6th Sunday after Epiphany: It’s Not All About You!

6th Sunday after Epiphany: It’s Not All About You!

Luke 6:17-26

By: Dr. Emily Kahm

It’s not all about you!

This is a tricky message to incorporate at any time of one’s life, but perhaps especially so after the consumerist marathon that is the Christmas season, which gives way to the self-improvement hype of the New Year—not that these seasons are irredeemably bad! Consumerism is often just the language we know how to employ when we try to show others that we care about them. Self-improvement is often the way we acknowledge that it is worth being good to ourselves. But still: It’s not all about you.

This is the refrain that my spouse and I often use when discussing frustrations with people in our field who don’t seem to “get it.” He’s in campus ministry and works with other great ministers, but still runs into folks who seem to use a ministry platform to promote their own favorite spiritual practices and dismiss those who advocate for a variety of ways of reaching students. I teach college-level Religion, and while my fellow Religion professors are fantastic, I still occasionally run into peers who seem to resent the fact that college students aren’t immediately thrilled by the topic of their introductory courses, or don’t laud their innovative assignments. We always seem to end discussions about these colleagues with the phrase, “It’s not all about you!” Ministry and teaching are about serving the needs of those who are in front of you, and that means a certain de-centering of self. If you go into these fields with ego, you’ll quickly be disenchanted.

I’ve written on the Beatitudes before for this blog, but I had previously been assigned the Matthew version—those recitations are longer and more detailed, and they don’t include the significant “Woe to you” section at the end. This is one reason I appreciate having more than one Gospel to relate what Jesus said—so much is the same, but I find the tone drastically different. Instead of comfort, we get challenge. Instead of blessing apparently everyone, Jesus makes it clear that he is fully subverting the status quo—the happy and well-fed and well-regarded and well-off will not remain so. Perhaps they should not remain so when so many around them are suffering.

I find myself wondering if Jesus switched gears during this sermon because he saw too many disciples and would-be followers latching onto the blessings, not really getting that they might not number among the “poor” with whom Jesus is especially concerned. This is a common human tendency: we look up when we think about our power and influence, comparing ourselves to those who obviously have more. I distinctly remember thinking during my senior year of college that it seemed like everybody was going to grad school and that my nearly-complete bachelor’s degree was effectively insignificant. That changed the day I got called in for jury duty. Out of 76 randomly chosen people in my county, I was one of exactly 2 who had any college education at all. Who’s the blessed one, again?

It’s also tempting to downplay our own successes and blessings, I think, because doing so exempts us from helping those who have less. I might have a house and be able to pay all my utilities each month, but all that student loan debt! In my introductory class, I ask my students to seriously consider whether they would give up their own comforts in order to ensure another person would have enough to survive. Most respond with uncertainty – they’re not used to thinking of themselves as “rich” to begin with, so the idea that they could or should give up something they think of as normal (air conditioning? Internet? A personal computer?) so that another person could have clean water is a strange proposition. They’re much more comfortable arguing why those two things are unrelated than they are with admitting that there are some things they’d refuse to go without. Jesus makes no excuses for those who have plenty; their fortunes will change. Better if they embrace a call to poverty, to mourning alongside the hurting, to sharing what they have with those who have not, than to wait for the Kingdom of God to reverse their luck.

So as we ride out the season of self-interest, let’s allow Jesus to tell us that it’s not about us—that  we should be looking down rather than up when we compare our blessings—and be honest about what we are really able to share from our abundance.

 

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Dr. Emily Kahm

Dr. Emily Kahm is a Teaching Fellow in Religion at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. She and her spouse, Chris, welcomed their first child, Xavier, into the world in late September of 2018.

5th Sunday after Epiphany: Saying “Yes!”

5th Sunday after Epiphany: Saying “Yes!”

