Written by Pastor Ed
God so Loved the World
Jan. 4, 2015 – Epiphany Sunday
“Your saving mystery revealed”
Most of us don’t know what it’s like to be viewed with suspicion, as outsiders. There have been a few times when I have gotten a bit of a taste of that. Having relatively long hair and a beard in the late 1960s and early 70’s meant that some places I went viewed me with a certain suspicion. And associating with blacks one voting day in Alabama made me the focus of both verbal as well as some physical abuse, but for the most part I am part of the dominant culture and so don’t often realize what others may be going through.
Of course we read or hear the news out of the US and shake our heads, hopefully, at the kind of racial profiling that takes place there and are glad we live in Canada. But Abe Janzen, MCCA Director, in his latest blog post speaks of immigrants and others who, while not facing physical violence perhaps, still are followed when they enter a store, are stopped far more often by police, and generally have to perform and act much better than whites to receive the same treatment.
Being an outsider is uncomfortable and probably all of us have some idea of what that is like, even if it is not our everyday existence. And certainly none of us, I hope, consciously want to make people feel that way. Every congregation I visited in Central Plains Conference saw themselves as a friendly welcoming congregation. Yet every congregation I have ever been in has things they do or say that will, unknowingly and without intent, make some people feel like outsiders, even if they have been attending for many years.
Yes, even this congregation. When it is assumed that I will know German Christmas carols by memory, I am clearly then an outsider. The same is true when I attend a church where they sing songs with only the words projected on the screen and I have no idea what the music is and have no access to it. There are numerous articles and surveys which speak of the fact that the reason many young people have written off the institutional church is that they see it as unwelcoming and intolerant. Unfortunately, whether that is true of all or not, perception is often stronger than reality, and there are certainly enough examples around to lend credence to their views.
So the message of Epiphany is one that we all need to hear. Throughout Advent we have been asking God to reveal God’s love, hope, joy, and mystery. And now, according to our scripture reading from Ephesians, God’s mystery has been revealed. Not only that but it has been revealed through the church! And the revelation is not just something the church talks about, like letting the secret out of the bag, but it is something that the church embodies in its very being; namely that God’s grace is open to all.
And the beginning of that revelation comes in the account we read in Matthew of the visit of the magi to the family of Jesus. These magi from the East were outsiders. They were not Jews, they were probably not even worshippers of the Jewish God. They were probably Zoastrian astrologers who read people’s fortunes in the stars and maybe did incantations – magi is the word we get magician from.
We generally see the magi portrayed as arriving is splendor, dressed in fine robes, riding on magnificent camels. And we base that on the gifts they brought as being expensive. But we really have little basis for that portrayal. I heard a speaker one time claim that Jesus was really quite wealthy as a child, based on a value that had been figured out, by someone, of the gifts the magi had brought him. Which is quite something to do, since we have no idea how much of any of these gifts they brought, nor what their value was in that day.
For all we know these magi, however many there were, may have shown up bedraggled from the journey. In modern terms they may have looked like a bunch of 60’s hippies in a VW bus. However they looked, they would have clearly stood out as foreigners, outsiders. If you’ve ever lived in a small town, you know that strangers are quickly identified and watched.
But Matthew, I’m sure, includes this account at the beginning of his gospel because he will end his gospel with the great commission, “Go there fore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing then in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28: 19-20a)
You see, the mystery revealed in Jesus Christ is that everyone is invited into the kingdom. You don’t have to be of a particular race or colour or creed. In Christ there is neither male nor female, slave nor free, etc. The invitation is out there for all and anyone one who says, “I want to be a follower of Jesus” is invited into the kingdom.
That’s the mystery that the church is called not only to proclaim but to model. “Come and join us on the journey.” We may be at different places on that journey, we may be struggling with different things in our obedience to the things Jesus commanded us, but God is ready to welcome all of us.
That doesn’t mean we have to water down the message or somehow not speak of Jesus and what he calls us to in order to not offend anyone. But it is to recognize that we are all on the same journey, and that none of us has attained perfection in our Christian walk. And sometimes those outsiders can teach us something or recognize the truth before we do. After all, the magi came and worshipped the baby Jesus before many others recognized who he was.
Today we begin a new calendar year with a commemoration of Jesus death and resurrection, the Lord’s table. It’s a way of committing ourselves to the year ahead and to following the way of Jesus. Now, I grew up in a very “closed communion” kind of setting. Only baptized member of the particular congregation were invited to share communion, because we wanted to make sure we were a pure church, in fellowship with each other. But I’ve come to see communion in a different way.
And so today, as we share this bread and cup, I want to invite any and all who can truly say, “I want to follow Jesus,” at whatever level that is to participate. Does this mean I don’t think baptism and church membership are important? No, I do believe making a public statement of faith through baptism and committing oneself to a congregation in membership are important, and thus I am offering an opportunity for anyone interested in that to meet with me next Sunday.
But this table is about encountering the risen Christ as fellow travelers on a journey of faith. And wherever you’re at on that journey, I invite you to participate as we commit ourselves to a new year and to the task of modeling this great mystery, revealed to us in Jesus Christ. “Arise, shine for your light has come and the glory of the Lord has been revealed to us.” Let us rejoice in that light.