Epiphany as a Verb: “Shining God’s Light”
1 Corinthians 1: 1-9 & Isa. 49: 1-7 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ Northwood United ~ January 19, 2020
Did you make it? Did you make it through the Christmas season? Did you make it through the twelve days of Christmas until the feast of Epiphany this past January 6th? However, we ‘travelled’, however, we ‘journeyed’, we arrived with the wise men at the stable. We might have arrived exhausted or empowered; tired or empowered; drained or fortified, fatigued or invigorated, Yet, somehow we arrived. We made it to the Epiphany of our Lord. Following the brightest star in the sky and greeting the Babe in Bethlehem, we arrived at Epiphany. And now it is over, now that we have taken our decorations down, now that we have eaten all the decadent treats, now that all the wonderful gifts have found a special place in our homes. Now, we have resumed our ‘normal’ lives…right? It is over and only our memories and perhaps elevated visa bills and bathroom scales remind us of the Epiphany experience.
Yet, as we gather this morning, I would like for us to consider things a little differently. Epiphany is not ‘really’ over. A quick glance at the church calendar reveals that the church does not want to stop the celebration. And so, we find ourselves now in the ongoing season of Epiphany. Epiphany is a day, yes. We celebrated it, this year, on Sunday January 5th with Rev. Gabrielle Suedfeld. But this morning, I want us to be reminded that Epiphany is also a church season that continues for weeks and weeks. In fact, Epiphany continues until we gather for our pancakes and sausage feast on Shrove Tuesday in late February. And, for us here at Northwood, I was thinking about how we might approach this season this year in 2020, and I would like for us to consider Epiphany from a slightly different perspective. While we think of Epiphany as a noun, I would like for us to consider how Epiphany can also be a verb. Epiphany is not just an event; it is meant to be lived; Epiphany is meant to be lived out as an expression of our living. Epiphany is not just arriving at the stable and beholding the child of light. Epiphany is not just the church season following that event. Epiphany is also the continued movement of our Spirits as a result of this gift. So…I am wondering, if we can live Epiphany. Are you ready to ‘do’ Epiphany together? Are you ready to live your faith? Are you ready to let God’s let shine through your spirit? Well, let’s continue then.
As we turn to the first passage that Emma read this morning, we are invited into the challenging world of living one’s faith in ancient Corinth. And we are going to be spending a lot of time with the church community in Corinth with the lectionary giving us pieces of scripture each week through Epiphany. This letter is strikingly relevant we will find. The challenge of the Corinthians parallels ours. For the Corinthian church, Paul challenged them in their self-absorbed ways. Calling them “people of the flesh”, he challenged their ways of self-indulgence, arrogance, and boasting among themselves. Class divisions had become apparent. Some were admitted to worship, others to the Lord’s table / to communion. And to make matters worse, their community was becoming a real-live soap opera: secret reports of church members visiting prostitutes, a man sleeping with his stepmom, and some questioning the resurrection. We can draw our own parallels to modern day with our increasingly self-absorbed ‘me generation’. The day in and day out challenges to living a faithful, ethical life that is in line with the teachings of Jesus continues a few millennia later, doesn’t it?
To the concerns of this divided community, Paul offers them tremendously hopeful words: “you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ”. They possessed all the gifts needed. They did not have to compete for supremacy ~ who was better…who was more valued in the community. As a community, they had been blessed with all the spiritual gifts that were needed in order for Christ’s light to be revealed through them. When they united, they had all that was needed. When they separated, and competed, and boasted, they were lacking. Yet, when they were united, valuing the gifts each member brought to the table, they had all that was needed to shine Christ’s light, as they awaited his return.
How might that ‘feel’ to receive Paul’s words to this Christian community in Surrey. “You are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ”. Is that comforting? Empowering? scary? Or a little of everything? To hear these words today, as they heard them back in Corinth, requires a number of things: We must continue striving to create a culture that welcomes, values, and embraces all the spiritual gifts of its members. A church is only as strong as its members who are allowed and empowered to participate and offer their gifts. Every ministry we offer comes through the gracious offering of our members’ gifts. Could you imagine worship this morning without the choir…or our greeters…or our coffee hosts…or our Children’s church and Youth Group leaders…or our financial people who take care of the offering…and so on, and so on. The church, at its best, welcomes, values and embraces the spiritual gifts of all its members. The church, of course, is more than just Sunday morning worship. This church runs 7 days a week, and it does so ONLY through people’s offering of their unique spiritual gifts. When I meet with new people asking about the different ministry programs at Northwood, they might ask if we have a specific program that currently does not exist. In the case when we do not have that program, I can proudly tell them ‘no we do not currently have that kind of ministry at Northwood, but a new one is just about to start. And…YOU are the first member!’ That is how every ministry starts. It begins with the passion and call of a few people and it grows and grows. “You are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ”.
This links us into the Prophetic passage from the Hebrew prophet Isaiah. Isaiah is divided into three distinct sections and joined together into one book called “Isaiah”. This section comes from the time during Babylonian slavery when the prophet is proclaiming God’s release and telling of the good news of a return to the Promised Land. The restoration will not just be a simple rescue where they are placed back home and all is well. The people will have a new identity. Isaiah pronounces: 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”. In their new identity, they will not be considered ‘servants’ of God, rather they will be a ‘light to the nations’ where “Kings shall see and stand up, and where princes shall prostrate themselves”. And this is why, I think, we should consider Epiphany to be a verb. God’s light is not just shining on us; God’s light is not just blessing us; God’s light is not just liberating us. God’s light is meant to shine through us. God’s light is meant to shine through each and every spiritual gift that we are blessed with; God’s blessings, God’s light, God’s gifts are meant to shine through us unto the world.
We had a ‘little snow’ this week. Well…actually, we had A LOT of snow this past week. And, for me, it has been wonderful to hear, and witness, so many reports of how God’s light has been shining through people. Our homes, our trees, our streets looked ready for a post-card. Yet, they also presented some very real challenges. Roads and walks needed to be cleared, doors unfrozen, people became housebound. And what was amazing to me, was how many people came together to shine their light of care, cooperation and love unto others. Now, not all people have the health to shovel, yet many do. And shoveling parties ensued, where neighbours made sure that everyone’s walks and driveways were cleared. People would wipe their car free of snow and often help the car beside them. People would pick up the phone and call others they knew were isolated and housebound just checking in. Together we all shone God’s light, in different ways, but we all shone God’s light. That ‘little’ example, is a metaphor of how the church functions at its best…when it is a beacon of God’s shining light. A rainbow of colours shining the various spiritual gifts of all its faithful disciples…shining God’s light to the world.
Missiology is the study of the work of the church alive in the world. Evangelism would be a piece of missiology. In his book “Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture”, missiologist Lamin Sanneh argues for a profound humility to be at the heart of our Christian mission. Sanneh argues that, unlike spirituality which can be very individualized and isolated, faith must be shared and received. No one is born into faith; no one stumbles upon it walking in the woods, or pondering their life. Christians, at some point, are recipients. Someone had to love us enough to show us and tell us the story…whether that was in words, in service, or humbly by living their lives. Our faith comes through the ‘epiphanying of others’ who humbly shared their light. He poses the challenging question: have you heard or seen anything worthy of sharing that light to another? And if so…why not share it?
Friends, you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ…You have been given as a light to the nations.
Let’s ‘Epiphany’ together!