Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Third Sunday After the Epiphany

Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
-- BCP, page 215


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

We are beginning to have an important conversation in the Education Committee about the kind of Adult Forum programs that can be presented and the expectations we may reasonably have for both presenters and participants.

The context for the conversation is the congregation's shift in attendance patterns. As you'll see when you read the Annual Report to the Congregation (on January 28 after the 10:30 service -- the vestry will provide lunch), our Sunday attendance is smaller now.

The paradox is that we have more people attending services. That is to say, there are more people now who participate in the worship life of Emmanuel and who call this church their spiritual home. So why the smaller Sunday average and total annual attendance? Quite simply, because more of us go to church fewer times in the year than what used to be the case.

I want to be clear about two things: on the one hand, this column is not a guilt trip to beat people up for not being in church; on the other hand, I believe it would be beneficial for each person and for the community as a whole if we all came to church more frequently.

It's not a guilt trip because I am not going to tell you that you're a bad person or that your salvation is imperiled by your lack of attendance. I do not believe either of those things.

I've noticed over the years that fear is an effective seller of religion -- in the short term. But a spiritual life based on fire and brimstone is a poor sort indeed, not one I want to have, much less inflict on other people.

It's like behaving ethically because you fear getting caught and going to prison instead of being ethical because doing the right thing is the right thing, a good in itself. Both approaches may keep you on the straight and narrow road, but the former withers your soul while the latter widens it.

A fear-based spirituality asks, "What do I have to do?" It looks for the lowest possible effort to meet minimal requirements. A sound spirituality asks, "What will be a loving thing to do?" It seeks excellence with maximum effort and a good will.

Emmanuel exists to change lives. We are here because our own lives are in need of transformation. God isn't done with us yet -- and we know it. Removing violence and fear from our hearts and filling them with genuine love and compassion is a life-long process.

We are also here to be agents of transformation in the lives of others. We realize that the conversion of our lives is deeply entwined with the renovation of other people's lives. We have met the Christ who tells us that we are beloved from before the foundation of the world, and that this love is one we share with all people, all living things, indeed with the whole creation. We want to experience God's love. We want to share God's love.

Everything we do at Emmanuel is in the service of our resolve of change lives. Some of these things we may do better than others; each aims to serve this goal.

As 2018 begins, I invite us all to reflect on who we are as followers of Jesus and how we may each renew our commitment to make our hearts open to God's ongoing transformation of our lives and the lives of the world around us.
In this season of Epiphany, we are invited to meet Jesus again for the first time, to borrow a Marcus Borg book title. And, as a wrote last week, we invite others to meet Jesus as well.

To us and to folks who are not connected in a faith community, to those seeking meaning and purpose, to those who hunger and thirst for a better world, to all who struggle for peace in their hearts -- to all we say: "Come!"

Under the Mercy,

Fr. Daniel+

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Second Sunday After the Epiphany

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus 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, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

-- BCP, page 215


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

An epiphany is a divine appearance or manifestation, God's self-disclosure in some form. The Epiphany is the astounding proclamation that "in the mystery of the Word made flesh, [God has] caused a new light to shine in our hearts, to give the knowledge of [God's] glory in the face of [God's] Son Jesus Christ our Lord." (Preface for Epiphany, BCP, page 378.)

Epiphany Tide makes two particular claims. First, it claims Jesus as God's eternal Logos ("Word," in John's gospel) who has entered human life in the flesh. Second, it affirms that this specific self-revealing of God is not private but public, not tribal but universal.

The story of the Incarnation (the first claim of Epiphany Tide) is told in the Christmas season, so I won't dwell on that in this brief space.

The universality of Jesus, however, is both the great glory and the scandal of this season, indeed of the Christian narrative itself.

The glory of this season is first of all that Jesus had a public life that was not confined to his few followers. The revelation of Jesus as the Christ, the Anointed of God, is not private. He never limited himself to a few illuminati. I choose that word intentionally, since both the collect of this day and the preface of the season speak of a light that shines in us. The reception of the "light of the world" is not so that we may secretly enjoy the warmth and radiance of enlightenment in our safe little tribal enclaves or in the seclusion of our private lives. No. The Light comes to us so that it may shine through us to the whole world.

