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?

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