Sunday, January 06, 2008

Where is the Child that was Born King of the Jews?

Grace Episcopal Church, Madison NJ
January 6, 2008 – The Feast of the Epiphany

Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14
(Ephesians 3:1-12)
Matthew 2:1-12

Where is the Child who was born King of the Jews?

Well, they finally made it. These past couple of weeks each time I’ve passed through church in my mind I’ve kind of encouraged the three wise men, “Come on , keep going you’re almost there. Just a little bit farther” And now today we celebrate that they made it. Today we celebrate the arrival of the wise men in Bethlehem. Today we celebrate Epiphany.

The Epiphany story is so beautiful and so powerful. It strikes a chord deep inside of us. We don’t really know anything about these wise men – or kings – or astrologers, or whoever they were. Although the cast is a mystery, it’s a story that strikes something inside of us. Epiphany is a powerful story with two deeply related parts. First, God’s love is manifested in Jesus Christ. In Jesus, God says to the whole world – “Here, this is who I am.” “This is how much I love you.” And the second part of Epiphany is the response of the wise men to this manifestation – they give gifts to Jesus.

Epiphany: a powerful story of manifestation and response.

Somehow this story of wise men traveling from who knows where to the backwater town of Bethlehem to pay homage to the newborn king of the Jews strikes a chord in many of us.
To this day Cologne Cathedral in Germany contains the shrine of the Three Kings – I had the chance to see it back in the 80s. The shrine is a large golden sarcophagus that supposedly contains the remains of the Magi. Because the Epiphany story is so powerful, it was quite a catch for Cologne to get these relics. Not surprisingly since medieval times the shrine has attracted many pilgrims and people continue to visit it everyday.

Epiphany –a powerful story of manifestation and response. It’s a story in two parts – the manifestation of God’s love in Jesus and the gifts that the wise men give to the Baby Jesus.

I think the power of the story comes from the search for Jesus. The wise men ask when they arrive in Jerusalem, “Where is the child that has been born the king of the Jews?” They are looking for Jesus. Part of the power of the Epiphany story comes from these people taking a chance, following a star, and searching for the king – searching for Jesus.

The truth is, we may be a little envious of the wise men. In some ways they had it easier than we do. Yes, they had to leave their homes. Yes, they had to follow the star. Yes, they had to trust. Yes, they had to outwit Herod. But, at the end of their journey they found the child, the newborn king, they found God’s love. They found Jesus under the star.

There in the manger, God’s love is manifested in Jesus. The wise men can see him, hear him, and present him with their gifts.

We are also on a quest for Jesus. But today Jesus, who is God’s love, is not made manifest in the same way as he was for the wise men. No, we are in the same position as the apostle Thomas. We are challenged to believe without seeing, to believe without hearing, to believe without touching. But, although we are in a very different situation than the wise men, the two parts of the Epiphany story remain the same – the manifestation of God’s love and the call for us to respond to God’s love.

We are on a quest for Jesus. Where is the child who was born the king of the Jews? Where is Jesus? How is God’s love made manifest today, here and now, right here in Madison? How is Jesus made manifest right here at Grace Church? And how can we respond? What gifts can we give to Jesus?

In thinking about where to find Jesus today I was reminded of a famous quote from Teresa of Avila, the 16th Century Spanish mystic. She said, “Christ has no body on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which is to look out Christ’s compassion on the world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.”

Very beautiful and very true. So maybe our quest is easier than the quest faced by the wise men. We do not have to travel to a distant land to find Christ. We can find Christ inside of us and in the people who are around us. If we pay attention, if we are mindful, we can experience Epiphany every day. If we pay attention, if we are mindful, we will find that God is made manifest in Jesus right here and right now.

So in my quest for Jesus, my quest for God’s love here at Grace Church I did the obvious thing – I opened up the latest edition of The Messenger.

One of the things I still haven’t gotten used to here at Grace is how much is going on week after week. It’s amazing, and sometimes a bit overwhelming to be part of a church that does so much.

As I mindfully flipped through The Messenger, God’s love was made manifest on page after page.

There was the story of Chris Wilde running in the Marine Corps Marathon and raising $3400 to support research to cure Leukemia and Lymphoma. Epiphany.

There was the story of our children making Christmas cards for the residents of Pine Acres and talking about how Jesus didn’t just talk about doing things, he did them. Epiphany.

One of the children told the story of being at the nursing home. He said, “I took my best card, you know the one I had spent all this time making, and there was this guy sitting in the corner, and like no one was looking at him or going to him. So I went over there, and I gave it to him.” Epiphany.

There was the story of Grace parishioners donating gifts so that the Recycling Ministry could make a wonderful Christmas for ten families and ten adults. Epiphany.

And speaking of the Recycling Ministry, on a nearly daily basis Kit and his crew manifest God’s love and in very concrete ways transform people’s lives. Epiphany.

