Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Epiphany 2 January 16 Bessemer City

Epiphany 2 January 16, 2011 St. Andrew’s, Bessemer City

          Easter comes late this year, so we will have a full nine Sundays after Epiphany.  All the readings for the next two months teach about hearing and responding to Jesus’ call on our lives.

            Today the gospel is St. John’s account of Jesus’ call to the disciples. Next Sunday we will read from St.  Matthew - 4:12-23 another account of the call of the first  disciples, then  5:1-12   the Beatitudes,  then 5:13-20 – “ye are the salt of the earth, the light of the world;  5:21-37  Jesus’ explanation and expansion of the commandments, “You have heard it said . . . but I say to you . . .” then  5:38-48 “be ye perfect as your heavenly father is perfect’ and finally  6:24-34  “no one can serve two masters” – all gospel readings about hearing and responding to Jesus’ call on our lives.

For the next two months the epistle readings from the early chapters of First Corinthians are St. Paul writing as the Holy Spirit guides him to the church at Corinth about hearing and responding to Jesus’ call.  The Old Testament readings begin and end with Isaiah, and they also are about God’s call and our response.

          Today Isaiah begins, “The LORD called me before I was born, while I was in my mother's womb he named me. . . . to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him,”  In his Wednesday e-mail Bishop Taylor wrote, “. . . if we are to engage the world in the name of Jesus Christ, we have to know this world in all its wonder and its sinfulness.” We have only to read the newspaper or listen to the news to see that our culture is as far from God as the people of Jacob and Israel were in the time of Isaiah. [To receive the bishop’s e-mail reflections Wednesdays send a e-mail request to reception@diocesewnc.org.]

          Bishop Taylor also wrote, “We have to get our feet on the solid ground of 2011 and not wish away our time pinning for some Golden Age that never really was.  This is the only world we have, and now is the only moment available for us to be disciples.” My study of history leads me to agree with Bishop Taylor; there was no Golden Age. Jesus has called the church in every age and calls us now to love and serve him.

          Today’s psalm begins, “I waited patiently upon the LORD; he stooped to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the desolate pit, out of the mire and clay; he set my feet upon a high cliff and made my footing sure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. In David’s time, in Isaiah’s time, in the time of Jesus, and John the Baptist, and Andrew, and Simon Peter, and now our world is far from God. And God calls us now to love and serve him. He calls us to see the need of the world, to see how Jesus is at work to meet that need, and then to work with our Lord in his work using the gifts and abilities he gives us.  

          Jesus and John the Baptist, and Andrew, and Simon Peter, lived under an oppressive military dictatorship in a society politically divided and economically depressed. Most people were poor farmers getting poorer with each inadequate harvest. The only thing most people could agree was that new leadership was needed. Some wanted a military leader to free the country from Rome; many wanted a spiritual leader to bring the situation under God’s control.

          Andrew actively sought an anointed spiritual leader. He joined John the Baptist’s renewal movement, and when John called Jesus “Lamb of God” he went with Jesus. The next day Andrew found his brother Simon and brought him to Jesus. Andrew saw the world’s need for a savior, recognized that Jesus as the promised messiah, and acted as Jesus called him, bringing his brother to join in Jesus’ ministry.

          In 1852 a young Irish clergyman’s wife teaching a Sunday school class saw that her children learned best by singing. To help them with the gospel readings today and next week she wrote  Jesus calls us hymn 550. Verse 2 says “As of old, St. Andrew heard it by the Galilean lake, turned from home and toil and kindred, leaving all for his dear sake.” She also wrote five other hymns in our hymnal: for Advent Once in royal David’s city 102, Lent There is a green hill far away 167, Easter He is risen; he is risen 180, and All things bright and beautiful 405, and For thy blest saints a noble throng 276. She translated St. Patrick’s great processional I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity 370.  Her husband became Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland, and she led a very busy life, but Cecil Frances Alexander saw the need and acted as Jesus called her, to teach the gospel in song.

          In 1936 Felix duPont had diversified his family gunpowder company into a leading chemical company and made a lot of money doing so. He was an active Episcopalian and saw a need for a church school to educate the sons of the poorly paid professions – clergy, teachers, military and foreign service officers and (in an age before health insurance) doctors. I graduated from St. Andrew’s school in Middletown, Delaware, 54 years ago this May. Our school hymn is Cecil Francis Alexander’s Jesus calls us. Felix duPont saw the need and acted as Jesus called him to educate in Christian faith.

          In 1883 a young man in Chicago and his Sunday school class began to reach out to single men living in rooming houses and hotels near his church. Their invitations to these men to faith and fellowship led to the formation of the Brotherhood of St. Andrew, a fellowship of men and boys in the Episcopal Church committed to preparing men for lay and ordained ministry through disciplines of prayer, study, and service with the object of spreading Christ’s Kingdom  among men. The Brotherhood continues that ministry today. James Houghteling and his fellows saw men’s need for faith and fellowship, and they have acted as Jesus called them in this country and all over the world.

          May God grant us wisdom and gace to to see the need of the world, to see how Jesus is at work to meet that need, and to work with our Lord in that work using the gifts and abilities he gives us.  

