Archives for January 2009

Saying yes to the call of God, 3 Epiphany (B) – 2009

January 25, 2009

(RCL) Jonah 3:12-5, 10; Psalm 62:5-12; I Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

The light of Epiphany shines on a truth accepted by both religious and agnostics: a person who spends his or her life dedicated to a good cause rises above the ordinary and many times is considered a hero. We call this “responding to a call,” acting on a mission. All our heroes, whether saintly or secular, are people who responded to a call and acted on the demands it made on their lives. St. Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus, as Luke described it, was dramatic and utterly life-changing. As Saul of Tarsus he was stopped in his tracks; he was called by name; he was confronted by the glorified Christ; and as a result, he became a new man for Christ.

The rather ridiculous person of Jonah, by contrast, tries to avoid a call and is confounded at every turn. God is not mocked, but God, apparently, can appreciate a joke.

The short gospel of Mark is filled with calls. Jesus calls the people to himself and to the kingdom of God, and the people call to Jesus for help and healing. We are barely into the first chapter when John, called by God to proclaim and practice a baptism of repentance, pays for his obedience to this call by being arrested by a worthless king.

Jesus, baptized by John, hears the voice of his Father proclaiming a call that is unique: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased,” and then spends 40 agonizing days in the wilderness contemplating his calling. Having chosen the way of utter obedience, he starts immediately to live out his response not in isolation but in the gathering of those whom he in turn calls by name.

There is an immediacy here, an urgency that propels the message: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.” Cold chills run up and down the spine when the Son of God pronounces the word “time” – kairos in the Greek, the special time of God. Jesus uses this word, kairos, to speak of its fulfillment, or to declare at crucial moments: “My time (kairos) has not yet come.” He is always aware of where he is in God’s kairos.

As reported by Mark, he calls two sets of brothers first. Were they aware of God’s time? Is this why they responded so quickly? There seems to be no question in their minds that this is God’s call to them through this young, vibrant Jesus who becomes the focus of their existence from then on, even though most of the time they don’t understand him. With such obedience to God’s call to a new life is the world changed and saved.

The remarkable American anthropologist and medical doctor, Paul Farmer, responded to a conviction that all human beings on earth deserve medical care. Together with four other doctors he founded Partners in Health, and in the process is changing the lives of the poorest of the poor in Haiti, Peru, and Rwanda. What a shining light this man is in the midst of a hurting people. All because he responded to a call to heal the poor.

Dr. Muhammad Yunus responded to an inner conviction that poor women deserve to receive loans with the lowest interest possible so that their lives could be changed. By changing the lives of women for the better, he knew that he could help improve the lives of their whole families. On that conviction, or call, he founded the Grameen Bank, and the practice of giving small loans to women and the poor in general is now flourishing.

Desmond Tutu heard the call of God, which filled him with the unshakable conviction that all human beings, regardless of the color of their skin, are created in the image of God. That conviction led him to work with another great human being, Nelson Mandela, to bring an end to the evil of apartheid.

The stories of response to a call from God can be found all around us. We need them during this Sunday in Epiphany because the world at large is darkening with wars and currently with the enormous human misery in Gaza. We desperately need the light of Epiphany, the revelation that shines upon people who respond to a call from God, regardless of their background and religion. When their words and their actions bring light, they are all blessed by God regardless of the name by which they call their Creator.

Simon and Andrew, James and John did not know how their lives would unfold when they responded to the call of Jesus, who promised to make them fishers of humanity. They responded to his call because the man of God who was calling them possessed the light of Epiphany in his person. They knew instantly that he was from God, and they said, Yes! They didn’t stop to ask: “What will this cost me?” They left their livelihood behind.

In the case of Peter, did he wonder, “What will this mean to my wife, my family?” He knew that responding to the call of Jesus was good regardless of the consequences. He had regrets and failures and loss of confidence later, but all that passed because the light of Epiphany remained with him burning steady to the end.

Saying yes to the call of God means great suffering in many cases. Look at John the Baptist; look at Jesus and his disciples, and at Paul. Yet, not one of them turned away with regret. They were faithful to the end, even to death upon a cross. And because of their response to God’s call, we reap the blessings of their obedience. What responsibility does this place upon our shoulders? What if the call has sounded and we have ignored it?

May the light of Epiphany shine upon us in such a way that we see, recognize, hear, and respond to God when we too are called by name.

 

— Katerina Whitley teaches at Appalachian State University and is the author of five books of Biblical characters who obeyed God’s call.

