Transcription of the sermon preached
By The Very Reverend William Carl Thomas
The First Sunday after the Epiphany
January 8, 2012
At Saint Matthews Episcopal Church, Charleston West Virginia
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This is the time of year when things are made known. Especially let’s say, perhaps, in the political world. If you have paid attention to anything in the world, and have actually tried not to, you can’t escape how everybody is trying to make themselves known; to market their message; to segment themselves from what somebody else is doing. They’re doing everything they can to put forward their platform. To draw you into relationship with them so that you will support them; that’s one example of what is going on in this time of making known.
Another would be car companies. It used to be like one time of year there’d be the new car models and you’d have them for a whole year. Well now these things keep coming out and typically around this time of year a new model comes out. We’ll be hearing about the 2013 models from some guys pretty soon. Again, they will be using techniques to make them know: to draw you into relationship: to get you to support: to get you to buy their product.
So we’ve got politicians. We have the car companies. And lest I leave out myself and one of my favorite things: the gadget companies. Okay. I mean the Consumer Electronics Show is coming up, when the latest and greatest electronic gadget is coming out. That is going to save lives because it’s going to be quicker, faster, better than something else. They want you to be drawn into relationship and support them, and, of course, my friends at Apple Computer, they’re talking about sucking me in by saying we’re going to announce it on Steve Jobs’ birthday. Look and see whatever comes next is so holy now!
Did you ever get the idea that they stole all these things from us? It’s as if we had the original product launch. You know, think about it, we kickoff in Advent: we have John in the wilderness, John the Baptist, locusts and honey; he’s a character again in today’s gospel; proclaiming repent, the one who is coming is coming, be prepared. And then we take two small snippets from two gospel accounts. And we blow them up really big and we talk about the birth of Jesus. So we’re really doing everything to get your attention about what’s going on. And, of course, in the last week, on the sixth of January is theoretically when the wise men came, the Magi show up, so we have that as the Epiphany. Oh, by the way, Epiphany means manifest, or actually means “to make known.” Epiphany: to make known.
This is the first Sunday after the Epiphany, to make known. And now, all of the sudden, Jesus is an adult. And, it’s like the brand is kicking off. Here he is. He’s coming to see John the Baptist who has been the hearty proclaimer of everything that’s going on. So if we were to consider this a product launch, here he is, he’s coming out, he’s coming forward. And, frankly, Jesus is doing something he doesn’t have to do. Why is everybody coming to the River Jordan? Well, they’re coming because they feel they need to confess their sins: that which has pulled them away from God, not drawn them closer. And Jesus comes and submits to the baptism with John. He who is without sin comes. He does something he doesn’t have to do. And when he comes up out of the water, what do we hear? If we haven’t gotten the point already that something special has happened, that should get our attention for real, God, a voice from heaven says, “This is my son, the Beloved. With whom I am well pleased.” So we have something kicking off and starting as if it’s a launch.
But this is where we’ve got to be very careful. And realize that it has been with a sort of wry sense of humor I’ve talked about this as a product launch. Because those products have tried to get you to want to be in relationship with them based upon some value or construct they’ve put before you. But God has always been coming to us in love. To draw us into relationship with God and we, being the stubborn folk that we are, have done our very best to go our own little way and do whatever we want. And so, Incarnation, in Jesus’ birth, and now in the beginning of his public ministry, God is making it very clear that God is clearly in relationship with us in an intimate and close way. “You can’t run, you can’t hide, I’m going to love you” God is saying. “I’m going to make sure you get it. I’m not selling anything, I’m just sharing.”
