Christ’s Own for Ever, Epiphany 1 (B) – January 7, 2018

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

Today, we commemorate the baptism of Jesus by his cousin John in the River Jordan. Now, John’s that guy we’ve been hearing a lot about lately (since the beginning of Advent), and after today, he will drop into the background.

You see, we no longer need that voice crying in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” For the Lord is here, born on earth to save us. And we no longer have any confusion about who is the Messiah, for the one more powerful than John has come.

Now that babe is born. Incarnate and among us.

John’s role as prophet, foretelling the great story of salvation as known in the person of Jesus Christ: well, that role is fulfilled with Jesus’ baptism today.

John is sometimes seen as the last of the old order: the last prophet in the line of Isaiah and Jeremiah, the last to baptize with water only and not also the Holy Spirit, and the last to demand repentance before the immanent coming of the kingdom of God.

For Jesus proclaims over and over again that the kingdom of God has drawn near us; it is here, and now. No longer coming, or far off, or even just the other side of a thin divide—but here, very near us.

Among the very first documented acts of his earthly ministry, the twelve-year-old Jesus picks up a scroll and reads from an earlier prophecy of Isaiah: that the spirit of the Lord has anointed him, and that he has been sent to announce good news to the poor—and that this prophecy has been fulfilled. “Today, in your very hearing this text has come true,” he says.

So, too, of this baptism of Jesus: it seems to have effected a radical transformation in him. Luke’s gospel tells us of his birth, and then nary a word until now—thirty years later. And from this moment—the moment of a simple ritual of living water—Jesus is changed. No longer just the carpenter’s son, no longer a refugee in Egypt, no longer just another human being to walk the face of the earth.

He moves on from here to teach in synagogues and have all people sing his praises. He will heal the sick, and make the dead live again. He will preach, and manifest miracles. He will astound people with his teaching, and confound us even today by submitting to a shameful death on a cross.

And he will appear again over forty days until he ascends into heaven, prophesying of his return in glory to judge the earth—a second coming we still anticipate, two millennia later.

One day people know him as that clever boy, Joseph’s son. And the next he’s revealed as the Christ, the Messiah, the chosen one—God’s son, the beloved, with whom God is well pleased.

In his baptism, Jesus seems to have become an entirely different person.

It’s as if the waters of his baptism have washed away what was hiding the true Jesus. The running water of a river has somehow changed him, made him manifest as who he truly is, and given him the power and inspiration to begin a mission and ministry that will forever change the world.

So, too, with our baptism:

  • Oh, none of us is the Christ, but each and every one of us is the beloved, with whom God is well pleased.
  • And each and every one of us was forever changed and transformed in our baptism.
  • And each and every one of us continues to be changed and transformed—in ways big and small—throughout our earthly ministry.

Now filled with the Holy Spirit, we—like Jesus—are commissioned and sent forth to proclaim the good news of God’s favor, to proclaim release for prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the broken victims go free, to proclaim that the time of God’s favor is here.

That’s our job: to live baptismally.

And, living baptismally: what is that all about?

  • It’s about knowing that we have been forever changed by the acknowledgment of God’s working in our life;
  • that our true and holy self has been revealed by the washing away of all stain of sin;
  • that we are grafted into the body of Christ’s Church;
  • that we have been given an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and love God, and the gift of joy and wonder in all God’s works.

We are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever.

Baptism is an amazing gift. By the waters of baptism, we are lead from death to life, from the bondage of sin into everlasting life. In it, we are buried with Christ in his death. By it, we share in his resurrection. Through it, we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.[1]

And baptism is also an awesome responsibility. We are also no longer simply to live as ordinary people in the world:

  • We are to boldly confess Jesus as Lord and Savior;
  • to strive for justice and peace among all people;
  • and to seek and serve the Christ in everyone we meet.

Those of us who profess and call ourselves Christians are called to live a different kind of life, a life set apart from the world around us and yet somehow also very much in its midst.

A life of grateful thanksgiving in the face of victory—and defeat.

A life of difficult forgiveness—in the face of bitter betrayal.

A life of ongoing repentance—in the face of our chronic mistakes.

A life forever changed—and forever changing—proceeding from strength to strength, from goodness to perfection, from death to life.

This wet, earthly act, involving people in relation to one another, bodies acting and touching one another, hands, clothing, oil, and light: This emotion-filled rite we call “baptism” is the means by which we declare:

  • our separation from an old identity,
  • our transition from being no longer one of the old order to not yet being fully one of the new, and
  • our incorporation into the full life of the community we know and proclaim as Christ’s holy church.[2]

It is now for us—the baptized, those grafted into the life of Christ, those sealed and set apart—to share in an eternal priesthood, to rejoice at our adoption as children of God, and to give thanks for the ineffable mystery of our salvation.

Through baptism, we are forgiven, loved, and free to become more fully who God has created us to be: living members of Christ’s body, incarnate examples of divine love, manifestations of God’s glory here on earth.

By baptism, the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled—in Jesus, and in each one of us. God looks at us—the beloved, with whom God is well pleased—and says, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of God has risen upon you.” Amen.

[1] From the Thanksgiving over the Water in The Book of Common Prayer [1979].

[2] Daniel V. Stevick, Baptismal Moments; Baptismal Meanings (New York: Church Hymnal Corporation, 1987), 116.’ 

The Rev. Barrie Bates has served Anglican and Lutheran congregations in California, New York, and New Jersey over the past 20+ years. He holds a Ph.D. in liturgical studies, and memberships in the International Anglican Liturgical Consultation, the Sons of the American Revolution, and the Screen Actors’ Guild. Other than ordained ministry, his interests include opera, fine dining, and boating.

Download the sermon for Epiphany 1 (B).

God Is the Seeker, Feast of the Epiphany – January 6, 2018

[RCL] Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12

We celebrate today the great “Aha” moment when the Magi who journeyed from the east discover at the end of their quest not a prince born in a palace, but the infant Jesus born in a cave that had been used as a stable. The Magi are astrologers, who watch the heavens for signs of momentous earthly events. These are not astronomers who study the stars and planets for scientific data alone, but astrologers, not unlike people who create horoscopes today. Astrology was a forbidden means of divination for the Jews.