Luke 5:1-11

By: The Rev. Kim Sorrells

This story, and its parallel versions in Mathew and Mark, is a familiar one for many of us who have grown up in or around the church. The readily available imagery of fishing and catching lends itself nicely to children’s stories and Vacation Bible School themes. For me, growing up in an evangelical setting this story was often used a charge to go out and “save souls,” or convert people to Christianity. While there is certainly nothing wrong with wanting to share something meaningful with others around you, to reduce the mission of Christ to focusing on individuals misses out on the transformation of the world and ultimately falls short of the fullness of Christ’s mission.

This story is about the calling of the first disciples not only to become followers of Jesus, but to be able to continue to carry out his mission of bringing about the Kin-dom of God on earth as it is in Heaven. As Arland J. Hultgren says, “Jesus has come into the world to reveal God and to redeem the cosmos. But he is known to us only through the witness of his apostles.” It is fitting then, he says, that the church read this story during the season after Epiphany—a time when we celebrate the manifestation of God in Christ and in turn contemplate our involvement in his mission in the world.”[1] Christ, the manifestation of God’s love and justice among us, has come to bring about the kin-dom of God’s peace and justice on earth as it is in heaven and show us the way of this work. In this way, the calling of the disciples is less about saving individual souls and more about building a movement to continue to build the kin-dom of God.

When I worked in faith-based political organizing, we spent a great deal of time talking about and working on “building the movement.” To create change, to bring about a more just society, we needed people to understand and believe in the cause we were working on, and then we needed them to also go tell their friends. In a way, it sounds almost like those “pyramid schemes” we hear about—I go recruit 5 people, who in turn do the same. Yet the reality is, this is how change happens on a larger scale. This is how we share the ways of peace and justice: by casting out our nets and catching people. Building a movement; a movement that builds God’s kin-dom of God on earth, takes ordinary everyday people deciding to get up and follow Jesus in his way of justice and peace, and to bring in others with them.

While Jesus is the main character, this passage is just as much about Simon and the others as they recognize Christ as a manifestation of God and make the choice to follow him in God’s mission. Like other call stories in the Bible, we first see hesitation from Simon. He is hesitant to let down the nets, but does as he is asked, calling Jesus “master.” However, as they haul in an abundance of fish, a miraculous portion, Simon recognizes that this man is more than a teacher. Here, his language shifts—calling Christ “Lord” as he falls to his knees in awe. Still resistant, this time from a sense of unworthiness, but as Christ calls to him to follow, he does. I imagine as he recognizes Christ’s nature he is compelled to follow, even as daunting as it might seem.

The call to be a disciple of Jesus is no less “all in” for believers today than it was for Simon and the first disciples. Certainly, the circumstances have changed, but the call is the same: to go forth and further the mission of God’s kin-dom on earth, catching people and building the movement. I imagine that for many of us, the call feels daunting. Maybe we too are hesitant and feel unworthy. Maybe sometimes the task feels too big. And yet, when we catch a glimpse of Christ among us, recognizing God in the midst of our lives, we are reminded that we are not alone in this journey. Rather, we are compelled to follow and empowered by Christ with us. Like those first disciples, Christ is at work in and among our everyday ordinary lives and among ordinary people. We need not have all the answers or have It all together.  Rather, all that is required is simply to say “yes” and follow.

As you sit with this text and what it says to our communities of faith, perhaps it’s worth asking where it is we see the movements of Christ among us, cultivating God’s Kin-dom on earth? Where is it that Christ is calling us to join into that movement and how is it that we might continue to call others into this movement with us? Maybe these questions don’t yet have clear answers. We need not know it all, we simply must be willing to say “Yes” and join in the movement.

[1] Hultgren, Arland J. (2010, February 7). Commentary on Luke 5:1-11. Retrieved from http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=506

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The Rev. Kim Sorrells

The Rev. Kim Sorrells is an Ordained Minister in the United Church of Christ, with an interest in Spiritual Practices and Justice work. Kim is also bi-vocational and spends their “day job” working for Atlanta Pride as the Programs and Partnerships Manager.