Becoming the presence of Jesus, 2 Epiphany (B) – 2009

January 18, 2009

(RCL) 1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20); Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51

Today’s gospel reading is a delicious story. We encounter enthusiasm, prejudice, and extraordinary insight all in one short story. It is sometimes good for us to remember that we get above ourselves when we regard the people of our Lord’s day as being so inferior to ourselves as not to be taken too seriously. Obviously we know a good deal more than they did about all sorts of things. Yet we share not only a common humanity but those very same traits that enliven and sometimes sully our day-to-day lives. Philip and Nathanael are not unlike you and me, prone to bursts of enthusiasm and almost unconscious prejudice.

Philip’s encounter with Jesus was obviously dramatic and life changing. Jesus was direct. He met Philip and told him to join Jesus’ small band of followers. There may have been more to the encounter that added to the extraordinary excitement that sent Philip off to find Nathanael, but however long or short the encounter, Philip was hooked. So off he ran to find his friend.

Nathanael thinks Philip is crazy. To a pure Jew, the inhabitants of Nazareth were not only country folk with a country accent, they were a racially mixed community. The same sort of prejudice that we encounter, and perhaps exhibit in unguarded moments, caused Nathanael to blurt out, “Can any good come out of Nazareth?”

It is interesting that the writer of the fourth gospel includes this detail. There’s no attempt to whitewash the resumes of the disciples. Despite our stained-glass windows and their depictions of the first Christians, we encounter them as real people, warts and all. How could Jesus choose people who demonstrate the same failings we meet in human beings in our daily lives? How could Jesus choose us?

Philip risked rejection when he tackled Nathanael. He risked being embarrassed. Today, in our setting, he would risk being accused of trying to force his religion on others, of being “evangelical” or even a crank. Yet Philip seemed to be sure that if he could get Nathanael to meet Jesus, he would be convinced that even if this Jesus was the son of Joseph from Nazareth he was also the person Jews had hoped for since Moses.

Jesus saw in Nathanael a character that was totally honest and probably blunt, “an Israelite in whom is no guile.” That description is about all we shall know about Nathanael, except that he was probably also called Bartholomew – and that he had a low view of people from Nazareth.

We usually associate St. Peter as the follower of Jesus who blurted out that Jesus was the Messiah, the one yearned for, the one sent from God to establish the Kingdom. Yet in this story, a new convert, amazed that Jesus knew where he came from – under the fig tree where Philip found him – blurts out, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

Jesus answers Nathanael by recalling the story of Jacob and Bethel, who placed his head on a stone, dreamed that he wrestled with an angel and saw angels ascending and descending on what seemed to be a ladder. This all seems pretty obscure to us, but to a faithful Jew, the story of Jacob is one of redemption and calling, of God reaching into a human life in a transforming way. Bethel means “the place of God.”

In our baptisms, we too encountered the living God. A “Philip” cared enough about us to bring us to the place where God is, the thin place which was there was a font or basin filled with water made holy by priestly blessing, our Bethel. Perhaps our Bethel is the church where we worship today. In our baptism, Jesus or “God with us” looked into our souls and judged us to be the person he was calling. Like the disciples, like Nathanael, we had the potential to be, or were if we were baptized as adults, the sort of person Jesus calls to be his intimate followers.

A great Anglican theologian of the 16th century, Richard Hooker, described all worship as our encounter with angels ascending and descending. Or to put it simply, it is the action in which we participate in the worship of heaven and experience the sort of fellowship we hope one day to experience after death.

But the thrust of our lessons today is that we are now “in eternal life” as the priestly absolution puts it in the Eucharist. We are forgiven our sins in order that we may be kept in Eternal Life. In forgiveness, in being looked into by Jesus just as Nathanael was looked into, we encounter the power to be changed. Jesus looks at us and says, “I saw you in your garage” or “I saw you at the supermarket.”

We are challenged to blurt out our faith that even though Jesus was from northern Israel centuries ago, he is the Son of God and he is our King. With that challenge comes the bounden duty and service of representing Jesus to others. He calls us because he knows us. To him, “all hearts are open, all desires are known and from him no secrets are hid.” He sees our potential and our prejudices, our talents, and our sins; and chooses us.

That is amazing. If the Messiah can be born in the backwaters of Nazareth in a mixed community, anyone can live in Jesus as he lives in us.

Jesus calls us to be Nathanaels, whose prejudice about people in the past, whom we look down on in our 21st century hubris, can be changed by an encounter with the Lord. Today we encounter Jesus at the font in baptism and Sunday by Sunday in bread and wine, those simple elements, like a stone, in which we may encounter the living God.

