Sunday, January 15, 2017

Living and Shining in His Light

Epiphany II+A        17, January 2017      
The Reverend Robert R.M. Bagwell+
Isaiah 49:1-7                                                                                                              Psalm 40:1-12 
1 Corinthians 1:1-9                                                                                                     John 1:29-42

What would have happened if on the first Christmas or more accurately the first Epiphany, if 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 begin this sermon today with a question, “what are you looking for?”  What possessed you to get out of your warm and toasty bed on a cool and quiet Sunday morning?  The holidays are over, there are no external pressures bringing you here, yet here you sit. What are you looking for?
We are a destination based culture.  When is the last time you got into your car and said to yourself: “now where do I need to go?” In our culture, time is the measure of worth.  When we spend time with people or at a task or function, we ascribe worth to them.  But to expand our perspective, the real question Jesus asked the two future disciples was a more existential one:  what are we seeking this morning and every morning.  The culture is certainly seeking escape from pain, loneliness, meaninglessness and emptiness.  The culturally prescribed quick fixes are often distractions.  Fun, food and fillers of time.  There are all kinds of fans: sports, music, TV and movies or whatever happens to be the drug of choice.  Some may keep such busy schedules so they don’t have to think about it. But all of these things cannot answer the question of life: “What are you looking for?” Acknowledged or not this culture is desperately seeking.  There is a deep hunger for something to make life meaningful. Few ask the question “why?”  What causes the emptiness, the addictions, the obsessions and self destructive behaviors so rampant now that we don’t have to worry about planting, harvesting, hunting or fighting each day for survival.  To those people, and we all know them, sometimes it may be us, but to the question Jesus says: Come and see.
Spiritual emptiness takes away personhood, human dignity and a thirst for the good that satisfies.  In their place grow the three great human distractions:, what Christian author Richard Foster used for the title of one of his books:  Money, Sex and Power.  Yet even we followers of Jesus often follow that path that ultimately cannot bring satisfaction to we spiritual beings who happen to have human bodies.
Epiphany is an encounter with revelation.  It isn’t merely like viewing some artist’s masterpiece in a museum, but it commands a response from the person who sees it.
John himself was an Epiphany.  How are we introduced to John the Baptizer? At the beginning of this chapter, we read: There was a man sent from God whose name was John.  He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.  He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.  John has been called a “fore bearer”, that is bringing a message of greater things to come!
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 and Epiphany means manifestation.  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, 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. Which means literally, manifestation  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.

And following a verse we are familiar with at the offering: 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 Paul writes: "

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. Just put your name or mine in place of the word them.

Christ in you.  Christ in me. Glory.

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. But we just heard:  Christ in you, the hope of glory Christ in you.  Christ in me. Glory. 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.  When Andrew hears who Jesus is, immediately he goes to find Simon, both had been followers of John the Baptist and so the proclamation of the gospel begins.  As it has always been as Andrew said "come and see".  . 
There are people in every town or city who have yet to hear the good news of Jesus.  This country is full of cultural Christian.  Jesus and his church are not called to be "a religion" but a life.  Jesus is life.  He calls us to new life, we listen, he and he transforms us and then we received his glory, his manifestation.  Each day we must remember that. A pastor once said: "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 remind yourself , 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 cannot add or subtract from His finished work.  We can only engage in His work for those who have not b yet been called, or heard yet or been asked to 'come and see' --those who have yet to see his Epiphany glory. It has been said that the gospel is one beggar telling another beggar where the bread is.  We are illumined by His word and sacraments; will we let the light shine out of us? We are surrounded by beggars seeking something to fill up their empty souls.  Will we let Jesus shine: in, with and through us? If not, who will?

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Christmass I + A+          2017                    
The Reverend Robert R.M. Bagwell+
1, January                                                                                         
The Holy Name of Jesus
Numbers 6:22-27 Psalm 8
Galatians 4:4-7+Philippians 2:5-11
Luke 2:15-21

What is in a name?  In my youth, I was encouraged to look for the meaning of our names and how that name given us was a foretelling of how God might use us in our lives.  In our day, we often see prospective parents pouring over “baby books” to pick out the most novel and perhaps meaningful of designations for their child to be.  Some are and have been culturally so of a certain mind that names are “made up” out of thin air for the sake of “uniqueness” or even for the certain sound of an ethnic origin.  Is this anything like what we see in the Bible?

