Posts Tagged ‘revelation’

Epiphany

January 1, 2017

There may be nothing left to say about this Gospel Lesson.

There is a king – Herod – afraid that his kingdom will come crashing down around him.  There is a kingdom – Judea – full of people who are afraid of this king, and not eager to attract his attention.

There are the real rulers – the Romans – who take the king’s part,

but care little for the local insecurities.  And there are these strangers – magi – who wander into town with alarming news.

A king has come, they tell anyone who will listen – and we need to find this king and pay our respects – this to Herod, who is pretty sure that he is the king (and more sure that he is not ready to give up the job) –

but you’ve heard all this before!

This is just as familiar as the Christmas story, yet somehow less exciting – this is the let-down festival, the time between – Epiphany, it is called, and you couldn’t care less.  And why should you?

What difference does it make to us that these hapless travellers,

following signs in the sky, come to the seat of power in Jerusalem and declare – to the current regional dictator –  that his time is up, and a King is born?  What difference that they are so persistent in their search – so genuine in their gratitude and so willing in their worship ?

Think of the stories that have evolved around this tiny fragment of the story of Christ – what difference does it really make in our approach to our faith?

Well, it makes all the difference in the world, actually.

In this little corner of the Gospel according to St Matthew,

a pattern is set for our continuing encounters with the power and presence of God.  Here, the manner and substance of the Incarnation are given life – God is shown to be already present, yet ignored by the nearest of neighbours.  Here, evangelism finds its purest form – not the fanatical raving of a charismatic white-guy, alone on a stage with a wireless microphone and an inflated sense of drama – but in the sharing of a story so unbelievable that it just might be true.

Beyond the fantastical stories of Jesus birth – most of which were given their final form after Christ was safely Risen and Ascended –

this is the first hint that there is a new power in town –

Here, “Epiphany” Happens!

An epiphany is a realization that an event or an idea (or, in this case, an individual) has special significance; Holy significance.  And these star-chasers are completely convinced – outsiders though they may be – that the event of THIS BIRTH has cosmic implications; Holy implications.  Our tradition has turned these mysterious visitors into kings themselves – we give them credibility in the form of royalty after the fact – super stars of the star-gazing set – but the real honours are all God-given.

They were touched by a vision, and followed it.  They saw and believed and offered worship.  They vanish from the story as quickly as they came, but we continue to tell the story because of them.

Our ideas of “evangelism” start with these outsiders, full of visions and dreams – who dared to tell a king that they sought someone higher.

Our experience of the holy comes, not because someone of privilege gave us access, but because someone, in faith, took a difficult journey

and discovered the truth of an Ancient promise.  Our epiphany happens when we explore the ordinary corners of Scripture

and find a story that speaks to us and opens us to the possibility

that God can indeed be known even in our ordinary circumstances,

or through such “human” means as this child we will call Christ.

So here, on the wrong side of our favourite holiday, we have a choice to make.  We can follow our worst instincts and wait for the better parts of the story to return and refresh us (at Easter, and especially next Christmas) – and we can grow tired and cynical,

and hoard our time, energy and talent  waiting for something meaningful to find us – and we can resist real change in our ideas and attitudes, because such things cause uncertainty in our otherwise-well-ordered universe…or we can follow the example of these exotic strangers from Matthew’s gospel, and consider that God continues to work wonders among us.

We might become curious about the signs God has given us – we may decide to engage the world through our faith, rather than placing our faith in the world.  We can choose to speak the truth (in love) to those in power (at our peril, of course) about the nature of real power such as we find revealed in God through Christ. We should seek signs of God’s grace, and offer gifts and worship in unlikely places,

and we can let these encounters change us in ways we cannot imagine.  AmenEpiphany