4th Sunday after Epiphany: How Not to Deliver Your First Sermon

4th Sunday after Epiphany: How Not to Deliver Your First Sermon

Luke 4:21-30

By: The Rev. Andrew Chappell

 

In June of 2017, at the age of 27, I was commissioned as a pastor in the United Methodist Church. As it goes in the Methodist itinerant system, I was then appointed to a church. The church to which I was appointed (as associate pastor) happens to be a church that my father pastored and that my family attended from 1994-2001. You can imagine the mixture of feelings I had about that appointment, but most of all, I was elated to be given the opportunity to go home and minister to a congregation that had a hand in raising me.

My first Sunday there, I recognized so many faces. So many of the people in the congregation that morning had an enormous impact on my faith at an early age. A great deal of the sermon I preached that morning looked at the simplicity of the task Christ has given us. At the end of the sermon, I focused on thanking Northbrook for loving me at an early age and into my teens, and for showing me what it looked like to be a part of a loving, gracious community that loves people and most of all Jesus.

I am now halfway through my second year at this church. To serve a community that was so instrumental in my growth as a person and believer has been a joy. The honeymoon continues to this day, and I hope it never ends.

Our Scripture, Luke 4:21-30, finds Jesus in a similar situation. However, his honeymoon ends quickly. Jesus has come home to Nazareth; to his home-synagogue, and he is surrounded by people that raised him in both stature and faith. He preaches his first sermon, and Luke tells us that after claiming to fulfill the prophecy from Isaiah, the congregation is impressed and even proud, looking at one another and saying, “That’s Joseph’s son isn’t it?”

Unfortunately, the pride is short-lived. At this point, our parallel stories of preaching to our hometown crowds diverge as Jesus essentially tells them that the prophecy which he has fulfilled today—that he will be the one “…to bring good news to the poor…proclaim release to the captives…recovery of sight to the blind,” and freedom to the oppressed—does not have a whole lot to do with them (4:18-19). In fact, it has a great deal more to do with the Gentiles and, using examples from 1 Kings 17 and 2 Kings 5, Jesus demonstrates that, historically, this has been a long time coming.

Luke’s Gospel and its sequel (the Acts of the Apostles) paint a portrait of Jesus that cares for the underprivileged, the sick, blind, lame, widows, the poor, AND the Gentiles. Jesus is not just the Savior of the Jews. Jesus is the Savior of humanity! The Gospel of Luke inaugurates Jesus as the Savior of Jews AND Gentiles, and the Acts of the Apostles shows that same good news going viral, into all the world, to everyone!

Just 2 chapters before this, Simeon takes baby Jesus into his arms and proclaims that this child is indeed both a light for the Jews AND the Gentiles. Afterwards, he looks at Mary and acknowledges that this child will also be the cause of much division and heartache. And in Luke 4, we see the first fruits of that division. The message of salvation, of God’s grace for ALL is a hard truth to swallow, specifically for the insiders. The evidence? Jesus’ own home synagogue tries to kill him for such a message!

Nevertheless, Jesus’ message to the Gentiles and to the marginalized and to the world is so important that he has to begin his ministry with this universal message. His first sermon cannot leave it out. It has to be in the forefront.

As you ponder this passage, think about a few things:

  • What is something that, if preached, would cause your congregation to lose their minds in intense anger?
  • Who are the people your congregation intentionally or unintentionally leaves out? Why?
  • Why is an inclusive message so difficult for some to grasp?

Jesus has called us to preach hard truths; to reach out to those on the outside. That may very well cause division. May God be with you as you carry the inclusive and difficult message of Jesus. May God be with you when you bring the Gospel to those you know and those you don’t know, your hometown and out-of-town crowds. May God move you in the direction of spiritual growth. And may you always look to Jesus Christ, who continually shows us what it means to be human, what it means to be a disciple, and what is means to love.

