Tag Archives: epiphany

Epiphany Sermon

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Text: Matthew 2:1-12
Full Sermon Draft

Here is out Epiphany Vespers sermon which meditates on how coming to see God entails playing the fool. I didn’t record this one, sorry. But it is a short read…

Text: Matt 2:1-12
Matthew and Luke play tag-team in telling Jesus’ infancy. Luke narrates from the annunciation to the presentation in the temple roughly 30 days after Christmas and tells us they go back to Nazareth. Matthew tells us of How Joseph took Mary in, but if it weren’t for verse 1, Bethlehem might not enter his gospel. So Luke tags Matthew in to tell about the Magi. Probably a year or so later. We have an upper bound, Herod killed the children two and younger. So if we are trying to understand the story in good western linear fashion, I think that is how you harmonize the gospel. But that harmonizing might actually miss some of the tag team.

Trouble in the World

Just last Sunday I hoped to show how in one of the most amazing sentences of the Bible, “he was submissive to them” we see a picture of how God works on our wills. I said He abides. The love of God in action is that he abides with sinners who don’t get it. He abides until their hearts are open. That was from Luke and the Boy Jesus in the temple. The Epiphany reading is from Matthew and I think you have a tag-team presentation of how God abides.
The Magi, the wise men from the east, were sorcerers, astrologers or diviners. And in the OT these guys are “the emperor without clothes”. There are two comic routines with Magi. Moses beats them with the plagues as they can duplicate gnats. The great wisdom of these men can’t find gnats. The foolishness of Moses produces swarms. Daniel also gets in on making fun of Magi. They can’t tell Nebuchadnezzar his dream, and they fall all over trying to get out of the way. Likewise when Darius is presented with the “Handwriting on the wall” they can’t read it, but Daniel can. The foolish Daniel makes fools of the wise men who can’t read anything. There is a third minor episode when Balaam’s ass tells the Magi Balaam what he couldn’t see. When a Jew such as Matthew would say look, behold, Magi – everybody is ready for a joke.

Gospel in the Text

But Matthew doesn’t tell a joke. Matthew tells us God abides with them. If he had sent them an angel – like with Mary and Joseph – they would have worshipped it. So God used what they could know – star charts. The chief priests and scribes of the people know, but aren’t willing to go. These foolish Magi will get up and bring Kingly gifts at the word of the stars. So God abides.

And even with the treacherous Herod he abides. Something changes here in these Magi, because now the star is not a fixed one. They leave Herod’s place and the star comes back and it leads probably not to Bethlehem, but to Nazareth. The start becomes a morning star – an angel. And they – these Magi – after worshipping are warned in a dream. Now warned just like Joseph.

Gospel in the World

Epiphany is a celebration of seeing. So in that sense it is always a day of fools. To proclaim that now I see, now I get it is to say what an idiot I was. While Christmas is a season with White altar cloths and it is only 12 weeks long, Epiphany marks the change back to green and gives us 8 weeks. Epiphany is the Christian experience. We are always growing in what we see of God. If we are not willing to be the fool, we can’t follow the Christ. But Christ is willing to abide, with magi and with all who are willing to worship, who want to see. In Matthew, as Jesus is heading back to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday he meets two blind men. They are calling out and the crowd tries to get them to shut up. But Jesus asks them, “what do you want me to do for you?” And they reply, “we want to see”. And he touches them and immediately they are healed. God abides with those who want to see even if it means the crowds think you are fools. Amen.

Pastor’s Corner – Epiphany Stars – January Newsletter Article

Christmas is a short season, just twelve days. Many years not even two Sundays. Epiphany is a longer season. It starts usually in the middle of the Week on Epiphany proper with the Star and the Magi. (This year locally we will hold an Epiphany Vespers service, so if you find yourself with some extra-time Monday early evening, come on over and sing vespers with us. We’ll have cake afterward.) Epiphany starts with a bang and ends with a bang as well. The last Sunday of Epiphany is the Transfiguration a bright shining and leading star of a different sort. In between are eight Sundays, two months, where the altar cloths return to green. The stars fade, the surprising miracles and celebrations recede, and everyday life re-emerges. What that doesn’t mean is that God is not present or stops revealing himself. That is the core meaning of Epiphany, a revealing or a sighting of God. What the season captures is that we limited humans can’t take it all in at once. We also can’t live on the mountaintop, at least not yet. But we are called to follow.

