Archives: Epiphany

John the Baptist, Total Rockstar

The older I get, the more I admire John the Baptist.

He, like Mary and a few other people in the Bible, are all the more remarkable for the fact that they at times achieved Jesus-like moments of spiritual realization, while being fully human themselves.

And yet their moments of humanity, where they clearly can’t keep up with Jesus, make them all the more endearing.

Stop for a moment and consider this incident with John in our gospel today.

This is the culmination of his ministry—proclaiming to the world that Jesus is the Lamb of God.

He went through all the years in the desert, years one assumes were necessary to understand the message he was to deliver.

Then he baptized Jesus—what a pinnacle of joy! He has prepared the way for the Lord, and now announces him to the world.

But then it’s all over in the space of a few seconds.

“The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.”

Just like that, end of story.

John is no longer in the picture.

His disciples have just abandoned him to follow Jesus.

John’s ministry is over in the space of ten seconds, in one conversation.

John is no longer important.

He’s no longer necessary.

He has lost his job, his friends, and his purpose.

And it’s only downhill from there. He’ll be in jail before long.

What kind of reward is that for his faithfulness?

But this is what makes John the Baptist so remarkable, and so worthy of our admiration and emulation.

This is what led Jesus to say, “Among those born of women, not one is greater than John.”

John, somehow, by virtue of some divine experience, was able to let everything go so that Jesus’ mission was accomplished.

John let go everything and everyone he loved, giving them all freely to Jesus, leaving him with nothing.

How did he do it? Continue reading

The Great Pattern, Or, There Can Be No Disaster

It’s rather an ignominious start to Jesus’ ministry, but you have to read past the end of our gospel lesson to realize that.

When the curtain closes on our passage from Matthew 3 today, it’s a beautiful happy ending.

John baptizes Jesus “to fulfill all righteousness,” God declares him the beloved with whom God is well pleased, and end scene.

Sunlight, water, voices from heaven, the devoted John and the interested crowd—it’s a perfect set-up.

This is the debut of the Lamb of God on the world stage.

What’s he going to do next?

What intriguing sermon or salvific healing or jaw-dropping miracle will he do to kick off his earthly work?

Well, if you take a look at Matthew 4, you’re probably going to be disappointed.

The last sentence of Matthew 3, which we read this morning, is, “when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.'”

And the first sentence of Matthew 4, which we did not read this morning, says, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.”

Ouch.

That’s the climax of the start of Jesus’ earthly ministry? Continue reading

Are We Anglican?

On January 15, 2016, the Anglican Primates gathered in Canterbury and by a majority vote comprehensively sanctioned the Episcopal Church because of our actions in 2015 approving same-sex marriage.

They said in their statement: “Recent developments in The Episcopal Church with respect to a change in their Canon on marriage represent a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of our Provinces on the doctrine of marriage… Such actions further impair our communion and create a deeper mistrust between us. This results in significant distance between us… given the seriousness of these matters we formally acknowledge this distance by requiring that for a period of three years The Episcopal Church no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.”

That’s pretty heavy duty stuff.

We’ve been told to sit out and stay at home for three years due to our stance for love and justice.

It’s painful to think that we’ve been separated from the Communion that birthed us, with whom we’ve been in fellowship these hundreds of years.

It hurts to think that Thomas Cranmer’s church no longer considers us worthy of being at the table of the Councils of the Church with them.

This has been building since Bishop Gene Robinson, our first openly gay bishop, was consecrated in 2003, but having weathered the storms of controversy for the last thirteen years without breaking up, I for one never thought they’d actually kick us out.

And they didn’t. We’re not exactly kicked out.

But we’re definitely not really in either. Continue reading

Saying Goodbye

It’s easy to get caught up in the supernatural fireworks of our stories today from 2 Kings and Mark.

People are flying around in the air, there are clouds and lightning and chariots of fire and prophets appearing and disappearing—it’s very Hollywood.

But the truth is that these stories are really about human relationships, and they have a lot to teach us about God and ourselves.

The story of Elijah’s departure from earth, taken up to heaven as Elisha watches, is incredibly poignant, partly because of the events leading up to it.

This is a long and drawn out departure.

They travel together from Gilgal to Bethel to Jericho to the banks of the Jordan River—all powerfully symbolic locations for the people of Israel, and probably places Elijah and Elisha had traveled together to many times before in their prophetic partnership.

They weren’t alone.

The company of the other prophets was with them, and they kept asking Elisha over and over again, “Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?”

And Elisha replies, “Yes, I know. Keep silent.”

Elisha doesn’t want to hear it, hates the truth he has to admit that his beloved teacher and friend is about to leave him forever.

We don’t know what the tone of the company of prophets was.

They could have been mocking Elisha, taunting him about his pain.

Or they could simply have been trying to get through to a friend, seeing that he was in denial about what was coming and trying to prepare him for reality.

This gets to the heart of the human truth of this story: it is so hard to say goodbye to someone we love. Continue reading

Take a Deep Breath of God

What is the best thing you’ve ever done?

What is the moment in your life when everything you ever wanted came together with every ability you have and it just clicked?

For some people it might be the moment of giving birth, or the moment of making or accepting a marriage proposal.

