Today we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany, the day when the three wise men arrived unexpectedly at the manger in Bethlehem to worship Jesus. Which reminds me, growing up I always wanted to become a wise man. I thought it would be wonderful to spend my time being… Wise.
I could picture myself sitting there in the library thinking great thoughts when my two fellow sage’s would suddenly come rushing in. “Did you see the new Star?” I could almost hear Balthazar ask.
“Oh you mean the new star of wonder, star of light, star of Royal beauty bright?” Casper would respond. “It must for attend the birth of a great king!” I’d hear myself say. And that and Balthazar – it was always Balthazar who like to travel – would say “road trip!” And Casper would join in; “road trip!” And I’d smile and agree by saying “road trip!”
Then off we go over field and fountain Moor and mountain following yonder star. We start off being very excited about the idea of visiting a new great king in his parent’s palatial palace. As we sat around the campfire will the camos snorting in the background, we think of the wonderful feasts we’d enjoy as guests of the new King’s family. While walking over the desert dunes and highways we’d argue about which one of us brought the best present for a newborn king, a child of such great importance that they merited a new star at their birth.
Imagine our surprise, our shock, at seeing that the star stood still over a poor working person’s house in Bethlehem. They’re on the ground floor, where the animals lived, we were surprised to find a baby in a manger surrounded by his parents are the animals kept by their hosts. Since we arrived at night, when the star was visible, we wouldn’t have met the family who relegated Mary and Joseph and Jesus to the manger. Instead, we would have quietly and reverently approached the infant Jesus, kneeling down to offer our gifts.
If the lives of these three wise people where anything like mine, they wouldn’t realize that they had encountered the divine in that manger until they were walking away. Until they were walking away and had that moment where you put your hand on your forehead and say God was in this place and I I did not know it.
The thing is: that moment when we recognize revelation is the moment we began power Epiphany in earnest. The three sages were not at the end of their epiphany on this day so many years ago. They were just starting it in earnest.
Perhaps this encounter with the Divine changed their lives. Perhaps that’s why they chose a different route to return home, a path that would take them far away from the puppet king of Israel. Perhaps they realized this baby would be defenseless against an attack biking Herod, a man who might well kill the infant they had just worshipped.
So today the three sages start a new and different epiphany, and epiphany shaped in their encounter with the infant Jesus, the son of God, divinity living in human flesh. And today Alex and I, as we say goodbye to this community and neighborhood, start a new and different Epiphany as well.
Like new stars that appear mysteriously in the night, epiphanies cannot be ordered up in advance. They break upon us unexpected and leave us only with the choice of standing still or moving forward. In a way, and Epiphany is like the waves that comes toward you when you are standing waist-deep in the ocean. Sometimes one comes along and it’s so big that your choice is either to stay where you are and hope that it breaks after you or take the chance of moving forward and try to ride the wave into the shore.
Any good trip begins with reflecting on where you’ve been. For as a wise man once said, what’s past is prologue. So Alex and I thank you for opening your hearts and lives to us; for making us part of this spiritual community; and I think each of you for making me your priest or your friend.
What have we learned together that might be of interest as you move forward here at the corner of Turk and Lyon? Here is what I’ve learned while serving at St. Cyprian’s.
First I’ve come to understand the centrality of the Eucharist in bringing our community together. We who are many become one because we share one bread and one cup. That’s not how Presbyterians or Methodists or Lutherans see their worship. My mother, God rest her, was a good Methodist and to her nothing was more important than a good sermon on Sunday.
I agree that preaching is important and enjoy the intellectual stimulation that comes from hearing a good preacher at work wrestling with the angels living in God’s word.
Yet the spirituality that fills my soul and makes me ready for a new week comes instead from the Community building nature of the Eucharist and not from intellectual stimulation.
Our way is also profoundly different from how those who take scripture literally create community. We say the Bible is too important to be taken literally. They say that if even one word of scripture is disproving the whole Bible crumbles. It’s a free country, and they can look at scripture however they wish.
But by focusing on literal understandings of words that have been translated and then retranslated those who call themselves evangelicals can easily wander far afield from the fundamental teachings of Jesus Christ. If you doubt this, consider the way some evangelicals who believe they following Christ now see our current president has the defender of Christianity in these United States
Second, while serving here I’ve gained a deeper appreciation of the fundamentals the Jesus used to shape his life and which he calls us to follow. Jesus gave us a first and great commandment: we are to love the Lord Our God with all our heart, with all our strength, and with all our might. And then Jesus tells us the second Great commandment is like unto it, we should love our neighbor as ourselves.
Not just the neighbor who thinks like we do or looks like we do or agrees with us. Jesus calls us to love those who are different from us.
Jesus calls us love the undocumented worker who is our neighbor as well as the conservative guy who fears and therefore hates undocumented workers.
Jesus calls us love the woman seeking equality in work and life who is our neighbor as well as those who are afraid and protect the patriarchy.
Jesus calls us love the transgender or lesbian or gay or bisexual neighbor as well as the conservative Christian who is afraid they are queer and therefore lives a homophobic life.
Jesus calls us to love our neighbor. Period. One way to do that is to just BE JESUS for someone else.
BE JESUS for the homeless person who feels invisible sanding on the street.
BE JESUS for the queer person who feels betrayed and condemned by false Christians who judge instead of love.
BE JESUS for the tech folk who has walled themselves off into a life of work and loneliness.
BE JESUS for the elders of our community who are too often ignored and left alone.
BE JESUS for young people trying to figure out 21st-century life.
And BE JESUS for yourself, taking care of your own spiritual needs.
Know this: you have been Jesus to me – and to Alex, I have served in here for five wonderful years. There have been times of tribulation and there have been times of great joy. I will carry you and these memories with me for the rest of my life. Thank you for being Jesus.
Let us pray,
Radiant Morning Star,
you are both guidance and mystery,
Visit our rest with disturbing dreams,
and our journeys with strange companions.
Grace us with the hospitality
to open our hearts and homes
to visitors filled with unfamiliar wisdom
bearing profound and unusual gifts.
Let the church assembled say: Amen.