One of my favorite bible verses is Genesis 28:16 which has Jacob blurting out “surely God is in this place and I did not know it.” It is a favorite because I think it captures our living experience in our modern world. It also captures the Spirit of Epiphany. I could say that we are taught a naked universe, and it would be true, but that is not the true source of our ignorance. Our ignorance of God starts out in ourselves and our sinful nature. We start out lost and estranged from God. We start out desiring our own way. It takes an Epiphany, a revelation of God, for us to see the larger reality of our world and our existence. For most that Epiphany is Baptism, but there are more dramatic ones. But just because we have such an Epiphany doesn’t mean that we like it, or follow it, or even know fully what it means. Jacob’s stated desire after his Epiphany was “so that I come again to my father’s house in peace.” Yet he didn’t turn around and go patch things up with Esau and the Father he and his mother had just conned. Jacob spends 14 years with Laban getting conned with Leah and then receiving Rachel. Only when that family situation becomes untenable does Jacob return and still in stark terror of Esau. Following the Epiphany was not Jacob’s strong suit.

Having an Epiphany is great, but the real task of an Epiphany is following. The Magi rejoiced and they followed the star. The disciples left the mount and returned to the plain and continued to follow Jesus. The Christian life is one of receiving the Epiphany and following. God is surely here. The Father’s providence continues over the seasons and the years. Christ is present with us in Word and Sacrament. He is present when we gather and goes with us when we go through the indwelling of His Spirit. God is surely in this place – our churches and our lives. The challenge of the Christian life is to see and receive and follow. Herod heard the report of the Magi along with the scribes. None of them followed. The Galilean and Judean crowds saw the miracles, but would each refuse to follow in their own way. The light continues to shine in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5), yet many yawn at the Christmas message and still more receive it and quickly turn away. The task of Epiphany is to learn to follow.

The stars of Epiphany are leading stars. Are you willing to follow where Epiphany shines?

Out of the Oven – King’s Cake after Epiphany Vespers

A couple of pictures can’t capture the smell though…

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What Lies Past Calvary’s Hill

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Biblical Text: Luke 9:28-36
Full Sermon Draft

This is the end of the season of Epiphany – Transfiguration Sunday. So, it is also the end of the series of sermons that have been looking at two questions: How do we see God and the derivative How do we know we’ve seen God?

The witness of the Bible and the church to that first question is really easy: we see God first in Christ but since we were not alive at the time of the incarnation we see God in the sacraments, the Lord’s Supper and baptism. We also see God in the Word, the words of absolution, the proclaimed word and the written word. But as we move from sacrament to word we start activating a second sense, and we start dealing just as much with that second question.

In the transfiguration, a visual miracle if there ever was one, the emphasis is not really on the eyes. Everything is about the Word and the ears. The voice says “listen to him”. Moses and Elijah are talking with him. In Luke the entire visual episode takes place “as he was praying” or as Jesus was talking to God. The visual fades while the Word is what provides both the content and the proof. It might take a visual miracle to get our attention, but that miracle is not the point. Seeing God is not the point. Trusting God’s Word is the point.

And that Word has two points. First, Christ has done all that is necessary. Second, the glory is not long here, but lies past Calvary’s Hill.

Side Note, one of the best Hymns I’ve been introduced to in a long time is for Transfiguration Sunday. It is #416 in the Lutheran Service Book, Swiftly Pass the Clouds of Glory. The title here is just crassly stolen from the hymn. LSB has beautifully matched it with a lilting and melancholy-ish tune called Love’s Light. I know I’ve said to other people that I should just stop preaching on Transfiguration and just sing this hymn twice. The lyrics follow…

Swiftly pass the clouds of glory, Heaven’s voice the dazzling light;
Moses and Elijah vanish; Christ alone commands the height!
Peter, James and John fall silent, Turning from the summit’s rise
Downward toward the shadowed valley Where their Lord has fixed His eyes.

Glimpsed and gone the revelation, They shall gain and keep its truth,
Not by building on the mountain any shrine or sacred booth,
But by following the savior through the valley to the cross
And by testing faith’s resilience through betrayal, pain and loss.

Lord, transfigure our perception with the purest light that shines,
And recast our life’s intention To the shape of Your designs
Till we seek no other glory that what lies past Calv’ry’s hill
And out living and our dying and our rising by Your will.

