work is not always pleasant. It may require us to name how, when. and where we are missing God’s point; how we are not treating each other as the image of God, how we are failing to tend the land as God (in Genesis2: 8 & 15) put us in the garden to do.

What I draw from the awesome memory at the entry to my ordination is that I am not alone, that day the seraphic voices of the countless voices singing were filling the world with the glory of God in the words of St Patrick’s Breast-Plate “I bind unto myself today ….” that moment my calling was not to, but with God’s people.

Today there are many voices, in countless and sundry forms singing the glory of God. We sing it weekly

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.

May our voice join theirs, moving from grace to calling. May our voices join theirs, in being courageous voices speaking the hard truth, as Isaiah did. May our voices join theirs, and draw people into the presence of God, as Simon’s and the Apostles’ did. May our lives join theirs, so that all we think, say and do, or do not do, draws others into God’s gracious, ever-present glory, that all may live as worthy servants of God (Crichton and Wisher).


References

Allen, Ronald J. “Commentary on Luke 5:1-11.” 10 2 2019. Working Preacher. <workingpreacher.org>.

Ashley, Danáe M. Trusting Jesus Epiphany 5 (5). 10 2 2019. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 10 2 2019. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Giere, Samuel. Commentary on Isaiah 6:1-8, (9-13). 10 2 2019. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. Epiphany 5C Luke 5:1-11. 10 2 2019. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Lewis, Karoline. “Dear Working Preacher Catching People.” 10 2 2019. Working Preacher.

Mast, Stan. Epiphany 5C Isaiah 6:1-13. 10 2 2019. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

The Living Church. “”Over the Water”.” 10 2 2019. livingchurch.org. <livingchurch.org/2018/08/22/freedom-and-popular-culture>.

Tucker, Gene M. The Book of Isaiah 1–39. Vol. 4. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. 12 vols. OliveTree 2016.

 

 

Great Expectations – Not

A Sermon for Epiphany 4; Jeremiah 1:4-10, Psalm 71:1-6, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, Luke 4:21-30,

Years ago, Angie and I fell in love with Master Piece Theater, especially the Mystery series. So, when we discovered all those shows in their various series were stream-able, well we stream a lot. Recently we watch Agatha Christie’s Hallowe’en Party which involves the famous detective Hercule Poirot and the almost as famous mystery writer Ariadne Oliver. The story spins around Mrs. Llewellyn-Smythe, a wealthy widow. She has no children of her own. A niece, Rowena Drake, and her family have moved in to help care for her.  Mrs. Llewellyn-Smythe also has an au pair, Olga Seminoff, to care for her. When Mrs. Llewellyn-Smythe unexpectedly dies, Mrs. Drake and her family expect to inherit her substantial estate including her palatial home  (Wikipedia). If you know anything about Agatha Christie’s writing and Poirot’s storyline, you know there is much more to the story. You may also have figured out, Mrs. Drake and family do not inherit the estate. Their great expectations ~ are not. And that is the connection to today’s Gospel

Today’s Gospel story begins last week, with Jesus reading from Isaiah 61, about proclaiming the good news and the year of the Lord’s favor the jubilee year; then sitting down in the synagogue, the traditional teaching position and saying Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. (Luke 4:21) Jesus’ home town friends and family are amazed. They are wondering; Really Jesus? Here? How? Where? (Hoezee, Epiphany 3). Then they get ecstatic over the possibility that they will see water become wine, that they will the lame walk, that they will the blind see; and all the things they have heard that Jesus has done elsewhere (Kubicek). Surely this is the hint that all the centuries of waiting have come to an end and that they will share in Jesus’ expanding fame (Culpepper). They can’t wait for Jesus to do the works of God’s grace among them (Kubicek). They are can’t wait to share in the benefits that will surely be coming to the prophet’s hometown (Culpepper). This really is good news (Gaventa and Petersen).

Only Jesus continues to preach. He reminds them that in the time a great famine God sent Elijah to a widow in Zarephath in Sidon, a Phoenician town near Tyre (1 Kings 17) gentile territory. And then that Elijah cleansed (indicating making the person pure and able to be in God’s presence) a leper named Naaman, a gentile, the commander of Syrian army a rival of Israel (2 Kings 5) (Easton). The people of Nazareth are as surprised as Mrs. Llewellyn-Smythe’s family. If you know the rest of Christie’s story, you know the people turn out to be quite deadly. The people of Nazareth change just as quickly, just as vicious. Instantly Jesus goes from hero to villain. They drive him out of town, to the edge of a cliff, (an implication they indent to stone him) (Keener and Walton).

