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Epiphany: Hot Water, Clean Towels, and Something Sharp
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, magi, astrologers from the East came to Jerusalem asking, Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?
Epiphany: Wayne Saffen:
Epiphany is revelation. Things hidden in plain sight are made manifest, unobserved except by those with eyes trained to see.
When I wrote this sermon, I didnt know what this day would be like. What would Y2k bring? The answer is that were here. The following still function (check appropriate boxes): _utilities _computers _phones _ cell phones _banks _post office _gas stations _TV remote controls _teenagers _Dick Clark _ the hypnotic power of bowl games over the male gender _pizza delivery.
That these services in fact continued is probably upsetting to the most pessimistic purveyors of doom.
The good news and bad news of our being here today is summed up in a cartoon with a street corner prophet carrying a placard which reads, "The world is not coming to an end; therefore you must suffer along and learn to cope."
The word epiphany means recognition. It is the "Aha!" we utter when we look back and realize we just witnessed something quite spectacular, if not downright miraculous. In the bible it refers to the Magis arrival at the stable, after the fact of Jesus birth, and their recognition of the child as a gift of God. Epiphany looks back, saying, "Now I see!" It looks forward saying, "Now I hope."
Watching the millennium break from New Zealand through China, Moscow, Bethlehem, Rome, Paris, London, New York westward was a reminded me again of the world as a community. It may match the image of spaceship earth beamed back from the Apollo moon mission.
We are a rational, scientific people. We think of ourselves as not hampered by the superstitions of primitive folk. We know better than to tremble at the sight of a lunar eclipse or look around for a starlet to sacrifice when the volcano erupts. But deep down inside, at the core of our souls, we sense that a new millennium does signify a new era being born. So we transferred our fears onto computers and wondered what would happen if and when our technology shut down.
I love talking with Gussie Ellifritt, Duanes mother who is 102. This is her third century. She knew how to live in West Virginia before electricity, cars, planes, phones, window screens and instant replay. We know that we have not a clue about how to live that kind of life. We sense that even though we dodged the millennium bullet, we have been far too reliant on a very fragile foundation of microwaves we cant even see and computer chips we dont understand.
We also know that we face changes ahead unlike anything we have known in the past. If the globe isnt actually warming, the climate is certainly changing. The earths population growth will change the way all of us live in the next century. Americans of European roots will no longer be the majority or controlling force in our country or the world. Multiculturalism is beginning to change the way we live. We clearly have not solved the problem of the earths poor and hungry. Moreover, there is no ideology at the moment that even promises to do so.
The turn of the century is a good time to acknowledge that a new world order is being born. Theologian and writer, Barbara Brown Taylor gives us a wonderful image. She says we can volunteer our services in the delivery room of this birth and bring some hot water, clean towels, and something sharp. We cannot run and hide, because as any of you who have gone through childbirth know, you cant change your mind about having this baby on the way to the delivery room.
What is the hot water for this delivery of a new century? I believe it is the willingness to be present and do something. Youve heard the joke a bunch of times now that if the wise men had been wise women, they would have asked for directions, gotten there on time and helped with the birth. Thats probably a much more serious symbol of the power of the feminine in both men and women in our new society than we really suspect. There is a huge and awful backlash of stupid men in todays TV sitcoms, radio talk shows, and on our streets. They are violent, crude, and unwilling to be part of this birth. They do not know that if were not providing the hot water of equality with women in todays world, were in hot water; and we will not survive.
There is a great desire on all our parts, men and women, young, middle and old to run and hide from the new world that is being born. There is that great story about Elijah from this mornings scripture, running and hiding when a new age is ready to be born in Israel. Elijah has spoken the truth about this new age, and Jezebel is after him like Wily Coyote chasing down Roadrunner.