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The voice

January 10, 2015

In this morning’s lessons, it’s all about the voice. You know what I mean – you’ve each had a moment when, while you read or listened to Scripture being read; or while you pray; or as the credits roll on your annual viewing of “The Ten Commandments” you’ve said to yourselves, “I wonder if that’s what God really sounds like?” We may always struggle with what we learn, and what we think we know about our faith – but it boils down to the voice of God; how can I hear it? Why don’t I hear it? What should God sound like? and more importantly, what if I’ve missed it, somehow…?
The lessons set for this day seem to suggest that God’s voice would be difficult to miss…or to mistake for anything (or anyone) else. Genesis offers a glimpse into the power of God’s voice; things happen; the earth – all creation responds to the call of God; “Light”, God says, and there is light. Order, life, the seasonal mechanics and the whole of the biological catalogue; all it takes is a word from God. Genesis does not offer us definitive proof of the origins of the Universe. This book of beginnings presents (with real conviction) the character of God. We are introduced to an active, creative, intentional God, whose impulse is to know and be known by all creation. Genesis teaches us to yearn for the voice of God.
The Psalmist learned this lesson well. Look at the ‘evidence’ of God’s involvement, says Psalm 29 – look at the power in this mysterious, heavenly voice; our only response is to “Cry Glory!” and expect that our devotion might somehow grant us access to this heavenly gift of power. For all that this psalm sounds like a description of an ancient storm – full of destruction and the potential for disaster, the Psalmist leaves no doubt (in the end) that this is a display of God’s will; there is a precision and a sense of deliberate control. The voice “over the waters” reminds us that creation came from chaos too, and God is the master of all of it…
It is a different kind of chaos on the bank of the river Jordan that Mark’s gospel describes. A strangely serious man named John – fresh from the ‘wilderness’ – is welcoming one and all to confess their sins and be baptized. There is an aura of power surrounding John, for all he is dressed like a first century hippy. Mark describes him as a back to nature, locust-eating stranger who speaks of repentance and the coming Holy Spirit. There are crowds of curious people, and then all at once, there is Jesus. This is not like any Baptism we have ever experienced; there is confrontation, and perhaps some confusion – John has been hinting at the arrival of someone special; could this be him? – and then, something happens that (for Mark) marks this as a clear sign that God is, once again, at work.
Just as Jesus comes up out of the water (by now we cannot fail to make the connection…) the fabric of creation is ‘torn open’, a dove-like apparition descends on him…and that voice. It is the voice of God that ‘settles the issue’ for Mark, as he conveys the scene, and for us. A voice from heaven assures us that this is legitimate; that this otherwise strange scene just might have some lasting importance in Jesus’ life, and in the unfolding drama of our collective lives. This is an echo of that same, creative thunder that declared all things “good” in the beginning. This moment imparts a different kind of authority to all that Jesus does. and once again, we are drawn to the voice of God.
God’s voice – audible and alarming – doesn’t feature in our thinking. We speak metaphorically, or of ‘the still, small voice’ of conscience or nagging doubt. But we cling to the belief that God calls the faithful. We are called to worship; called to serve; called to share in the gritty glory of discovering and revealing God’s promises. A kingdom is coming; repentance and forgiveness are the founding principles; love and grace the currency. And it is the voice of God that draws us into this project. Not a thundering, terrifying noise from above that leaves everyone trembling – and not always a gently personalized whisper either – no it is the same voice, modulated, transposed, and transmitted by the witness of Scripture and the revelation of Jesus.
The significance of ‘the voice’ at the moment of Jesus baptism is to focus our attention on this new and different form of revelation. God-with-us, the prophet said; hard to imagine, and harder to ignore. In this promise is the hope that, even in a week filled with death and destruction, God speaks comfort, consolation and once again wills grace into the man made chaos that was the city of Paris. We may have found a different explanation for the awesome forces of nature that play themselves out in all seasons, but we can still be overwhelmed by God’s commanding counsel – in the inexplicable sense of comfort that comes when we pray or mourn or work together for good; or in the urgency that draws us together to defend justice, or dispense mercy; in the peace that comes when grace is offered to us.
The ‘voice’ made flesh draws our attention even now, inviting us to the communion table; inviting us to discover grace and do mercy and walk humbly with the one who commanded order, light and life out of chaos. Let us continue to tune our ears to God’s invitation, and may we give thanks to God for that voice that calls us from chaos to something better.

