Epiphany – In the Spotlight
† In Jesus Name †
May the grace and mercy of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ enable you to live out the plan brought to life in Christ’s coming – that we are to live boldly and confidently in God’s presence!
- The Plan… Hidden
This week was the anniversary of the birth of one of the great Christian philosophers of the last century. J.R.R. Tolkien is probably best known as the writer behind “the Hobbit” and “the Lord of the Rings.” But one of the things we should rejoice about from his life was his impact on a fellow writer and philosopher.
Eric Metaxas tells us how Tolkein joined Jesus on Jesus’ mission one night on a walk with his friend Jack. He didn’t beat the gospel into him, in fact, he only alluded to Jesus in one question, about whether all the myths could have some source in an event that was real, that once God did invade reality. (https://stream.org/j-r-r-tolkien-helped-lead-c-s-lewis-faith/)
His friend Jack, the angry, arrogant agnostic who disliked any discussion bordering the religious, was only nicknamed Jack. His given name was Clive Staples Lewis – one of the best-known Christian writers of the last century.
Joining Jesus, in this case, was simply a matter of shining a light in Lewis’s life, and letting the Holy Spirit work illuminate the plan that God had for Lewis, the same exact plan He has for each one of us, from the prophets and the wise man that adored Jesus at His birth, to you and I today.
It is simply a plan of illuminating God’s plan in their life, revealing His love, and His work in their lives.
This is what Epiphany is all about – putting God’s plan in the spotlight – for all to see. That is what the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, that we saw this morning, this wonderful plan, with a wonderful result.
- The Plan Revealed
Both Tolkien and Lewis talked about writing a lot, and you see a similar style in them. The main characters are always aided by a more mysterious and powerful character. In Tolkien, it is Gandalf, a servant of a Deity never quite revealed. With Lewis, the guide was Aslan, who was also the destination.
But in the journeys, as in many good stories, the plan that these guides had was not fully revealed to those making the journey. That keeps a reader, or moviegoer interested, as the plan is revealed step by step. For those on the journey, it is a bit frustrating.
I want to know where I am going, how I am going to get there, how much earlier I have to plan to leave, so I actually leave on time and leave enough time for a bathroom stop or five on the journey.
During the Old Testament, the journey wasn’t always well known, they wandered for years, and they still didn’t understand the tabernacle or the Temple and what they pointed to, in fact, many today still don’t understand. Paul knew…. And he talks about the plan,
Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus.
- The Plan Explained
You see the plan for the journey there. The plan includes who is on the journey, and how the journey is accomplished
The ones on it are those who believe the good news, what we call the gospel. It doesn’t matter whether we are Gentile or Jewish, what matters is that we believe, that we depend on the Good News. – the news that God loves us enough that Jesus would die for us.
And the way the journey happens is simple – we receive all these blessings because we belong to Jesus. That in our baptism, we are united to Him, we are made one with Him, in His death, and in His resurrection. This is the incredible mystery we confess when we sing the Memorial Acclimation – that because He died, was buried and rose, we, who were dead in our sin, rise with Him! And when He returns, for us, we will be with the Father forever!
How do we say it around here? Alleluia! He is risen indeed! (He is risen! Alleluia) and therefore, (We are risen indeed! Alleluia!)
His plan, it has been since the beginning, that our salvation would occur as we are intimately tied to Christ’s death and resurrection, as we are intimately united to Him!
- The Result of the Plan
The plan doesn’t end with the journey though, like our salvation, our being saved. Whatever epic, whether Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, or even Star Wars, the destination is arrived at, in a place where peace finally reigns. They got the idea from scripture of course, and their novels are based in a hope truly seen in scripture.
Oddly enough, they all arrive at the place where they started, with the difference being the peace that is known, finally. That is why I call the destination, “our perfect home” Paul will describe the plan’s destination this way:
11 This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord.
12 Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence.
We have a hint of that home now, for as we presently dwell in Christ’s presence, and He in us, we have the shadows cast by this reality to comfort us. For we dwell with Him now, and yet, we are still on the journey to the point where we see His return. To the point where we boldly enter the presence of God our Father, confident because of the work of Jesus that we belong there. AMEN!
(you can find the audio for this sermon on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQLSG0ngxU8 )
With this Gift I Acknowledge
† I.H.S. †
May you become so aware of the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ that you respond to God with your entire life!
As we enter Lent, a lot of the readings we will hear are about the journey to the promised land, and they often take place in what I call the “in-between time.
The “in-between” time starts with the rescue of Egypt, where the Red Sea split and they crossed through that sea until the time they crossed the Jordan river, and they headed west into the Holy Land.
That’s the in-between time, the time between the crossing, between the rescue and the delivery.