What the Magi reveal is that there was an air of expectation so palpable that anyone with eyes could see something momentous was about to happen. Let’s step aside from the Bible for a moment and see what else was being written around the time of Jesus’ birth. In the year 37 BCE, the poet Virgil wrote his Fourth Eclogue, a beautifully written poem about the immanent expectation of a man sent down from heaven whose birth would inaugurate a new age. Two Roman historians, Tacitus and Suetonius, wrote of the expectation of a world leader to arise out of Judea [Tacitus Ann. 5.13 and Suetonius Bell. 3.399-408; 6:310-15].

It was also a common expectation of the day that a sign from the heavens would accompany such a momentous event. There were plenty of impressive portents from which to choose. Jesus was likely born in what we would now call 4 BCE. Seven years before Jesus’ birth, Halley’s Comet made its circuit through our skies. Three years before Jesus’ birth, Jupiter and Saturn were in alignment three times. The planet Jupiter signified a king while Saturn was routinely associated with the Jews. This would have fueled Herod’s insecurity and local political and religious speculation. Finally, a year before Jesus’ birth, Chinese astronomers recorded sighting a supernova, a bright light suddenly appearing in the night sky.

What all of this tells us is that, independent of the Bible, we can read of a relatively common expectation at the turn of the era that momentous change was coming. Furthermore, that change was expected to be noted with signs in the heavens.

The Judeo-Christian tradition has always taught that God can be known through creation. This revelation through the creation is no simplistic natural theology, but the knowledge we gain of God through the creation alone is incomplete and sometimes confusing in and of itself. We come to see that though one can reliably come to know of God through the creation, we do not come to know God in fullness through the creation alone.

In theological terms, what we are discussing is revelation. Unless God chose to reveal God’s own self to us, we would know nothing of God. But, because God decided to be made known, we can and do learn of God through the general revelation of creation and other forms of specific revelation. Just as you may discern something of the artist through her painting or his sculpture, one can learn of God through the creation. The theoretical physicist and Anglican priest John Polkinghorne put it this way in his book Science and Creation,

“We are so familiar with the fact that we can understand the world that most of the time we take it for granted. It is what makes science possible. Yet it could have been otherwise. The universe might have been a disorderly chaos rather than an orderly cosmos. Or it might have had rationality which was inaccessible to us.”

The universe was created with an order that humans can study and somewhat comprehend. We were created with the ability to understand and a common component of human self-understanding through the ages and around the world has been a belief in God. This belief in something greater than ourselves is such a universal human experience that many find that awareness of God alone to be proof of God’s existence. Yet, if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that this universal human idea of God could be nothing more than a universal projection of our minds to fill a need in our lives. This is the Marxist worldview, that religion is the opium of the masses. We just delude ourselves into belief.

Yet, this idea of revelation comes circling back around to tap on our shoulders. We do not know of God simply because we want there to be a God. We know of God because God reveals God’s own self to us. In addition to the general revelation of God through creation, there is specific revelation. The general revelation of God through creation spoils any possible excuse we may have in saying that we never knew there is such a thing as God. Specific revelation is more direct.

Specific revelation includes dreams and visions God uses to get people’s attention. Dreams like the ones which told Joseph of Jesus’ birth. Dreams like the one which warned the Magi to return home without stopping to pay a courtesy call on Herod and the one that warned Joseph and Mary to flee to Egypt. Specific revelation also includes scripture. God’s revelation is available to us through the word of God. We get a fuller picture of God through scripture that complements rather than contradicts the image of God we attain through the creation.

An important form of specific revelation comes through our own lives. We know God best through the ways in which God acts in our lives and the other ways in which God has acted in human history. As God is revealed in the way God acts in history, the Christian concept of revelation reaches its fullest expression in the person of Jesus. We get our best and clearest image of who God is and how God acts through Jesus’ life and ministry, his death, and resurrection.

As the Apostle Paul wrote, “For it is God who said, ‘Let light shine out of the darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Whether they understood it at the outset of their journey or not, the Magi traveled to see the light of the Glory of God revealed in the face of the infant Jesus.

The Magi were seekers and even though their methods were unbiblical and perhaps anti-biblical, God honored their quest. God called out to the Magi from the heavens or they would have never found Jesus. God, not the Magi, initiated the Magi’s quest. God guided them to their destination though the Magi never knew where exactly where their journey would take them. Yet, the Magi played their part as they did not simply stay home admiring the star in the sky. They hit the road, enduring all the troubles of travel including having to go against the local king, Herod, when they neared their destination. Yet all of their actions came second. God initiated the journey.

We may think that we are spiritual seekers, we are the ones on a quest for God’s presence. But that’s not the way scripture presents the story. Scripture tells us that God is the seeker. God is revealing God’s own self to you in the creation, in scripture, in your very life experience. We are asked only to open our eyes, to see, and then respond as the Magi did in coming to adore the one who made us and then entered human history to redeem us.

Open your eyes to how God is showing up in your life. God is seeking after you and me. Come let us adore him. Amen.

The Rev. Canon Frank Logue is Canon to the Ordinary of the Diocese of Georgia. He is also a member of the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church and serves on the Advisory Group on Church Planting. Frank blogs on mostly church development related topics at http://loosecanon.georgiaepiscopal.org.

Download the sermon for the Feast of the Epiphany.

Our global Family, Last Sunday After Epiphany (B) – 2015

February 15, 2015

2 Kings 2:1-12; Psalm 50:1-6; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6; Mark 9:2-9

Today, the Last Sunday After the Epiphany, the Episcopal Church celebrates World Mission Sunday. Today is a day when we are called to celebrate that we are a missionary church. Today is a day when where are all called, through our baptismal vows, to seek and serve Christ in all people and respect the dignity of every human being, to continue in the apostle teachings and to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.

Today is a day when we remember that through our baptism we are reborn into the family of Christ as children of God.

In our gospel reading today, we are reminded of the divinity of Christ as the Son of God, and therefore, we are reminded of our relationship with God, as children of God and brothers and sisters in Christ. One reason why World Mission Sunday is important is that we are reminded that as children of God, we are part of a global family and mutually responsible for one another.

In 1963, 16,000 Anglicans from around the world gathered together for an Anglican Congress to discuss issues of mutual ministry, and to live into the belief that the Anglican Communion is one family, mutual interdependent on one another.

