Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Glory of God

Epiphany II+B        16, January 2015       
The Reverend Robert R.M. Bagwell+
1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20)                                                                                                                        Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17
What would have happened if on the first Christmas, there had been three wise women instead of three wise men?
They would have: asked for directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby cleaned the stable, brought more practical gifts, and made a casserole.
I don't know if you thought about the collect we just prayed so I want to look at it again.

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ's glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, .... Amen.

We have just asked God to let us shine out like Jesus Christ shines out.  Even more so that our lights may shine because we have been illuminated by God's word and sacraments. What will be the result of this?  We prayed that people seeing Christ in us to the four corners of the globe, may worship and obey Jesus.  Think about that for a moment.  Through us and our lives God is calling out to others.  If you look at my Facebook page you will read these words of Paul to the church at Corinth: :For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.  2 Corinthians 4:6  This is the season of "theophany". Theophany is the "manifestation" of God to the human 5 senses.  The events: the wise men, Christ's baptism with the Holy Spirit descending like a dove, the changing of the water into wine,  and may I add, with our Baptist brethren's song: when Jesus came into (our) hearts.

Jesus isn't just the good news, we are called, (there's that word again) to be lights of good news to those on this planet around us!  We are in the season of the year of Manifestation, we call it Epiphany.  You are called, I am called, but why Jesus said in another text: You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.  Matthew 5

Wait a minute:  I thought that Jesus was the Light of the world.  In Colossians chapter one we read: "

To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Christ in you.  Christ in me. Glory.

In our first reading we have the story of the calling of Samuel.  Samuel also had a miraculous birth, similar to John the Baptist. His mother, Hannah, was much loved by her husband but she was childless, a point of dishonor in her day.  She was mocked, talked about and put down by the other women and she lived with shame.  But she cried out to the Lord and in her older years prayed for a son and swore to give him to God if he would but answer the prayer. .  The Lord heard her prayer and she had a son a year later. She named him "Samuel" a name that means "name of God."  Hannah was saying that God was the child's father in a sense. When the child was old enough she took him to the tabernacle and presented him to the priest Eli.  Today, this young acolyte is sleeping in the same chamber where the ark of the Lord was kept.  outside where the seven branched candlestick burned perhaps to make sure it did not go out, when God called. It is important to note that although Samuel was around the things of God, his whole life was devoted to God and you might say his "business" was God, he had never heard from God to this point. I think many of us go to church, perhaps read our Bibles and pray, but do we ever expect to hear from God?  Perhaps God is trying to speak to us even now, but we're not expecting it and so we really don't listen. The United Church of Christ started an evangelism campaign several years ago with the headline "God is still speaking", and he is, but are we hearing?  Are we listening?  Over and over the Bible talks about a "call", calling and the "called,  but somehow we don't get the message.

Jesus calls out a people unto himself.  The Greek word is "ekklesia" which the English translators translated as the word "church".  It means "the called out ones" in the original language.  That is us!  In the gospel text we read more about calling .  Jesus calls Phillip and immediately he goes to find Nathaniel, both had been followers of John the Baptist and so the proclamation of the gospel begins.  As it has always been as Phillip said "come and see".  Nathaniel on the other hand seems somewhat sarcastic, a person of extremes. He responds: "can anything good come out of Nazareth". Prior to the birth of Christ, Nazareth was not an important part of the national and religious life of Israel.  It had a bad reputation in morals and religious life. 

But Phillip is not dissuaded.  How many Christians give up when they get a turn down, a 'no' or a "I was taught not to discuss politics or religion".  Had the disciples had the timidity we manifest, the gospel would have died in Israel.  Jesus however, is the Light of the world.  God calls, God invites.  When Nathaniel approaches, Jesus manifests his God-likeness in his knowledge of Nathaniel.  , "Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!" Nathanael asked him, "Where did you get to know me?" Jesus answered, "I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you." Nathanael replied, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!"! Nathaniel is essentially dumbfounded.  He now only begins to see the glory of God in Jesus the Messiah. Rather than suspicion of Jesus, he embraces him in a profound way.