"Come and see," said Philip to Nathanael, inviting him to meet Jesus. You don't hoard the Good News; you share it. Just like when something incredibly good happens to us and we rush to tell the people we know and love, so is our sharing the love of Jesus: not merely something we are called to do, but something that we can't help but do. It is a glorious thing that we get to participate in the sharing of the Light of the World.

We invite others to meet Jesus. To folks who are not connected in a faith community, to those who are seeking meaning and purpose, to those who hunger and thirst for a better world, to all who struggle for peace in their hearts -- to all we say: Come to Emmanuel and see.

The scandal of this season, and of the Christian community itself, is that you and I know that we Christians are the biggest impediment to anyone wanting to hear about, much less get to know, Jesus. Individually and as communities, we in the many branches of the Christian family give Jesus a bad name. Our pettiness, our divisions, our self-righteousness, and on and on goes the list-in so many ways, we fail to share the Good News with our stunted hearts and small souls.

All of which makes the Collect of Epiphany 2 so relevant. The petition is pretty simple: Please, God! May the illumination we have received so shine in and through us that the world may know your love!

May we fervently pray this collect and be ready to rise from our knees empowered to share the love of Jesus in word and deed.

Under the Mercy,

Fr. Daniel+

The Second Sunday After the Epiphany

O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

-- BCP, page 214


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

This year the Visitation of the Magi is on Saturday.  On the next day, January 7, the first Sunday after The Epiphany, we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus.

The Feast of the Epiphany is central to the story of Jesus but it has become peripheral to most of us in our context today.

Let me take up that assertion in reverse order. The Epiphany -- the Visitation of the Magi -- has become peripheral to very many because January 6 does not fall on Sunday but every six years or so. I cannot remember when most church people stopped attending non-Sunday services other than Christmas Eve; this has been happening for quite some time.

To be clear: I am not going on a rant here about church attendance. I am only naming the reality that most Christians in our little part of the world miss out on most Feasts and Fasts that fall outside of Sunday: from The Epiphany to Ash Wednesday to Maundy Thursday and Good Friday to Easter Eve and the Ascension. We are sorting through this cultural shift in the United States.

Why not just add them to the Christmas story, like "The First Nowell" (Hymn 109) and so many carols do?

We can admittedly debate the merits of conflating and combining the stories from Luke and Matthew into one single narrative. My answer is that we blunt the stories when we combine them. Luke has shepherds coming to the newborn's manger while Matthew has wise men visiting the infant in a house. Now you know why the magi no longer appear in the Christmas Pageant. Our crèche at the back of the nave also shows the Magi in transit on Christmas (though look for them to adore the Child this Sunday before we take it down).

The shepherds get directions from a choir of angels while the magi follow a star. In Luke, the Archangel Gabriel appears to Mary in the midst of her day while in Matthew an unnamed angel speaks to Joseph at night in a dream. The stories are very different, with different chronologies. As long as our calendar separates the shepherds from the Magi, we will tell their stories at different times.

What makes the Visitation of the Magi a central story is that it proclaims the universality of Jesus.

This child, born to two displaced parents who are striving to survive in a conquered nation that is but a little corner of a vast empire, has come to transform our world and indeed all creation. The heavens rejoice with a new star. People from all over the earth seek to worship him. Herod shakes in his throne and eventually unleashes all the violence he can muster, to no avail. The sages who come from afar seeking "the king of the Jews" delegitimize the self-importance of all earthly kingdoms and their pretentions of ultimacy. Magi bearing regal gifts show us that God and only God is worthy of our complete worship, allegiance, and obedience. All other fealties are partial and relative.

The Visitation of the Magi then shows us the universality of God's love. God's tribe is much bigger than our limited experience and understanding can imagine. Jesus is God-with-us, Emmanuel. But just who is this "Us" that God is with? The coming of the wise men uncovers the truth that God actually does love everybody, without exception. Nobody is left out of God's embrace.

The Feast of the Epiphany is therefore not only central to the story of Jesus but to the human story itself because it expands our awareness that, on earth, in this little corner of the cosmos, no one is Other -- we all belong together, to each other and to God.

Under the Mercy,

Fr. Daniel+