This congress struggled with issues of interdependence in an economically unequal world. The congress talked about moving away from the idea of giving and receiving, and instead focusing on equality, interdependence and mutual responsibility. The congress talked about needing to examine rigorously the senses in which we use the word “mission” in describing something we do for somebody else.

Perhaps one of the most revealing comments in the final document is: “Mission is not the kindness of the lucky to the unlucky; it is mutual, united obedience to the one God whose mission it is. The form of the Church must reflect that.”

If we truly believe that we are children of God and brothers and sisters in Christ, then we have a most profound responsibility, not only to our family of birth but also to our brothers and sisters around the world.

We see glimpses of this connectedness, often in times of tragedy. On April 15, 2014, when Boko Haram kidnapped over 270 girls from a secondary school in Chibok, Nigeria, there was an outcry across the world, and we saw many people become a part of the “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign, including First Lady Michelle Obama. The cry was, “Bring back our girls,” not “those” girls or “their” girls, but “our” girls.

More recently, after the terrorist attacks in Paris, the global community again rallied together, announcing “Je suis Charlie” – “I am Charlie” – to show solidarity with the murdered staff of the satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

There are times in our collective consciousness when we know that we are all intimately connected, part of the same global community and children of God. Within the church, many people experience this during major feasts and seasons of the year, when we can feel the prayers of millions of people during Lent, or Easter or Christmas. The wonderful thing about being an Episcopalian and a member of the worldwide Anglican Communion is that we also know that we are connected by the Book of Common Prayer, in which, although it has been culturally adapted and written in many languages, our foundational prayers are the same and are said by over 80 million people around the world every Sunday.

How would it look if this sense of oneness, this sense of being part of a global family was something we felt on a more regular and intimate basis?

The Episcopal Church is a missionary church; our corporate name declares that, in that we are the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. Our Baptismal Covenant declares that in what we say we believe, and how we say we will act.

The Episcopal Church continues to send out missionaries around the world, both young and young at heart. With the Young Adult Service Corps there is an opportunity for those between the ages of 21 and 30 years old to journey to another part of the Body of Christ and to see the Holy Spirit moving around the world. The Episcopal Church also offers opportunities for older adults to serve throughout the Anglican Communion.

While our parishes, dioceses and denomination send out missionaries around the world, we are all called to participate in this ministry. We are all called to pray alongside, to mutually support, to advocate for, to be with, to share stories with, to listen to, and to worship together with our sisters and brothers around the world.

As we were reminded in that 1963 congress, we do not “do mission to or for others.” Mission is not an activity in which someone is “sent” and “received,” mission is not the kindness of the lucky to the unlucky, of giving a little out of our excess. Mission is about being in a fully mutual and interdependent relationship, in which we recognize that we are blood of the same blood, flesh of the same flesh.

Where one person hurts, we all hurt. When one person is not able to live fully into their humanity because of a lack of human rights, then we are all in pain.

While we see glimpses of this connection at times of great joy and time of great sadness, our challenge is to see this connection every moment of every day. The challenge is to feel this connection to our sisters and brothers when we are engaged in our daily life, whether this is buying fair-trade coffee or lobbying for equal opportunities and better living conditions for those who work in factories around the world making the clothes we wear.

World Mission Sunday reminds us that we are all intimately connected to one another. The girls who were kidnapped in Nigeria are our sisters and daughters. The families who live in hunger in Sudan are part of our family. The children who are not able to go to school in West Africa because of Ebola are our children, just as much our flesh and blood as our families at home.

Our challenge, as it is every day of every week, is how do we live into this “Christian reality” of life? How do we live out our baptismal vows faithfully? How can we learn to be a global community as God has called us to live into?

On a practical level we can certainly become more informed:

  • We can listen to the world news and become educated about our brothers and sisters who are suffering.
  • We can learn about the work of the Episcopal Church’s missionaries through its website.
  • We can advocate for the poor and connect with the Episcopal Public Policy Network.
  • We can give through Episcopal Relief & Development.
  • We can pray for our brothers and sisters.
  • We can visit, share our stories and listen to the stories of others.

Lifting up placards and declaring our solidarity with one another at time of crises acknowledges our unity together and is important for us to do. We are also invited by God to lift up our hearts, our minds and our very being to connect with our global family.

Today is World Mission Sunday; we are invited to live into our baptismal vows and to engage concretely in mutual and interdependent relationships with our brothers and sisters around the world.

 

— The Rev. David Copley is the Episcopal Church’s officer for Mission Personnel. He was a missionary in Liberia and Bolivia and priest in the Diocese of Southern Virginia before accepting his current position.

Is there healing without curing?, 5 Epiphany (B) – 2015

February 8, 2015

Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-12, 21c; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39

Sometimes it’s difficult to get a conversation started or bring discussion to a deeper level. Luckily, there’s a game called TableTopics that is meant to get conversation started between two people or group. TableTopics is a clear cube filled with cards that have one question on each, and there are a variety of versions out there, including a Book Club version, Family version, and Spirit version. Each person in the group draws a card and reads their question, and all take turns answering. The Spirit version helps people get into deeper conversation that is helpful for exploring personal faith, as well as getting to know others better.

For example, one of the questions in the Spirit version leads to a discussion about the difference between being healed and being cured. Is there a difference between being cured and being healed? Can you be cured without being healed? Can you be healed without being cured?

When we are physically ill, we want a cure to make us feel better. But even though we may be cured of our ailment, it doesn’t mean that we are healed. Our understanding of healing, especially in our gospel stories, means something more: It means a restoration of wholeness, particularly when it comes to our spiritual lives. When we are healed, even if we’re not cured of a physical ailment, we have the ability to rejoin our community in whatever way we can and be at peace on our path.

Throughout our lives, we meet people – and sometimes are the person – burdened with physical and spiritual illness. There’s a story about a woman who was in the hospital quite ill with cancer and estranged from her sister because of something that happened years before. She knew she was dying and talked to the hospital chaplain about her sister and how she was finally ready to stop nursing the grudge she had for all those years. She was ready to make amends. They prayed together about it and she cried because it hurt – not only to let the grudge go, but because she realized all the years and energy that had been wasted in maintaining that anger. When she was able to repent for her part in the estrangement, she was finally healed. She felt wholeness, even though her body was still sick. She felt right with God and restored to the community that she longed for.