Such an encounter calls us to engage people in the totality of their being, whatever their race, background, class, wealth, or poverty, and to bring them to Jesus. Bringing people to Jesus is evangelism, but a whole evangelism for Jesus cares about poverty, disease, hurt, grief and sin, and calls us to be agents who cooperate with him as his Kingdom comes “on earth as it is in heaven.”

We do this by becoming the presence of Jesus and as we touch life where we find it and become healers, feeders, lovers, and redeemers.

 

— Fr. Tony Clavier is rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, La Porte, Indiana, in the Diocese of Northern Indiana. He is also dean of the Michigan City deanery.

The creation story is not over, 1 Epiphany (B) – 2009

January 11, 2009

Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11

Today we celebrate a rite of passage: the baptism of Jesus in the Jordon River, the river that held so much significance for generations of ancestors before him. Jesus was baptized by his cousin, John. It was a baptism of repentance, an act of humility and the receiving of a name – the death to the old and the creation of a new identity. The readings today help us connect and focus on baptisms, including our own baptisms.

The foundation for the gospel is laid in the creation story from Genesis, in which God creates the earth from a void where water, wind, and fire come together. Each of these elements have the power to both create and destroy, as we know; but God uses them for good through his Holy Spirit, and it is this Spirit that brings to completion the rite of baptism that bind us to God.

The Episcopal Church’s Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music has put together a publication called “Changes: Prayers and Services Honoring Rites of Passage.” It provides us with a thorough description of the elements of rites by people from many cultures and religious traditions that recognize and effect change. Although the structure of the rites may differ, there are key elements or themes common to them, such as: naming the transition and its affect on the person and whole community; declaring what went before to include loss and grief, growth and letting go, gratitude, and the need for healing, courage and imagination; and proclamations of hope and willingness to discern a new call to create a rite.

And that is what happens to us when we are baptized. The Spirit or “wind” moves through the symbols of water, fire, and the community or “earth,” calling us by name to fulfill the Kingdom of God. We are called into the vocation of Christian life, but we must be willing to accept the name signifying our vocation and new life. When an infant is baptized, the child’s parents and sponsors offer the name and accept the vocation until the time when the baptized child is able to accept the call.

We are never really fully ready for the significant transitions of life, but thanks be to God, the power of the Holy Spirit comes in God’s time, not ours. Today’s gospel reading describes for us the experience witnessed by the community when Jesus was baptized.

Jesus had been named, and in his family’s tradition, he was presented and circumcised at an early age. The time for Jesus to accept his role as Messiah, to become fully human and begin to model the glorious impossibilities, came when the heavens were torn apart – tearing the social fabric that separated the rich and poor, the rigidness of law that separated rather than bringing together, and brought into focus the true Kingdom of God through God’s beloved. God revealed his true incarnation in Jesus on that day of the baptism.

From that point on, it was up to Jesus to live into his transformed identity. This is also true for each of us as baptized Christians.

A Native American Coyote story describes a poor man who had a dream or vision that there was a place where everything is perfect. You might say that this was heaven. He had been told that this place was visible to all who had accepted a life of humility and complete service to their community. The poor man felt very humble, especially since he had no real possessions, but he felt that he must set out on a journey away from his present life and community in search of this perfect place.

He set out the next day at dawn. He walked and walked the entire day, and when evening arrived, before he had found the perfect place, he set up camp, took out his meager meal of bread and a flask of water to satisfy his hunger and thirst. He gave thanks, ate the bread, drank the water, and then he removed his sandals and placed them facing in the direction he was headed so he could continue his journey the next day. Then went to sleep.

While the poor man slept that night, Coyote came and turned his shoes around so that they faced the direction from where the man had come that day. When the poor man awoke, he put on his shoes, and began to walk again. While he walked all day, he thought about this perfect place, this heavenly city. When it was nearly dark, he came to a place that looked strangely familiar. He walked down a street, turned a corner, and saw a somewhat familiar dwelling. He waited outside the dwelling until its inhabitants came out to greet him and invite him in. When they did, he entered and was given warm clothes and a warm meal that was so delicious he could not remember the last time he had eaten so well. He was received with such hospitality that he felt as though he was a member of a family he had known his whole life.

After much talk, singing, and praying, the whole household offered the poor man their best bedding. He thanked them and laid down to sleep thanking Creator God for the abundant blessings shared with him. He could not help but think that this was, indeed, a perfect place, a heavenly place. How could there be another more perfect?

