January 5, 2020

2020 Jan5_FrIan

The Epiphany - Year A

A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger

 

One of my tasks for this holiday period was to work through thousands of emails in my inbox. There are 1,300 unread emails, and probably 4x as many that have been opened but not filed. The filing of emails has been one of my tasks for my Desk Days at Sea the past two years, but it always falls down the priority list. As anyone who has a work-related email knows, that spot on the upper left of Microsoft Outlook that has the word “Inbox” in bold text and the number of unread emails next to it can be a serious anxiety inducer. It is, indeed, a source of anxiety for me.

 

While looking through my emails – which I didn’t get very far – I remembered back to the Congregational Leadership Initiative Conference that Liz Frost, Bruno Giberti and I went to back in September.

 

One of the presenters asked if we
invite Jesus into our Vestry Meetings.

 

Everyone in the room looked a little sheepish and gave a nervous laugh. The presenter went on to explain a dynamic that happens in many parishes. The Rector incorporates a period of prayer or Bible Study into the monthly business meeting of the Vestry, and members complain that they are there to do business, not to pray or do Bible Study. She presented it humorously, and we all laughed, but we all have had that experience and perhaps have been that person at some point.

 

The St Stephen’s Vestry does do 15-20min of Bible Study at the beginning of our meetings, with the readings set by Bishop Mary around the theme for the work of the Diocese that is announced at the annual Convention in November (which reminds me that we have not received the readings for 2020). It is one way in which we invite Jesus into our meetings.

 

“So,” I thought, “Where is Jesus in these thousands of emails? Has He been invited in?” The quick answer is “No!” Granted, I do a lot of exchanges with outside secular organizations, so it would probably be deemed inappropriate if I were to be too Jesus-forward in my exchanges with many of them. And it’s because I’m not too Jesus-forward that many of these outside organizations are willing to work with St Stephen’s.

 

What, if anything, does this have to do with the Feast of the Epiphany? Everything.

 

Epiphany, according to the Oxford Dictionary to the Christian Church, is the festival of the Incarnation which emphasizes the appearance (Greek, epiphaneia) of the long-awaited Savior and His manifestation to the world. It was celebrated in the Eastern Church for at least a century before the Church in the West introduced the Feast of the Incarnation, or Christmas. In the West and in most churches in the East, both Christmas and Epiphany are celebrated. In the Armenian Orthodox Church, Epiphany is still the only festival that is celebrated, and not Christmas. So, the appearance of God in Christ was prioritized over the birth of God as Christ.

 

The Biblical themes for the Epiphany were originally the gifts of the Magi, the Baptism of Jesus when the Father proclaims ’This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased’, and Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine. The West, particularly the main denominations who follow the Revised Common Lectionary, focus on the visit of the Wise Men and the significance of their gifts. The other aspects are saved for other Sundays: the Baptism of Christ is always the Sunday after the Epiphany; the Wedding at Cana is the following Sunday, but only in Year C.

 

The appearance – or epiphany – of the Incarnate God to the Wise Men signifies the manifestation of God in Christ to the Gentiles in addition to the Jews, and therefore to the world, to all nations and races. And while God imposed Godself upon the world through the Incarnation, Jesus’ pastoral ministry was focused on individuals accepting God or inviting God into their lives through an active – rather than passive – faith: “Your faith has made you well.”

 

So, going through all of my emails, I wondered, “Where is Jesus in these thousands of emails? Has He been invited in?” My assessment is that I – you – we are not very good at inviting Jesus into the work we do, at least via email. Jesus and the Gospel are not manifested very much, they don’t appear. Jesus appears more in pastoral exchanges, but rarely, if ever, in the day-to-day business exchanges of the parish.

 

For those of you who have done work with the Diocese, you will know that there is one Diocesan Staff Member who has the valediction (or closing salutation) of “Have a God day”. By removing an “o” from the typical “Have a good day”, the valediction brings God into the conversation. I have to admit, it has brought both the rolling of my eyes and pause for thought when I have read it. This is a small way of inviting God into the emails of this staff member, and imposing God into one’s day-to-day work.