When we are ready to be healed, it demands action on our part. It demands that we are ready to invite Jesus into that place that is wounded and help us. In our reading from the Gospel of Mark today, notice that Jesus doesn’t just seek people out who are sick; instead, they come to him, either on their own or through the disciples. Simon’s mother-in-law is brought to Jesus’ attention as soon as they got to the house, and as soon as he healed her, she immediately goes about serving Jesus and the others of the house. She was restored to her community and to wholeness. Her healing demanded a response.

It is interesting that the word translated as “serve” here is the same that Jesus uses to describe himself as the “one who comes to serve” and also the same word used when the angels “waited on” Jesus in the wilderness. This example of serving embodies the ideal of discipleship as service to others, which was what Jesus was trying to get people to understand. It was because of the mother-in-law’s encounter with Jesus that she responded with immediate discipleship.

Although Jesus continues to cure many who were sick and to cast out demons, he did not allow the demons to speak because he did not want people to know he was the Messiah, the secret that is a big part of Mark’s gospel. His fame was already spreading from when he taught with authority in the synagogue at Capernaum and cast out an unclean spirit there. But Jesus’ call was always first and foremost to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God; everything else, including the miracle healings and exorcisms, was secondary. They just helped him establish “street cred” as someone not to be trifled with.

As it happens in human nature, people were getting caught up with the messenger and not the message. We’ve all been there. We get caught up in the hype of someone who is charismatic, and the next thing you know, you’re buying something, giving away your savings, donating a kidney, or whatever it is that person has seduced you into. Jesus was trying to avoid that reputation, in a way. He didn’t want to be seen as just another wonder-worker, because that was not his mission. His mission was to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is here, through God’s authority, not human authority.

It is in the third part of our gospel story today that Jesus teaches us something else that is very important. After all that healing and casting out of unclean spirits, Jesus gets up in the early morning and goes out to a deserted place to pray. Observing morning prayers was a regular part of Jewish religious practice, and we know that the desert or the wilderness in biblical tradition were places where a person would make contact with God; so it makes sense that Jesus does this. After all that pouring out of himself in the previous days, Jesus needed to get in touch with God again. Being battered with the intense and desperate needs of the world can make things a little foggy. We know how that feels. When your boss needs, your spouse needs, your family needs, your school needs, your church needs, your friend needs, it is easy to forget what God needs. So Jesus goes out to pray and be reminded of who he is and what his mission is by the one who sent him.

The translation in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible for this passage is particularly descriptive. It says, “And Simon and his companions hunted for him.” Jesus was being hunted like prey being stalked by a lion.

How many times have we felt that way? The needs of the world around us are overwhelming – we could help people all day and never fully satisfy all their needs. Jesus is showing us another way. He is teaching us when we should say no to something. He is teaching us how to discern what God is calling us to. If Jesus had come to solve all the aches and pains of people on earth, then we would be sitting here with a very different gospel and none of us would ever catch the flu or have arthritis.

Jesus gets his priorities straight by talking to God, and he realizes it’s time to move on and proclaim the gospel somewhere new. There will always be more need than one person can deal with, that’s why discipleship is important. The response to an encounter with Jesus is a converted life – a life in line with manifesting the Kingdom of God in the world, proclaiming the Good News of God in Jesus Christ.

The theologian and Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, once said, “The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.” There’s a whole world out there that hasn’t heard the Good News yet. Isn’t it time that we followed Jesus and told them?

 

— The Rev. Danáe Ashley is the part-time associate priest at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Seattle. She is currently working on becoming a licensed marriage and family therapist. You can learn more about her on the Soul Spa Seattle website.

Building up, not puffing up the church, 4 Epiphany (B) – 2015

February 1, 2015

Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 111; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28

The gospel, on this fourth Sunday in the season of Epiphany, plunges us into the acts and words of one who speaks with authority. The light of Epiphany shines today on the character of the one sent from God. The evangelist Mark zeroes in on this divine quality at the very beginning of his gospel. He says of those listening to Jesus in the Capernaum synagogue: “They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.”

The people in that synagogue knew what the scribes had written. To them, no one was as important, as authoritative a prophet, as Moses. Maybe, hearing the young man from Nazareth on this day, they are remembering the words of Moses concerning true prophets: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people: you shall heed such a prophet.”

We know from the unfolding of the stories, both in the Hebrew scriptures and in the gospels, that true prophets are recognized but rarely heeded. We seem to prefer magicians to prophets. It is much easier to solve problems through magic than to spend a lifetime of obedience to the words of the prophets and the demands Christ makes in our lives.

Throughout history, movements arose to make easy knowledge of the divine possible – Gnosticism, theosophy, efforts to call back the dead in order to talk to them – as well as our modern emphasis on meditation as an alternative to prayer and study of the scriptures; one can spend hours enumerating human efforts to avoid the words of the true prophets and to ignore the one who speaks with authority.

It is truly fascinating to read the verses that precede the first lesson read today in Deuteronomy. They enumerate practices that are very old but are still to be found in our times:

“No one shall be found among you who makes a son or daughter pass through fire, or who practices divination, or is a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer, or one who casts spells, or who consults ghosts or spirits or who seeks oracles from the dead.”

Think, for instance, on titles of popular movies and television shows and remember how many of these practices are found in the culture of the day. As an interesting sidelight, that first practice mentioned – passing through fire – is still found during Epiphany in certain villages of northern Greece. There the faithful, carrying icons of Constantine and Helen, dance until they become ecstatic and then walk over burning coals without suffering from the fire. They are called anastenáridhes. Human beings are attracted to magical solutions and practices. The new faithful are oftentimes confused: Is this something a Christian is allowed to practice or to believe?

This happened very early in the Christian church. The Corinthian believers of the first century, surrounded as they were by so many gods and the different cultures and worship of various people who thronged that rich city, were confused about what Christ asked of them and by what they had learned while living in a multicultural city. They had written to Paul to ask a variety of questions. Among them was the question of diet. Was it proper to eat the meat of animals after these animals had been sacrificed to a pagan god? This was practiced widely in the Roman world. They would offer the whole animal as sacrifice at their pagan temple, but then the meat would be sliced and sold in the marketplace. Some of the new Christians who felt superior because they had knowledge – they were educated – felt free to buy and eat this meat. Others, afraid that they would fall into the sin of idol worship, would refrain from eating meat and would eat only vegetables. Today of course they would be praised as being vegetarian, but in those days food was scarce and people who were knowledgeable were more concerned with feeding their families than with the niceties of the new religion that had its roots in very old Hebrew traditions.