There was the story of the Rite 13 bake sale raising $80 for Heifer International. Along with a generous donation from the Outreach Committee, we were able to make real difference in the lives of people in the developing world. Epiphany.

No, I’m not done - there’s more! There was the story of thirty-four parishioners donating food to the Community Soup Kitchen in Morristown and thirteen parishioners working in the kitchen serving over 200 meals. Epiphany.

I could keep going, but you get the idea. God’s love is made manifest right here at Grace Church. It turns out, if we pay attention, Epiphany happens everyday, right here, right now.

As Christians we are called to manifest God’s love in the world. We are all called as Teresa of Avila put it, to be Christ’s body, to be Christ’s eyes, to be Christ’s feet, to be Christ’s hands.

Which brings us to the second part of Epiphany – our response. We know how the wise men responded – by giving their gifts. So how about us? In that same issue of The Messenger there were lots of upcoming opportunities to manifest Jesus in the world. There are lots of potential Epiphanies.

There is another soup kitchen date in February. Kit is always looking for some help on the truck. In The Messenger I wrote about our new “Driven by Grace” program. What a gift to drive someone to church who couldn’t get here otherwise!

On February 20, St. Vincent’s Church will be hosting the interfaith homeless shelter. What a gift to offer shelter to people who have no place to rest!

On February 3, we’ll be celebrating “Souper Bowl Sunday” with soup pots available for donations after every service. The money raised will go directly to the Community Soup Kitchen in Morristown. What a gift to make a donation that we know directly benefits people in our own community.

If we pay attention, there are so many potential Epiphanies. There are so many ways for God’s love to be made manifest, right here and now.

So, on this Epiphany let’s celebrate that the wise men made it. They completed their quest. They encountered God’s love in Jesus. And they responded by giving gifts. If we pay attention we can encounter God’s love here and now. How will we respond?

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Driven by Grace

The Messenger
Grace Episcopal Church, Madison NJ
January 2008

Driven by Grace

Many of you know that before moving to Madison at the end of August Sue and I had lived nearly our entire lives in Jersey City. So, naturally, people here at Grace as well as back home in Jersey City have been asking how the adjustment to suburban living has been going. Considering how long we lived in the city, I am amazed at how easily we have settled into our new environment.

Certainly there have been adjustments. Obviously life on Surrey Lane is a whole lot quieter than the cacophony that surrounded us back on Highland Avenue. The city is bathed in the glow of artificial light, so it took some time to get used to the real darkness at night. But, it sure is wonderful to see so many stars in the sky on these clear crisp winter nights. Our cat Noelle was predictably freaked out by the move but she has created a new routine and has quickly grown to love – and in fact very often yearn for – the screened-in porch.

In reality there is quite a bit about Madison that feels very familiar. I am grateful to live in a town that has a diner like the Nautilus. From the start I felt right at home during our weekly Men’s Breakfast at the Bagel Chateau. And right next door is Garden State News – not much different from many similar newsstands back in Jersey City. Sue and I enjoy eating out and we have managed to find reasonable facsimiles for most of our favorite places in Hudson County.

There is one aspect of suburban life that has been more difficult for me – the need to drive just about everywhere. Living in the city for the first ten years of our marriage, Sue and I were able to get by very easily with just one car. Occasionally there was some conflict that we had to negotiate, but usually one car was sufficient. In fact, considering how scarce parking was in our neighborhood, having a second car would have been a major headache.

Fortunately we lived within walking distance of a PATH station and several bus lines, so getting around was pretty easy. And, my almost daily walks to the station provided me with a fair amount of exercise. Once we knew we were moving to Madison we understood that we would have to buy a second car. So now I spend a good bit of time scooting around in my car – which I don’t mind too much, except that my expanding waistline is telling me I need to find a new form of exercise.

But I have become aware of how crucial the ability to drive is for people who live in our community. So much of our independence and quality of life is connected to our ability to take care of seemingly simple everyday tasks – tasks that become much more challenging without access to a car.

Here at Grace Church we have a number of parishioners who very much wish that they could come to church more regularly but cannot because they do not have a ride. Although we try to make as many pastoral visits as possible, the truth is there is just no substitute for being gathered with the rest of the community to hear the Word of God and to receive Christ’s Body and Blood. So, to try to meet this important need, we are beginning a new program called “Driven by Grace” which will connect parishioners who have transportation with those who do not.

The plan is simple. If you are interested in providing this service all you need to do is call or email me. Let me know which Sunday service you attend and if there are any upcoming Sundays that you will not be in church. On the other hand, if you are interested in getting a ride to church please give me a call and let me know which service you would prefer to attend.

Hester Wharton and I will work to connect drivers with passengers. We hope to begin on Sunday, February 3. As always with something new, “Driven by Grace” will be a work in progress. But with a bit of generosity and some logistical work more of us will be able to fully participate in our Christian community. That seems like a great way to start a new year!