January 8, 2017

Epiphany

The Epiphany - Year A

A Sermon Preached by The Rev Ian M Delinger on January 8, 2017

 

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany. We celebrate the Wise Men  from the East coming to visit the Christ Child. Like at Christmas, we  tend to focus on a nice, warm and fuzzy story. Again, the story is  fraught with danger and deep theological implications. The Wise Men brought the news of Herod’s intent to harm this Child King.

 

The deep theological implication of the visit of the Wise Men is  the Epiphany or Manifestation of the Christ Child, the Messiah to the  Gentiles. At the very beginning of this very Jewish story, 3 (or  whatever number it way, because the story doesn’t actually state it was  3) very non-Jewish Wise Men recognized the Christ Child for who He was,  and were a few  of the first persons to play a significant role in Salvation History by  getting the Holy Family to flee to Egypt. Yet, we tend to focus on the  theological implications of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh.

 

The  theological implications of the Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh are  important and interesting. But I want to focus on Manifestation of the  Christ Child to the Gentiles. It directly relates to the visit of the  Presiding Bishop to this Diocese, to the Evangelism Matters Conference I  went to before thanksgiving, and the visions  that the Presiding Bishop has for the Church and that I have for St  Stephen’s. I’m going to use a terrifying word for it all:  

 

Evangelism!

 

I  never have and don’t consider myself an evangelical in the sense that  we thinking about it. However, I do understand that Christianity is a missionary religion and by definition requires us to spread the Good News. We are not good at that in the Episcopal Church, and I wouldn’t say that I’m particularly good at it. But I can share with you what I’ve experienced in the last 8wks.

 

The  story of the Wise Men is one of evangelism, about the Good News being  shared with those who did not know. As our Ephesians reading emphasizes,  we give the vast majority of credit for the bringing of the Good News  of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles to St Paul. In fact, as I have just  pointed out,

 

the Wise Men were the first
Gentiles to be evangelized.

 

So, what are the implications of this threatening word? Turn to your neighbor and share what “Evangelism” conjures up for you.

 

<time for sharing>

 

According to the Presiding Bishop, evangelism is about  sharing the love of Jesus Christ with others. You see, the Presiding  Bishop starts every sermon or talk with “If it isn’t about love, it  isn’t about God.” It’s SO REFRESHING to have someone in authority  speaking in simple terms!! How many of us have heard since childhood  that God is Love? How many taught Sunday School or led Youth Group and  talked about God is Love? And how many of us have been in Bible studies  or around priests and bishops, and, yes, God is Love, but God has to be  about something much more intellectual, because “God is Love” is a bit  childish? But here the Presiding Bishop’s primary message to all of us is,

 

“If it’s not about love, it’s not
about God!”

 

That is what the Presiding Bishop wants us to share with others as our evangelism.


So, another question:  What do we need at St Stephen’s to do proper evangelism?


<time for sharing>


Hold onto that conversation and take it with you. Share it if you agreed that you can share it.


I’ve  heard Stephanie Spellers speak twice, once in Dallas and then again  yesterday. She is the Canon to the Presiding Bishop for Evangelism. Both  times she had us do an activity. She had us recall a time  that we felt the love of Jesus, or were changed by the power of God.  Then she had us share it with our neighbor. Then…and here’s the powerful  part…she told us:  THAT is evangelism – sharing the Love of Jesus with  other people. Whatever pre-conceived notions we have about evangelism  aren’t evangelism:  


Sharing the love of Jesus is
evangelism.


We need to  make space to share our stories with others and others to share their  stories with us, and then allow the Holy Spirit to work.


So, what do we need at St Stephen’s to do evangelism? The Presiding Bishop tells us that we have all the resources we need to do evangelism in the Episcopal Church. When we did our Pentecost exercise with the candles, I  told you a couple of months later that I didn’t need to do any work to  meet any of those people. All of the resources we needed to engage with  the wider community of San Luis Obispo are right here in these pews.  Sharing our stories is the basic resource. The Presiding Bishop  suggests that we have all the other resources we might need, as well,  and we can expand on those over the coming months.


Bishop  Curry and Canon Stephanie made evangelism seem so easy! The hard part  is getting over our old notions of what evangelism is. In Bishop Curry’s  words:  Evangelism  has nothing to do with a bigger church. It has everything to do with a  better world. Of the motive is to have more Episcopalians, bigger  churches or more money, that's a self-serving, selfish notice, and Jesus  didn't go to the cross for that. He went to the cross to change the  world. Evangelism has no ulterior motives.


We  are being given a new confidence, my brothers and sisters, to DO  EVANGELISM as Episcopalians! We are being given the confidence to do  evangelism:  not to quote  the Bible at others, not to tell people that they need to behave or  believe like we do, not to make people repent and attend church. We are  being given the confidence to do evangelism not for more people in the  pews, not for more money in the budget, not for more notoriety. We are  being given the confidence to do evangelism to show the love of Jesus  Christ to the people we know and the people we meet in San Luis Obispo. And maybe they willing to join us to experience the Love of Christ in the Eucharist.


Whether it’s  Wise Men and
Women or the person next to us
in the doctor’s office or  having
drinks with friends, we have
been given the confidence to
introduce others to the Christ Child
simply by sharing His
Love.


Amen.

© 2017 St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
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