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The Rev. Andrew Chappell

The Rev. Andrew Chappell has been in ministry since 2008 and currently serves as the Associate Pastor of Northbrook United Methodist Church in Roswell, Georgia. Andrew has degrees in Religious Studies and Telecommunications from the University of Georgia, and an M.Div. from Candler School of Theology at Emory University. Andrew loves listening to records, watching Seinfeld, and beignets from Roux on Canton.

 

3rd Sunday after Epiphany: Is God With Us?

3rd Sunday after Epiphany: Is God With Us?

Luke 4:14-21

By: The Rev. Jonathan Gaylord

Too often we sanitize Jesus’ ministry and today’s reading is one of the ways that we as preachers get ourselves stuck sanitizing or sanding down rough scriptural edges for our congregations. If we limit ourselves only to these eight verses, we miss the power and danger of the Holy Spirit.

Look at where this text sits. Jesus has been baptized (the gospel lesson from Baptism of our Lord), driven out into the wilderness (a text we won’t read ‘til Lent 1), and come back filled with the power of the Spirit. He begins to teach in the synagogue and was “praised by everyone.” He is handed the Scroll of Isaiah and begins to read Isaiah 4:17. He concludes, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Everyone is amazed, and if we leave it there, the Holy Spirit works and everyone is #bff #blessed.

The problem is, that’s not the Jesus we get. He comes out of the desert after being tempted and gets right to work. Luke doesn’t tell us how long it is before Jesus arrives in Nazareth, but the gospel relates the events in near Markan breathlessness. Jesus goes from the desert to the synagogue fast. So here is a dusty, emaciated, threadbare son of a local craftsman showing up to read from the prophet Isaiah about how God is going to look out for the poor, oppressed, captive, and blind. The people might have just been amazed and praised Jesus because they were surprised he was standing, let alone reading scripture.

As preachers we have to be honest about the Holy Spirit. This isn’t a safe Spirit. The Spirit is poured out on Jesus in baptism and then DRIVES HIM INTO THE WILDERNESS TO BE TEMPTED BY THE DEVIL. The Spirit sees Jesus through the wilderness, and Jesus returns filled with the power of the Spirit. Jesus takes this power and preaches, and people are amazed and praise him. Until after v 21, when Jesus interprets some more scripture, AND THE PEOPLE RUN HIM OUT OF TOWN. The Holy Spirit should come with a disclaimer.

Now the thing about Spirit-filled ministry is that Jesus is doing it when they are praising him, and he is doing it when he is being run out of town (or driven into the wilderness). It is neither good nor bad, safe nor dangerous. The Spirit will lead where the Spirit needs and wants to lead.

So, how do we break this down for our congregations? What metric can we use to ensure we are doing the work of the Holy Spirit? What compass is there? Sometimes we are run out of town for not doing the work of the Spirit, and sometimes we are run out for being offensive insensitive jerks. Sometimes we are accepted by communities because we are accommodating, uncritical, and unchallenging and sometimes we are accepted because we speak of the hope and promise of Jesus Christ.

“The Great Thanksgiving for Advent” quotes the Magnificat saying, “You fill the hungry with good things, and the rich you send away empty.” Every Advent I am surprised, thrilled, and scared of these words as I stand at the Table and offer them to God and the congregation. Mary speaks to our fears nicely. We want for God to choose us, and over and over again God sides with the oppressed, the poor, the captive, the hurting, and the lost.

This is a terrifying word because it means that God may not choose us. It is scary that the good news might be for someone else and not for me, us, or you. We spend so much time in Christmas parsing the meaning of the incarnation. The Word became Flesh and dwells among usLove came down at Christmas….To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, Christ the Lord… Glory to the newborn king, God and Sinners reconciled… veiled in flesh the Godhead see; hail the incarnate Deity. In the season of Christmas and Epiphany we move beyond the reality of the incarnation and dig into the “why” of incarnation. Why did Christ come in flesh? To save us from sin certainly, but also to speak into the reality of the world. To speak the words of the prophets in favor of the poor, oppressed, captive, and the hurting.