This is what our journey into baptized life is like. Baptism is our glimpse into the Kingdom of God right here and right now. We frequently reaffirm our covenant relationship with God and one another, but at times we get lost and think that somehow we must go away from who we are in order to fulfill our call to be people of God. Once in a while we lose sight of what is right before us and we begin to focus our energy elsewhere, hoping that we will find that perfect place. We struggle with the challenge that the “perfect place” can only exist when we are living our promises and inviting everyone around us to share in that life as well.

We enter into this covenant. It is a contract in which each party has a responsibility to the other. We are baptized with the Holy Spirit and receive a new awareness, a new appreciation and comprehension of creation. We realize that we have a power that has always been there since the beginning of our existence as human beings. And that is the power to change tomorrow – to change reality from what it is to what it should be.

The creation story is not over. It is not finished. God is still creating and has declared us as co-creators, co-authors, of the next chapter. Tomorrow is up to you. What are you going to make of it? Will there be a voice from heaven saying, “You are my child, the beloved. With you I am well pleased”?

Here is a prayer by Jean McCallum from the book Read Mark and Pray:

Jesus, you are the one who rises from the water and the tomb to offer new life to all.
We offer our life as a sign of our worship.
Jesus, you are the one who agrees to be baptized to be at one with us.
We offer our baptism as a sign of being with you.
Jesus, you are the one for whom the heavens open to allow the Spirit to descend.
We offer our ready heart as a sign of our open life.
Jesus, you are the one who is the Son so well loved that God’s delight is in you.
We offer you our delight and joy as a sign of our everlasting love.

 

— The Rev. Debbie Royals is a regional missioner for Native Ministry Development, based in the Diocese of Los Angeles. She is the Province VIII Indigenous People’s Network chair and a CREDO health faculty member.

Why frightened?, 2 Christmas (A,B,C) – 2009

January 2, 2009

Jeremiah 31:7-14; Psalm 84; Ephesians 1:3-6,15-19a; Matthew 2:13-15,19-23 

When Herod heard about the child who had been born King of the Jews, we read in Matthew that “he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him.” Isn’t that odd?

All Jerusalem was frightened with Herod. It’s not like they had our technology that’s capable of getting news from one end of the planet to another. Communication had to have been excruciatingly slow then, compared to ours. How could all of Jerusalem even known the wise men were consulting with Herod at the palace?

That’s probably one of those odd little questions we might ask ourselves as we hear this very familiar passage about Herod whose wickedness astounds us several verses later. We might even remind ourselves that the stories we all know and love about the Christmas event as they’re told in the Synoptic gospels all have variations of time and characters and symbolism. But still, the idea of others in Jerusalem being frightened about the news of the birth of this child is intriguing.

Why frightened – when the birth of the Messiah should have been a cause to rejoice? Why frightened – when the arrival of wise men from afar could have been like the circus coming to town? In those days the idea of three men on their own camels traveling alone from another country would be unimaginable. They’d have traveled with an entourage, armed men as protectors against desert robbers, families perhaps, other animals for food and the portage of tents and other necessities. They may have made quite an entrance into Jerusalem. They got an audience with the king, so they must have had credentials.

Well, we don’t know any of this, and it doesn’t matter, because that’s not the point of this passage. Matthew uses this story to establish that Jesus is the Messiah and as a prologue to establishing Jesus’ ministry in the following chapters. He uses this story also to show that Jesus’ ministry is to all God’s people. The wise men would have been gentiles. The shepherds would have been the poor. Jesus would later challenge the religious leaders by saying tax collectors and prostitutes would go into the kingdom before them. That alone could cause the leaders to be fearfully angry.

But fear – that’s still intriguing, especially as we hear this wonderful story of Jesus as a baby again. The whole idea of wise men, shepherds, angels, a star, our Christmas card version of a cozy, very clean stable (as if there is such a thing), gold, frankincense, and myrrh gives us such a beautiful picture, a magical picture, that we might be tempted to stay with that picture and not look further to what we might reflect on about ourselves.

So, fear. Who should be afraid? Well, not the faithful, not the remnant of Israel as our reading from Jeremiah tells us. The Old Testament reading talked about redemption and restoration for those who had been scattered. While this isn’t a prophesy about Jesus’ birth, it does remind us that God never forsakes God’s people. Even if they have turned from God and have been scattered, the faithful and those who repent will be led by God’s own hand out of sorrow into joy, out of hardship into comfort. Among the remnant will be the blind, the lame, and those with children – they have no need to fear. The poor, the helpless, the marginalized have no need to fear. Generations later, it’s the same. God takes on human flesh and comes to dwell among God’s people as a child. No fear here.