 

Both Christmas and the Epiphany show us how God burst into the natural world and imposed God in Christ into the lives of ordinary human beings. And as Pastor Karen illustrated last week, Jesus as the Divine Logos was imposed upon every bit of Creation at Creation. To have a living and active faith that truly understands this is to also be able to manifest this faith through our own lives. That should include our emails.

 

This thing we do – believe,
worship, pray – is not supposed
to be confined to this one hour on
a Sunday morning. It’s
a lifestyle.


That’s hard to hear for some. But being a Christian is a lifestyle. The problem with Episcopalians working on living a Christian lifestyle through which Jesus is manifested in all that we do is that the Christian persona or lifestyle has been hijacked and defined by conservative evangelicals and televangelists. Believing that the Bible holds great authority and quoting it often is not really a problem, and we could do a lot better at incorporating scripture into our understanding of daily life. It’s the consistent and very public abuse of the Gospel that has formed the public’s understanding of a Christian lifestyle who have largely deemed it unpalatable.

 

  • Jesus repeatedly commands us to and exhibits His own caring for the poor and marginalized – an epiphany to our self-centeredness. Yet, America’s top pastors preach a prosperity Gospel.
  • Jesus repeatedly welcomed sinners and tax collectors, divorced and unwed mothers and foreigners to eat with Him and to engage in dialogue – an epiphany to our self-righteousness. Yet, America’s top pastors preach condemnation toward people who do not fit their mold.
  • Jesus repeatedly commands us to love one another and our enemies – an epiphany to our self-preservation. Yet, thousands of pastors preach against the LGBTQ community to the point of calling for their execution.
  • Jesus placed women at the forefront of His ministry, with a woman as the Theotokos or God-Bearer and a woman being the Apostle to the Apostles on the Day of Resurrection – an epiphany to our selfishness. Yet, in millions of churches, women are barred from teaching or holding positions of leadership.
  • Jesus demanded simplicity and humility by insisting that His Disciples take no bag or sandals as they proclaimed the Gospel – an epiphany to our self-satisfaction. Yet, megachurch pastors live opulent lifestyles with expensive clothes, enormous mansions and private jets.

 

The reason I call out the conservative evangelical wing of the Church is because they are controlling the narrative of what it means to be a Christian, and they don’t just hold a different opinion, they are wrong. It’s a misunderstanding of the Gospel, a misapplication of the Old Testament and a misinterpretation of Paul’s writings.

 

This widespread abuse of the Gospel, abuse of the way in which Jesus appeared and was manifested to the world, has formed what many non-Christians and many of us Christians would equate with living a Christian lifestyle. The appearance of Jesus, the manifestation of the Messiah, the Epiphany of our Lord has been used for their financial favor and has shaped the definition of a Christian lifestyle in America.

 

So, it’s tough to live an authentic Christian lifestyle. I have preached before about how challenging a Christian lifestyle is simply because Jesus puts a high bar on what true faith looks like. But we also have the social stigma that is no fault of our own. Manifesting Jesus so that others may share in the Epiphany takes courage, stamina and above all, faith.

 

Jesus is what we’re all here for, and Jesus should be a part of everything we do together. That was the point of the conference presenter asking if Jesus is invited into our Vestry meetings. Let’s try more deliberately to invite Jesus into our day-to-day work here at St Stephen’s.

 

The way to living a Christian lifestyle is to share the love of God that is manifested in each of us through our faith in Jesus Christ. It’s New Year’s Resolution time, and perhaps trying to live a Christian lifestyle through which others can share in the Epiphany could be one of them. It can be an email signature. It can be linking the work in our emails to the Gospel. We are beginning the development of a Strategic Plan, which, if done correctly, means that much of what we want to do in the future is evaluated against its alignment with the Strategic Plan. When we send an email, when we have a meeting, can we express how our main topic of conversation will manifest Jesus? Maybe that’s too much; maybe that’s too forward; maybe that’s too cumbersome. But let’s at least try to invite Jesus into the work that we do day-in and day-out.


Then perhaps our inboxes will be
filled with more love and
less anxiety.

© 2020 St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
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