Lord may your light shine through me, in the words that I have to share and stir in the heart of those gathered here this morning, what purpose you have for us. Amen.
It’s early in the New Year, the third day in January 2010, and this is a time when we look back at all the events and ‘things” of the past year
For some it might be a time of reflection, like, I will never do that again… like jumping in lake Ontario in January… for others it might be a time of counting all the blessing of the past year and looking forward the upcoming gifts that God will bring in the new year
It can be a time of considering the upcoming year – we might start to make plans, we might consider our vacation ideas or consider the milestones in one’s life or the life of our families – like a child’s first walking or first words or first days at school
For me and the rest of the Tinker family it has been a time of great change
We have left behind a church that I have been part of my entire life
We have moved into a county and city that I had only previously been a visitor briefly.
We have left behind all our familiar places and exchanged them
But, we believe guided by God, we have come to a new and vibrant Church home
We have moved into a family home that has room for all of us, in a wonderful peaceful neighborhood, leaving the busyness of the city behind
The Kids have each been blessed with very good teachers in a great small school – and they are all thriving there
All in all – it has been a very good year – and looking forward in great hope and anticipation the year to come.
As we delve into this time of reflection – I have one very big question for all of you – it is a rhetoric question, but one that I hope you give some serious thought to
Have you ever wondered what’s the purpose for church?
What is church - and what is church for? …..
At the beginning of one of my favorite Psalms – Psalm 8, we are greeted with the following … “Lord, our Lord” in that short phrase which is at the opening and repeated at closing of the Psalm. We have two monumental ideas.
That there is one Lord over all, which is to be worship and considered with awe and amazement.
And that Lord is a close partner, and intimate company - It is OUR Lord, which has chosen us and created us in His image setting us as stewards / or managers of His creation.
Today we commemorate Epiphany. I hope to show you what Epiphany means and what the church is… and what’s the purpose of the church – but at the heart of it, keep in your mind these three words:
“Lord, Our Lord”
So with that small task, here we go…
The feast of Epiphany finds its roots in the Eastern half of the Catholic Church, variants of which are now often called the Orthodox Church - Greek orthodox, Russian Orthodox…
It was seen in the early church as more significant that Christmas.
Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ, and became significant after the 5th century.
Where Epiphany was closely related to the baptism of Jesus.
With Easter, and Pentecost, Epiphany was seen as the most significant events on the Christian calendar.
The reason that Epiphany is held in such high regard can be understood by what Epiphany means.
The simplest definition is that Epiphany is: “the revelation of God”
God showing himself to the world.
In the baptism of Jesus we have the beginning of his adult ministry, the spirit of God descending on Jesus like a dove and the words of God declaring that “this is my son, with whom I am well pleased”.
The beginning of God sharing himself, in the flesh of Jesus.
You can see why the Eastern Catholics, to this day, still celebrate New Years day - as January 6th,
Why Epiphany is such an important event to be commemorated as Christians, followers of Christ.
But the Western Catholics, Roman Catholics; which most Protestants trace their roots, are more likely to identify Epiphany with Matthew story of the magi’s visit to the baby Jesus.
This is not a great divergence from the East because in the definition of what Epiphany is: the revelation of God in Christ. - We have God revealed to the Magi.
Epiphany is a story of how the Gentiles, non-Jews, who had previously been outside God’s chosen people, now have God expanding the net to include all people - and this event should be held in holy reverence among us all.
So we have Epiphany, commemorating two different incidences, under two different traditions of the Christian community - Yet it is really commemorating one event - divine revelation - God manifested and revealed as Christ
The western feast of Epiphany has the makings of high drama. It features long journeys, by foreign people, guiding stars, ominous danger by a jealous power-hungry corrupt ruler, holy dreams, great escapes, and a threatened baby.
Exciting story - well suited for a Hollywood blockbuster.
The epiphany story of the magi, is well known, But, I would like to go the next step with you this morning. I would like to speak to you about Epiphany from the perspective of the reading from Ephesians
And as promised explain something about church, which hopefully you might see this as a continuation from nearly everything that I preach on
If you were to ask average Joe or Jill on the street, what is the Church and what is its purpose. You might get a variety of answers:
I think that you would hear that is building - or an organization
Maybe something to do with the pope and priests, ministers or pastors
Or maybe a denominational perspective.
If you are really lucky you might hear that it is people that gather every Sunday to worship Jesus Christ.
In regards to what is the purpose of church: I think that the response would be even father removed from the truth.
I am sure that people will tell you that the church is there to: tell you what to think, maybe to provide a moral compass in times of needs or to answer the big questions in life
Some might state the purpose of the church is for: hatching, matching and dispatching
Baptisms, weddings, funerals,
Others might see the purpose of the church for only a couple times of the year - Christmas and Easter.
You might, just might, get the answer that it is the place where we are to learn about God,
but it is unlikely that you would hear that it is an exciting place to worship the creator of the universe.
The shortest answer from a popular Protestant theologian, