Today we celebrate the 3rd Sunday of the Epiphany of Jesus Christ. Epiphany means revelation, and we are entering into the season of the church year known as Epiphany, and Epiphany will lead us to the season of Lent, and Lent will prepare us for Easter, and Easter will prepare us for Pentecost, and after a long summer of the season of Pentecost or also known as Common Time, we begin the church calendar all over again with Advent, and then Christmas and again we come to Epiphany.
Epiphany means revelation, an encounter of the divine kind, kind of like running into a divine wall. It reminds me of a humorous time in my life, and I know Naomi will confirm, I was 20 years old at the time that I was so spiritual I was no earthly good. You’ve heard of that expression, right, that someone is so spiritual that they are just no earthly good? I’m the person this expression was coined after. Naomi and I were either engaged or in the process of becoming engaged, I really can’t remember. But, Naomi would ask me why I wanted to marry here. My response was “I really don’t have a choice. It’s like running into a brick wall. God’s telling me to do this”. Now, that’s the stupidest thing a person can tell his fiance. That’s definitely not the most romantic thing you can tell the person you are going to marry. There was another expression I had when I started having second thoughts about our engagement. Naomi reminded me of this later. “I don’t know, it’s like I’m at the checkout counter of the drugstore and there’s this jar of candy and I just want to make sure I get the right piece of candy, because once you put it in your mouth you can’t put it back and get another one”. Now that was one of the most unromantic things to say too. I have no idea why she married me. The expression “so spiritual that you are no earthly good” was named after me. I’m the reason that phrase was coined.
I think sometimes revelations or epiphanies are okay, but they must be checked out. There is a scripture I like, and it goes like this: “To the Law and to the testimony. If it does not agree with this it is because they have no light in them”. (Isaiah 8:20) In other words you may come into this church and say you have a prophetic ministry of the end times; and if you do, hopefully we will recognize that ministry and receive it. In the Episcopal Church we have a discernment process, and this is a Biblical concept that we are the Body of Christ, and we are all individual parts that are linked together, and if the community is linked together and does not recognize that ministry, maybe it’s not what The Holy Spirit has in mind at this time. It does not mean that you don’t have that ministry, but maybe at this time it’s just not right. Or maybe you are just barking up the wrong tree. Maybe there’s another tree to bark up that you haven’t found yet.
I remember at the Welcome Church in Philadelphia one Sunday afternoon, there was a lady with a few followers that showed up for the Eucharist service in the park, and she had clericals on, a black clerical shirt and a collar. I just figured she was either Episcopal, Lutheran or some other faith group. I knew she wasn’t a Roman Catholic priest. So, after the service I asked her what faith tradition she was part of, and she said: “Oh, I’m self-ordained. I’m not part of any denomination or church group.” Well that gave me pause, as it should. What that means is that she has no one to be held accountable to; no-one she answers to, a very dangerous thing for her followers. There is no biblical or recognized Christian tradition that agrees with this method of ministry. You can’t just hang up your shingle on the street that says: “Bishop David”. I know it’s done, but not in this church.
During Epiphany we prepare our hearts for Lent. It’s a time to enjoy the awesomeness of Christ. It’s a time to enjoy the fact that Christ has come to live among us, to dwell among us. (John 1:14) Yes it does prepare us for Lent, and Lent prepares us for Easter. But, every time we come together on Sunday to worship we celebrate the birth, the life, the death, the resurrection, Pentecost, the indwelling of the Spirit in the Church and the Hope of the Second Coming of Christ, the Parousi. That’s what the Eucharist table is all about.
In the Episcopal Church the primary focus of our service is the altar, not the sermon. It’s not that I don’t think the sermon is important. I do think it’s important, and I’m pretty careful about what is said and who is speaking from this pulpit. When we leave the Eucharist table we are like pieces of the broken bread and we are sent out to share that bread with those outside of this church building, the good news that Jesus Christ is born, Jesus Christ has died, but Christ will come again. It is an Epiphany about the living Word of God, not just black ink on white paper.
Christ is with us, Christ has come, and we have experienced that coming, Christ has died, and Christ will come again. The good news is that the spirit is with us, and the presence of Christ is in the church. We share the Epiphany of Christ. We are commissioned to go into all the world and preach the gospel, to go into the highways and byways with this Epiphany message that Christ has come. Open your minds, open your hearts, open your spiritual eyes and allow the Spirit to transform you and give you the Epiphany, the revelation that Christ is here among us and that we recognize Him in our midst. Alleluia!