Sermon by Deacon Maggie:
2 Epiphany January 19, 2019 St John’s Franklin
On this cold, wet, icy morning, this may seem a tad crazy to say…but I confess I love this time of year, at least this part of our church year, Epiphany… Epiphany is a time of revelation… Jesus was and is revealed to us… it is a revelation of the very heart of God. And Epiphany is an invitation… an invitation to us… an ongoing and open invitation, to see into the hearts and minds of God’s beloved, those around us, and be seen, to know and be known…it is, at the same time, deeply personal and a time of opening our hearts and our minds… to those we love deeply, to those we known in our daily lives and work, and those in our communities that we share this life with…to those close by and those far away. Epiphany is a time of revelation, but it is also a time, an opportunity for renewal… We get to stop…take a deep breath, and begin…again, anew.
The prophet Isaiah describes God’s plan, God’s way of forming us for His purpose…
The Lord called me before I was born,
while I was in my mother's womb he named me.
He made my mouth like a sharp sword,
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow,
in his quiver he hid me away.
We are formed, shaped by God’s love in the womb, uniquely shaped… for a purpose. We are filled and shaped with God-given gifts and talents and passions… some instantly clear, but some, quietly waiting to be known, discovered, lived into. And there are no limits. Oh, we all have our own limitations to be sure…some physical, some emotional… some obvious and some hidden away. But in God’s vision, we have no limits… Some of these gifts we have been given are tucked away, hidden… but make no mistake… they are limitless, because of the impact they can have on others. And then, when the time is right, in small and subtle and sometimes in enormous ways, those gifts become known to us, and amazing things can and do happen.
This realization can be a heady thing…it can make us feel special, set aside, better than… and it’s important to remember… we are part of something so much bigger than ourselves. It’s not just us…. All God’s people… are given limitless potential. May we never forget where these gifts come from and to whom we owe everything. It is that Spirit that gives us the power to do justice and live out the dream.
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to restore the survivors of Israel;
I will give you as a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
Those gifts, that salvation, is meant for all of us…
I have another confession. This one a bit more troubling…With all that is going on in the world today, I’ve been wondering…why? Here in our own country and around the world, big issues surround us: on every side, political ploys for personal gain, the abuse of those trying to flee oppression… but so much more…
Climate change, forever altering natural habitats and slowly eliminating some of God’s beloved creatures. Raging fires destroying whole populations of animals and acres of God’s green, life-sustaining earth. Earthquakes wiping out whole communities. Gun violence that is raging out of control and has sadly reached our youngest most vulnerable children. And countless other issues confront us every day. It can be exhausting and disheartening to say the least. I have to ask “What is going on??” Are we at the point that we are being shaken out of complacency, forced to look around and see that the world we live in, love in, is being turned upside down? Nearly unimaginable things are happening all around us, nearly every day. It feels like a great upheaval to me… We may feel humbled, angry, a bit afraid… we may need reassurance…
What are we supposed to do? How are we supposed to react? It can feel overwhelming.
In the midst of all this, I remember a phrase I like al lot… “No one can do everything but everyone can do something. And together we can change the world”. And so we look into our hearts, and pray for the answer to the prayer… “What is my part in this? How can I be part of the healing?” Steven Charleston, Native American Elder and retired Bishop of Alaska puts it this way… “Today is the day of salvation. I cannot tell you how often that single statement has gotten me through difficult times. Spiritually speaking, it is a reset button. Whatever is wrong, whatever is tied up in a knot in your life, today is the day for a new beginning. Today you start again, in a new direction, toward a different goal.” Bono, co-founder of One.org and lead singer of Ireland’s U2, perhaps the greatest rock band of all time, puts it this way… “Get out of your own way.”
Yesterday I was very blessed… I saw a shining example of some of God’s beloved, stepping up. I got to go to All Saints Church in Attleboro Ma, for one of their monthly “One Family” gatherings. It’s a deanery program, with five churches in our deanery committing two Saturdays a year, sponsoring a gathering of food and fellowship… but that does not come near to describing it. Representatives from all parishes gather to set up, prepare the food, and host… Matt and Jane and Abby and Heather and Nancy and Chris represented pure love from St John’s. There are offerings of breakfast, a chance to sit with your family and get to know others, and enjoy a meal. When you arrive, you are greeted, given a nametag, and if needed, a bag of essential items…things we all need everyday… The bars of soap we collect are part of those bags. There are crafts and coloring, available for young and young at heart… there is an offering of something needed- maybe warm coats and hats… today it was books.. lovely donated kids books and classics. I met representatives from other parishes in our deanery, who spoke to me about how meaningful this ministry is to them personally and to their parish. And I got to meet Ryan, a young man from Wrentham who comes every month, to play games with the young kids. Today it was Jenga, a game of stacking blocks… I mentioned to him that while he offers fun and distraction, he also teaches mutual respect, friendly competition and risk-taking… important skills for living this life. As I thanked him, he blushed a little and said he loves it… This was a room filled with smiles and chatter and fun… And you can’t put a price on that. And when it was over, everyone helped clean up and put away tables and chairs and bid each other farewell… In this simple place, a few of God’s beloved came together and are changing this little corner of the world. I can’t wait to go back…
It reminded me that tomorrow we honor Martin Luther King Jr… a man who got it, on a deeply personal and faith-inspired level. I was touched as a young child by the words and actions of this man… gone much too soon… To watch his courage, to lead his people in a time of turmoil and oppression, and make such a difference, was inspiring, and we are left with his legacy and some pretty profound words…
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
"The time is always right to do right."
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
How do we live out Dr. King's dream in our 21st century reality? How do we advance the cause of justice in a very unjust world? How do we erect a wall against intolerance, abuse, inequality, and hatred? I think we continue to do the small but enormous things we do here so well… we care about ourselves, we care about each other, we care about those outside our doors…no exception. We understand that to follow means commitment…and sacrifice. We accept that we will not always understand… but we have faith. We understand that telling (showing) others about faith is essential part of faith. We accept our obligation to try to be a way of light in a sometimes dark world. We come together as a community in love and fellowship, in faith and commitment.
And we continually ask ourselves…
What is God calling us to, calling me to? Where in your life have you been aware of the call? How lucky we are when we get to feel and understand our passions, know them for what they are… have enough faith to follow on the path they lead and do what we are meant to do…
Just as Jesus called John and Andrew and Peter and all his disciples, just as throughout history he continues to call, he also calls us. And we exercise our free will, and we can choose to abide with Him, and can become a light in the world, and shine with Christ’s radiance.
In the words of Martin Luther King…
“When you come to the point that
you look in the face of every person and
see deep down within what religion calls
“the image of God,” you begin to love in
spite of. No matter what the person does,
you see God’s image there.”
—Martin Luther King, Jr