The problem with Paul’s congregation was that the educated ones made fun of the ones who refused to buy the meat. Paul, who probably would have eaten the meat because he knew that it would not defile him, had great compassion for the weaker members of the ekklesia. It is evident from his writings that he dreaded being a stumbling block to a new Christian. He would do anything to support the weak in order not to cause one of them to be afraid or to be lost. Having learned from his Lord what mattered, he zeroed in on what built the congregation and disregarded what puffed up the congregation. Today he probably would ask us: “Do you have a fine choir, a gorgeous building? Good for you. But do you also welcome the stranger? Do you open your doors and hearts to the weak and the poor? Take care of what builds up the body of Christ.”

Paul spoke with the authority of one who lived in total obedience to the one who had called him by name. Jesus spoke with the authority of one who had come from God. We see clearly from the admonitions of Jesus to his followers not to speak about his miracles that he did not want his miracles to attract people to him. He wanted the Word of God to be the central Good News he was proclaiming. But his compassion for the hurting was so great that he could not ignore them but whenever they came before him, he healed them.

But always, always he made sure that the least of his followers – the blind, the weak, the poor, the despised women and the neglected children – were given equal status with those who had the power and who were respected as religious authorities. He made sure that they knew that God loved them and that God had no patience with hypocrisy and self-righteousness. That was his authority; the authority of the true prophet. He spoke and lived and acted in the name of the one who sent him to the world, to us, and this is the one on whom the light of Epiphany shines today. May we see it and rejoice.

 

— Katerina Whitley is an author and retreat leader. She lives and writes in Louisville, Ky.

Follow me, 3 Epiphany (B) – 2015

January 25, 2015

Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62:6-14; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

In a recent National Public Radio report on contemporary family life in America, a somewhat exasperated young father describes parenthood as “always filled with joy, but sometimes not much fun.” Most parents today could probably relate to his words. For being father or mother, with all its wonder and joys, is not easy in any age. Good parenting invariably entails a great deal of giving and self-sacrifice – which as we all know is “sometimes not much fun.”

That father’s offhand comment on NPR seems somehow apropos as we reflect this day on our gospel account of the calling of the disciples – particularly James and John, the sons of Zebedee. “Immediately he called them,” Mark’s gospel tells us of Jesus and these two seemingly inseparable brothers, “and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.”

What must Zebedee have thought – or maybe sputtered – as he saw his otherwise perfectly sensible sons all of a sudden get up and leave their nets and their chores? And to do what? Why, to follow a little-known itinerant preacher no less; and without so much as a “Tell Mom we will not be home for supper.” Not much fun in that for Zebedee, one supposes, as the hired men meanwhile stare open-jawed in amazement at this little family drama unfolding before their very eyes.

Apparently parenthood and family life was no simpler 2,000 years ago than it is nowadays. By the way, commercial fishing was – back then and is still today in many places – a family business in which each member of the household has his or her important role. It is fair to say that fishing for a living – a lot of hard work – was not always fun. Perhaps it is the ordeal of it all that has made recent television docudramas about the contemporary lives of commercial fishermen such unexpected late-night favorites.

While a family-run fishing business might not have been the most glamorous profession in ancient Israel nor have put one into the highest echelons of Hebrew society, it was nevertheless a respected profession and a solid means of income and support for one’s family. It was, in fact, more highly regarded – according to some scholars and experts – than the work of a lowly village carpenter and jack-of-all-trades as was apparently Jesus’ own father, and perhaps Jesus himself.

So to follow Jesus – as admirable as that may seem from our advantaged perspective 2,000 years later – also meant for James and John the giving up of a not-insignificant trade or profession. As they say, people will always need to eat. The troubling conclusion also seems almost unavoidable: Following Jesus might well mean leaving parents and family and the security and comfort of a good job or career. By the way, how Zebedee was supposed to manage without the assistance and support of his sons we simply do not know from the gospel account. “Follow me,” indeed.

But “Follow me” is precisely what Jesus at the Sea of Galilee says to that other pair of brothers, Peter and Andrew, also fishermen. His call to James and John must certainly have sounded a similar note. Even now, there are probably few words in all of Christian scripture more demanding than these two: Follow me.

Jesus gives no explanation for his challenge. Nor does he give his followers or recruits a clear business plan of sorts for his own start-up ministry. He makes no promise of success and riches either. His vision statement – if you can call it that from a present-day corporate perspective – is only that his disciples will come to “fish for people.” And can there be much future in that?

The disciples must have thought so.

Because, curiously, they are not portrayed as having agonized over their decision to drop everything and follow our Lord. They did not first go home and sleep on it or discuss it at length with family members, friends or village elders. They did not check their bank accounts or savings. And surely, if they had approached their local parish priest for advice, they would most assuredly have been sent back to Zebedee forthwith.

Still, there is something energizing and exciting in the response or impulse – it hardly seems to have been a decision at all – of these first disciples. Perhaps in leaving hearth and home, they comprehended at once the larger family of humankind to which Jesus was calling them. To “fish for people” is, after all, about community – and family. And, though not always fun, as the disciples were themselves later to discover, it is most definitely about joy – the joy of bringing the Father’s love to others sorely in need of the Good News of the gospel.

Most of us have, no doubt, from time to time dreamed of dropping everything and heading off on some personal journey of discovery – until we sit back and calculate the cost, come down to earth, and get back to work and reality. Few of us today would leave our net, much less our Internet, to follow in the footsteps of James and John, Peter and Andrew – or Jesus himself. Yet our Lord’s challenge to the disciples of so long ago remains there to test us still today – just those two words:

“Follow me.”

The fact that we know from the perspective of faith just who Jesus is and what he calls us to do seems to make little difference. In some sense, our challenge and task is perhaps even greater than that of those impulsive young followers of Jesus. For most of us are called to follow our Lord at the very same time we are challenged to remain where we are – at the side of family and friends. Yet, perhaps paradoxically, accepting our Lord’s gospel imperative invariably leads us to others, to “fish for people,” even if we never leave home.

What the early disciples must have instinctively known is what we must not forget – that in following Jesus we leave everything but lose nothing. That is “the good news of God” that Jesus and his disciples proclaim with great joy throughout Galilee – and through us across our world today as well. And probably even the disciples’ own father, Zebedee, could find joy in that.