The metric we then use to determine if we are doing the work of God is “Am I where God is?” Are we with the poor, the oppressed, the hungry, and the thirsty? Are we with God and God’s people when no one else is, when no one else wants to be, when everyone else tells us not to be? Maybe (as hard as this might be for us to stomach as Americans), God isn’t with us. Maybe God is with the people Jesus reads about in Isaiah.

If we as the Church are to claim the authority to act as the Body of Christ, we must be with Christ. Where can your congregation be with Christ in your community? Who can you be with that Christ is “bringing good news” “release” and “freedom” to? God is with us. God is with you. Christ cleanses us of our sin, offers us transformation, righteousness, and holiness. Can we fully grasp that holiness if we stand apart from the favored ones of God?

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The Rev. Jonathan Gaylord (& Child)

The Rev. Jonathan Gaylord grew up in Florida and is a lifelong United Methodist. He’s a graduate of Candler School of Theology. His focus is on preaching, pastoral care, and exploring the spiritual practices that connect us to God. He enjoys running, hiking, and backyard gardening. Jonathan is married to Keri, who is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Jon and Keri welcomed their first child in July 2018, they also have a dog and some bees. Jonathan is an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church and serves Yadkinville United Methodist Church in Yadkinville, North Carolina.

Epiphany 2(C): The Turn

Epiphany 2(C): The Turn

John 2:1-11

By: The Rev. Anna Tew

Of all the ways that Jesus is portrayed in the Bible, I think I like the one contained in these eleven verses the best.

Sure, there’s Jesus healing the sick and casting out demons and decrying the abuse of the poor. There’s Jesus the good shepherd and Jesus the smartass. There’s Jesus the gentle, cradling children in his arms, and there’s Jesus the wild and political, flipping over table after table in the temple and making an actual whip out of cords (that Jesus will show up about three verses after this text is over, actually).

I must say, however, that my absolute favorite Jesus is the Jesus of John 2:1-11. He’s the one who gets nagged by his mom then saves the party immediately before he turns the party. The Jesus of John 2 is like a good best friend; I love and relate to him and I remain a little in awe of him, even after all these years. (It helps that he always shows up at just the right time with the good wine.)

Times were hard in first-century Israel. Rome had them conquered and suppressed. Jewish folks like Jesus and the other wedding guests often feared for their lives. They lived with a powerful foreign power as an occupying force. They lived as a minority. Those who had power were very different than they were, and they often found themselves on the wrong side of the use of force.

As always, however, life went on in the first century as life tends to do; people were born, people died, people got married and sometimes people even fell in love. But times were hard. The text doesn’t tell us why the hosts of this wedding ran out of wine. Maybe they were poor, maybe the harvest was bad that year, or maybe they were just bad planners. The Fourth Gospel doesn’t think that’s an important detail. The point is, they ran out of wine. And Jesus’ mom, a guest at the wedding with her son, the Son of Man, noticed.

She whispers to him across the table. It would seem that she knows that he can do something. With a good dose of motherly cajoling including Jesus never actually agreeing, water is turned into wine, and not just any wine: good wine, and a lot of it.

Arguably the best part: in the story, only the servants, Jesus, Jesus’ mother, and Jesus’ disciples ever knew what happened. It’s the hosts of the wedding that get the compliments for bringing out the good wine. As readers of the Fourth Gospel, we are privy to knowledge that characters in the story aren’t; specifically, that Jesus kept the party going. What’s more, this is the first time that John’s Gospel says that Jesus’ disciples “believed in him” (v. 11). Jesus turns the party, and they believe.

These days, most of us are feeling tired.