Take todays bulletin home and mark this story from I Kings 19 in your bible. Read it once a year. Because Elijah runs and tries to hide, he goes into a depression. He doesnt even want to eat. An angel bakes him a cake, (an angel food cake?) and calls him forward. Elijah, gains strength, but is still afraid. He goes into a cave, symbolic of a birth canal. He tries to hide there. There is a great wind. God is not in the wind. There is an earthquake. God is not in the earthquake. There is a fire. God is not in the fire. And finally, there is a still small voice, and that is God. God whispers, "Elijah, what are you doing here?"
Elijah then goes forward. He lives Gods word in a new age. He boils the water for Israels rebirth. God calls each of us in the still small voice, whispering, "What are you doing here? Bring some hot water."
Second, we are called to bring towels to the delivery. Barbara Brown Taylor says that the proper response to disaster is to love God and our neighbor. The rules dont change in frightening times. They just get clearer.
It is fascinating to me that many of those who call themselves hard core Christians are the ones most ready to store up their treasures in survival shelters and shoot anyone who knocks on the door in need of help. In the gospel of Luke, Jesus says that as portents and disasters threaten, we need to keep our heads up, stand up and do what is right.
There is an alarming trend, especially among people my age in this church, myself included, to say, "Weve done enough. Weve made enough friends, weve done enough for others, weve marched for our causes. Now we are resting, were pulling in." Thats not right. It is clear that we are all called to work with God in the birth of a new world.
Finally, we are called to bring something sharp to the delivery. We are called to cut the umbilical cord to the past. I admit to you, I get easily depressed about our future. I thought that by now college students would have something nobler to inspire them to political action than the right to party all night. I had thought our country would elect leaders who wanted to do more to provide quality education, health care, and environmental protection, not less. I had thought that nations and races would come to greater understanding, but instead conflict among ethnic rivals around the world has worsened. I had hoped we would end the death penalty in this country, and Florida wants to expand it.
Eugene ONeill said, "We are born broken. We live by mending. The grace of God is the glue."
I was privileged to be part of a generation of fathers who were just beginning to be allowed into the delivery room when our children were born. Its all pretty regular now, but back then, men typically had been out in a waiting room pacing the floor and smoking cigarettes. Women in a way were also just being allowed into that delivery room without being completely anesthetized. This too is regular now, but back then women had typically been put to sleep for birth.
The delivery room is a scary, exhilarating, bloody, miraculous place. There are Lamaze classes and training movies to prepare you, but no one knows what it is like until you get there. There are no foolproof maps or promises of how you will get through it. But we get through, and the reward is new life to hold in our arms, nurture, and then release into the world.
I dont know what new era lies waiting to be born in this century. I do know that there is a new era ready for birth in my life. I have about ten years of my professional career before me. My grown children are re entering my life. It is a time in my life of false prophets, false messiahs, and false alarms. It is a time of real scares, real changes, and real disasters. My father died when he was sixty-two. I pray to live longer than that. I dont know anybody who does the same church for thirty-five years. I pray to let that be a discovery, not a downfall. My birth is onto a personal path my father didnt finish. I dont know of anyone who has walked the professional path of my next ten years of ministry at this church.
I can call these changes death throes, Gods absence. Or I can call them birth pangs, Gods inexplicable presence. If I let the blood and the screaming scare me off, if I want clear maps of what is going to happen, Ill get what I deserve. Ill get locked out of the delivery room. If I listen and stay through it all, I believe I will be part of the new birth, for this next decade of my life and of this world. God calls you and me, not to run away, or hide our eyes. God calls you and me to come out of our caves like Elijah and listen to the still small voice. God calls you and me to go to the place of new birth like the Magi and worship. God calls you and me to nurture and protect what is innocent, fragile and sacred like Joseph and Mary. God calls you and me to bring some hot water, some clean towels, and something sharp and assist in the delivery. Thats our Y2k epiphany.
Prayers Sandy Reimer
From an old Lutheran collect for New Years
From a collection of graces, this one for dinner on
New Years Day:
Words attributed to Chief Seattle:
From a prayer by a Roman Catholic priest: