Blessed Epiphany

bethlehem-star-1-1383865-1599x2404My best-laid plans for posting in Advent were thwarted by a nasty sinus infection. But I’m healthy again and starting the new year with a resolution to publish something new on the blog at least once a week.

Star Words

I handed out “star words” during worship yesterday. These are words that can serve as a guiding light for people during the coming year. In addition to the words themselves, I will occasionally share reflection questions to help people consider how God may be using their star word as a guide in their lives. If any of you would like me to send you a star word and include you on the reflection emails I will be sending out, you can use the “Contact Me” page to request your word. 

 

Thoughts from Yesterday’s Sermon

I felt the weight of preaching this week, for sure. You can read the entire sermon here. Below is a slightly shortened version. Peace to each and all  in this new year.

  • Reading: Ephesians 3:1-12

Friends, it is now 2020 . . . and the world is on fire. Both literally and figuratively.

Literally, there are fires raging across Australia, displacing communities, killing at least 24 people; destroying livelihoods, decimating animal and plant populations. There were fires from protests at the US embassy in Baghdad earlier in the week, then the fireball of an explosion that killed Iranian general Soleimani.

Figuratively, there is the burning fear of what the effects of climate change will be for us; fear of how Iran might retaliate and what it will mean if we go to war. There is raging political hostility.

Happy New Year?

In times like this my calling as a preacher feels unusually difficult and particularly sacred; it is my job, my holy duty to preach the Good News—no matter how bad the news of the week might be.

As our country is on the brink of (another) war and our world is already reeling from the effects of global warming, it is my privilege to stand before you and say, not “Happy New Year,” but “Blessed Epiphany.”

In the midst of the darkness, we, the church, celebrate light.

In the midst of fear, we celebrate hope.

In the midst of terrible revelation after terrible revelation in the continuous news cycle, we celebrate the revelation of our God in the person of Jesus Christ.

Episcopal priest Lisa Fischbeck notes that the magi’s visit to the Christ child “is a scene depicted in the Gospels, but its significance is given to us in the Epistles.”[1] And that significance, according to the writer of this particular epistle to the church in Ephesus, is all about a revealed mystery.

Mysteries have long captured the human imagination. In fact, during the first century, as the early church was forming and when this letter to the Ephesians was written, there were several cults that practiced what were known as “mystery religions.” These were private groups with secret initiation rites and sacred meals that promised salvation. Because of these features, some people in the ancient world thought that the newly-forming Christian churches were just another mystery cult.[2]

I appreciate the way the writer of Ephesians turns this idea of “mystery” on its head, distinguishing Christianity from the mystery religions and critiquing their elitism. In mystery cults, the “mystery” of salvation was largely dependent on individual spiritual experience, and it was restricted to the few privileged enough to be let in on the secrets of salvation.

The Christian mystery is the opposite—the mystery is that “the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” The mystery is that, while we try to form special groups to keep certain types of people out, God invites all in to a grace-filled relationship with the Divine.

In a sense, the mystery is that there is no mystery. No trick. No gimmick. No secret password. Salvation is not strictly personal. Salvation is not exclusive or elitist. It is for even—maybe especially—those people we think are furthest away from God.

This type of openness and inclusion expressed in Ephesians truly does feel like a mystery today. The political divide in this country is stark. The economic divide in this country is staggering. And, of course, there are divides within churches and denominations.

So for me, today, January 5, 2020, the expansive, all-inclusive grace of God does feel like a mystery. And here’s the part of this morning’s scripture that feels most mysterious of all: “through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities” (Ephesians 3:10)

Sometimes, the church feels like more of the problem than the solution when it comes to elitism and exclusion. But the promise of God, the mystery of the Good News, is that the church—that’s us—the church is designated by God to be a force that reveals God’s presence in the world—a force that demonstrates the love, the peace, the justice, the inclusion, the grace of God.

And on this Epiphany Sunday, with the light of the Christ child shining down, if we look in the right places, we can catch glimpses of this mysterious truth.

In many ways, in many places, the Church serves “the least of these”—people struggling to meet basic needs of food and shelter and medical care. The Church proclaims peace and justice in our communities, our country, and the world—see the “Faith Statement on Escalating Violence with Iran” that was published last Friday.

The world is on fire. It’s true. We can watch it and read about it and hear about it every day.

But I am here to do my job—to preach the Good News:

God’s grace is real.

The riches of Christ are abundant.

The power of God is greater than the powers of this world.

The mystery of salvation is for ALL people.

And we, the church, are being used by God to reveal this mystery to the world, even as we are invited to remind ourselves and each other of this mystery each time we gather together.

Thanks be to God.

 

[1] Living by the Word commentary; Year A, Epiphany. 206.

[2] Introducing the New Testament by John Drane. p 256

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