How did that happen? Well ~ if we think about it, we know. And we know because we know about the volatility of community and or family dynamics. In one way or another, we have experienced just how quickly we can go from hero to villain when results do not meet expectation (Hoezee, Epiphany 4)

However, there are some things to ponder. What we have witnessed is the people of Nazareth claiming for themselves the blessings Jesus said are available “this day.” (Harrelson). That just may be the results of them forgetting the foundation stories of their origins. Throughout the Exodus, from escape to the wilderness wanderings, to receiving then 10 commandments … Israel, they, were appointed to lives as a demonstration, of God’s community of charity, faith, hope, and love, for all people (Kubicek). David Jacobsen notes that we are witnessing what happens when grace and divine favor, meet up with privilege and entitlement (Jacobsen). It is a stark reminder that just because we are faithful because it is our habit to go synagogue or to church doesn’t give us exclusive rights to God’s presence, God’s grace, or God’s shalom (Kubicek).

I mentioned that we know the family and community dynamics that erupt from sudden disappointment, especially when lots of money, power or prestige are involved. We also know the utilitarian expectation some draw from the Bible. Just because we go to church. Just because we lift a few verses from scripture; cast them as never changing ridged legalism, and proudly proclaim “This is the way to God.” as we leave aside other less comfortable verses that challenge our self-gratification and admiration, and make the Bible a utilitarian handbook for life, does not give us exclusive rights to God’s presence, grace or shalom. No one ever has, does, or ever will, have the freedom to put limits on who receives God’s grace (Culpepper). Think about it for a minute and you realize Jesus never heals a righteous person, because, by definition, they are unclean, unfit to be in the presence of God, unable to receive divine mercy or grace. The sick, the blind, the lame, the lepers, the chronically ill, the poor, the destitute, with despicable home lives, those who don’t belong to the chosen tribes; are all excluded from society. And every healing is from among them. God’s grace, mercy, healing and shalom is given to whomever, God – Jesus – Spirit chooses to give it upon. We are uncomfortable when Jesus extends the boundaries of salvation to include others, ~ to include foreigners. We cling to the belief that God’s doesn’t care for strangers when God does not know any strangers. We cannot understand, will not understand, that the day of shalom includes everyone (Epperly). There is an element of this thinking, of this world view, in every effort to exclude undesirables, in efforts to reduce community-based healthcare, education and other programs to improve the common good.

So right here, right now I see a couple of triplets. The first triplite is about self-recognition. This Gospel story calls us to recognize our own limitations and fallibility, our own need for repentance, our own need for transformation (Epperly). This Gospel story places an evangelical priority on being willing to name the truth, the hard truth, the uncomfortable truth, and to acknowledge just how challenging the “Good News” really is (Lewis). And third, Jesus, had a prophet’s task, to shatter traditional barriers, cross conventional boundaries that benefit outsiders. Through our baptism, through our vow to continue Jesus’ ministry, ~ so ~ do ~ we (Gaventa and Petersen). I don’t know about you, but this leaves me feeling like in I’m standing on the edge of a town’s cliff.

Luke also gives us a triplite for confidence. Jesus’s doesn’t meet his fate here, he passes through the crowd (Jacobsen). There is nothing magical or mystical here. Luke emphasizes that Jesus was not stopped by the raging crowd; “He was going on.” which implies a continuous action: Going on the way is a frequent theme in Luke (Culpepper).

In I Corinthians 13, the love Paul commends, is fallible, it recognizes its limitations, which leaves room for growth, leaves room for trusting in God’s larger vision (Epperly). Recognizing our limitations and fallibility, our own need for repentance; our own need for transformation also leaves room for growth, leaves room for trusting in God’s larger vision. The reminder that God’s grace that is never subject to the limitations and boundaries of any nation, church, group, or race, is double-edged; we cannot limit God’s grace for anyone else, neither can we limit God’s grace that is upon ourselves (Culpepper).

“Today this scripture is being fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21). Today this Good News is being proclaimed in your thinking, in your saying and in your doing. Today, even if you don’t know what you can do, God does; so, with great expectations, I know that ~ today ~ you continue on your way (Epperly).


References

Culpepper, R. Alan. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Luke. Vol. 8. Abbington, 2015. 12 vols. Olive Tree App.

Easton, M. G. Easton’s Bible Dictionary. Public Domain, 1897. Olive Tree.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 3 2 2019. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. Epiphany 3 Luke 4:16-21. 27 1 2019. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

—. Epiphany 4C Luke 4:21-30. 3 2 2019. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Jacobsen, David Schnasa. Commentary on Luke 4:21-30. 3 2 2019. <http://www.workingpreacher.org&gt;.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Kubicek, Kirk Alan. “We Are His Epiphany 4.” 3 2 2019. Sermons that Work. <episcopalchurch.org/library/sermon/we-are-his-epiphany-4-c-february-3-2019>.