The news moves at a pace that even professionals have a hard time keeping up with. Many of us worry about the state of the nation and the state of the world, as things seem increasingly unstable and most preachers feel compelled to comment on news that moves faster than they do. We constantly find ourselves struggling to find the words to say after another shooting and more violence and more deportations and assassinations and nuclear threats and tear gas and terrorists and the effects of climate change and infinite public petty arguments. Most of us, I think, find ourselves torn between being blatantly partisan because we’re just done and the other extreme of flying to the safety and cowardice of “both sides-ism.”

What’s more, during the season of Epiphany, those living in climates where it snows will, at times, find the weather hard to bear. Many, many more live under conditions so difficult that the weather is the least of their worries.

In the midst of all of it, this text finds us, in the middle of January during yet another year in furious America and in a furious world. This is where Jesus shows up and brings the good wine. The task of the preacher is to hold these two together, never neglecting to celebrate the abundance found in this text in the midst of the fury all around us and in the text itself.

John 2 is a text so full of joyful abundance that if you listen, you can hear the characters giggle in tipsy glee and newfound belief. They dance, even as they are in the midst of a furious and violent world and a risky existence themselves, because they are at a wedding, and because God showed up. In the midst of everything, they find something to celebrate: each other, and Christ’s presence among them.

Yes, of all the ways that Jesus is portrayed in the Bible, I think I like this Jesus best. So don’t forget to dance at the wedding, preacher. Even in the midst of your worries, have a glass of wine (or whatever it is you enjoy) and take this text for a spin around the dance floor this week. You’ll be glad you did.

 

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The Rev. Anna Tew

The Rev. Anna Tew is a 30-something Lutheran pastor serving Our Savior’s Lutheran Church (ELCA) in South Hadley, Massachusetts. A product of several places, she was born in rural Alabama, considers Atlanta home, and lives in and adores New England. In her spare time, Anna enjoys climbing the nearby mountains, traveling, exploring cities and nightlife, and keeping up with politics and pop culture.

Baptism of Our Lord: Worthy of Our Calling

Baptism of Our Lord: Worthy of Our Calling

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

By: The Rev. AnnaKate Rawles

 

In the Lectionary text for this week, John declares that he baptizes with water but one more powerful than he is coming who will “baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire (v16)” and he will use “his winnowing fork… to clean his threshing floor (v17).” The Lectionary then moves to the baptism of Jesus, which is different than the story found in the other synoptics. In Luke, Jesus is baptized alongside others and we do not get the details of the baptism, but are instead told that after he is baptized he prays, and that the Holy Spirit came upon “in bodily form like a dove.” (v22)

Luke does not tell us why Jesus goes to be baptized, and he does not tell us that it is John who does the baptizing, and so we use the scripture surrounding the text to help us understand why it is that Jesus is baptized. After all, for three chapters, Luke has been telling us that Jesus is the Promised One, born without sin. John baptizes as a result of repentance and calls on others to move from their sinful ways and care for those who are in need. One way to read these texts together is to continue reading into Jesus’ genealogy. Upon baptism the Holy Spirit comes upon Jesus and a voice from heaven declares “You are my Son, whom I dearly love (v22).” In this baptism Jesus is claimed as God’s child, Jesus’ genealogy is recited, and he begins his ministry.

Through baptism, we are initiated into Christ’s church, the family of God, we are made part of God’s mighty acts of salvation, and we are given new birth through the water and Holy Spirit. In the United Methodist tradition baptism occurring at infancy is common and so the vows of baptism are taken by the parents/guardians/ family on behalf of the child, with the hope that the child will later take on the vows themselves. Two of the vows are:

“Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness,
reject the evil powers of this world,
and repent of your sin?

Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you
to resist evil, injustice, and oppression
in whatever forms they present themselves[1]?”