In the Biblical record, names were much more profound and even a part of Divine fore-telling.  In a very popular protestant tool for evangelism called the four spiritual laws, the first principle in sharing the message of Jesus is: God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. While not a complete telling of the gospel, it opens the door to the fact that God cares for us as we read in the letters of Peter. (I Peter 5:7)

What do our own names mean?  Have we ever inquired? Are they a Divine foretelling of the Truth our lives are to represent and fulfill? In the Hebrew tradition, a name is so much more than a designation to differentiate one from another. It contains hopes for the child, wishes for what the child should become.  Shortly after I was ordained someone gave me a course of Dale Carnegie's How to win friends and influence people in order to boost my morale.  In that course I was taught a principle listed as number six: "Remember that a person's name is the sweetest and most important sound in any language." I have never forgotten that and am still trying to embody the methods he suggested to help remember a name.  That is significant.  To come in the “name of” means to come in the authority of who or whatever as in blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord. One of the reasons that those who reacted against Jesus so strongly was that they were motivated by a rejection that God Almighty was Jesus’ Father. I once saw a placard that read: Jesus is Lord of Humanity not a Name for Profanity.  I have taken to interjecting my own two cents in a context when the Holy Name is carelessly uttered.  When someone says "Jesus" at a moment of exasperation I interject: He is Lord of ALL!  It gets my point across and people usually gave a little laugh like someone when they've been caught doing something that they shouldn't have The Holy Name Jesus is all-powerful because of the Person who bears it is King of Kings, Creator and Lord of Lords. The Holy Name Jesus is all-powerful because of the Person who bears it is King of Kings, Creator and Lord of Lords. Jesus said: 

You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. (Jn 14:14)  Jesus means Savior and Christ means: Messiah the Deliverer.  However, it is not merely in this one verse Jesus says such things, but at least 19 other times in the four gospels! We honor His Name because of His command.  For most of our entire lives we have heard people and prayers in Jesus Name.  We honor His Name because of His command. For most of our entire lives, we have heard people end prayers in Jesus Name, or in the historic traditions, Through Jesus Christ our Lord. This is why St Paul was able to write to the Philippians: " the Name of Jesus every knee should bend of those in heaven, on earth and under the earth." (Philippians 2:10)We have a hymn i our hymnal that begins "At the Name of Jesus Every knee shall bow, Every tongue confess Him King of glory now..." recalling this prophetic text. 

In our gospel we have the earthly parents going in obedience to the Law of Moses to the temple for the circumcision of Jesus.  In fact, this feast day used to be called the Feast of the Circumcision.  What is the connection?  It was upon this occasion that every Hebrew male received his name from his parents, when he was accepted as a full son of Abraham and recognized as a full member of the Jewish Community  It was on the eight day, the text tells us. The church historically saw a strong connection between the sacramental rite and baptism. The books say that God replaced a bloody sacrament like circumcision (also imaged by the blood of the cross) with an un-bloody one that makes a child a full member of the Christian Community.  Notably, historically children were baptized on the eighth day and many baptismal fonts have eight sides.  All of this is to remind us of the connected-ness of the Hebrew tradition and the Christian tradition intersecting.

Jesus came in God's time. In the letter to the Church at Galatia Paul wrote: "When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman born under the law in order to redeem those who were under the law so that we might receive the adoption and children.  And because you are children God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying "Abba! Father" So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God. (4:4-7)

Jesus came to save the oppressed and the oppressor alike.  You may have noticed that the first reading is that of the Aaronic blessing, given by God of Aaron and his sons.  God says in this passage: So shall I put my Name upon the Israelites and I will bless them. (Numbers 6:27)  So God has done with us.  When we receive the gift of God's salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord, we are given a new name: Christian.  So God has put the Name of Jesus upon us and has come to live within us.

On this day we remember that we are God's kids.  God has exalted our brother Jesus as Messiah/Christ.  Our tradition teaches us to bow our heads when the Name Jesus is used in worship or read in the lessons.  As a former Baptist Christian, this was a custom that impressed me profoundly.  In the Episcopal tradition, what we do with our bodies is supposed to be a reflection of what is going on in our hearts. This morning we celebrate who Jesus is and also rejoice that we have been privileged to share that Name above all names.  In John's letters we read: Beloved now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed we hall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. (I Jn. 3:2) Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit into our hearts to enable us to believe and to call Jesus Father, Our Father.  That my sisters and brothers in Jesus is what is in our names by the  greater Name Jesus.  Today, we celebrate remembering that we are God's children bought by Christ Jesus who loves us with an everlasting love. AMEN