 

— The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedus, a priest of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, is currently chaplain and area dean at Saint Margaret’s Anglican Episcopal Church in Budapest, Hungary – a ministry of the Church of England’s Diocese in Europe. Please visit and “like” Saint Margaret’s Facebook page. Isten hozott!

Let your heart be light, 2 Epiphany (B) – 2015

January 18, 2015

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

“You will see greater things than these.”

Like Nathanael, we are all looking for signs. We search high and low, near and far, for some confirmation that God is with us. When really, as Jesus says to Nathanael, we will see greater things, if only we will open the eyes of our hearts.

It can be as easy as listening to a song. Judy Garland, in the 1944 MGM musical “Meet Me in St. Louis,” introduced a song by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine called “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”:

“Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Let your heart be light.”

As much as some decry the commercialization of Christmas, in the end, letting our hearts be light is really what it’s all about. And Epiphany is a season of light – a time to reflect on just how our hearts and our lives can be light.

On Christmas Day, the reading from the Gospel of John said: “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

This Second Sunday of Epiphany, we pray: “Christ is the Light of the World. … Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory.”

And on the First Sunday After Christmas, we prayed: “Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives.”

“Enkindle”: to stir up, fire up, inspire, rouse, awaken, ignite, instill, incite! It is all a way of saying that the Incarnation in which the Word becomes flesh and dwells among us – and does so by taking up residence in our hearts – the Light that is the Life of all people resides within us, at our center. He makes a home in our hearts.

This light of each person is not meant for themselves, but meant for all, that all might see better the other gifts of creation. It is what Jesus talks about when he urges us not to hide this light, not to put it under a bushel, but to put it on a lamp stand so it will give light to the whole household – which in biblical terms always means “the Household of God.”

The word for “household” in Greek is oiko – from which we get words such as “economy,” oiko-nomos, the law of the household, and “ecology,” oiko-logie, study of the household, understood as the environment in which we live.

The idea is that we have all been given the gift of Light, which is the Life of the world, Jesus. And giving it away, letting go of what we already have, is what gives us eternal life in return. It is the Light of Life. This Light is what unites us with God in Christ. And it is meant to give Light and Life to the whole world, everyone, all people.

To hold onto this Light, to hold onto our gifts, results in a world that is upside down from God’s view of things. So God comes to us as Jesus to turn us right-side up again.

We have difficulties with all this. We find it difficult to believe God would give us a gift at all – so we hold onto it for dear life lest God stop giving us his Word, his Sacraments, his Light and his Life.

Little do we suspect what difficulties this holding on causes for others in the household. So much so that others begin to find it difficult to see the Light that shines within them. This causes the entire household to slip into darkness, a return to the darkness that covered the whole of the face of the deep, before God spoke and there was Light.

Yet, we are those people who believe and pray that this Light is already enkindled, instilled, stirred up within all hearts everywhere. We need to believe what we pray and what God’s Word and sacraments mean to instill and enkindle in our own hearts.

The story is told of the preacher who went about town preaching, “Put God into your life. Put God into your life!” But the rabbi of the town said, “Our task is not to put God into our lives. God is already there. Our task is simply to realize that!”

God is the ground of our being. The relationship between God and creature is such that, by sheer grace, separation is not possible. God does not know how to be absent. God is always at home. It was Meister Eckhart, a 13th-century German theologian, who reminded us that we are the ones who are not at home. We are not at home, even within ourselves.

Know that little by little – it takes time – Jesus will reveal to you how much he is at home with you.

He calls you to follow him
So that you may do something beautiful with your life and bear much fruit.
The world needs you, the Church needs you, Jesus needs you.
They need your love and your Light.
There is a hidden place in your heart where Jesus lives.
This is a deep secret you are called to live.
Let Jesus live in you.
Go forward with him!

Have yourself a merry little Christmas, a blessed Epiphany season – and let your heart be light.

Amen.

 

— The Rev. Kirk Alan Kubicek has served as rector and assistant in a broad variety of parishes over the past 28 years. He is currently chaplain and teaches at St. Timothy’s School for girls, the Diocese of Maryland girls’ boarding school, where he teaches World Religions and American History. His sermons are archived at www.perechief.blogspot.com.

Reaching those who long to be loved, 1 Epiphany (B) – 2015

January 11, 2015

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

In today’s gospel reading, we hear God saying to Jesus, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Mark’s account of the baptism of Jesus is short, sweet and to the point. It marks the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry, but first our Lord must go through baptism and face 40 days of temptation in the wilderness. Jesus starts off his ministry and ultimate journey to Calvary with the reassuring words of his Heavenly Father ringing in his ears.

What encouraging words these are: “With you I am well pleased.” When spoken to a child by his or her parents, these words can evoke a deep sense of assuredness in one’s self worth. Sadly, many children and teens never receive words of encouragement from their parents or caregivers. They only know what it feels like to be reminded of their failures or ridiculed for their shortcomings. Unfortunately, neglected and abused children often repeat the same behavior when they become parents.

“You are my son, the Beloved.” These six simple words from the gospel message speak volumes. To be called someone’s beloved child creates a deep, unshakable sense of belonging and acceptance. But to those who have never experienced the enduring love of a parent, these words can bring up a sense of deep longing and emptiness. Such folks can only barely imagine what it must be like to be loved by a father or mother, let alone comprehend what it means to have a parent say, “With you I am well pleased.”

Oh, to live with the knowledge that someone is well pleased with you just because of who you are! That’s the basis of God’s grace to us, His unmerited favor. We don’t earn it; we can only accept it. God’s grace is given to us at birth and sealed by the Holy Spirit at baptism. Without His grace, we have no hope; but once His grace is realized in our lives, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.

It is one thing to grow up without a loving mother or father in one’s life. Sadly, many children today struggle through life without ever knowing the love of a parent, often with tragic results. According to research, fatherless boys face an extra challenge in life. Young men who grow up in homes without fathers are twice as likely to end up in jail as those who come from traditional two-parent families. Boys whose fathers were absent from the household had double the odds of being incarcerated. Children from fatherless homes represent well over half of youth suicides, youth with behavioral disorders, high-school dropouts and juvenile detainees. This is cause for concern when one considers the inordinate percentage of poor homes where children are growing up without a father figure. Who is there to call them “beloved,” and tell them that someone is pleased with them?

