Epiphany Explorations

By Rev. Barbara Langton  on Feb 6, 2011

( Carol in regular print/Barbara in bold print)

Greetings, friends in Christ. To the church of God in Kimberley, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ – their Lord and ours: Grace and peace to you from God, our creator, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

That’s a different way to open the reflection time. Did you make up those words?

Well, not really. I just changed one of them. This was how Paul started most of his letters to the churches – whether it be in Corinth, Ephesus, Galatia, Philippi and the rest. You get the point. When he greeted the churches, whether he had something wonderful to say to them or something that they needed to hear, but would rather not hear, he reminded them that they gathered together in community by the grace of Christ and in the spirit of the living God.

So that’s my sermon for today. What’s your part in this reflection?

I was thinking that since I’ve been away for a while, I might give you a travelogue – a reflection on where I have been.

I noticed that you weren’t here for a time, but I didn’t know that you had gone somewhere exotic. I thought you just went to Victoria.

You’re right, Carol. Victoria it was. You might remember that I go to Victoria most Januarys.

I supposed that’s because you want to get out of the snow and into the flowers.

Well, not really, although I did enjoy seeing the snowdrops and even the beginning of some daffodil leaves poking up from the soil.

Wait a minute. Haven’t you been going to Victoria each January for something better than the flowers?

Right again. For the past eight years, I have gone to First Metropolitan United Church for an event called Epiphany Explorations.

Oh yes, now it all comes back to me. You go with people from across Canada and across the church to hear different speakers and share some new (or old) ideas. Am I right.

Right the third time.  About 500 of us come together to sing, to worship, to listen, to listen, to listen…. And sometimes even to talk.

This year we heard some wonderful things from people like Flora McDonald, Arthur Black, Phillip Yancey, Anthony Robinson, Marty Haugen, Douglas Todd, Raheem Raza, and Naomi Tutu.

Slow down a minute, will you? I know some of those names, but for the life of me, I can’t figure out what they all have in common.

That one’s easy to answer. They don’t really have anything in common. They are all just interesting speakers, and the committee who organizes Epiphany Explorations invited them to come and share something in their life that has caught their attention just now.

Wait a minute again. If you noticed the bulletin, you will see that we’re still in the season of Epiphany, and maybe we need a quick update about what ‘Epiphany’ means.  I think I can do that!

An epiphany is ‘a sudden manifestation of the essence or meaning of something’ or ‘a comprehension or perception of reality by means of a sudden intuitive realization’.

Is there any chance you could say that in a way that we mortals could understand?

I could indeed. An epiphany is an ‘aha’ moment, when you learn, in a flash, something new about yourself or the world or your faith. Remember the Magi, the Wise Men? They were going to see the baby Jesus, and King Herod had asked them to come back after they had visited the child. Somehow they knew that they needed to go home ‘by another way’, not to Herod.

Somehow they just knew. And that’s what the speakers at Epiphany Explorations were invited to tell us about – something that they have just learned, or knew all along and have just re-learned.

Today’s gospel reading is part of Jesus’ teachings we call ‘the sermon on the mount’. Last week, we heard the first 11 verses, often called the Beatitudes, blessings. Those of you who were here might remember Jeff talking about blessings and God’s presence being a blessing in the midst of each moment of our lives.

Today we heard about salt and light.

We talk about salt a lot these days – especially if we’re trying to reduce the amount of sodium that we take in each day.

We are also talking about light – or at least light bulbs – these days. We need light, but we want to find the best way to get it during the hours of darkness with the least impact on our environment.

Did you talk about salt and light at Epiphany Explorations?

No, but we did talk lots about being the salt of the earth and being light for our world. One of the speakers was Tony Robinson. He lives in Seattle and is in ministry at Plymouth United Church of Christ in downtown Seattle. He leaves his church a lot in order to speak at other churches. On one trip, he was in Brooklyn, New York, at Plymouth Church.

Isn’t that the church where Henry Ward Beecher was minister? I remember reading something about him in connection with the Underground Railway, moving black slaves out of the States into Canada.

Good point. He was their first minister in 1847. The congregation prided itself on its history. For more than a hundred years they prided themselves on their history. Look at what we did.

When Tony was there a few years ago, he arrived at the church a few hours early and met a member of the congregation – a big black man – who offered to show him around their church. He told Tony that their church had recently begun to grow – just a little, but nevertheless grow.

How did they do that? Maybe we could learn something from their experience.

Maybe we can. That big black man told Tony “Our pastor got us studying the Bible and he can summarize it in 6 words’.

I can almost see Tony rolling his eyes. How can anyone possibly summarize this whole big Bible in 6 words.