Worship works

January 3, 2015

Each of the four gospels offer a different perspective of important moments in Jesus’ life. Together they help us paint a more comprehensive picture of who Jesus was and why his story is so important. Luke spends more time than the others on Jesus childhood. In this gospel, we have two examples – found no where else- that point to Jesus as a very remarkable young person. One is the familiar story of a return to Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve – separated from his parents, only to be discovered “in his father’s house”, where he confounded, not only his parents, but the teachers and leaders in the temple. The other instance greets us this morning – Jesus presented (according to the tradition of Moses) as the first male child of the marriage; dedicated to God, redeemed with the proper sacrifice. This otherwise ordinary occurrence draws the attention of two separate but similar people.
Simeon and Anna are related only by their devotion to God. Luke’s gospel presents them as elderly, expectant, and faithful to a fault. Anna has spent the majority of her considerable widowhood in an attitude of ‘fasting and prayer’, and Simeon is described as “righteous and devout”, a man guided by the Spirit of God. Together they represent all that is good and hopeful and positive about the long-suffering people of God. For all they are advanced in years, their hope is fresh, their devotion is honest, and their hearts are open to the mystery that is God’s intervention. So their chance encounter with Jesus, Mary and Joseph leaves quite an impression.
It is a chance encounter – it would not have been unusual for couples to present their male children in this manner, according to the law. There may have been a particular day or time for such a sacrifice – and as habitual worshippers, Simeon and Anna would have seen countless infants come and go. What is it about Jesus that stirs Simeon to speak? What changes that Anna cannot contain her praise? The Spirit led them, says the gospel, and we are left to consider what that might mean, both for them and especially for us.
It is significant that these particular moments of revelation are given to people whose lives were dedicated to one thing. Worship is the activity that unites Simeon and Anna; Worship is what allows them to discern the power of God in a powerless child. Worship is the path to an encounter with God, no matter what your friends may tell you.  You know the ones I mean – those ‘spiritual but not religious’ folks who choose to worship on the golf course or at the beach (etc, etc). these voices are no longer in the minority. their opinions have influenced our approach to things that used to seem simple (and unassailable). Even as the Christmas season fades from view, it is difficult to dismiss the feeling that there are still some conflicted opinions regarding how we might capture (or how to best describe) “the true meaning of Christmas”…
A season of peace and goodwill? Certainly! An opportunity to remember the love of God made flesh? Absolutely! And how best might we honour that meaning, and avail ourselves of that love? here is where the opinions differ. Convinced as we are by the “spiritual but not religious” argument, we hang our hopes on family gatherings with extravagant meals and lavish gifts. We try to make new traditions meaningful, and look for ways to tell the Christmas story in new ways. Worship becomes an afterthought.
Yes, I know – we had a wide range of ‘services’ between December 21st and Dec 31st. People attended church (for a wide variety of reasons, to be sure) but is there worship in all of this? I am, I confess, chastised by this morning’s gospel lesson. The example of Anna and Simeon – two people who worship in the firm belief that they will see God at work; that they will be guided by the spirit to see remarkable things. Their hope is unquenchable
It is always my intent to provide an atmosphere that encourages that sort of hope. I fail more often than I succeed, – and at Christmas, most often – for at Christmas, our collective expectation defeats our best intentions. But now we find ourselves in a new liturgical season, and so I claim a fresh start. Epiphany is a time for the redemption of our expectations and the rebirth of our hope. For in this season, the secret of God’s great gift is left loose upon the wider world. Wise men, and prophet women and patient, old holy men – all these are given a gift that they did not expect. Simeon and Anna (and the magi, in their turn) teach us the wisdom of persistent, expectant worship. Those who long to see God will see God. Those who look forward to the consolation of Israel (indeed, of all God’s people) will not be disappointed. Not because their worship makes them worthy, or somehow more deserving, but because worship (as a habit) prepares the senses to recognize a work of God when he happens along in his mothers arms.
It is this spirit, I think, that gave the authors of the Westminster Catechism the justification for their first (and greatest) question; What is our chief and highest purpose?  The answer, of course, is to glorify God, and enjoy God forever. And it is through our worship that we pursue this purpose – in season and out – that one day we too might catch a glimpse of God who is constantly revealing new hope to us and new life for us. Thanks be to God, that as we celebrate God’s revelation to the world in Jesus, our hope is renewed and the promise of new life is once again made fresh and real for us. Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.