Do we?  Or has the gospel story become "ho hum", everyone knows that, but everyone doesn't.  Jesus and his church are not called to be "a religion" but a life.  Jesus is life.  He calls, we listen, he transforms us and then we received his glory, his manifestation.  Each day we must remember that.  The Reverend Tullian Tchividjian, the pastor of the famous Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft Lauderdale says: "we must preach the gospel to ourselves every day because we forget it every day." When you screw up, remind yourself, when you make the same mistake over and over again, when we lose our tempers or gossip or whatever pet sin we live with and wonder why, remind yourself of the gospel.  It is not us in Christ that is the hope of glory, but Christ in us!  When Christ said "it is finished", he meant it!  We can not add or subract from His finished work.  We can only engage in His work for those who have not been called yet, or heard yet or been asked to 'come and see' yet--those who have yet to see his Epiphany glory.

One of my favorite Epiphany hymns reads as follows:

Songs of thankfulness and praise, Jesus, Lord, to Thee we raise,
Manifested by the star To the sages from afar;
Branch of royal David’s stem In Thy birth at Bethlehem;
Anthems be to Thee addressed, God in man made manifest.
Manifest at Jordan’s stream, Prophet, Priest, and King supreme;
And at Cana, wedding guest, In Thy Godhead manifest;
Manifest in power divine, Changing water into wine;
Anthems be to Thee addressed, God in man made manifest.
Manifest in making whole Palsied limbs and fainting soul;
Manifest in valiant fight, Quelling all the devil’s might;
Manifest in gracious will,  Ever bringing good from ill;
Anthems be to Thee addressed, God in man made manifest.
Each day may God help us to manifest his glory, may we remember who we are and what God has done for us and in us.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

A Divine Interention

Christmas 2 + B   4 January 2015   The Rev Robert R.M. Bagwell+
                   All Saints' Parish, Hampton South Carolina
Jeremiah 31:7-14                                                                                        Psalm 84       
Ephesians 1:3-6,15-19a                                                                      Matthew 2:1-12                                               
Jewish lady named Mrs. Rosenberg many years ago was stranded late one night at a fashionable resort - one that did not admit Jews. The desk clerk looked down at his book and said, "Sorry, no room. The hotel is full."       
The Jewish lady said, "But your sign says that you have vacancies."       
 The desk clerk stammered and then said curtly, "You know that we do not admit Jews. Now if you will try the other side of town..."       
Mrs. Rosenberg stiffened noticeable and said, "I'll have you know I converted to your religion."    
 The desk clerk said, "Oh, yeah, let me give you a little test. How was Jesus born?"       
Mrs. Rosenberg replied, "He was born to a virgin named Mary in a little town called Bethlehem."       
"Very good," replied the hotel clerk. "Tell me more."       
Mrs. Rosenberg replied, "He was born in a manger."       
"That's right," said the hotel clerk. "And why was he born in a manger?"       
Mrs. Rosenberg said loudly, "Because a jerk like you in the hotel wouldn't give a Jewish lady a room for the night!"  
Welcome to the Year of Grace, the year of God's favor where Jesus always makes all things new.  Scripture says through the prophet Isaiah: "See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?" (Is. 43)   Christmass is a proclamation of the grace, the love and the perseverance of a God who never gives up on his creation.  It is joy to the world.  It is love came down at Christmass. Maybe you've seen that billboard campaign that was released a few years ago called God Speaks. All across the county, solid black billboards along the highways had large white words on them, quotes supposedly signed by God with no other pictures or logos or even fine print saying who had put up the billboards.  They said things like, “Need Directions?” and “What part of Thou Shalt Not Didn’t You Understand?” and “Loved the wedding, invite me to the marriage". One of the billboards read: “Don’t make me come down there! - God”  Sounds ominous. In our everyday lives we don't think things are so bad that we can't handle them, not most things. But we don't see how desperate our situation is if we do not see why the big guy, why God had to show up to fix them.  But the "Big Guy" didn't show up as a big guy but in a big way, a totally disarming way, a totally unexpected way.  God came to put God's life, God's love, God's healing of our fundamental need of God into our hearts and lives.  What we exalt in at Easter began with the Incarnation, the "enfleshing" of God in the womb of a simple Jewish maiden.  I have called it for the sake of this sermon: A Divine Intervention.