‘Well, this one did,’ said Tony’s guide. Here it is:  I am God, and you’re not!’  Then he added , ‘ and WE thought it was all about US.’

All these years, we thought we were the ones that made things happen.

I’ll bet Tony was caught unawares by that insight – in fact, maybe he had an ‘aha’ moment.

He did indeed. He talked some about prayer, under his theme getting God at the centre of the church. One phrase that caught my attention was ‘ In the church, whenever we are doing something, the first question to ask is What is God doing?  It’s not What are we doing? But What is God doing?  He also said something about the outreach churches do. Whenever we are involved in ‘mission’ in our communities, we need to ask three important questions and be able to answer them all:

  1. What did you give?
  2. What did you receive?
  3. Where is God in the experience?

I think we need to ponder those questions for a time.  Maybe we could also use them after church each Sunday. I’d love to see the answers to those questions:

  1. In worship today, what did you give?
  2. In worship today, what did you receive?
  3. In worship today, where was God in the experience?

Good idea, Carol.  In good United Church fashion, we’ll pass it on to the Worship Committee…

You said Tony wasn’t the only speaker. Did anyone else make you have an ‘aha’ moment?

Yes. Phillip Yancey did. He’s a journalist and author. He’s of the more conservative persuasion, and sometimes we tend to dismiss conservative Christian.

I think we need to listen more carefully. He said some things about prayer that were ‘aha’ moments.

He defined prayer as a time when we invite God into our lives and when we invite ourselves into God’s life.

Nice words, I thought, but what do they mean?  So he told us what he meant by those words. He told us a story.

Have you ever been in the grocery store – it has to be a big grocery store with an express lane.

You might recognize yourself in Phillip’s story, then.

Phillip was in the grocery store in the express lane. He had four items – 4 items. The sign said, Express lane – 10 items or less. The woman in front of him had 13 items. He counted each one of them, and here she was in the Express Lane with 13 items, and he was getting more and more angry. What’s she doing in this line? Can’t she read? Isn’t my time valuable? Who does she think she is?

And then he thought about his words on prayer. Prayer is about inviting God into my life and inviting myself into God’s life. Is God in that Express Lane? Where is God in that Express Lane? Maybe God is telling me to chill out, calm down, quit the internal chatter that is stopping me from being a light to the world, in this Express Lane.

What did I give? What did I receive? Where is God in the experience?

That’s like asking, even in the grocery line, if I am salt for the world, or have I lost my saltiness – my zest for life and faith, my desire to live, as the prophet Micah said: to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God, even in the grocery line?

Even in the grocery line. The speakers that are invited to Epiphany Explorations are never given a theme to follow. They are each invited to speak about something that is deal to their hearts. Naomi Tutu, daughter of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, might well have been thinking of that Express Lane lineup as well. Her theme was UBUNTU.

I must admit that I’ve never heard that word before. Is it English?

No, it’s from South Africa, or at least Africa. It means personhood or humanity, but with a special twist. Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, in 2008, that ubuntu means that we cannot exist as individuals in isolation. You are who you are because of what you have learned to be through other human beings. What you do affects the whole world. When you do well, it spreads out and it becomes something for the whole of humanity. Ubuntu.

Then it also means that when you do something that is against one person, it becomes something that is against all of humanity.

The other thing that caught my attention from what Naomi said was

Her comment that ubuntu means that a person is well aware of his or her connection to others; but that it is not necessarily about what we Do with or to others, but how we SEE others.

She echoed Jesus’ words about loving our enemy – you have to respect the humanity of everyone, even those with whom you are in conflict. Then she said, “You can’t do that unless you let that person tell you who he is, who she is.

She spoke of watching the news recently. The reporter was interviewing the mother of a Palestinian suicide bomber and asked how she felt about her son. “I’m so proud of him,” she said.

Proud that he killed himself and many more with him.

She said that she cannot imagine any mother or father holding their son or daughter for the very first time and saying “My hope for my child is that he or she will grow up to be a suicide bomber.” So what happened between the time that baby was born and the time he blew himself up?  Do we ever ask that question?

Or do we just decide their story without asking them to tell their story?

I heard about a website atfp.org – adopt a terrorist for prayer.

I wonder what would happen if every Christian in the world – or maybe even just a few Christians in the world took a chance to adopt a terrorist and pray for that person; or if every member of Kimberley United Church went to the local Food Bank and adopted one family and prayed for them. I wonder.  It would be like we are shining the light of Christ in this place in this way.

I think you are right. We would have to invite God to be part of the circle and invite ourselves to listen for God’s advice. Listen, not always talk.

So I suggest we just listen for few minutes as Terry plays some reflective music. Invite God into your world in this quiet, and invite yourself into God’s world.

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