Hope from the back of the book. (Revelation 21-22)

May 5, 2013

The promises of God come in many forms; but you are tired of promises.

The people of God can only go so far on the strength of a promise, no matter who makes it.  This is the universal problem of a life of faith – from earliest history to this very day;

promises are all well and good, but we want action!

You know it.  I know it.  God knows it.

This desire for action (as we discovered last Sunday)

expresses itself in a variety of ways as “mission”.

This action makes us feel useful –

it fulfils part of our mandate as the children of God; as disciples of Jesus –

but there is still the matter of these promises of God.

What do we make of them, especially when they come in such fantastic form?

 

The Revelation to John is a hotbed of divine promises,

wrapped in fantastic visions, sprinkled with political intrigue and a dash of creative license.

As a work of theological literature, it gives us a lot to deal with.

It is addressed to a particular audience, and it deals with very particular circumstances,

but because it has been included in our Holy Writings,

we also believe that it offers something of the truth of God to us,

in this radically different time and place.

The twenty chapters preceding this morning’s reading

Speak of God’s irresistible desire to redeem all of creation.

It will be messy, according to John’s vision – and occasionally frightening

But the reminder must be vivid,

for the people of God are growing tired of waiting on the promises of God

 

 

Though Christ is Risen, and the Spirit has settled upon them,

the expected reign of God has been replaced by a reign of terror.

The tensions between the Roman authorities and those who would give allegiance to God

were always brewing – and a division within the Jewish community

that saw many follow the teachings of Jesus made matters worse.

 

 

Into this world comes an author called John –

isolated by necessity on the Island of Patmos –

and John has had a vision…a series of visions, as it happens, all designed to bring hope

to a people who are tired of waiting for God’s promises to be revealed.

Much of what John describes is horrifying to our ears, but dreams can be like that.

He writes of challenges faced, he speaks in riddles to the seven churches –

and then he relates what the Spirit has shown him;

the slow but steady heavenly war on earthly decadence.

 

Plagues – trials and tribulation – death and disaster;

all part of this cosmic struggle, which is mirrored in reality.

John’s writing suggests an earthly war is also raging,

and he offers his visions as confirmation of God’s promised victory, of an eventual peace.

 

The church has spent centuries struggling with what these visions mean

in light of “our current struggles” – but there is one vision about which there is little doubt.

 

(Rev 21: 10) 10And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.

What follows has become the model for Heaven as a real place.

Measurements, vivid descriptions, the stuff that hymn-writers dreams are made of…

here, it seems, we have finally been given what we need to maintain our faith.

Here the promise springs to life in John’s graphic description.

The city itself springs from the clouds and descends ‘as a bride’ –

in a remarkable turn of phrase, John brings the promise of God right down to earth.

 

Our problem is that with progress come problems.

We have replaced this heavenly, jewel encrusted, many gated vision of reality

with a much weaker metaphor.  John was speaking in metaphor too,

but once we discovered “only” the vacuum of space beyond the dome of the sky,

we turned this heavenly city into mere illusion.

 

But the promises of God are not illusions.

These visions can still be ours, and we can take from them real hope,

if we release them from centuries of speculation (and fear).

 

The promises of God, John would have us know, are a priceless treasure;

These promises are worth our patience – they are a gift beyond counting –

like a city bathed in light, crowned by precious stones,

and filed with the sounds of joyful praise.

 

That should describe, not just “heaven” but any place that becomes home for the faithful.

The promises of God are not idle, if the people of God can celebrate with praise –

wherever the faithful remember and rejoice, the reign of God comes close to earth.

John’s revelation is meant to encourage those who have given up on the promises –

encourage them to see the world in a different way, to imagine the promise

bursting over the horizon and spilling into their present, harsh reality.

 

We might benefit from this, if we dare.

We might begin to see these visions as a filter for the way we see the world.

We might, with the Spirit’s help, discover the reality of the promise in our midst.

God’s promises are real enough.  God’s action is evident.

All that is needed is our response.