Monday, January 3, 2011

Epiphany 2011 Craggy Prison near Asheville, NC

          Today is about 5 minutes longer than December 21, the shortest day of the year. The sun sets later and rises earlier. Spring is coming; it won’t be winter for ever. Christians remember on January 6 the wise men coming to the baby Jesus bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. We call that day Epiphany from the Greek words epi meaning “out” or “forth” and phanos meaning “showing” so that day is the “showing out” or “showing forth” of Jesus. Jesus was “shown forth” to some strangers who had come from the east. Christians show forth his glory in the world with the gifts God gives us.

          Who were these strangers, and why should we care about their visit?  Some context: The Holy Land where Jesus was born is on the main road between Egypt and Syria and Iraq.  It’s like 150 years ago when cattle were driven past Craggy down the French Broad River from east Tennessee to South Carolina. The Holy Land was fought over for centuries by Egypt to the  south and Syria and Iraq to the north and east. In Jesus’ time a third power, Rome, had conquered Egypt to the south and to the north and west Greece and what is now Turkey. Herod was king because Rome supported him; he had limited power to keep the peace and not offend the power of Rome.

          The wise men were religious and political leaders from Syria, Iraq, and farther east. Think of the ayatolas the religious leaders in modern Iran or the militia leaders in Iraq or Afghanistan or other parts of Central Asia. Herod may have seen them as a scouting party from his traditional enemies to the north and east.

          From a Jewish religious perspective they were Gentiles – people who were not Jews, people good Jews did not eat with. Part of the human condition is that we pay more attention to what makes us different from other people than to what we have in common. We like to hang out with people like us – and we judge on the externals like skin color, language, age, common  experience,  like where we’re from, where we’ve been, and the like.  In Jesus’ time if your mother was Jewish, you were Jewish, and good Jews didn’t eat with non-Jews or Gentiles. In Jesus we have learned that God judges not on externals but on the internal qualities of faith and love. God makes us new people in Jesus’ new body for us to share Jesus’ grace and love.

          For over 700 years the prophets from Isaiah on, had proclaimed God’s love for all people, and the work of God’s people to proclaim that love both in word and in deed – to be a light in the darkness. The writings of the prophets had been read – and largely ignored – for a very long time.

          So here come these Gentile religious and political leaders from traditional enemies to the north and east.  They come to King Herod in Jerusalem with politically destabilizing news, Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” Herod was afraid. He had been a plotter all his life. He had survived several plots against him often plotted against his enemies. Herod’s first response was to lie, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” The lie is the first response of weak and frightened people. Jesus came to give us the strength of love that casts out fear and to give us power to tell the truth. Herod’s first response was to lie. His second response after the wise men went home by another way was murder, the massacre of all the babies in Bethlehem under two years old. Jesus rules, but not like Herod. Jesus came to give life, abundant life for all who will believe.

          The wise men found Jesus not in the stable but in a house. They entered, worshipped and gave gifts - gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Over 150 years ago an Episcopal deacon in New York  wrote a carol for a children’s service about the gifts. The carol reminds us that Jesus is King, and Jesus is God, and Jesus is Sacrifice – and that Jesus is risen from the dead and will come again so we also can rise from the dead and worship him for ever in the everlasting light of heaven.

          “Born a king on Bethlehem’s plain, gold I bring to crown him again, king forever, ceasing never, over us all to reign.”  Jesus is king. Jesus is Lord. He is in charge; we are not in charge. That is good news, gospel news. The story of the Fall in Genesis tells us of the universal human situation. We want to be free to do what we want, when we want, how we want, and we can’t. We are limited – limited by our location in time and space. In heaven we will be able to be at all places at all times, but until we get there we can only be at one place and one time doing one thing at a time. And we are also limited by the network of relationships within which we live. We need other people to be able to live. We are never completely alone. We are always in relationship with the God who made us and who loves us; we are always in relationship with other people. Jesus wants us to listen to Jesus’ “good, orderly direction” and do his will, recognizing that “his service is perfect freedom.”

          “Frankincense to offer have I, incense owns a Deity nigh, prayer and praising, gladly raising, worship him, God most high.”  Christianity is the only religion that teaches that God became a man, “to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to . . . the God and Father of all.” Christians experience in Jesus God with us, showing us how to live, assuring us of his love and his forgiveness. At the end of life our bodies are committed to the ground, “in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

“Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume, breaths a life of gathering gloom; sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, sealed in the stone cold tomb.” Jesus was content to be betrayed by one of his own disciples into the hands of those who hated him, who told lies about him to a corrupt governor, and who rejoiced at his execution. Jesus gave up his own life for them, and for us. Nailed on the cross he prayed, “Father, forgive them.” Because Jesus, son of God, prayed for us we are forgiven sinners. Our life cost him his.

Finally, “Glorious now behold him arise, King, and God, and Sacrifice; heaven sings alleluia, alleluia the earth replies.” Today is about 5 minutes longer than December 21. The sun sets later and rises earlier. Spring is coming; it won’t be winter for ever. God grant us faith to see with the wise men Christ’s glory and grace to show him forth in our lives as our resurrected and ever-living King, and God, and Sacrifice, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.