In baptism Jesus is initiated into the family of God and claimed by God as God’s beloved child. In baptism Jesus accepts his ministry, accepts that he is the one John has been teaching about, and claims his identity as the savior that Zechariah and Mary have both prophesied. But baptism is not just about initiation or claiming God as your God. In baptism we also acknowledge the need to be in community with one another, and to resist wickedness and work towards a world where justice and equality reign. And this, we do not do on our own.

Perhaps that is why Jesus goes along with all the others for baptism not merely to show solidarity with humanity as they seek to repent of their individual sins, but because he knew the need to acknowledge and repent for the corporate sin that all of humanity is part of, merely by being human. In all things we as humans do exist within a structure that is unfortunately flawed and often overtly sinful. In sharing our humanity Jesus needed to name that through his genealogy of imperfect people like David and Abraham, he too is aware of the structures of sin.

We live in a time where it feels like resisting injustice and oppression is a full-time job. Nearly every news report shares another instance of inequality and abuse of a people group or the denial of justice by those who are powerful. I cannot help but think of those who are currently at our border literally wading through the waters of the Rio Grande hoping for freedom and protection for themselves and their children. Or the religious minorities in China and Myanmar who are being routinely killed because of their faith and ethnicity. In our cities, people of color are far more likely to experience homelessness or incarceration than whites. Our planet is injured by our collective refusal to be caregivers of the earth instead of plunderers of God’s good creation.

As we preach on this Baptism of the Lord Sunday, remembering the vows we take or have taken upon ourselves for our children who cannot speak for themselves is a remarkable way to call our congregations back into focus after the holidays. The work of repentance is not finished; we have work to do. Take this week to call your congregation into actions of repentance, into actions that are worthy of our calling as God’s children.

 

[1] “The United Methodist Book of Worship.” Nashville, Tenn. United Methodist Publishing House, 1992.

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The Rev. AnnaKate Rawles

The Rev. AnnaKate Rawles is a Methodist Minister in Atlanta, Georgia. She attended Converse College, a liberal arts women’s college, where she earned her Bachelor of Arts in English and Religion. Following college, AnnaKate attended Emory University’s Candler School of Theology where she earned her Master of Divinity. She also attended Cambridge University where she wrote her thesis on John Wesley and the Holy Club. She is currently a Doctor of Ministry candidate at Candler School of Theology. She enjoys traveling and eating tacos.

 

The Epiphany (C): The Light of God’s Liberation

The Epiphany(C): The Light of God’s Liberation

Matthew 2:1-12

By: The Rev. Caleb Tabor

The Epiphany!  It is a holiday that I had no real idea about before I joined the Episcopal Church in college. Growing up vaguely non-denominational in the South, the Magi (aka Wise Men aka Three Kings)[1] sort of just went along with the Christmas story and disappeared (along with Mary) after we took down the nativity scenes before the end of the twelve days of Christmas were even up. Now, it is one of the most important holy days in the year for me.

Working in an Episcopal congregation that is about forty-five percent Latinx, the Epiphany, or Tres Reyes Magos (Three Magic Kings)[2] as it is called by many of my parishioners, has taken on new life and energy as it is a major celebration when the Reyes Magos come to pay homage to the Christ Child and bring gifts for the children at church with them (liturgically, this totally makes more sense to me than exchanging gifts on Christmas day, btw). I’ve seen the joy it brings to our congregation—for first- generation immigrants it is a taste of home, for the second generation it is a family celebration, for the rest it is an educational moment, and for all it is a thoroughly spiritual celebration of love of God and others.

The pictures and depictions of the Magi are also really significant. A lot of times they are depicted as coming from different continents, which shows the universality of Christ, the Gospel, and the Church. This means a lot in a time when border crossing is increasingly perilous and politicized and those with different customs and ways are increasingly demonized by polarizing politics and a culture that is being drained of its empathy faster than the political swamp is being drained of corruption. There is a ruler in this Gospel text who lacks empathy for others, and he is by no means shown in a positive light.

