The First Sunday After The Epiphany
January 13, 2019
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
One of the things that I enjoy a great deal is that before every Sunday that I preach there’s always a Wednesday morning Bible study. And at this Wednesday morning Bible study, people like to ask us questions and it’s a little bit like a moment of playing stump the chump, like how many questions can you ask. And this week, there was a series of questions that came my way. And it was where do I see God? Do I see God when I read the Bible? Do I see God when I pray? Do I see God when I make a pastoral visit? Do I see God when I am at worship and in the community or at service working in the community around us? And my answer was that I have increasingly had the experience of seeing God everywhere.
And that can sound a little bit like a cop out, right? That can sound like the kind of thing you might hear somebody say if they were spiritual but not religious. But I really do mean that answer. I have begun to see God everywhere. And I see God not simply as a kind of revelation, not simply an epiphany, a revelation from above. I have begun in my life to see God manifest as we read in our hymn that we sang right before the service, manifest. By that I mean that God is present in a new way, in a powerful way, in an unexpected way. In a way that’s both clear and obvious but also powerfully present.
And that is the good news of Christianity that God has become manifested to us in Jesus Christ. And so to see God everywhere is really to go over the grain of seeing Christ everywhere, seeing Jesus in every face, seeing God at work in every situation, no matter how dark, no matter how disturbing, no matter how challenging, seeing God at work. But also sometimes being surprised by grace in a powerful way. Sometimes just taken out of yourself by the moment that you had a revelation, a manifestation of God in the place that you never expected to see it.
And something like that happened to me a couple of months ago. I work out at a local gym and I go there because it’s only two stop lights away from where I live. And if there were more than two stop lights, I wouldn’t work out as much. And I seem to go there at a certain time and place during the week and I’ve started to have these companions in the locker room, people who are working out at the same time and place. And one of them is this older man, he’s in his 70s and he seems to enjoy starting a conversation with me as soon as he gets nude. He like waits. It’s like there’s this awkward pause while he’s taking off his clothes and then as soon as he has not a stitch on, he decides it’s time to converse.
He has no shame. It’s like the innocence. And when I look at him, I see a kind of weird inversion of that saying you know where they say that babies all look like old men? This man is a living example of the fact that older men start to look a little bit like babies as they get older. Except they’re much larger. A lot more surface area. And so he turned to me and he said – we had not uttered a word to each other before that. And he turned to me and he said, “You know what?” “What?” “My wife is a dancer.” “Really? Where does she dance?” “We travel to competitions everywhere, we’ve been to Scranton and Akron and Pittsburgh and Chicago.”
I said, “Really? Is it ballroom dancing?” “Yes.” I said, “Are you her partner?” “Oh no, she has a partner, I just go and set things up and watch.” I said, “That’s lovely.” The next week at the same time and place, after he had shed the last sweat sock and was standing as if he was born that day, he turns to me and he says, “You know what?” “What?” “My wife’s a dancer.” And he went through the entire itinerary. And so the third week we’re there and I decided I would risk a little humor because that seemed like a good idea for some reason. I waited until he was completely nude and then I turned to him and I said, “You look like you date a dancer.” And he was taken aback for a second and then he turned and he smiled and he said, “I told you already, didn’t I?” And I said, “Yes. But it’s a beautiful thing that that’s the first thing you tell me about yourself.”
And there was this moment over the past couple of months that this man has become my teacher. In 1934, Teilhard de Chardin published a very controversial essay on the future of Christianity. And he wrote that there was this transition that needs to take place from a life of passion to the life of the spirit. And the key in life and the world was all waiting for this transition to occur between passion and spirit. And he writes this in that essay, “The day will come when after harnessing the ether, the winds, the tides, gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”
And as I thought about this man next to me at the gym and the way that he led with the love he had for his wife, I saw somebody who is experiencing a little bit of diminishment in his life and that diminishment became an opportunity for God to bring spirit out of passion. And that spirit was love. So this man became my teacher. And as I thought about what he wanted to say, I kind of imagined myself what I would do. I imagined what I could do that could mirror the love that he had for his wife. And part of me wants to say to you today do you know something, my wife is a singer. She had a following in Canada. She did a CD that was directed by a musical director that worked with Chaka Khan. And once a year she returns to a crowd of people that wait every year to hear her sing. It’s true. But that wasn’t quite what I heard when the man was speaking. He was manifesting love. It wasn’t just revealing something.