Lewis, Karoline. “Dear Working Preacher Good News?” 3 2 2019. Working preacher. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?cat_id=36&gt;.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Wikipedia. Hallowe’en Party. n.d. 3 2 2019. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hallowe%27en_Party&gt;.

 

 

 

Let’s just take care of each other

A Sermon for Epiphany 3; Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10, Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a, Luke 4:14-21

It has been a strange week. Not so much my schedule, which did include 2 most all-day trips to Jonesboro; more than the trips the news seemed strange. I’d expected it to be all about the shutdown, instead the news was all about the revised, revised, revised version of the Confrontation on the Mall. You know the ever-changing story of the confrontation between a group of Black Hebrew Israelites, white teenage boys, and a Native American Elder. The learning bit for me was an opinion piece exploring the role of social media in inflaming a complex social interaction. David Brooks notes how social media:

  • rewards spreading the viral soap operas that are supposed to reveal the dark hearts of those who are in the opposite social type from your own
  • reduces the complexities of human life into one viral moment and
  • confirms our negative stereotypes of people we don’t even know

Brooks sees the danger in social media being the tail wags the mainstream media dog (Brooks, Destroy Lives). More than the event itself I was concerned about the seemingly reckless race to be first on social media, accuracy and the people involved don’t matter, just the clicks produced matter. But my concern didn’t stay there long

There was a story on NPR about the resurgence of Black Lung disease. Black Lung affects coal miners and is caused by breathing in the ever-present coal dust. It is debilitating, men who work for decades in the mines can no longer cut their own yards, or water their gardens. It is always a horrible death. It is the results of the mining companies’ not caring about the miners; as one said, They don’t care if you live or die, that’s the truth of it (NPR). This is just another example of our emphasis on the value of the commodity, and I’m sure it is coal and not human labor that is the commodity of concern. And since coal still produces about 30% of electricity in the US we bear some responsibility as we gain some benefit (TOXMAP FAQ).

Of course, the never-ending story of the shutdown of the Federal Government was never far behind. 800,000 thousand were either furloughed or forced to work without pay. As these worker citizens approach missing their 2nd paycheck, pressures mount. There is no money for house notes or rent, food, medication, daycare, children’s birthday presents, or the gas to drive to work. The President and cabinet members appear clueless, saying they don’t understand the problem. At the same time, the lack of services, these citizens workers provide, are impacting people. Flights are being delayed as air-port controllers, and TSA agents can no longer work without pay. In NW Arkansas the Federal Grand Jury meeting was canceled. Home sales are not closing because USDA and FHA offices are closed. Investors are less informed of the economic conditions because the usual and customary reports are not being produced. Projects cannot get started because permits are not available. Families living in assisted housing are at risk of eviction because Housing Authority and related funds are not available. It is pretty safe bet the lives of these worker citizens, or the everyday consequences isn’t a fundamental concern.

After I thought I was done, there was another surprise, a deal to open the government for 3 weeks (until Fed 15) was signed late Friday. It includes provisions for employees to be paid. It makes no provision for contract employees. I could not find any mention of what happens if a border security bill is not agreed to or passed. I suspect the growing delays at US airports put mounting pressure on everyone to give a little, I am yet to be convinced the lives of all citizen workers, employees, and contractors, or the everyday consequences, was a determining factor, for the President, or Congress.

Now we all know the shutdown, and its consequences, is happening because of the disagreement of how to manage immigrants, legal and/or illegal, crossing the US southern border. No one is talking about the risk of illegal immigration across our Northern border with Canada. Illegal immigration from Canada is up 64% from last year. Now it is a different problem. Those entering the US from Canada usually enter the country legitimately and then just don’t go home. A lot of it comes down to ignorance, naivete or love, Canadians lead all other nations in people who overstay their legal time here; 100,000 outstayed their legal welcome in one year. The Department of Homeland Security considers Canadian illegals to be a significant problem. Yes, it is true those who enter the US across our Southern border tend to sneak into the U.S. without any documentation. That may account for the significant difference in the political concern and media coverage. But there is the racial difference, those coming across our northern border tend to look like us; those who cross our southern border do not (Blackwell; Common).