Often we compare that time to the time we live in now. In such a comparison the land of the promise becomes the equivalent of heaven. We’ve been told we’ve been saved, but we haven’t arrived yet. We follow that pattern, then we are in the journey toward the promise land. We can take the same comparison and compare the season of lent to the time wandering around in the wilderness. And the promised land becomes the celebration of Easter.
It lines up nice and neatly, and there are some interesting parallels. Such a study helps us build up the anticipation of heaven, and the glory and rejoicing we will see when we all get to heaven.
As I was preparing this series, some of my thoughts went along that journey, as the idea written about in the old song came to mind. “Sing the wondrous love of Jesus, sing of His mercy and His grace, in His mansion, bright and blessed, He’ll prepare for us a place.”
What a day of rejoicing that will be, the chorus says, but an odd thought struck me.
Are we expecting to rejoice only then? What about now? The song doesn’t say wait till then to sing of the wondrous love of Jesus, wait till then to know His mercy and His grace.
Then I looked at this passage and the idea that when we get “there” when we enter the land, we are to prepare an offering.
“With this gift, I acknowledge to the Lord God that I have entered the land He swore to our ancestors He would give us…”
And so we think of heaven… for isn’t that the promised land?
And we aren’t there yet, I mean all you have to do is look around and see that is so…we haven’t entered the promised land, right?
We have entered into what was promised; our problem is that we can’t see it yet. Which is why we have to understand what Paul means when he says, “Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth, for you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God.”
That sounds more like we have entered the promised land… except that life doesn’t look so heavenly… does it? How can we be in the Holy Land, the Promised Land, when it doesn’t sometimes seem like we’ve left behind struggling with God in the wilderness?
We Cried out to the Lord
If we are going to make a parallel to the wilderness journey that is described in Deuteronomy, we need to figure out what verse 7 is talking about.
“we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors. He heard our cries and saw our hardship, toil, and oppression.”
Where these words find their place in our lives, is when we were in bondage, not to Egypt, but to sin. Where our hardship and struggle were the futility that comes in life that is self-centered and only worried about its own happiness, its own contentment.
I will be the first to admit that there are days where we act like Israel, doubting God and wanting to return to the lives unrestricted by God, but enslaved to “our” own desires.
But does that mean that we are back in Egypt? Does that mean we are living on manna and quail and wandering around like Jacob/Israel?
The question comes down to this my friends. Are we living in the Kingdom of God, in the promised land, or are we living in the wilderness, cared for and waiting for the promises of God to come true in our lives?
For the land God promised us isn’t primary geographical. Rather, it is the land where God clearly rules, where He is Lord and King, providing for His people. It is the place where His people find rest and refuge, a sanctuary of peace and a place where His love evident.
A place where Deuteronomy describes as the place which in our special possession, the place where our inheritance, what God has promised His people has become a reality.
You see, that’s what bothers me about the passage being only a parallel to our journey to heaven.
For in Christ, we already are citizens of His kingdom and heirs of His promises, He has already delivered us. We just have to understand this and trust Him on it, knowing our reality is in heaven, in Christ.
Which is why we can bring before him the gifts that acknowledge that we have been delivered. The gifts that acknowledge we dwell in Christ. The gifts that acknowledge we have been killed off with Christ in our baptism, and brought to life because of His resurrection.
That is why Paul will also tell the church in Romans 12 to present our bodies as living sacrifices, which is the appropriate worship, the reason worship, declaring what God has done.
The passage in Deuteronomy ends with this, “
It’s time to party!
11 Afterward, you may go and celebrate because of all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household. Remember to include the Levites and the foreigners living among you in the celebration.
My friends, Jesus has given us life, the abundant life that begins in the waters of baptism, and matures as we see the Father face to face. We aren’t waiting on that to come about some day. We are His children, now.
So it is time to celebrate, to know His love… and to include all who would come in the celebration, so that they too may understand and celebrate His love. It will take faith; it will as Paul said mean focusing on the reality of heaven, of dwelling, not among clouds, but in the very presence of our loving God. AMEN?
Devotional Thought of the Day:
15 For the Spirit that God has given you does not make you slaves and cause you to be afraid; instead, the Spirit makes you God’s children, and by the Spirit’s power we cry out to God, “Father! my Father!” 16 God’s Spirit joins himself to our spirits to declare that we are God’s children….. 26 In the same way the Spirit also comes to help us, weak as we are. For we do not know how we ought to pray; the Spirit himself pleads with God for us in groans that words cannot express. 27 And God, who sees into our hearts, knows what the thought of the Spirit is; because the Spirit pleads with God on behalf of his people and in accordance with his will. Romans 8:15-16, 26 (TEV)
“The Cry to God as Father in the New Testament is not a calm acknowledgment of a universal truth about God’s abstract fatherhood. It is the child’s cry out of a nightmare. It is the cry of outrage, fear, the shrinking away when faced with the horror of the world. Yet not simply or exclusively protest, but trust as well.” ( From Celtic Daily Prayer, meditations Day 3)
He responded generously to Christ’s invitation to “take up his cross each day.” Escrivá’s aspiration, “In laetitia, nulla dies sine cruce” (In joy, no day without the cross) was a reality in his life.