On a more personal note, I find myself relating to the Magi here on a few levels here:

As someone with a tendency to spend too much time in his head (read: nerd), the Magi are a reminder that the mind and the soul can become one in our quest for the Divine—much like St. Thomas Aquinas’ lifelong goal. As much as anyone can tell, astrology was an odd combination of science and magic in the ancient world, so perhaps their commitment to spirituality and to the observance of the natural courses of creation leading them to God is a helpful example in a time of changing climate and uncertainty about our future. Their heeding divine warnings about a perilous future if they keep their present path and deciding on an alternate, better course to prevent needless tragedy seems like a wise example here.

As a queer person, I love that Scripture isn’t ashamed of the Magi’s queerness or strangeness. In fact, it is their queer sensibilities and their queer ways that enable them to see and appreciate the actions of God at work right under the very nose of the Temple and other authorities, who either miss what’s happening or get so upset by it that they take tragic actions to stop God’s new and liberating work being done among the poor and the animals and the foreigners and the queer people. It’s hard not to relate to the Magi on this one. That and their aforementioned affinity for astrology, which is totally a thing in the queer community (and if you don’t believe me you can consult any queer social media and see exactly what I’m talking about). Additionally, many images of the Magi depict the men dressed rather flamboyantly and differently than others we see depicted in Scripture (an admirable commitment to style given the fact that they are on a presumably long journey).[3] The story of the Magi and the Epiphany is, to me, possibly one of the most affirming texts in the whole of Scripture for queer readers. And I might not be the only one to think so. Manila Luzon, Peppermint, and Alaska 5000 from RuPaul’s Drag Race even did a shockingly reverent and comfortingly queer music video We Three Queens with each of them representing one of the Magi with a traditional gift.[4]

The other level at which I find myself appreciating the Magi here is being an Episcopalian in the rural south. When we have visitors from the local Baptist or Methodist or non-denominational churches, one gets the impression that sometimes they have no idea quite what to do with us and our peculiar ways as we offer vessels of gold and rich incense at the altar of the Lord while adorned with unfamiliar vestments and saying or chanting strange prayers. Still, the message here is clear; gifts given by sincere hearts are acceptable to Christ whether they come from unfussy shepherds or zhuzhed up Magi.

The story of the Magi and the Epiphany is a message of warning to those who are trying to stop the flow of God’s gracious and liberating work in the world; you can do whatever you want, pull any strings you want, commit any atrocity you want, but you will not win. More importantly, it is a story of comfort to those who are on spiritual journeys or who find themselves feeling strange or outside of the regular come-and-go of life in either their church or broader communities. Whether the light of the Epiphany enables us to get a taste of our old home as we make a different life in new lands, or encourages us to be more welcoming of those who are traveling across borders, or shows the cruelty of rulers who abuse children in the name of politics, or brings our minds and souls into a singular commitment to God, or helps us own our place adoring and following a Christ who accepts our queerness without shame, or helps us to be more appreciative and understanding of those with different religious traditions than our own, or some other profound message that is no doubt embedded in the rich, but surprisingly brief, story, it is a light we need in our time. May it shine all the more brightly on all of those who encounter it.

 

St Cyps Preaching
The Rev. Caleb Tabor

The Rev. Caleb Tabor is Vicar of St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church, a bilingual congregation in Oxford, North Carolina. He was educated at Elon University, Emory University, and Virginia Theological Seminary. Originally from North Carolina, he has settled down close to home in Mebane, North Carolina where he lives with his husband, Logan, and dog, Dandy. Theology, coffee, creative writing, and RuPaul’s Drag Race are just a few of the things keep him occupied in his spare and not-so-spare time.

[1] How many stage names do y’all need, honey?

[2] Apparently at least one more

[3] Werk!

[4] Either they think of this text in a liberating way or are just cashing in on a cheap pun for the holidays.  Whichever it is, I’m claiming it.  The Spirit moves where and how It wills.