Just because a child grows up in a fatherless home doesn’t mean he or she is doomed to a life of despair or failure. Far from it; it is safe to say that most children raised in loving single-parent homes headed by a mother or mother figure grow up to lead successful and productive lives. Never underestimate the importance of a mother’s love. And many uncles, brothers, family friends, teachers and mentors act as father figures in children’s lives in the absence of their biological fathers.

The church’s calling is to help support single-parent families – and all families for that matter – and ensure they don’t have to raise these young people alone. Parental love isn’t dependent upon biology, but comes from the love that God has freely bestowed upon us. But where are the father figures? Where are the big brothers, uncles, teachers and neighbors, the men who can take a stand in a child’s life and be a dad who can help raise the child? Who is around to say, “You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased”?

In our Baptismal Covenant, we promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves. One way we do this is by reaching out to the unloved, the hard to love, and the rejected in our midst and loving them, emulating our Heavenly Father’s love for us who are called by His name. It doesn’t matter if we’re related or not, the only requirement is that we love them as God loves us as His own.

You see, all of us were once fatherless in a manner of speaking, before we entered into covenant with God through the waters of baptism. If we were destined to be adopted as God’s own children through Christ, then are we not also called to be fathers and mothers to those who have none? Are we not loved by our Heavenly Father so that we can in turn love one another? For what is love if it is not freely received and shared with those around us?

We live in a world of fatherless children, sons and daughters who have been rejected by their parents because of sexual orientation, teen pregnancy, disability, substance abuse or just because of the parents’ own selfish narcissistic interests. These young people often lead very solitary lives and are easy prey for society’s predators. When faced with life’s temptations, they often make wrong choices because there is no one there to guide them. If we truly take our Baptismal Covenant seriously, we must do all we can to protect those least able to protect themselves and help them find their inheritance awaiting them in God’s family, our family.

Every time we who are baptized into the Body of Christ approach the Eucharistic table, we are reminded of God’s love for us. It is around the holy table gathered with our brothers and sisters in Christ that our Heavenly Father graciously accepts us as living members of his own Son our Savior Jesus Christ, and feeds us with spiritual food in the Blessed Sacrament.

In the Sacrament of Baptism, we welcome new believers into the family we call the Body of Christ. As they pass through the waters of baptism, we are asked to do all in our power to support them in their life in Christ. All of us have an important role to play in their spiritual development. It is no small thing what we do around the baptismal font, since all of us take solemn vows for which God will hold us accountable.

God is saying to us today, “You are my beloved sons and daughters; with you I am well pleased.” Embrace each other in the love God has freely given us, and reach out to those who long to be loved. Go and spread the good news that the Kingdom of God has come near.

 

— The Rev. Timothy G. Warren is a vocational deacon at Trinity Episcopal Church, Redlands, Calif. He is a 26-year retired Air Force veteran with more than 15 years’ experience as an educator in the private and public sector. Deacon Warren is the founder of Trinity Victorville Outreach, an emergent ministry that reaches out to at-risk young adults and families in the High Desert Region, Calif.

Seeking God’s Light, Epiphany (A,B,C) – 2015

January 6, 2015

Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7,10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12

In the reading from Isaiah, we are called to “arise” and “shine”; we are called to get up and be in relationship with this light that is God’s love breaking into a world that has been covered in darkness. This darkness has covered the earth, this thick darkness that the Magi walk through; we have been promised that it will vanish in the dawn of this new light that is the Glory of the Lord.

Isaiah says that the nations shall come to this light and the kings to the brightness of this dawn. And then in the gospel reading this morning we see the nations streaming to this light. We see these kings on a long journey through the dark. Weighed down with their gifts and riches as they seek. These treasure chests they have brought with them from the East.

Exactly who they are is difficult to discern. Are they wise men? Kings? Persian magicians? The text says “Magi,” and our tradition of song and story has overlaid a multitude of meanings – for example, that there were three of them, and what their names were.

But in the text, there are not three men, but three gifts. The Bible does not say how many Magi there were; there could have been three – or 30.

There is room in this magical caravan for all of us.

What is clear is that they are other definitely otherworldly, mysterious. These travellers are not part of the Jewish world. They come from far away. They are the world flocking to the light of God.

These Magi have been traveling in the dark, following a star; we don’t know for how long they have been seeking any more than we know where they started,or how many of them there are.

But as they get close, they seek council from Herod. We in the audience want to shout “No! Don’t ask him!” Herod is afraid of the child, and we all know there is nothing more dangerous than a powerful man when he is afraid.

From the text, we know that when they find this child with his mother, they pay him homage. The word that gets translated as “homage” is a wonderful combination of the Greek words for “to fall down” and “to kiss.” This is worship at its most pure. They find this child, which is the goal of their journey, and they fall down in praise. And then, of course, they offer the gifts.

These wise men, these kings, these magicians from a far-off land offer the baby three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. There is tradition, too, around the meaning of these gifts.

The gold is because the baby is a king, and they say just this to Herod and all of Jerusalem – that they are looking for the child who has been born the King of the Jews.

They offer the baby frankincense because he is God, and the incense symbolizes prayer rising to the heavens like smoke.

And they offer the baby myrrh, which was often used for burials and symbolized death, because even here at the beginning of this story about Jesus as a baby, we remember that this story goes to the cross and beyond.

We are all on our own journeys through the dark, carrying our own gifts within us. We, too, seek to find the truth of love in this world of darkness. We, too, bear our gifts and are seeking the right place to lay them down.

We come bearing gold, our gift for our king. To whom and to what do we owe our allegiance? Who is our king? What orients our lives in the political spectrum, and how do we work together? There are any number of authorities who would eagerly have our obedience and fealty. How do we know which loud voice in the clamor of the world should be obeyed?

We come bearing frankincense and seeking what is holy in this world. We are looking for the thin space, the gap between this world that we see and touch and the other world that we long for and know to be true. Is it our selves, our families, our nation? Is it our ideologies, our own opinions? Is it personal growth? Is there anything that makes you fall on your knees in honor of something greater than yourself?

We come bearing myrrh, in all that we mourn. We are all bearing grief in this world, and we are looking for a place to lay it down. What is it that makes you weep? What do you do with the grief in your life? Myrrh was used for the anointing of a dead body. What are you ready to bury? What do you need to let go of and mourn the loss of?