Awe perhaps, and awe has been used as a synonym for fear. This awe is described so beautifully by John Donne in his poem “Annunciation.” He calls the pregnancy of Mary “immensity cloistered in thy dear womb.” That one phrase just explodes with beauty and wonder. To begin that same poem Donne wrote, “Salvation to all that will is nigh.” Here may be what this passage from Matthew could teach us.

“Salvation to all that will …”

Salvation is certainly offered to all, but not all seek God’s truth or accept the free gift of grace. That should be no surprise to us. We see too much evil in the world today, even in this wonderful Christmas season. We see our own governments pandering to the powerful and ignoring the powerless. We see too many in our own church giving lip service to caring for all God’s people, while putting energy into seeking ways to marginalize many and destroy unity.

Children living on the street, family farmers being run out of business by an oppressive economy, humanitarian aid being the first thing cut from a country’s budget, workers losing jobs and often homes while CEOs retire with golden parachutes: these things should give us real cause to fear, just as the arrival of the wise men dropping the truth of God’s incarnation right into Herod’s lap made him fear.

Our fear, however, shouldn’t be a fear of God turning away from us. It should perhaps be the fear that we could be tempted to feel so overwhelmed by all we see in our world today that we might just give up trying to witness to a different way of living as godly people. Fear could make us close our eyes and pretend all is well. Another English poet, T.S. Eliot, in his magnificent poem “The Journey of the Magi” had one of the magi describe this feeling of being overwhelmed by what they returned to after seeing the Christ child:

We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

If we take seriously all that the Incarnation calls us to, we might also find that we’re no longer at ease in our own “old dispensation, with an alien people clutching their gods.” We must ask ourselves, who or what inhabits our old dispensation, our old lives.

Can we see who or what in our lives are an “alien people clutching their gods?” Like that wise man, we should be uneasy with some of what we see around us. Our fear of what we see should – instead of paralyzing us – empower us, propel us forward into doing something. A response to God’s free gift of grace will turn fear into the kind of deep joy we associate with the story of the wise men. That doesn’t mean it will be easy.

Eliot’s wise man talked about the journey to Bethlehem.

A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

The whispering that this journey might be all folly could have been a real source of fear for that wise man. But they kept on, and in the end:

arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again.

Our collect for today offers us a wonderful prayer to help us as we reflect on our fears, but more hopefully on how we might respond to God’s invitation to affect for good the world we live in.

“Oh God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him, who humbled himself to share our humanity.”
What greater thing could we ask? May it be so for us all.

 

— The Rev. Dr. Susanna Metz is executive director of the Center for Ministry in Small Churches at the School of Theology, Sewanee, Tennessee, and assistant professor of Contextual Education. She is also publisher of Tuesday Morning, a quarterly journal of ministry and liturgical preaching.

Holy janitors, Feast of the Holy Name / New Year’s Day (B) – January 1, 2009

(RCL) Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 8; Galatians 4:4-7 or Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 2:15-21

The ancient Romans had among their pantheon a god of doorways. His name was Janus. With two faces, one looking forward and the other looking back, he was the god of beginnings as well as endings. He gives his name, of course, to this month, “January,” and to “janitors,” the keepers of doorways.

And so, on the threshold of another year, as the vast majority of our fellow citizens are waking up from last night’s revelry and switching on holiday parades and football games, we are holy janitors, gathered here this morning to sanctify this transition – Janus was also the god of transition and change, by the way – and to greet this beginning with prayer and song and fellowship.

Just as the ancient Romans felt the need for a god of beginnings, and gathered to pay him homage when the wheat was sown, or when the harvest began, or when a baby was born, there is, within our human nature, a deep yearning for new beginnings, and a natural hope that this year will be better than the last.

That same yearning, that same hope, was ascribed to Jesus Christ by the early church. Paul in the first chapter of his letter to the Colossians, writes very simply: “He is the beginning.”

And, though as far as we know Jesus had only one face, looking forward, in the Book of Revelation, John of Patmos records the Lord saying again and again, “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” the beginning and the end.

After Pentecost, in a time of transition, the early Church struggled with its identity and purpose, longing in the face of persecution and skepticism for a new beginning, for the coming of the heavenly Jerusalem that John so vividly describes. The first followers ached for a second chance.