And then Thursday it all came together. I read an article about Harvard classmates William James and Josiah Royce. James, as you might remember, is a philosopher whose ideas about a good life continues to be influential. Royce’s not so much. James grew up among the Boston elite; Royce was a child of 49ers who didn’t find gold and lived in squalor. James’ work was pragmatic in search of the empirical; Royce was an idealist, who sought the abstract and spiritual. James believed in tolerance; we live in a pluralistic society and should give each other the social space to thrive. Royce believed the good life is found in tightly bonding yourself to another, in giving yourself away, with others, for a noble cause. He acknowledges we are born into a world of causes, and he admired causes based on mutual affection. He saw that underneath different communities is an absolute unity to life, a spiritual unity, an Absolute knower, a moral truth (Brooks, Loyalties).

Royce’s philosophical world view aligns with today’s readings. Rediscovering Royce is a bit like the hearing the Law of Moses publicly read, after being lost for generations. It is an opportunity for people to rediscover their own center. That center is relationships. The relationship, between ourselves; between us and those who are not us; between all humanity and God. Strangely enough, relationship as our center is hard for us to understand; mostly because we prefer the simplicity of uniformity, rather than the complexity of diversity; even though diversity increases the probability of our thriving (Epperly; Blasdell). Through Royce, we rediscover the wisdom of the Jubilee tradition in Isaiah 61 that Jesus quotes, even as we realize it will not simply thrive, it will require graceful nurturing; and hard work (Jacobsen). In gleaning the vision of Isaiah’s transformative prophecy, we hear the depths of Paul’s radical teaching that our community needs every person and every person needs everyone in our community. We begin to understand that we need each other to know shalom and the community needs all of us for the community to be whole, to be complete, and to be at peace. And now we understand the silence in the room as Jesus sits down. We share their visceral sense of

Fulfilled.
Really, Jesus?
Here? ~ How? ~ Where? (Hoezee).

And then I received a final gift; a shared Facebook post. It’s from General Colin Powell. He was on his way to Walter Reed when the left front tire blew. It was cold, but he started changing the tire; the lug nuts were tight making it even more difficult. A car pulls over and stops; a man with an artificial leg got out. The driver had recognized Gen Powell, from his service in Afghanistan, where he lost his leg in civilian service. After introductions, he took the wrench and finished changing the tire. When it was all done, he took a selfie with Gen. Powell. Later that night he sent a message

Gen. Powell, I hope I never forget today because I’ll never forget reading your books. You were always an inspiration, a leader and statesman. After 33 years in the military, you were the giant whose shoulders, we stood upon to carry the torch to light the way and now it is tomorrow’s generation that must do the same.

Anthony Maggert

Gen. Powell replied

Thanks, Anthony. You touched my soul and reminded me about what this country is all about and why it is so great.

Let’s stop screaming at each other. Let’s just take care of each other. You made my day. (Powell)

Today and every day, is our opportunity to continue to fulfill scripture, to be one of the diverse members of one divine body, doing our best, with everyone else, in giving ourselves to a noble cause in mutual affection, taking care of each other, in the amazing variety of our reflections of God’s image, helping everyone, everywhere to know shalom: stability, safety, belonging, self-esteem, and transcendence (Maslow).


References

Blackwell, Tom. “Northern aliens: Around 100,000 Canadians live under the radar in U.S. as illegal immigrants.” National Post (2017). <nationalpost.com/news/world/northern-aliens-around-100000-canadians-live-under-the-radar-in-u-s-as-illegal-immigrants>.

Blasdell, Machrina L. Indispensable, Epiphany 3. 27 1 2019. <episcopalchurch.org/library/sermon/indispensable-epiphany-3-c-january-27-2019>.

Bratt, Doug. 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a. 27 1 2019. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Brooks, David. How We Destroy Lives Today. 21 1 2019. <https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/21/opinion/covington-march-for-life.html&gt;.

—. “Your Loyalties Are Your Life.” 24 1 2019. nytimes.com. <nytimes.com/2019/01/24/opinion/josiah-royce-loyalty.html>.

Common, David. “U.S. on guard against rise in illegal border crossings as Canada rejects asylum claims.” CBC News (2018). <cbc.ca/news/world/national-illegal-border-crossing-us-from-canada-1.4863636>.

Culpepper, R. Alan. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Luke. Vol. 8. Abbington, 2015. 12 vols. Olive Tree App.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary The Third Sunday after the. 27 1 2019. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. Epiphany 3C Luke 4:14-21. 27 1 2019. <https://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/epiphany-3c-2/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Jacobsen, David Schnasa. Commentary on Luke 4:14-21. 27 1 2019.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Kim, Yung Suk. Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a. 27 1 2019. <workingpreacher.org>.

Maslow, Abraham. “Hierarchy of Needs.” Wikipedia. n.d. 25 1 2019. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs&gt;.

