The Rev. Peter Faass, Rector
We are finishing the season of Epiphanies today. From the manifestation of the baby Jesus to the Magi in Bethlehem, to today’s transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain top and his revelation as being God’s son, the Epiphany season is one that not only lifts up the various revelations of Jesus as the Messiah, but maybe equally as important, helps us to recognize those moments of epiphany that occur in our own lives.
For instance, it is always an epiphany moment for me when at the end of this service a group of our children will come forward to bury the Alleluia, as we prepare for Lent. Seeing them proudly process down the center aisle with the elaborately decorated letters for the Alleluia banner that will resurrect at Easter, is an epiphany. Watching them stand before us just before placing those letters away into a basket with a felt cover, is always a revelation of God’s love to me. Their innocence and joy remind me of the epiphany Jesus gave to his followers when he said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” (Luke 18:16) This was a significant epiphany to those who heard Jesus say it, as the culture of the time believed that children were – at best - a nuisance who should be kept out of sight.
And that epiphany about children inspires us at Christ Church to treasure our children, and to lift them up as the precious gifts that they are. And in so doing to honor those who Jesus said were the ones to whom the kingdom of God belonged.
Children are fully incorporated into our common life; and are often the center of it. There is no shutting them away or silencing them. No sound proof quiet rooms where parents with chirping babies are isolated from the congregation. No separate communion service for them, or denying them the sacrament. No saying that children are our future, when they are really our present. If, as Jesus said, children own the kingdom of God then we have a lot to learn from them, because they reveal a vision of what that kingdom is like. They are an epiphany.
Of course, the gospel of Luke is plentiful with these kind of epiphanies; revelations of Jesus saying certain rejected people were of great value, versus a culture that said they were not.
This was true of Gentiles, women, children, the sick, the poor, the bereaved, the un-believing, and the outcast. All of them, in all their iterations, were people who were not only welcomed by Jesus, but beloved by him. And in each instance, when he accepted and loved those who were considered of little value, it was an epiphany – a revelation of how God’s grace works in the world.
Christ Church has a rich history of taking these epiphanies of Jesus and incarnating them in our common life as a faith community. We have been intentional in welcoming the little children, and the big one’s as well. Of honoring women as co-equally created in the image of God, along with men. Of seeing all people – regardless – of being worthy of respect and dignity. Of creating a safe environment where all feel welcomed, loved, accepted, valued and affirmed for who they are. In other words, of hanging the plumb line of love into the midst of how we decide what to do as followers of Jesus.
These epiphanies are not our submitting to the pressure of the secular culture, or of not being a Bible centered church, or of our trying to be relevant and cool so we can be seen as hip. In fact, just the opposite is true. These incarnated epiphanies are deeply rooted in the scripture, and therefore they are our Gospel truth as we strive to follow Jesus.
We have seen plenty of instances where others who claim the name Christian do not see these epiphanies as we do, or don’t believe they’re epiphanies at all. These others do not hold them as sacred revelations of Jesus, as we do.
Three events of the past few weeks are poignant reminders of that reality.
In preparation for the 2020 Lambeth conference that gathers all Anglican Bishops around the world at Lambeth Palace in London every ten years, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, last week disinvited from Lambeth the spouses of bishops in same-sex marriages. Heterosexual Bishops with husbands and wives are still welcome. Fifteen years after the uproar of Gene Robinson’s consecration and certain Anglicans are still squeamish about gay Bishop’s, especially married ones.
In response to the ever-increasing revelations of the sexual abuse of children in Roman Catholic church that has been on-going for decades, as well as the recent revelation of of a significant homosexual presence in the curia at the Vatican, many bishops, priests and laity are now blaming a culture of homosexuality as the cause for this child abuse. Gays are being scapegoated and even witch-hunted out of churches for a situation that has a myriad of complex factors at play, the least not being the dishonesty, entitlement and the mentality of “protect the institution at all costs” - even at the expense of the well-being of our children - by those in power, from Rome on down to the parish level.
This past week our sisters and brothers in the United Methodist Church who meet at General Conference approved a plan, called the Traditionalist Plan, that will continue to deny LGBT people full inclusion in the life of that denomination. This plan expressly forbids LGBT people from ordination, and prohibits ministers from performing same-sex marriages. That decision has come as a serious disappointment to millions of adherents of the UMC. Going into the recent General Conference there was considerable optimism and hope by many UMC folks that a more embracing option called the One Church Plan would prevail. This option would have permitted the local parish to decide who to ordain and marry. It was a way forward that allowed those who had experienced the epiphany recognizing the dignity and humanity of LGBT people to stay in the denomination without threat of schism. Yet it failed and the vote was not close.
Our epiphanies are not understood by everyone to be epiphanies.
The story of the Transfiguration is a poignant reminder that the three closest disciples to Jesus – Peter, James and John - did not understand that mountain-top epiphany revealing Jesus as God’s son either. They failed to grasp it. In fact, despite repeated epiphanies of who Jesus was they remained obtuse to the whole Jesus endeavor, at least until after the Resurrection. The immediate juxtaposition of the story of the epileptic boy following the story of the Transfiguration proves their lack of faith. The un-understanding disciples could not heal the boy, revealing their obtuseness to the new message of Jesus and the way of life he proclaims.
This annoys Jesus to no end. "You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you?” Jesus scolds them.
This is how I feel about Archbishop Justin Welby and those Anglicans in league with him. It is how I feel about the Roman Church and its response to the tragedy of child abuse. It’s how I feel about the UMC folks who remain unaccepting and untransformed, rejecting the epiphanies that acknowledge the full humanity of LGBT people. You faithless and perverse people, how much longer must we bear with you? Understand this: Regardless of what you do, love is more powerful than legalism. Love is more powerful than our institutions. Love is more powerful than hate. With Jesus love comes before all. And love always wins.
Despite the disciple’s obtuseness, Jesus persisted, and so must we. He comes down from the mountain and gets back to work: Preaching and teaching, revealing his epiphanies of God’s love right up to his death on the cross; the greatest epiphany of love the world has ever witnessed.
We too must continue to work to proclaim the epiphanies that have been revealed to us in Jesus. They are our Gospel truth.
For people from other traditions who cannot attend their denominational church in this moment of pain, we must provide a safe harbor. Not as an evangelism opportunity, (That’s sheep steeling, which we don’t do. And any way it only results in moving the pieces on the game board.) but as an opportunity to offer gracious hospitality to those who feel as if they currently are at a precarious point in their faith journeys.
For people who feel rejected by their denomination, we can encourage them to stay the course in their respective denominations and parts of the Communion, as difficult as that can be. We can support and sustain them to follow the voice of the Spirit and continue to bear witness and proclaim the revelations they have received, so that they may be bearers of light in the dark places. Just like we did in this Episcopal Church fifteen and more years ago.
And because this task is just not possible for all people, depending on the degree of their wounds and hurts, we can be a home for them. And we can love them back to health and wholeness.
All three are options are places where love can be nurtured. And where love will win.
Epiphanies and dreams give new meaning and cause to our lives and journeys, but they also point back to the struggles and tasks we have had to bring about the reign of God that Jesus proclaimed. They also prepare us to continue in those places where the struggles continue. If we are faithful, we can’t stop or escape this reality. There are always new vistas and transforming experiences ahead for those of us who do. Be assured, they all lead to the fruition of God’s reign. And that is holy work, as well.
Amen to that!
The Reverend Peter Faass
The Reverend Peter Faass was born in Delft, Netherlands. He is a graduate of the General Theological Seminary in New York City and has been at Christ Church since 2006.