In the last couple of days, i have had people marvel at the medical story of my life. For readers that don’t know, I grew up knowing I live with a genetic time bomb. Most died from it back then, without knowing they had it. Marphans turned you into a timebomb. All of a sudden one day, their aorta disconnects from their heart, ti either tears or blows off, and they are dead. Because they knew of it, and when the surgeries developed, I have had defibrillators put in , and replaced. I’ve had two artificial valves put in, and my aorta has a sheath around it.
So I tick. Which on Sunday led to people listening to the tick and saying “Crazy” (over and over – each one entering a room was made to listen to me – and that was each person’s response)
Last night, at a banquet for a crisis pregnancy center, several of the women wanted to touch my hand, because they considered me a walking miracle.
I’ve considered y situation over the years, more akin to a walking nightmare. I’ve had many a night where I couldn’t sleep, and others where I ranted at God like a wolf baying at the boon. I’ve dealt with every emotion common to man. There was a break for a few years, then my son was born, to whom I passed on this struggle. The pains and heart came back again, worse than ever, as I see my son examined every year.
If there is any depth to my prayer life, if there is any strength I have in facing these trials, it is because of the effect of prayer. Not the recitation of prayers that were written for sharing on Sunday morning together. Not the pious prayers of daily devotions. But the prayers that arise out of my brokenness, out of my despair, out of my frustration with God, and with the complications of life.
No, the depth of prayer comes from those cries, begging for God to help us in this life of nightmares. It may start like jeremiah, with a cry of anger, of protest, of WHY GOD!!! But that cry in all of its honesty, in all of its broken and barrenness is where we find the truth of Romans above. That God is at work, that the Holy SPirit is comforting us, and conforming or translating our prayers, even with groanings that go beyond our ability to bring to our mind, to release from our hearts.
It is in those times when peace goes beyond our expectation. When love fills our soul, when we know God is with us, caring for us.
I hate those dark days of the past, and I know some are coming in the future. My body is broken, patched together and bionic, my soul suffers with it at times. But I wouldn’t trade the one’s in the past for anything, for the result is, as described in the third quote – joy, and peace. I will try to embrace the one’s in the future – with that hope, with that expectation.
For we know the heart of God, and He will sustain us.
Lord, have mercy!
Coverdale, John F. (2014-07-09). Saxum: The Life of Alvaro del Portillo (Kindle Locations 2110-2112). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
1 A pilgrim song: GOD, I’m not trying to rule the roost, I don’t want to be king of the mountain. I haven’t meddled where I have no business or fantasized grandiose plans. 2 I’ve kept my feet on the ground, I’ve cultivated a quiet heart. Like a baby content in its mother’s arms, my soul is a baby content. 3 Wait, Israel, for GOD. Wait with hope. Hope now; hope always! Psalm 131:1-3 (MSG)
Part of me hopes, as I read the verses from the Psalms above, that I would have learned this lesson by now. That I would simply accept that God is in charge, that I would relax, that I would drop my anxieties, my fears, my worries at His feet. It is not easy, but over the years, I’ve become better and better at it. Or so I thought.
Sunday was a time for a lesson in humility, as I was struck with a flu bug that caused me to end up in the ER. I had Sermon studies to write, because others depend on them. Worship services to plan, and annual report to write. I have another couple of critical issues I thought I had to deal with, some people i care deeply about who are facing incredible trauma, one situation where someone in need was begging to talk to me in person, and I could barely stay awake.
And I had to lie there, in bed, like the proverbial child ( is pslamial a word?) and simply let God be God.
Peace didn’t come easily, or maybe it was the fever that caused me to toss and turn? No, let’s be honest, it was trying to fix everything, or at least come up with a fix, or 22,538 possible fixes!
Two days in bed (okay the second was in my recliner – doing the sermon study and worship plans on my laptop) and finally, here on Wednesday, I am back in my office.
God’s worked out some of the issues, given me the peace to enable me to deal with another, and well, the others will be dealt with, as God enables. Some will be long term struggles, some will be able to imitate the psalmist. I can only point to the fact that when we let God be God, He is… and when we try to play God, He still is, and will call us back to Him, waiting to heal us, waiting to show us mercy, waiting to hold us in His arms. Waiting to dance as His prodigal child again returns home.
The simple way to deal with stress, and anxiety and the worries of the world?
Be His…. oh wait – you are! So remember you are His….