Sermon - January 21, 2018

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January 21, 2018

May I speak to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve moved at warp speed from the nativity and beholding little Baby Jesus, to adult Jesus. BAM! What does that mean for us – how do we not only catch up but how do we enter in?

This season in the church calendar following Advent and the 12 days of Christmas is Epiphany. An author I appreciate and a former seminary professor of mine lend help in understanding where we are on the calendar: Jan Richardson has written devotionally on Advent and Epiphany. She provides definition and description:

Epiphany means “manifestation,” “appearing,” or “showing.” Epiphany refers both to the appearing of Christ in the world and to the arrival of the wise ones who followed the star and welcomed the child.

We hear from Richardson a nativity focus.

J. Neil Alexander, Dean of the School of Theology at Sewanee’s University of the South asserts an almost contradictory point of view in his writing on liturgical time – the seasons of the church year:

Epiphany is something of a fulcrum that shifts the balance from the incarnation of God seen in relation to the nativity of Jesus, to the incarnate one being manifest in new ways as God’s anointed one whom we will come to know as teacher, healer, and miracle worker, and ultimately as the Crucified and Risen One.

…the present shape of things often makes Epiphany seem only the end of Christmas, it is important to recognize…that Epiphany is also about looking forward, about beginnings, about what is still to come.

Alexander and Richardson both challenge us in our understanding and approach to Epiphany. It is not merely the end of Christmas, but a season to engage this adult Jesus and what he’s showing us – how he’s manifesting himself to us…and perhaps be willing to be surprised and welcoming.

Epiphany is a season of recognition. As we hear the readings, we are shown Jesus in his character, nature, and commitments – we heard of Christ’s baptism last week, and this week we see the beginning of the call of the disciples.

Epiphany is also a season of response…in reflection on today’s readings we have both recognition and response – a specific response: repentance. Not a word we talk about every day. And without reflection, we may assume it’s a harsh word…but it’s not…but it is a word that suggests a demand for ruthless honesty on our part, as well as action. Honesty and action; those are not harsh things…though they may not be easy things.

Our readings today walk us through this and remind us to be careful to use a lens of God’s design or perspective on things and not our own. Perhaps said more simply: God is God and we are not.

First, we hear the story of Jonah, the reluctant prophet, whom we may have familiarity with as the one swallowed by the whale – our reading picks up after the whole whale fiasco – which clearly got Jonah’s attention…Jonah responds to God’s call and direction: “Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, ‘Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ [why? The story speaks of evil and violence] And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.” – in the Old Testament, an outward sign of the heart’s repentance.

The prophet Jonah was calling for repentance – a turning – a change of lifestyle and, the people responded; taking things quite seriously: fasting, sackcloth…a definitive response to realizing that God is God and they are not.

And God’s response: “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them, and he did not do it.”

That is crazy stuff…and we don’t have time to explore it all, but we can see what repentance is: it is ruthless honesty and action: a turning. Literally, in its meaning – a change of direction. A 180.

Today’s Psalm helps us be aware of how we live. What we are buying into. The Psalm gives both an exhortation and reality check:

Hope only in God. Only
God is rock and salvation, refuge
“Those of high degree are but a fleeting breath, even those of low estate cannot be trusted. On the scales they are lighter than a breath, all of them together.
“…though wealth increase set not your heart upon it.”
Power belongs to God

We see the strange otherness of the economy of God. It’s almost upside-down to what we expect or are inclined to base our lives on, or values for living…this world, as we heard in our New Testament reading is “passing away.”

Security is not what it appears
Power is not what it appears
Reputation and ambition are not what they appear
Upside-down – that which seems important may not even last for eternity…

This is further teased out in the Gospel reading. Jesus proclaims – in response to the not good news, John the Baptist has been arrested - that “…The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

The good news…what?
The world is passing
Wealth, reputation cannot be trusted or relied on
John the Baptist – who’s a little crazy but obedient and following God - is arrested…and eventually beheaded.
All is upside-down…

There is a bit of a reckoning that must take place as we recognize not only Jesus, but the kingdom of God…that which is now was ushered in by Christ and will become fully manifest in eternity.

Responding to this is a challenge that may demand reorienting…what is real – really real? What will last? How are we living…we begin to see repentance, not as a harsh word, but as instructive and necessary. Repentance reminds us to be ruthlessly honest as we want to live our Christian spirituality. Repentance reminds us to act…to turn away from things that are not a part of the paradigm of the kingdom of God.

What is not part of the paradigm of the kingdom of God? In the book of Jonah, there is evil and violence that the people of Nineveh are being called into account about…Evil. Evil is not some horror story word that conjures up creepiness and darkness.

Evil is not some heavy concept in the Hebrew usage in Jonah. In its meaning, it’s something bad or wrong – that sounds pretty simple…something that displeases, in our case God. It causes grief, harm, hurt…it falls under ethics – and again it relates to God directly, but also implicitly to others.

So, in this Epiphany season we recognize, respond…and perhaps see our evil – our bad, our wrong – which we all have -  and are pointed in the direction of repentance.

We must be ruthlessly honest for this…and we must be willing to act – to turn from our ways and I would add it also calls for courage…this is not easy stuff…it’s simple we see…but simple and easy are not the same thing.

As we see in the rest of the gospel story today, when our lifestyle involves these things and is conscious of God and God’s kingdom, we are able to hear God’s callings to us and to respond as followers.

Simon and Andrew hear Jesus’ call to follow and leave their nets – reorient to their vocation as they follow Jesus. James hears Jesus’ call and leaves his father – reorients not only to vocation but family relating to his followership of Christ. For both there is action. Change of direction – may be in our gospel reading follow and repent are strangely somewhat synonyms.

Repentance – ruthless honesty with God and action – it sets us on a trajectory…a pretty great trajectory of closeness with God.