NPR. I figured-it-was-going-to-be-a-horrible-death-and-it-probably-will-be. Prod. National Public Radio. 23 1 2019. <https://www.npr.org/2019/01/23/686000458/i-figured-it-was-going-to-be-a-horrible-death-and-it-probably-will-be&gt;.

Powell, General Colin L. Facebook Posting. Facebook. 24 1 2019. 25 1 2019.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

The Living Church. “Listen.” 27 1 2019. livingchurch.org. <https://livingchurch.org/2019/01/21/1-27-listen/&gt;.

TOXMAP FAQ. How much of the US electricity generation is attributed to coal? n.d. Web. <https://toxmap.nlm.nih.gov/toxmap/faq/2009/08/how-much-of-the-us-electricity-generation-is-attributed-to-coal.html&gt;.

Wikipedia. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. n.d. 25 1 2019. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs&gt;.

 

 

 

Sacramental Illumination

A Sermon for Epiphany2; Isaiah 62:1-5, Psalm 36:5-10, 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, John 2:1-11

In Mission Impossible Fallout a terrorist organization steals plutonium cores and plans to use them to wreak havoc. The hunt (pardon the pun) is on; agents are searching major cities all over the world. They are surprised when the terrorists are located high in the Himalayas. Julia, Hunt’s partner, realizes nuclear explosions here would contaminate water for as much as half of the world’s population. It’s an interesting thought that the loss of water, after all, we have so much of it, could be a major crisis. And then I read an article in the New York Times about the Tuyuksu glacier which supplies water to 2 million people. It has shrunk by miles, and a water shortage likely in the next 20 years. When you look at all Central Asia, the Tibetan Plateau, Himalayan, and Karakoram shrinking glaciers are the source of water for millions. It may not be a nuclear blast. but changing weather patterns are threatening the lives of millions and millions (Ruby and O’Neil).

In our Gospel readings for the last two weeks, water is significant. Last week Jesus is baptized (Luke3:15) in the waters of the Jordan River (Matthew 3:11). This morning Jesus turns water, reserved for rites of purification, into excellent wine. One aspect of this miracle is its Eucharistic, and sacramental, overtones (O’Day). By an act of the divine muse, this connected to a phrase from today’s collect illumined by your Word and Sacraments. I got to thinking about sacrament as illumination.

You recall that a sacrament

 is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace (BCP 857).

Pondering all Jesus’ miracles, you might notice a common trait, they all involve something extraordinary happening, something that is unbelievably beyond human possibility, something spiritual. Grace is defined as

God’s favor, undeserved, unearned, by which our sins are forgiven, our hearts stirred, and wills strengthened (BCP 858).

Grace, in part, is a sort of spiritual mitochondria. Mitochondria are the parts of cells that produce the energy they use, sort of little power plants. Grace is, in part, a spiritual power plant, that enables us to do those things that are beyond our human abilities.

Certainly, the transformation of water into wine is beyond human ability, so, by grace empowered spiritual action Jesus transforms water into wine. However, we get to easily distracted by the transformation; much more is going on here. The water was set aside for purification. In the Bible, purification rites are how an unclean person is restored to the enjoyment of religious privileges, and daily life. (Easton). It can be as simple as washing hands and goes from there. Our practice of baptism in part is developed from this concept (Sakenfeld). It is what John is referring to last week when he tells the crowd I baptize you with water (Luke 3:17). Another connection in this morning’s story is the revelation of Jesus as a presence of divine glory (Gaventa and Petersen).

When Jesus’s mother tells him about the wine crisis his response is What concern is that to me? It’s a good question, he isn’t the host (The Living Church). Jesus is a guest, and guests are supposed to bring food and wine as a sign of their support for the marriage, a shortage could be a sign of a lack of community support for the groom and bride (Trozzo). It was also customary to invite as many as people as possible to a wedding feast. To run short of wine would be a major hospitality blunder, shaming the whole family (Keener and Walton). In Jesus’ day water was not safe to drink, wine was the usual and customary drink, so, the lack of wine could be a public health issue (Trozzo). Beyond all these kinds of reasons there is scripture; Psalm 104:14 reads

You make grass grow for flock and herds and plants to serve mankind; that they may bring forth food from the earth, and wine to gladden our hearts (The Living Church).

One of God’s attributes is bringing wine to gladden our hearts. In Proverbs and Hosea, the abundance of wine is an eschatological (end of time) image, of restoration (Trozzo). Biblical marriage ceremonies are also symbolic of the last days and the celebration of God’s future reign (Gaventa and Petersen). One final bit, when needs are met even commonplace needs like the one in Cana that day somehow joy follows, and that joy flows from the revelation of the glory of God (Hoezee). Which may be the point, the wine problem is a concern for Jesus, because in meeting the need of an everyday event, like the wedding feast, God’s Glory is revealed.