We just prayed: "Oh, God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature".  What is that dignity?  It is the original state of oneness with God that human sin and rebellion destroyed.  It is God now "with us", in us and through us.  That did not come easily and continues to be our need every moment of each waking hour of life.  The day you were baptized you entered into the Kairos of God, not the chronos of man, but the Kairos, that is God's timelessness and our Episcopal Kalendars reflect that.  We have set apart or "holy days"  that commemorate God's mighty acts and God's work in the lives of individuals, individuals like me and you!  And we just celebrated one of the two most holy of those days in the celebration of the Holy Nativity that we name Christmas. I want to address the why and what of Christmas today.
In the gospel today, we have an example of a paranoid pragmatist: Herod the Great. Herod wasn't a Anobody@.  He stands in biblical Jewish secular history as a Aworld-builder.@  He is the one responsible for building the second temple of Jerusalem, which some call AHerod=s temple.@ He was a loyal supporter of the Jewish kings preceding him although he was not of Jewish blood.
He was a consummate politician backing one Roman general against another and when the one he supported won, he was appointed by the Roman senate as King over Judea. He was not a Jew but an Edomite.
Although Herod had great leadership skills, he was extremely disliked by the Jews. His attitude toward the Maccabean dynasty, to which he was related by marriage, along with his insolence and cruelty, angered them all the more. He even had his brother-in-law and several of his wives and sons executed. He forced heavy taxes and brutally repressed any rebellions. But it was by his policy of Hellenistic culture that he greatly wounded the Jews. The construction of a race-course, a theater, and an amphitheater in Jerusalem, his wide support of the emperor cult in the East, and the construction of pagan temples in foreign cities at his own expense could not be forgive. Even though he restored and reconstructed the Temple of Jerusalem and continually pleaded the cause of the Jews of the Diaspora to the emperor, it was for his own gains.
There are still Herod=s among us.  People who crave power, position and wealth above all things. But even in his splendor, Herod was an incredibly insecure man, being married ten! It is also he who ordered the slaughter of all of the male children two years of age and younger.  That is why we observe the feast of the Holy Innocents. 
How strange it is that those whom we think "have it all," are the most fearful of losing it!  Even you and me live in our weakness but wouldn't dare admit it.  We have our Herods and still blessedly, we have our Wise Men who are still seeking the One we celebrate, God's Son born for us!  God has come and deliverance is near.
But we must not think that the "Herods" are the reason God staged a Divine Intervention. No, no, it's much bigger than that or "them." 
The things the world uses as tools are more like the title of Richard Foster's book of a few years ago: Money, Sex and Power,  It is these things that shape our world and seek to shape us into its mold.  It is these things that drive our culture, our daily lives, our politics, the nations and us.  Into this world and this humanity God came. God staged a Divine Intervention.
We have in our day added all of those children who have suffered death in their innocent early years or the womb to this day. Even in God=s rescue of the Human Race, death is present.
Have you noticed how evil doesn't like to give up power?  The world is at war, racism shows it's ugly head on the evening news in the streets of our major population areas. 
Death is still present in our daily lives. Although we may think of ourselves as "enlightened human beings" not like people "back then" or people "over there", still there is an evening news and most of it is bad news. 
If human beings did not so desperately need God to come into their hearts, I think the news channels would have to close up shop!  That is why He came.  That is how he fixes us from the inside out by coming and coming and coming again to save us as His name Jesus, the Holy Name which means "savior".
Christmas is God's answer to human despair and hopelessness for we are powerless over ourselves to fix ourselves! So now we look forward to the Epiphany, the manifestation of what God has done through Christ and in us.  That is why Paul can write to the Church at Ephesus: " Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved." 
The prophet Isaiah wrote in Isaiah chapter 61: "The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,  to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair."St Augustine of Hippo called the book of Isaiah the "fifth gospel".  Christmas is the proclamation of the good news.  Not that God has "come down here", uh oh, but God is here, thank God!  God has not finished His work in us or His work in this world but salvation, redemption and adoption have been finished.  What He began in Bethlehem was accomplished on Good Friday for He was born to die that we might live.

So today, we begin again. We are possessed by and with the Good News that God has come to us again. As in our first reading we respond with something like : " the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. God will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow. God will give the priests their fill of fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty, says the LORD."  Good news God's People.  Good news!