Proclamation and Reaction

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Biblical Text: Luke 4:31-44
Full Sermon Draft

The text for the day shows people who are captured and oppressed by that unholy trinity of the devil, the world and our flesh. Simon’s mother-in-law running a high fever (flesh), the demon possessed man (devil) and the crowds (world) all are healed. They all have the release proclaimed to them. The all recognize the authority of the Word of Jesus. But they all have different reactions. They are all freed. The devil, the world and the flesh are all rebuked, but only one of the reactions is appropriate.

After three Sunday’s looking at how we see God through the sacraments, the theme this Sunday was the proclaimed word. And while we can say we see God in the Word (especially THE WORD, Jesus Christ), that seeing function is more answered by the sacraments. God has instituted and promised to be present in Water, Bread, Wine and absolution. Those are something physical that we can “see”. The proclaimed word is more about answering that second order question, how do we know we’ve seen? We know we’ve seen because someone has told us and we believe that testimony. Our belief influences what we see. We can see the sacraments because we believe, because the Holy Spirit has created eyes of faith. But the orthodox faith doesn’t just push something called fideism, or faith in faith. Out faith does not rest on an emotional desire or something we gin up in ourselves. Saving faith rests on the Word. The proclaimed word brings forth a reaction. Preachers don’t (or shouldn’t) proclaim themselves or feelings or vague movements. Preachers proclaim the Word. And THE WORD is Jesus Christ. How do we know we know? Christ told us. It all rests on him. Who do you say he is? What is your reaction to the proclamation?

Choice Wine

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Biblical Text: John 2:1-11
Full Sermon Draft

It has been a rough week at the Parson’s household. This is at best an unfinished set of ideas. The only thing I can say in its favor is the invitation to see. In the gospel of John, believing is seeing. What you believe is how you see things. The wedding at Cana is Eucharistic, having to do with the Lord’s supper, it is an invitation to see the reality of Jesus and the Kingdom in, with and under the staples of life – water, bread and wine. As we say after the institution, “welcome to the table of the Lord”. Cana is John’s invitation – the first of the signs – to see the omega, the telos, of where this is heading. The world is a comedy; it ends in a wedding with plenty of choice wine. More than enough. Filled to the rim.

Epiphany and Finding God?

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Biblical Text: Matt 2:1-12 (Isaiah 60:1)
Full Draft of Sermon

There are five week of Epiphany this year. Epiphany is a season on the church’s calendar that stretches from the end of the Christmas Season (Jan 6th, the 12 days of Christmas) until the beginning of Lent. The older purpose of Epiphany was the slowly dawning realization of the divinity of Jesus. Not only was this Christmas Child true man born of the Virgin Mary, but also true God made of the same substance as the Father. The traditional reading for the last week of Epiphany was Transfiguration. It is a season constructed around a theology from below – starting with what we know, Jesus, and moving toward a full epiphany of the Christ.

And Christology, the understanding of the person and nature of Jesus, is always a good thing. If you’ve got your Christology off, everything else goes strange. But Christology is not what afflicts us today. It is easy to look at the creeds and sort out true doctrine from false. Our afflictions today are down in that 3rd article of the creed. And they swirl around a question and its derivatives: How do we find God?

The 5 week epiphany season is a short one this year, but the lessons we will be reading all lend themselves to reminding ourselves a couple of key truths. We might be asking How do we find God, and the magi I’m sure were thinking they were on a quest to find the child, but as the story makes clear, we tend to be hopelessly lost and mess things up. In this world the Word finds you. And How does the Word find you? Word and Sacrament and the people created by those promised things. The Epiphany I’m preaching toward this season is the one that Jacob had – “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it (Gen 28:16).” The Lord is present, we can meet the Lord, in some very specific ways instituted by God himself that continue to carry His promises for us. They always have carried His promises, even when we didn’t know it. Next week’s text? The Baptism of Jesus.

Broken Toys – Newsletter Pastor’s Corner Jan 2013

broken toy carsWell, the twelve days of the Christmas are not yet over and the big games have already been completed, and the first toys have been broken. Ethan was playing with one of those toys, a little more vigorously than he should have, and it crashed into the floor. The little man inside would no longer move. Rattle the object and it rattles back.

“Mommy, it’s not working” said with missing first consonants “ommy, it ot orkin”.

“Save it for when Daddy gets home.” “ok.” The clock rolls forward to those early dark winter nights.

“Daddy, it not working” (addy, it ot orkin).

“Well Ethan, it’s broke, it’s not going to work again”…3…2…1…meltdown.