So, how does all this connect to sacraments? You know there are two great sacraments; Baptism and Eucharist, and several other sacraments: confirmation, ordination, marriage, reconciliation of a penitent (better known as confession) and unction (anointing of the sick) (BCP 860). The Catechism goes on to say

God is not limited to our rites, they are patterns of countless ways by which God uses material things to reach out to us (BCP 861).

So, any time we are confronted with someone else’s problem, there is the opportunity for us to follow Jesus example and meet a common need, and in doing so reveal the presence and glory of God. And when the challenge is beyond our human abilities we can rely on the mitochondrial energy of grace, to empower such a spiritual sign. Any time the presence and glory of God are revealed is a time of illumination, spiritual illumination.

Last week I read of a bus driver being called a hero because she saw a 2-year-old in a diaper and onesie walking into the street, she stopped her bus, got out, picked up the child and carried it to safety. This is a moment as full of grace as Jesus’ transformation of water to wine, it is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, it is a spiritual illumination, revealing the presence of God. I believe such moments are present to us all the time; we just don’t see them as such, because we have limited our understanding of ‘the ever-present’ to time excluding geography; yes, grace is present all the time, and ~ grace is also anywhere and everywhere.

May this season of Epiphany, this season of light, this season of illumination, reveal the opportunities for it to be your concern, to draw on the power of grace, meeting a common need, revealing the glory and presence of God, in a sacramental illumination moment.


References

Easton, Matthew George. Easton’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary. WORDsearch Corp., 2008.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 20 1 2019. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel John 2:1-11. 20 1 2019.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

O’Day, Dail R. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of John. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

Richter, Amy. “The Frist Sign Epiphany 2.” 20 1 2019. Sermons that Work.

Ruby, Matt and Claire O’Neil. “Glaciers Are Retreating. Millions Rely on Their Water.” New York Times (2019). <https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/01/15/climate/melting-glaciers-globally.html&gt;.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

The Episcopal Church. The Book of Common Prayer. New York: Church Publishing, 1979.

The Living Church. “Many Gifts and the One Gift of Joy.” 20 1 2019. livingchurch.org. <livingchurch.org/2018/08/22/freedom-and-popular-culture>.

Trozzo, Lindsey. Commentary on John 2:1-11. 20 1 2019. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

 

 

Beloved

A Sermon for Epiphany 1; Isaiah 43: 1-7, Psalm 29, Acts 8:14-17, Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

When I was 11 years old, I joined Scout Troop 175, of the Atlanta Area Council, of the Boy Scouts of America. It was a grand ritual, the room was light only by candlelight, the entire Troop stood in patrol, those of us being inducted stood facing them. As asked, we recited from memory

 the Scout Motto – Be Prepared

 the Scout Code –

A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. and

 the Scout Law –

 On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.

Then I was pinned with the Tenderfoot badge and became a Scout. At every successive awarding of rank the Scout motto, code and law were repeated.

I stayed active in Scouting till I was 16 or 17 when other teenage interests distracted me. In my last two years of college, I joined Troop 6 as an assistant Scout Master. My first Job after graduation was as an Assistant Scout Executive for the Atlanta Area Council. Here too the motto, law, and code played a perhaps less obvious, but none the less powerful part of who I was. All those years ago I became a part of the Scouting community. Though not formally, I am still a part of that community because that community continues to be a part of me, although 54 years has added some callouses and experiences, and I am not longer a Tenderfoot, in many ways ~ I am still a Scout.

This morning we read Luke’s account of Jesus’ baptism. It is remarkably short, all of two verses. It has only three elements: prayers, the Spirit, and the heavenly voice. This morning I’d like to explore the heavenly voice’s pronouncement: “You are my Son, my Beloved; with you, I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22).

James Ligette points out the heavenly voice does not tell Jesus what to do, does not tell Jesus where to go, does not require reciting any law, or oath or pledge. What the heavenly voice does ~ is to tell Jesus who he ~ is my son and names the divine’s affection for him … my beloved (Liggett). Karoline Lewis writes about the power of “you” especially the second person singular in particular “You are …” (Lewis). That two-word phrase “you are” is definitive, it powerfully defines who the hearer is; it powerfully defines who Jesus is. In our Baptismal rite, after extensive presentation and examination, the sacramental splashing of water, and offering of prayers, once again we hear the heavenly voice, this time intoned by the priest,

“You are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever” (The Episcopal Church 308).