Whom do we obey? What do we worship? Where can we lay our broken hearts? The answer is: the Kingdom of Love that Jesus preaches about.

This new kingdom is the Light that illuminates the deep darkness. This new kingdom has broken into and shattered all we thought we knew about the way the world works.

If we obey the Kingdom of Love, we will find ourselves overflowing with compassion, and forgiving our enemies, and giving away all we had thought was “ours.”

If we worship in the Kingdom of Love, we find ourselves falling down at the feet of Love and joining with angels and archangels and breaking bread with God’s beloved.

If we allow the Kingdom of Love to break our hearts, we will realize that all the world’s children are our children, and that the heart of God is overflowing with gracious compassion for everyone.

It sounds like loss – the loss of being the center, the loss of “treasure.” But in this loss there is overwhelming joy. That is what is said of these Magi: that in their encounter with this infant incarnation of Love, they were overwhelmed with joy.

There is something out there that is so bright and beautiful that it draws the shepherds, and the Magi and us. This is what we look for in the dark, burdened by our treasure, longing to lay down our obedience, our worship and our grief.

And so we walk through the dark, our eyes eagerly seeing a speck of light – a star we can follow. That is what Epiphany is about – it is a time to look for the light of God shining in unexpected places. And it is a time to fall down and kiss the light when we do find it.

 

— The Rev. Kerlin Richter is the founding priest of Bushwick Abbey, a creative new Episcopal church plant in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Were the Magi real?, Epiphany (A,B,C) – 2014

January 6, 2014

Isaiah 60:1-6Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14Ephesians 3:1-12Matthew 2:1-12

Were the Magi real? Did they actually make their way from a distant land in the East some 2,000 years ago, following a mysterious star all the way to Bethlehem? And did they really bring the Child Jesus those gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh?

Good questions.

Every year around this time of course, astronomers, both amateur and professional, offer some innovative scientific – skeptics might say “pseudo-scientific” – explanation for the appearance of the star. An unusual conjunction of planets, they most often explain. And reputable historians will be happy to tell you that soothsayers and traveling shamans were undoubtedly a colorful and important element of the ancient world. Then as now, people wanted to understand the deeper meanings of life.

So it all could have been just as related to us in the Gospel of Matthew. The gifts of precious metal and aromatic resins are perhaps a bit more problematical – not exactly what you might think to get a little boy for his birthday these days. Evidence perhaps – as some commentators and parents puckishly suggest – that the wise men did not have children of their own.

Still, whether the Magi and their star and gifts were real or not remains anybody’s guess. Many reputable Scripture scholars, in fact, question their actual existence. They remind us that much in Scripture was never intended to be taken literally. The stories of Jesus’ birth, they go on to say – the so-called Infancy Narratives – are simply parts of an ancient midrashic, or interpretive, genre of biblical narrative, not intended as strictly factual accounts.

So, were the Magi real?

Hard to say. Maybe – just maybe – we should give them the benefit of the doubt.

What does it mean to be “real” anyway? Perhaps the Magi are as real as real gets. After all, when you stop to think about it, there are a lot of people in our contemporary world who could stand to get real. We meet them at work and at the mall, sometimes even in our own families. And most of us, if we look at our own lives, would have to admit that they are filled with the unreal and with our own fair share of improbabilities – events and happenstances that we could hardly have predicted before their occurrence. Yet, here we are – in the flesh, with our all-too-real contradictions and accumulated paradoxes.

So, perhaps a small troop of mystics or sages arriving from the East – note, by the way, that Matthew does not mention the number three – are not so odd or implausible as we might at first think. The Magi were, to be sure, outsiders in most every sense of the word – gentiles after all, surely as incongruous and out-of-place as anything or anyone could be in the heartland of the ancient Jewish world. And most likely, if we read between the lines, they were clairvoyants and prestidigitators of sorts – practitioners of the occult arts, if you will – and filthy rich. How else explain those gifts, costly in any age? For all we know, the Magi may well have been the David Copperfields of their day.

Yet for all that, their agenda was deceptively simple and straightforward: to find the King of the Jews, to worship him and to bring him their gifts. And it is this simple agenda that leads them from their own far-off land to King Herod and beyond on an unlikely journey of discovery and epiphany.

What could be more real than that?

Epiphany remains for us in our own age an astonishing sign or manifestation of the hardly believable yet very much real – God’s wisdom masquerading as human weakness and folly. For as we readily see, God’s eternal wisdom is found not at King Herod’s magnificent court, but rather in the humble village home of a small and vulnerable child and his parents. Perhaps it does take show-business-like conjurers – themselves no doubt masters of surprise and the unexpected – to recognize the real in the impossible.

There is, of course, always a fine line between the real and the impossible. All too often it is indeed the impossible that inevitably comes to pass: An obscure South American cardinal with a heart for the poor is elected pope; a former rising oil executive known for the gift of reconciliation is appointed archbishop; and a humble man at long last unites the peoples of his native land after decades of Apartheid and rigid racial segregation.

There are wise men – and women – among us still.

But if there is a fine line between the real and the impossible, there is sometimes an even finer distinction to be drawn between true wisdom and our own self-deceptions and doubts. We must admire the perspicacity and persistence of the Magi making their way methodically and sure-footedly across wilderness and desert, seeking an out-of-the-question reality they were certain had come to pass. Few of us are so sure of ourselves and our paths. Too many among us never even dare leave home.

But the Magi, their task accomplished, return home from their journey “by another road” as the gospel tells us, and have not been heard from since. For all we know, they may still be on their way. For all we know, they may be journeying among us here and now in our congregations and communities, bequeathing to us from time to time their precious gifts of wisdom, knowledge and understanding – gifts that remain as rare today as gold, frankincense and myrrh in any age.

Perhaps that is why the church has given us this special festival day of Epiphany, to celebrate the wondrous and amazing things in our own lives. And to give us courage to follow, in our day, the star of the Magi as it leads us – just as it did them – to Bethlehem and the Child Jesus.

If the Magi are not real, who is?

 

— The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedus, a priest of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, is currently chaplain of Saint Margaret’s Anglican Episcopal Church in Budapest, Hungary, a ministry of the Church of England’s Diocese in Europe. Please visit and “like” Saint Margaret’s Facebook page at www.anglicanbudapest.com. Isten hozott!