There is an easy, probably too easy, analogy in that story to the world as it is. Sin breaks things. We don’t like broken things and we really don’t like people telling us they are broken. You might say that the United States is collectively having a meltdown after being told a lot of stuff is broken. But that is not actually the Christian story, or it is only half of it.

Yes, lots of things are broken. That is actually the purpose of the law, to tell us what things aren’t working as they were originally designed. At a very base level you have “The gods of the copybook headings”. We may really want to think we are able to manipulate and change and decree some things to be ok, we may be rich enough to support a distortion field for a while, but natural law always reasserts itself. The sins of the fathers are paid by the children to third and fourth generation. And that leads to finer level, the revealed law. The “you shall not’s” of the 10 commandments, or Jesus’ positive summation of them: Love the Lord your God with everything you have, and love your neighbor as yourself. They are a mirror to recognize just how broken we are.

But the Christian story is not just about Daddy telling son, it’s broken, live with it. The best that I as a human father was able to do was hug Ethan for a bit, and say “let’s see what it still does”. The little man didn’t move anymore, the rattle was still heard, but the toy was still fundamentally good. That’s not always the case. Sometimes all you can do is hug. But God’s creation is a little more robust, and his power is a little greater. If you human father’s know how to give good gifts, how much more your father in heaven?

God’s creation is deeply and fundamentally good. So good in fact that God took on flesh and dwelled among us. There is nothing that we could do to it to make it irredeemable. That is what that baby in the manger should say to us, Emmanuel, God is with us. He has not, will not and cannot abandon his creation. God loves it (chesed), a love of covenant faithfulness. God keeps his promises, his covenants. The slowly dawning epiphany on our meltdown minds is that the Father is right now about the work of restoration.

First, on the cross, Jesus took away the penalty of sin which is death. We are rightly afraid to look in that mirror of the law, but it no longer accuses with any power because Jesus took it all. Second, in His word and sacraments, which form the body of Christ and bestow grace on his people. And lastly through that body, the church, the Father proclaims his ongoing restoration. In Christ, you are a new creation, a holy people, a chosen nation, a people walking in his marvelous light.

In His own good time God will bring about the completion of that work. We believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. At that time the sad limitations all of us earthly fathers and mothers face will become but a memory. In the twinkling of an eye, at the sound of the trumpet, all will be changed. Amen, come, Lord Jesus.

Discipleship: Dropping the nets, Identity and the Reign of God

Biblical Text: Mark 1:14-20
Full Text of Sermon

I think it is sometimes difficult to relate the call to discipleship we hear in the gospels to our lives. These are men (and women) who literally dropped their nets. How do you proclaim that without completely gutting it or spiritualizing it too much?

The epiphany season’s texts give us some insight. God meets us where we are at. The specific call to discipleship, when God passes by, is different for everybody, but it has a couple of things that are the same for everybody. 1) We are all being made into fishers of men. All disciples are called to be part of the mission of God which is to save sinners. 2) Part of being made into fishers of men is finding our identity not in our nets or our family or our boats or any of the variety of things that define us. The disciple finds their identity in Christ. 3) Finding our identity in Christ means being part of the body of Christ – the church. We are all equally sinners at the foot of the cross. All equally saints washed in the blood. We have the same baptism and eat the same holy food.

Wherever you are at – and God condescends to us where we are at – you can be on that discipleship walk. Dropping the things that now define you is just as radical as dropping the nets.

The Exclusive/Inclusive Jesus

Biblical Text of Sermon: John 1:43-51
Full Text of Sermon

The modern world is one full of distractions. I’m the geek that as a kid you could find reading an encyclopedia. My schoolmates were sure that “Encyclopedia Brown” was biographical. But today I find myself reading a few pages and flitting off to something else. And the Kindle doesn’t help with that. That approach to spirituality and religion goes no place good. Oh you can fool yourself into thinking that you are getting a broader view or are just sharing in the wisdom. The problem is that everything else out there is a shadow compared to the reality of Jesus Christ. That is the Father’s Epiphany to us. Things we saw glimpses of elsewhere we see the fullness of in Jesus. And it takes time to incorporate an Epiphany – sometimes an entire life. Not the least because it usually demands that we change something in ourselves. To accommodate what we have become comfortable with to what Jesus intends. That is ultimately the question of discipleship. Do you want to stick around, go deep, to see the greater things of Jesus? Or is the world’s buffet too tempting?