Now over the next few weeks during Epiphany, oh, by the way, Epiphany means “to make known,” the word manifest is nice but it’s not as clear as “to make known,” we will begin to see how Jesus is being made known. He is going to call disciples. He will be giving them the tools they need. He will be healing sick folk. Now as we go through these weeks of Epiphany, getting ready to move towards Lent, the Last Sunday of the Epiphany, for us as Episcopalians, is a unique and special Sunday. And I say, why unique and special? Are we Episcopalians so unique and special? No, we’re kind of stubborn because we didn’t want to give something up that everybody else wanted to do differently on that day. But I’m glad we were a bit stubborn because I think it’s a good idea. You see, the Transfiguration, the Feast of the Transfiguration, is an August feast. And I know you’re all in church on the Feast Day of the Transfiguration in August to remember Jesus going up the mountain with Peter, James, and John: being made whiter than white, his glory shining through. All right, we Episcopalians, even though we subscribe to the Revised Common Lectionary now, so if you were in a Roman Catholic Church, or a Presbyterian, or Methodist, or anybody who uses the lectionary as we do now, the Revised Common Lectionary, you’d be hearing the same scriptures every week. Except on the Last Sunday after the Epiphany when we hear the Transfiguration, whiter than white, the glory of God, and we will also hear God’s voice when Jesus is showing himself to be this radiant glory, the essence of God amongst us, calling us clearly into something beyond our comprehension. When he then says, “this is the Beloved.” Sound familiar? He said that at the baptism. At the baptism, “this is my son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
In the Transfiguration accounts, it doesn’t vary; it’s the same, whether it is Matthew, Mark, or Luke: “this is the Beloved, the Chosen, listen to him.” “Listen to him.” And if you remember anything I’ve ever said over the last eight years, I have said the word obedience has its root in the word obaudire, which means to hear or to listen. One who is obedient is one who listens to God. Jesus is without sin because he is totally obedient, totally listening to God. Gets his strength fully from that listening which is why when he comes up out of the Jordan River: he is clearly without sin. And God says, “this is my son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
In our prayerbook, I don’t want you to turn to the page, please, and it’s page 836, it’s a General Thanksgiving which closes with this paragraph, this sentiment, these words: “Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know Christ and make him known.” “And through him, at all times and in all places, give thanks to you.” Many churches will adopt a mission statement that embraces, “that we may know Christ and make him known.” So when we have this day, this beginning of Epiphany, which means, “to make known,” what are we making known? How are we making it known? And if we think about it, it starts with listening carefully to God.
In a few minutes, as part of the tradition of the church on this, the First Sunday after the Epiphany, when we celebrate the baptism of Jesus, we might have baptism in church. It’s one of the four times set apart that makes perfect sense to do them. Whether we have a baptism or not, this is a day we are called to renew our baptismal vows. Where we renounce evil. And we affirm Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Where we restate our sense of faith in the words of the Apostles Creed in the form of questions, and then five other questions come up which basically speak to know Christ and then how we are going to make him known. It’s another way of saying that we enter into Epiphany in order to become Epiphany: by making Christ known to others. I think we’re saying as much in our own mission statement which ends “to draw people to Christ.”
Now, how do we go about making real these promises in holy baptism? I think the key is in what God proclaims about Jesus: this is the Beloved, the place where the true relationship, not the faux relationship of things and events that could be transitory, but the relationship that was, and is, and always will be, because it is grounded in the love that makes it possible for us to love. It makes it even possible for us to have a relationship with anything. And so it is out of the beloved relationship, freely offered to us, with the arms held wide (open) on the hard wood of the cross, that we then hear God say, “Listen to him.” So if we are committed to listening, we are committed to seeking and hearing the invitations God is continually offering to us in this relationship to make Christ known.
The marketers do a good job trying to tell their story to get our attention. How good are we at telling our own story? Think about it. The opportunities will come and sometimes we may shy away from saying I’m a follower of Jesus. The opportunity may come because somebody may look at you and say, they might not say this out loud, but they may see a glow in you because of this relationship you nurture by listening to God. And they may say, “ I want something, I want what you have, can you help me find it?” That’s an invitation from God to say, “Sure, come and see it.” And then wrap them with the arms of love that came off the cross and hugged us. Or maybe it’s a matter of simply being quiet with God, to listen carefully and to be nurtured deeply when you are in pain. To realize the Beloved will never let go of you. In Lamentations this is called the Great Faithfulness of God.
How do we go about entering into knowing Christ and making him known in a world that is so skillful at using these same techniques to know the product and make the product known? All we have to remember is the relationship, the Beloved, was always made known to us before we could even recognize or be aware of it. That is such a huge gift. Our opportunity, our challenge, is to embrace it, nurture it, and share it. To know Christ and to make him known is one way to listen and know the love freely offered by the Beloved.
All these words I offer in the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.