Others might remember an ostensibly smaller moment that ended up having great impact, like helping a stranger who became a best friend, or making an apology and saving a relationship.

In the strange mix of hectic confusion and dull monotony that swirls through our days, we live for those moments when we accidentally step into the center of God’s will.

Today’s gospel holds just such an important moment for the disciples.

Jesus is still very new to them and they’re not sure if they’re witnessing a talented charlatan or a prophet sent from God.

They left their jobs and their homes under the strange power of his invitation, and they have witnessed a demon being driven out of a man in the synagogue.

In what will possibly be their last chance to turn back, they return to Simon Peter’s house because his wife’s mother is ill.

No doubt some of their family members are hoping they will see reason and go back to their fishing boats.

No doubt some of the disciples themselves are thinking, well, this was an interesting week, but it’s time to go back to reality. Continue reading

Things We Don’t Talk About: Jesus and Mental Illness

Today is Superbowl Sunday, that festival of all the sacred American traditions: football, junk food, and most of all, commercials.

If you think of the Superbowl as a high holy day of secular American culture, you will notice that people are much more demonstrative at this ritual than they are in most churches.

Even stoic, polite Episcopalians lose their inhibitions when their favorite team is down to 4th and goal with one minute to go.

Nor am I innocent of devotion to this American religion. I may be a priest of the Episcopal church first, but second, I love football.

I mean, I really love football, in the most undignified way possible.

I used not to care about sports at all, and then once I got to college and had a big state university team to root for, I started to get interested. Four years of college plus three of graduate school transformed me into a rabid fan–win or lose, rain or snow, you’ll find me in the stands for a home game and in front of the T.V. for any team I can watch.

I have to watch myself or I’ll be one of those crazies who paint their stomachs and scream like banshees into the camera on the front row of the stands.

What makes people act so crazy at sports events?

And why do we find this type of behavior perfectly normal and acceptable in this particular context?

Anyone who painted their stomach and screamed random slogans at church or in the office or at the grocery store would be thought to be insane.

And we Americans do not do well with insanity.

You can have almost any medical problem in the world and still be taken seriously and treated like a human being, except for mental illness.

Why is that? Continue reading

Seeing God by Letting God See Us

We often think of “Bible times” being so drastically different from our own.

We imagine that people walked around in a world where miracles and wonders happened left, right and center.

You’re walking down the street and boom! There’s the parting of the Red Sea, there’s a coat of many colors, there’s a kid slaying a giant.

But the fact of the matter is, most folks in the ancient near East, and even most of the big heroes of the Bible, lived lives very much like our own.

They had to pay the rent on time, they had to get food on the table, maybe they didn’t like their bosses and they gossiped about their neighbors.

There weren’t miracles and revelations dropping out of the sky at all hours of the day.

Our reading from 1 Samuel today says so: “The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.”

That was true in the literal sense, but oh, what a richer and deeper resonance that can have for us as individuals and us as a church.

Do you feel like the word of the Lord is rare in your life? Continue reading

The Transfiguration: Moses’ and Elijah’s Side of the Story

I love it when God laughs at me, not in a mean way, but in a “you are adorable and I must tease you” way.

I think that happened this week when I drew the Transfiguration as my preaching scripture.

I am not a fan of fluffy miracles such as the Transfiguration and the Ascension.

I’m not really into the scenes in the gospel when Jesus flies through the air with lights and fireworks and stuff.

I prefer him to walk either on the ground or on water, and work with concrete things such as bread or fish or mud.

But no such luck, Jesus really went big this Sunday in the Gospel of Matthew, and it appears to be an important part of the story because it’s in the Gospels of Mark and Luke as well.  Thomas Aquinas thought it was the greatest miracle in the Bible, so I guess maybe we should look into it.

If you’re like me, you definitely identify with Peter in this story.

He’s walking along with his friends James, John, and Jesus when this totally crazy thing happens. Continue reading

Mercy Wins: The Hardest Teaching

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

I don’t know about you, but those words strike fear into my heart every time I read them.

Be perfect? And not just perfect, but as perfect as God the Father? Has Jesus met us? How could he ask this of us?

It’s an incredibly high standard, at the end of a long list of standards, one more difficult to achieve than the next.

Do not resist an evildoer. Turn the other cheek. If someone sues you for your coat, give them your cloak as well. Go the extra mile. Give to everyone who begs or borrows. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

And last and seemingly least attainable, be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Jesus always seems so loving and gentle, but here he seems to morph into the strictest taskmaster possible, demanding something of us we can never achieve.

It is very easy to go wrong with this passage and get ourselves tied up in knots. Continue reading

Salt and Light

Salt and light.

That is what Jesus calls us today, what Jesus calls us to be today, so we want to spend some time exploring what he’s asking of us.

Being called the light of the world is suitably flattering and the symbolism makes immediate sense.

Being called the salt of the earth, well, that one takes some doing to figure out what Jesus might have been talking about.

We notice that Jesus seems to be teaching in this passage about our role in society, how we as Christians impact the larger human family.

He calls us not just salt and light for ourselves, or salt and light of the church, but “salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.”

He’s teaching us that our commitment to discipleship is important for way more than just our own personal spirituality. Continue reading

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