These are not magic words that mystically remake the candidate. They make audible, they make clear ~ who the candidate is, who you are, just as the heavenly voice did for Jesus.

It is significant that the emphasis is not on the sacramental act, but on God’s affirmation of Jesus’ identity as God’s son, and Jesus’ anointing into God’s service (Harrelson). There is an element of empowering Jesus for the ministry to come (Culpepper). None of that ministry is predefined or predetermined (Epperly). It all flows from Jesus’ understanding of who he is, which flows from the divine proclamation of God’s love for him. All this is revealed as Luke’s gospel story unfolds, and we see how Jesus rejects all the ancient expectations of purity, restoration Kingship, and national glory; as we see how Jesus continues to reject all the current expectations of entrenched morality, burgeoning social reform, personal prosperity, and a return of national greatness (Liggett). As did Jesus’ life, our lives reflect how well we understand who we are, and God’s affection for us. Jesu’s baptism did not happen in a vacuum, he is surrounded by a variety of political and religious traditions and expectations, from John the Baptist to the Hight Priests, to Herod, Pilate, and Rome, from Old Testament to the moment (Liggett). Our baptism is also in a variety of political and religious traditions and expectations.

Jesus’ life and ministry confront the brokenness of the world and expresses his trust that God is actively present, empowering the world to move towards the coming of the Kingdom. The same is true for us. Baptism calls us away from today’s radicalism, such as extreme individualism, racism, sexism, and all our other isms, and brings us into that heavenly community commissioned to seek justice and righteousness for all. Through Baptism we become part of a covenant community called to confess the brokenness of our world, and trust that God is actively present, empowering the world to be the Kingdom on earth as it is heaven right here right now (R. J. Allen).

 

References

Allen, David. “Way.” Brother, Give Us A Word. Cambridge, 11 1 2019. <ssje.org/word/>.

Allen, Ronald J. “Commentary on Luke 3:15-17, 21-22.” 13 1 2019. Working Preacher. <workingpreacher.org>.

Culpepper, R. Alan. The Gospel of Luke, Introduction, Commentary and Reflections. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Mark 16. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. X vols. OliveTree.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 13 1 2019. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Luke 3:15-17, 21-22. 13 1 2019.

Lewis, Karoline. The Power of ‘You’. 13 1 2019. <workingpreacher.org>.

Liggett, James. “How to be Beloved – Epiphany 1.” 13 1 2019. Sermons that Work.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

The Episcopal Church. The Book of Common Prayer. New York: Church Publishing, 1979.

 

 

 

Epiphanies, Callings, Imperatives

A sermon for Epiphany; Isaiah 60:1-6, Ephesians 3: 1-12, Psalm 72:1-7,10-14, Matthew 2:1-12 (extend to 2:13-18)

I hope your Christmas, all 12 days of it, was merry and your New Year celebration safe and joyful. Ours was. Christmas Eve we saw our granddaughter in her first Christmas pageant, it was glorious, and she was more so. Christmas Day began easily, we were up mid-morning, expecting our West Memphis daughter and her family about 2. At 10:30 the phone rang, and her husband spoke: “We got done early, Lilly Grace wants to know if we can come now?” Of course, we said yes. We enjoyed a day of endless food and sweets, capped off with a drive through Lights of the Delta. New Year’s Eve was less eventful. We stayed home, watch an endless stream of Midsomer Murders before heading off to bed. When I noticed it was 12:30 I wandered over to Angie and whispered, “Its 12:30 – Happy New Year.”

The rest of the week was supposed to be a series of small tasks. It turned out to be a series of days of long tasks around an all-day series of doctor’s appointments in Memphis. Both Angie and I are fine, it just took all day. It was a time when I got so focused on 1 or 2 things, that I missed what was before and what was after.

It is not unusual that intense focus on a single thing causes us to miss surrounding pieces. Epiphany is that way. We are so focused on the Wise Men at Jesus’s manger side we miss details of their travels and the unintended consequences. Now, I congratulate St. Stephen’s for your long tradition of the wise men making their way along the center aisle trail from Christmas Eve, way back there (point) to somewhere in the middle on the 1st Sunday after Christmas, to the manger on the 1st Sunday after Epiphany, or as it is today, Epiphany. However, our very traditional manger scene is a mish-mash of Gospel stories. There is no birth story in Matthew and there are no wise men in Luke. We’ve mashed them together for reasons I’m not quite sure of, except for what have become musical and pageant traditions. Here are some of the essentials we miss or simply don’t ever hear.

