We are in Epiphany, that season in the church calendar when we are invited see how God is revealed in our world. The question for us in this season is how do we see, and how do we respond to what we see?
We started the season with Matthew's story of the magi following their star to their epiphany, then moved to Matthew's version of the baptism of Jesus. Coming up this Sunday, we get John's version of the baptism, and after that we will spend the remaining weeks of Epiphany with the Sermon on the Mount, home of that collection of sayings that we call the beatitudes. The beatitudes are Jesus' manifesto about how to see God in our world, and how to respond, how to live this life in this world in the face of oppression.
But back to John for a moment:
The fourth gospel skips any details like those from Matthew-no splash of Jordan river water, no descending birds, no voice saying "this is my beloved", just the Baptist's metaphor: "I saw the Spirit descend-- like a dove-- and it remained on him." The Spirit is with Jesus, it abides with him, and it is something to see. The Baptist is excited: he calls Jesus the Lamb of God, the Son of God, the one who will take away all the sin and all the suffering. You just have to be able to see it in him.
The disciples want more. They want to see. Where are you staying? they ask. What are you all about?
And how does Jesus answer? "Come and see." No explanation of the Baptist's metaphors or anything else. No proof. No hyperbole. No miracles. No drama. Just an invitation: take a step in my direction. Come, just take one step, just do one small thing. Have just enough confidence to put one foot in front of the other, just enough trust to know what I know, that you are loved. Then you will see. Come and see. See with the eyes of your hearts.
Come and see. And of course, that is the beginning of all change for these two disciples. That is the one step that begins the transformation of their world, and of ours.
I heard this invitation to see in an NPR interview with one of my heroes, Vincent Harding, historian and Civil Rights activist. He was interviewed by Krista Tippett of On Being at Wild Goose last summer. He invited us to see ourselves as creators of a new multiracial democracy, and he said that his own vision is grounded in the beatitudes of Jesus:
"The great American experiment with building a multiracial democracy is still in the laboratory. We have got to be willing to see ourselves as part of an experiment that is actively working its way through right now. None of us knows the answer fully, as to how we do this. We stumble. We hold on to each other. We hug each other. We fight with one another in loving ways. But we keep moving and experimenting and trying to figure it out... encouraging people to talk about this wherever we are. Not letting people sit down and talk about football and basketball or even church politics, without talking about this issue of how do we create a new, multiracial nation that is filled with democracy, filled with compassion, and filled with children who are coming up in a new way.
"My own deepest source of strength in this is the word that most of us received from the one that we say we follow, when he guaranteed us that if we are willing to hunger and thirst for the right way, for the way of righteousness, if we don't back off, if we don't give up, if we don't look for the easy way, but let the hunger and thirst really drive us, we will be filled. That is what keeps me going, that promise that if I am willing to let the hunger continue to drive my life, the filling is assured."
This Epiphany, as we look around our country, from the coal-polluted waters of West Virginia to Congressional cuts in food stamps, it's my prayer that we not "look for the easy way," but rather see. Come and see.
Echoes from the Edge
By Kaji Douša, 2013-14 Fellow - January 14th, 2014
Thank God for dreams. Thank God for the times in which the world of the conscious produced a yearning that, encouraged by celestial wanderings, yielded a dream worth remembering.
Dreams so often seem impossible. Outside of the realm of possibility. Improbably spectacular. Inexplicably different from the realm of the living. The truth is, there's more crossover than we think. It happens, maybe, each time we find a period of rest.
Someone had a dream that pushed beyond what was to create something new. Our gathering together in church reflects such dreaming. From a Savior prepared to give it all. To apostles seeing need and meeting them. To planters, prepared to grow community that preaches and lives a Gospel of truth and reconciliation, a Gospel of possibility in the face of impossibility. A Gospel of a Living God ready to give and save us all.
The Saints of old heard it true. And they dreamed, too, and from those dreams, they created new possibilities, building foundations on which we now very much stand.
Oh, we miss them. We miss them all.
But in some way, aren't we living out their dreams, too? And, maybe, in so doing, don't they continue to live on, through us? Because, being, by their very nature celestial, don't dreams live...forever?
Certainly conditions change. Needs of yesteryear shift. Resources disintegrate and new ones emerge. But, when we call out to God, I believe that we call the same name from the very same place. And the spiritual inspiration that emerges is drawn from the very same source.
No, their dreams haven't died with them. They live on, in us. Just differently.
So as someone more brilliant than I once said: in order to live out our dreams, we must wake up, first.
To what, then, are we called to wake up? How might we need to open our eyes? What are the deep needs of the world God so desperately wants us to feel inspired to meet?
As we access that space that makes the seemingly impossible appear to be relevant...what are we inspired to do? Where are we inspired to go? Into which places are the saints of old counting on us to reach in ways they may not have been able to?
Something that comes so immediately to mind is what we're seeing so clearly in this church: the state of the economy, the status of employment or underemployment, the needs of the bodies, the cuts to funding, this whole amalgam of wrong, this nationwide attack on the poor...it's hurting our people. It's hurting our neighbors. And yet the decision-makers who have turned away from generous living, they seem impossibly inaccessible, unreachable. What does it matter what we think? What difference does it make what we think or say when the behemoth of influence just seems...so...unreachable?
Well. Dreams and apathy have no place in each other's company, or if they do, one must replace the other. Because apathy won't change a thing except to make us feel like there isn't a damned thing we can do. Apathy is the attitude of the powerless. But when we set it aside, we step into a place of empowerment.
When we tap into the wellspring of dreams, we are infinitely powerful, because God is infinitely able. Amen?
Oh, this doesn't mean that every dream can, or should, come true. Some dreams tap into something other than goodness. Sometimes those dreams, those dreams that strip away power, harm others, create disparities, ghettoize the other...those dreams can sometimes take over.
But the Saints of old are counting on us, God is counting on us, to hear a different call. To remember their stories and feel inspired: that is the gift the Saints continue to give. To dream richly. And then...to wake up ready to play our part in creating a new day for a world that is so desperately ready for it.
And, blessed through it all, then with eyes wide open...we begin. Amen
Kaji is Senior Minister of United Church of Christ La Mesa in California. She is focused on growing multi-ethnic, economically-diverse churches.
Finally, the Poet
By Evelyn Underhill, in The Light of the World - January 14th, 2014
"The birth of Christ in our souls is for a purpose beyond ourselves: it is because his manifestation in the world must be through us.
Every Christian is, as it were, part of the dust-laden air which shall radiate the glowing epiphany of God, catch and reflect his golden Light.
Ye are the light of the world--but only because you are enkindled, made radiant by the one Light of the world.
And being kindled, we have got to get on with it, be useful."