 

John’s vision of this heavenly city draws our attention away from the world as we know it,

and points to a world that has real value for us –

a world defined by God’s glory, and filled with the sounds of joyous praise.

It can become the world we live in –

we need only share the joy we have discovered in Christ.

 

Epiphany, 2013 – “Tell me the old, old, OLD, story…”

January 5, 2013

There may be nothing left to say about this Gospel Lesson.

There is a king – Herod –

afraid that his kingdom will come crashing down around him.

There is a kingdom – Judea – full of people who are afraid of this king,

and not eager to attract his attention.

There are the real rulers – the Romans –

who take the king’s part,

but care little for the local insecurities.

And there are these strangers – magi –

who wander into town with alarming news.

A king has come, they tell anyone who will listen –

And we need to find this king and pay our respects –

this to Herod, who is pretty sure that he is the king

(and more sure that he is not ready to give up the job) –

but you’ve heard all this before!

This is just as familiar as the Christmas story, yet somehow less exciting –

this is the let-down festival, the time between –

Epiphany, it is called, and you couldn’t care less.

And why should you?

What difference does it make to us that these hapless travellers,

following signs in the sky, come to the seat of power in Jerusalem and declare –

to the current regional dictator –  that his time is up, and a King is born?

What difference that they are so persistent in their search –

so genuine in their gratitude and so willing in their worship ?

We are determined to expose the mythical elements of the story –

there were three gifts, but how many givers?

Think of the stories that have evolved around this tiny fragment of the story of Christ –

what difference does it really make in our approach to our faith?

Well, it makes all the difference in the world, actually.

In this little corner of the Gospel according to St Matthew,

a pattern is set for our continuing encounters with the power and presence of God

Here, the manner and substance of the Incarnation are given life –

God is shown to be already present, yet ignored by the nearest of neighbours.

Here, evangelism finds its purest form –

not the fanatical raving of a charismatic white-guy

alone on a stage with a wireless microphone and an inflated sense of drama –

but the sharing of a story so unbelievable that it just might be true.

Beyond the fantastical stories of Jesus birth –

most of which were given their final form after Christ was safely Risen and Ascended –

this is the first hint that there is a new power in town –

Here, “Epiphany” Happens!

An epiphany is a realization that an event or an idea

(or, in this case, an individual)

has special significance; Holy significance.

And these star-chasers are completely convinced –

foreigners though they may be –

that the event of THIS BIRTH has cosmic implications; Holy implications.

Our tradition has turned these mysterious visitors into kings themselves –

we give them credibility in the form of royalty after the fact – super stars of the star-gazing set –

but the real honours are all God-given.

They were touched by a vision, and followed it.

They saw and believed and offered worship.

They vanish from the story as quickly as they came,

But we continue to tell the story because of them.

Our ideas of “evangelism” start with these outsiders, full of visions and dreams

Who dared to tell the king they sought someone higher.

Our experience of the holy comes, not because someone of privilege gave us access,

but because someone, in faith, took a difficult journey

and discovered the truth of an Ancient promise.

Our epiphany happens when we explore the ordinary corners of Scripture

And find a story that speaks to us and opens us to the possibility

that God can indeed be known even in our ordinary circumstances,

or through such “human” means as this child we will call Christ.

So here, on the wrong side of our favourite holiday,

we have a choice to make.

We can follow our worst instincts

and wait for the better parts of the story to return and refresh us

(at Easter, and especially next Christmas) –

and we can grow tired and cynical,

and hoard our time, energy and talent  waiting for something meaningful to find us –

and we can resist real change in our ideas and attitudes,

because such things cause uncertainty in our otherwise-well-ordered universe…

…or we can follow the example of these exotic strangers from Matthew’s gospel,

and consider that God continues to work wonders among us.

We might become curious about the signs God has given us –

we may decide to engage the world through our faith,

rather than placing our faith in the world.

We can choose to speak the truth (in love) to those in power (at our peril, of course)

about the nature of real power such as we find revealed in God through Christ.

We should seek signs of God’s grace, and offer gifts and worship in unlikely places,

and we can let these encounters change us in ways we cannot imagine.  Amen