Epiphany, Year A
On the occasion of the 1st Inclusive Modern Eucharist in Bloomington, IN
"Arise, shine, for your light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you!”
This evening we have gathered to behold the light of God made anew in our midst. A divine light which comes from unexpected places and gives itself freely to all who will bask in its warmth and healing properties. Tonight we enter into the Feast of Epiphany, an ancient celebration of the Christian church which completely destroys our expectations of how God will appear, move and act in our beliefs systems, communities and lives.
Come with me now as we allow our Gospel reading and our imaginations to take us on a journey, which began on the night a baby was wrapped in bands of cloth and laid in a manger…
After a two year journey we have now arrived at the front door of a small home in the middle of a wasteland where hunger, poverty, disease and sorrow are rampant. Surrounding this wasteland we see the state abuse of an entire race simply because of their heritage and traditions. We hear the cries of mothers as they have their children torn from them to be executed because their sons and daughters dared to dream of a future where freedom would ring. If we look hard enough we will see beggars, cheaters, children asking for bread, the homeless and even tax collectors stealing from the poor. We behold families, soldiers, prostitutes, rabbis and every career and lifestyle in between, all within the narrow dusty street we stand on. This journey of ours has followed a star, or at least that is what people will say one day, a beacon of light to the possibility that something incredible, something new has arrived. Our minds are unsure of what this new possibility is, we are unsure of the person we seek and yet we can not help but to try and find the one we dream of. Having come from afar we are not of the same race as those who now surround us. We are not of the same religion, actually our positions as astrologers is considered an abomination by the very people who will hopefully open the door before us, if we dare knock. We reach out, we hesitate… Knock. Knock. Knock. We wait, we consider the possibilities: Why are we here, what is the point of this, do we expect a warm welcome? We hear footsteps and the creak of the door opening. On the other side stands a scruffy man who hands are calloused, his skin tanned, his brow sweaty. This is nothing new we think to ourselves, this is a man answering the door. Beyond the man we see a young girl sitting in a chair, she is beautiful and sweet looking, but once again nothing radically new here. We find ourselves left feeling unsatisfied. For a moment our hearts begin to sink, have we traveled for no reason, have we risked being foreigners in a hostile land to no avail? Then it happens…we are almost knocked to the ground as something, someone, comes barreling across the room and grabs our legs while letting out a screech of pure joy. We look down and there it is…the light of love, the light of possibility, the light of complete acceptance in the face of a holy child, two years old, who has just embraced us caring not who we are, where we come from or what we want. He simply receives us with delight.
Today we celebrate the encounter of God and humanity in a way that is so simple, so precious and so natural. We find God not in the heavens above nor in grandiose ideas and dogmatic dribble but in the embrace and acceptance of an innocent child. Light itself is an incredible energy, it bursts forth and gives itself freely without the worry or concern if it is desired. Its properties are unrestrainable. Light does not withhold itself from one and give to another in some cruel cosmic joke. I believe today’s readings reveal to us the light of God is no different, it does not worry itself with our religions, dogmas, sexualities, nationalities or careers before shining upon us brightly.
The word epiphany means a manifestation or showing forth of God in a striking way. In a world where religion, belief and Christianity have often become synonymous with hatred, fear and exclusion we are reminded of the Magi traveling from afar not to be rejected because their beliefs were deemed incorrect, nor to be left standing outside because they were the “others,” the outsiders. Rather the Magi were received as people of value and worth by the toddler Jesus and his non-traditional family. The Gospel emphatically declares to us that God does not come to those we expect or those we deem worthy but to all.
It is for this reason that I returned to ministry after feeling the wrath of those who claim to be messengers of the Good News. I was once one of the people who believed that I held the one and only truth. That I was perfect in doctrine and belief. Then I came to the self realization, epiphany you might say, that I was a human being living in denial of how God had made me. I exalted dogmas and ancient creeds above the reality of life and science. And so I took a journey, one which brought me out of the closet of self-directed homophobia and into the marvelous light of truth and grace. The tragedy is that light is not appreciated by everyone, some are very afraid of what the light will reveal, they fear what a striking appearance of God might due to their sacred idols of self-gratification and fear of critical thought. Some react to God’s light not with grace and mercy but with judgement and exclusion.
For this reason I knew my calling to minister God’s love had not ended but only begun. The moment I knocked on the door of my closet I did not find God to disappear but rather to embrace me wholly and completely. Finally, I had allowed God to encompass the entire, authentic, messy me with the light of love. It’s this very same light of God which we have beheld tonight in our prayers and readings and soon in bread and wine which will be shared equally with all who desire to partake. I welcome you on this Feast of Epiphany to behold the light of God’s love revealed to you no matter your background, regardless of where you have come from or where you are going. Your creeds mean little to God and might very well be despised if they restrain your ability to love yourself and your neighbor with the same love the Christ child reveals to us. Truly, the love of God is not limited nor revealed only in the smile of one holy child but is made anew in the smiles of holy children each and every day. We find God in the coos of newborn infants, in the light of the sun shining on our foreheads, in the peaceful words we share with our neighbor and in the fellowship we take part of tonight in this chapel.
I invite you to find home here tonight and every Sunday evening. I invite you to question, to think and to pray in a way that is meaningful to you and your experience of the Holy One. This is a safe environment you have arrived in on your journey where no question is forbidden, where you can knock knowing the door will be opened and you will be given a seat of importance and honor. Your life journey is not in vain and unimportant, it is beautiful and sacred to God. Just as Jesus radically destroyed the expectations of the religious people of his day and changed the course of time two millennia ago, my prayer is that these inclusive liturgies offer God in a way that in unexpected and illuminates our community with unending grace. The message we bring forth is not one of coercion or manipulation, not a message of rules and laws nor even conversion but a message of acceptance with child-like open arms.
A grown up Jesus once looked at a gathering of children and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you change and become like little children which are trusting, lowly, loving and forgiving, you can never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Our calling to offer the Gospel of ultimate reconciliation isn’t easy. We often find it hard to believe that all the “others” in life are truly called to share in the light with us. But they are, for we are all one with each other. And it is our calling as people of faith and even doubt, no matter what shape or form that faith and doubt takes, to be a voice of inclusion and reconciliation. Our calling is to become innocent children who find no need to judge but to offer our home to anyone who comes knocking. We are commissioned to bring forth an epiphany in the hearts and minds of all we meet with words and deeds of kindness and a table that is open so that everyone may break one bread and drink from one cup.
Indeed, the manifestation of God’s light and love pervades the entire earth today and says to us: “Behold and be radiant, let your hearts rejoice!”