One of the major challenges we face as a church in the mission field, I believe, is the challenge of language. Language for us in urban communities is multi-layered; for not only it is one of linguistics, but it is also of finding a common understanding upon which a communication platform can be constructed. This is evidenced in our Outreach Ministry “English as a Second Language” program. Often times even with the commonality of language, we may sit in a room and hear persons bantering terms so foreign, we can begin to feel excluded and unwanted.
As a church, we hold onto words that may mean a lot to us, but for many those words can be quite foreign; Epiphany is certainly one of those words. So, what then is Epiphany? Epiphany is viewed as a period of revelation or showing forth. Traditionally, it is viewed as the period when Jesus is revealed as more than the product of a miraculous birth, but the space where his ministry takes shape and form, eventually leading to the cross of salvation. This is the cauldron in which his ministry is being shaped and molded. This where our children move from ‘Gentle Jesus meek and mild’ to ‘Where is God?’ The church often fails to prepare us for that period of questioning.
Again, even this period of questioning can be quite foreign or one-sided reducing us an audience looking at Shakespeare’s King Lear and not understanding the first act. This lack of understanding limits its impact upon us and restricts our willingness to accept the invitation to participate in the work of salvation.
Thus, the work of our church is to reinterpret this concept in order for others to see something bigger and greater in the meaning of Epiphany. The best way I suggest we can begin is to relate it to any “Aha! Now I get it!” moments in our lives. That exciting moment when we finally understand something which has puzzled us for a long time. Awareness not only brings meaning and understanding but seeks relevance and application. Revelation leads to action!
Epiphany then is about of divine inspiration –it is about revealing Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s desire to renew His world. God made a promise at creation, proclaimed by the prophets, reflected in Holy Scripture and embodied by the church. Epiphany is not just about Jesus but that which He reveals to us, in us and about us. Epiphany shines God’s light both on Jesus and each of us. It’s a mystical search light. What is revealed is God’s deep desire to be in communion with us and for us to be in communion with each other. Revelation is relational and communal, never private! It is not just what Jesus means to you, but how what you feel and know shapes the way you respond to others. The most important dreams which transformed the world were given in secret but revealed to the world. These are the dreams which reveal God’s presences and power. I speak of dreams of Joseph, Daniel and Martin Luther King. The work of the church is to create an environment where folks can dream God’s dreams.
Today’s readings are confirmations that Epiphany or divine revelation affects us in many ways. When Jeremiah receives divine inspiration, he allows his incompleteness to blind him from the greatness of God. God had a dream greater than Jeremiah’s limitations. It was not about Jeremiah’s limitation but about his readiness to receive the divine dream. You see throughout the readings the main theme can be titled “Grace given is not always Grace received.”
My friends, I must admit last Sunday after the Annual General meeting I felt a bit overwhelmed by the daunting task that seem to lie ahead of us. In the midst of the keenness of those who were in attendance, I saw the limitations of funds, hands and organizational skills for the task of urban ministry at St Elizabeth’s. I felt the creeping fear of failing a faith community. In other words, I was no different than Jeremiah (my namesake). I was so blinded by the limitations that I almost lost sight of the faith that reveals it is not my work but God’s dream. God’s dream is bigger than our limitations. Thus, He sent the Holy Spirit that not only reveals but empowers us beyond our self-imposed limitations. These limitations can be real or imaginary. Yet, Holy Scripture teach us if there was a language problem then The Holy Spirit dealt with that at Pentecost. If there was a finance issue, then The Holy Spirit created communal giving or stewardship. If there was a youth problem, then the Spirit raised up Timothy. If there was a feminine issue, the Spirit raised up powerful women like Elizabeth, Blessed Mary, Lois and others. When there was a slavery issue, He raised up Onesimus and Fredrick Douglas. When there was a civil rights issue, He raised up Martin Luther King, Jr. and when there was a finance and healthcare issue, He raised up Barak Obama. In other words, God’s work is always bigger than our resources, but never beyond His power. God’s way is to use the humble and small, the youthful and marginalized, to reveal His vision to the world. We are important and valuable to God!
Yet, the greatness of God is also revealed in the understanding that as vast as His vision maybe, it is filled with intimacy. It is not a vision which is forced upon or proclaimed using media hype but shared and inspired through humbling acts of love. (Mathew 6:4) “so that your merciful deeds may be in secret, then your Father who sees in secret, will reward you openly.”
It is a love which trusts God to link our visons to His. It is a love which is sharing, open-ended and faithful; a love which is willing to see those who may be different as lovable; a love which forgives the deepest hurt and greatest betrayal. To say one cannot forgive is no different than Jeremiah saying that I am too childish to accept the power of God to work within me. To be generous with your gifts and talents is to trust in the magnitude of God over one’s perceived limitations. “To give and not to count the cost. Of such is the love of God.” Because to love is to have faith that in God that all will be well.
Let us not allow Jesus to pass through our midst and leave like he did from the synagogue in Nazareth. Today he offers us the Grace to do what we cannot do on our own. Let us experience and share in this loving grace of God. This Grace is not always a gentle soothing peace that comes after hurt or pain. Grace is also intuitive, dynamic, intimate, challenging and communal. Jeremiah allowed God’s grace to work through him so in time he became one of the greatest of all the prophets.He moved from a nobody in his own sight to a somebody in God’s eyes. We must learn to give ourselves space and time to grow in faith. We do this through regular prayer and communal worship centered around the Holy Eucharist and combined with acts of service and ministry in God’s world. Don’t let this moment of grace pass you by today. Grasp what God is offering to you today. Moving from a nobody in the world to a somebody for God.
That’s life changing Epiphany!