On this Feast of the Holy Name our readings are all about second chances, as we look backward and forward at the same time. In the book of Numbers, God pronounces a blessing on the new priests as they begin their new way of life. God has brought the people out of Egypt, and now God begins trying to build them into the vision of a priestly kingdom that is the culmination of God’s plan. Centuries later, after prophets have risen and kingdoms have fallen, God tries again. Yet another chance, and again, God has a new name – officially given on this holy day: Jesus, Yeshua, the Lord is Salvation.

As a sign that it is indeed a new beginning, that God is crossing a threshold that has not been crossed before, as a sign that things are to be different, the news of the second chance is told first to shepherds, keeping watch over their flocks. Not to kings or sages. Not to the rich and the mighty. And where are the shepherds to find him? Not in Jerusalem. Not in the temple or in a palace, but in Bethlehem of all places, in a barn, wrapped in rags and lying in a feeding box. An old way is ending, and a new one is beginning. The Word becomes flesh and dwells among us.

Christ’s birth, his advent, is a second chance for humanity, and for our relationship with God. Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, declares that by it we have received adoption as God’s children. And what is adoption but a second chance? God in Christ has chosen us – adopted us – and given us a new beginning; and even more than a new beginning, a whole new life, a new birth, a new creation in which to live. We are no longer slaves but children of God. And so on this wonderful morning, on the threshold of another year, the news is good: God so loved the world, that in Christ, he gave us another chance, so that we may not perish, but have eternal life.

The tension built into the theology of Advent is its focus on both the first coming and the second coming of Christ. We prepare to celebrate the first even as we wait for the second. And some of us may wonder if we are to give thanks for the second chance that God offered us in Christ while all we can see around us is the need for the third chance?

In our most grounded, centered, and prayerful selves, we know that cries of “How Long, O Lord?” must be tempered by an understanding of the first coming. And the tension of Advent, the pull to give ourselves over to the hope of a new beginning that will fix everything, is balanced by an understanding of the incarnation, and the Church in God’s plan of salvation.

The tension of Advent is resolved in some sense by the knowledge that no matter when the second coming takes place, the first coming has given us the ability to live in the kingdom. That deep desire of every nation, that profound longing that we hear in Isaiah’s oracles, that Mary articulates in her song of praise, that Jesus foresaw – that possibility is present. It’s here. Jesus, as Paul says, is the Beginning.

In other words, we are living in an in-between time. We are living between the first coming and the second coming. And somehow, though we have been given everything we need to build the kingdom of God, we haven’t built it yet, at least not to the specifications of Jesus’ blueprint.

And so, as we step boldly once again across the threshold into a new year, perhaps our greatest hope should be that in this in-between time, God is not finished with us. That God is still at work in our lives and in creation.

On the Feast of the Holy Name, we might remind ourselves that our society has given God a lot of other names: “money,” “success,” “things,” “alcohol,” “drugs,” “sex.” Many people don’t know God’s name at all.

Our work as Christians, what we, in fact, must do, is to help people discover that God can still transform their lives. We are not just following an ethical code set forth by a lovely and kind teacher 2,000 years ago. We are building the kingdom of God, empowered by the Holy Spirit, co-creators with God of a transformed reality. We must show the world that God, the great “I am,” the alpha and the omega, is not finished, but is at work, and has the power even now to give us new lives and new hearts.

It won’t be long – just a few months from now – until we gather before the cross, to witness the baby whose coming fills us with such hope, now grown and dying. The power of God, friends, is to draw Easter out of Good Friday.

The power of God is that beginnings follow what seem to be endings.

The meaning of the birth is connected to the meaning of the death and resurrection in this way: the kingdom breaks in where and when it is least expected. And despite any sense of powerlessness or hopelessness or cynicism we might experience, our purpose in this in-between time, this time of transition, is to be agents of the in-breaking. The kingdom comes – it can come and it will come – when we, by our work and witness, manifesting the power of God that we know, bring it to bear.

Our work as Christians is to make the kingdom real where and when it is least likely to appear. Isn’t that what it means to be the Body of Christ?

And so, fellow holy janitors, keepers of this new day, let us pray that God may fill our hearts with joy and hope in believing; save us from our fears and doubts; and give us courage and strength to be instruments of the in-breaking of his promised kingdom.

 

— The Rev. Timothy Crellin is vicar of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Boston and founder of the B-SAFE program, which serves more than 500 children and teens in Boston every summer, and the St. Stephen’s after-school program, which serves more than 125 young people every afternoon. He lives in Jamaica Plain with his wife and seven-year-old son.