The Holy Family does go to Jerusalem after Jesus’ birth for purification and thanksgiving sacrifices, but they go back to Bethlehem, not Nazareth where they were living before the great census (Pankey). To give you a sense of the geography Nazareth is way up here Jerusalem about here Bethlehem just down the road.

The wise men are actually magos, magicians, sorcerers, astrologers or wise men, but not kings as we are known to sing of (Thomas Nelson Inc). Whoever they are, they are not Jewish, they are not of any tradition or people in the bible who know the God of Israel. They see Jesus’ “star rising,” which is an astrological phrase, indicating how a person will be seen by others, which is how they know who Jesus is. If the star appears at Jesus birth, and he is now about 2 years old (more on this in a minute) and they have been following it for 2 years or so. So how do they get to Jerusalem and don’t go directly to Bethlehem? Where did the star go? Steve Pankey, a colleague of mine, wonders if they got distracted by the regal glory of Jerusalem and Herod’s court? Others wonder why they didn’t realize the danger of going to a King’s court to ask directions to the birthplace of another king?

What we do know is that Herod, with the help of his court religious leaders, tell the wise men Jesus is in Bethlehem. He also asks them to let him know exactly where Jesus is, so he can also pay homage. Matthew tells us they follow the star, which seems to mystically reappear, right to Jesus’ presence.

Here is another point of our focus, the wise men, kneeling down in front of Mary and Jesus offering him treasure of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Note there is no mention of cattle, or donkeys or lambs or shepherds, or angels, we’ve brought over from Luke, or a little drummer boy. The only people there, other than Jesus’ family, are the wise men. After at least a night’s sleep, which we discern from the warning they receive by dream, they head home a different way.

Here are two stories that follow their departure. The first one we read on the 2nd Sunday after Christmas (which is rare) and Epiphany, which is on a Sunday about every 6 years. You recall I mentioned how ruthless Herod is. He ordered Syrian Roman Legion to crush the rebellion after his father (also named Herod) died. He was also known to kill political or religious leaders who spoke against him. So, it is easy to imagine how Herod will react to the news of a new Jewish king. On Herod’s order all the boys 2 years old and younger are killed, a tragedy we observed every December 28; except we don’t. By the way, this is how we know Jesus was about 2 years old when the wise men arrive. The second story is how Joseph warned by an angel in a dream takes Mary and Jesus and flees to Egypt, escaping the mass murder of the innocent. They stay in Egypt until Herod’s death.

We are so focused on the wise men offering homage and gifts to Jesus we miss these two subtle yet critical points. The word ‘epiphany’ (little ‘e’) means a sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something or an intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking. In school, I typically had an epiphany just after the test. In church language ‘Epiphany’ (capital ‘E’) is the celebration of Christ manifestation to the gentiles, in Matthew’s story, the wise men (Peters). We are so used to seeing the wise men as kings, I suspect that we rarely think of them as gentiles. The meaning of the star given to the magi is the first gospel revelation that God is incarnate in Jesus for gentiles as well as for the Jewish people. Jesus is born for everyone, every heart who receives him. Secondly, it is worth noting that it is foreign court officials (as all magi in Jesus’ day are) who are the first pay homage to Jesus. The first action to the news of Jesus’ birth by his earthly king is an attempt to execute him. A dark foreshadowing because it is the governments, both Jewish and Roman, who execute Jesus.

All this comes down to two epiphanies

  1. the light of the word came to everyone, and
  2. the powerful can and do seek to block the light of the word.

Which reminds me that

from the very beginning, when God spoke, there has been light, and the light of life was good, the light of life shines in the darkness and darkness cannot and has not overcome it (Gen 1:1, John 1:1).

From this, I glean two callings

  1. welcome everyone in Christ’s light, it is not our calling to judge others or to protect God’s divine presence; God is very capable of defending divine self. and then
  2. speak the truth, that pulls back the curtain that hides when, where and how the authorities, the rulers, the principalities, the powers, the darkness of this world (Eph 6:1) by thought, word and deed, done and undone, seek to cast darkening shadows over God’s people.

These gleanings evoke two imperatives.

  1. Now is the time to welcome all into divine light life.
  2. Now is the time for the darkness to be overcome to be transformed by the ever-present light life.

For Epiphany, the time of divine light life is right here right now.


References

Boring, M. Eugene. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Matthew. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Pankey, Steve. “Distracted by Power.” 3 1 2019. Draughting Theology.

Peters, David. Stars, Epiphany – January 6, 2019. 6 1 2019. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/&gt;.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Thomas Nelson Inc. NKJV Strong’s. Nashville: Olive Tree, 1982.