And so the other night in the middle of the night, I was in a sound sleep and all the sudden Claire turned to me and she said, “I am sweating like crazy and I’m so hot.” And I decided in that moment that I would change the script of our married lives. Instead of me receiving the nurture, I would get up and nurture her. So I immediately got up and I found this cotton blanket that was thin that I always used when I get hot in the middle of the night, I put on this cotton blanket, usually after consuming vast quantities of red meat, sometime around 3:00 AM I start to get the meat sweats, you know? And so I took my favorite cotton blanket and I pulled the comforter off of Claire and I threw the cotton blanket on her and she said, “What got into you?” And then she fell asleep. I’m making this man my teacher. Now she knows.
Years ago, I was charged with preparing a young woman for baptism. She was a graduate student and she came out of nowhere and wanted to be baptized. And the rector did not know what to do with her so he gave her to me and so I asked her, “Why do you want to be baptized?” And she said that she had lost her fiancé while she was doing some research in Russia and she was weeping in a little apartment in Moscow and she realized that she would never see him again, he had been killed tragically. And as she was weeping, she suddenly began to think about the love between them. And she realized that that love had been real and that love would be everlasting. And she realized that in order for her to see her fiancé again, she had to stake her life on that love being real.
And that moment in which she finally said that love was real, she suddenly realized that God was love. And that that love lay at the heart of the universe and so she was ready to own her faith and to be baptized. In our gospel today, Jesus is baptized and we celebrate that moment in which we will all be baptized with Christ, that Christ when he took on baptism took on our own death so that we might find in death resurrection, and you and I have been joined with Christ in his baptism so that we might be joined with him in his life. That is why today we will baptize people just as Christ himself was baptized 2000 years ago.
But the key to the passage today comes at the end of the gospel where God says through a revelation, “You are my beloved son.” That word beloved, that title beloved, that is the key to this gospel because God was suggesting and saying and conveying and manifesting that Christ is his beloved and that you and I who are joined with him are beloved too. Think a bit about that word beloved. It’s agapitos in the Greek. It doesn’t translate easily, it’s a little bit like the word benighted. It means to be surrounded with love. So when Christ was baptized, God gave an assurance, a kind of manifestation of God’s voice, a presence of God that said to Christ, you are surrounded with love, I will be with you though the fire will be around you, you will not be burnt.
And this was an iteration of the promise that God gave through the prophet Isaiah that we read earlier today, “Because you are precious in my sight and honored and I love you.” That promise of love is a promise of presence, is a manifestation of God. And so the good news of Christianity is that Christ is God’s beloved and you and I are beloved in Christ. You and I have been bound to Christ and that is the good news. And God delights on you and God delights to see you and to be part of you. And the key for us in epiphany is to become aware of these manifestations of love.
We’re called in our call for today, the prayer we began at the beginning of this service to see in this moment that we not only see ourselves as beloved but we are called to keep covenant with that love covenant that we have with God. And covenants are known by many things, but primarily through their durability. And to translate that into the language of love that you find in a marriage, it means not just forsaking all others, but it means being present to the other always. And the good news of Christianity is that God will always be present to you in Christ. And your job is to be present and fulfill that covenant always.
The great human rights activist and Episcopal priest Pauli Murray writes a poem that she calls Dinner for Three. This is what she writes, “ There were three who sat and drank of wine, on food and laughter they fed. They talked of worlds that hurtled by, yet of love not one word was said. But love was there. Ah, love was there. Brighter than candlelight, the brave, the tender, and the fair. For hosts to love that night.” This Epiphany season, become a host to love. Speak love into existence by doing something wonderful for somebody. Know yourself as beloved by God and so full of love that the world around you will see light shining from you. Lean into the invitations to love that come your way and I promise you, you will see God everywhere.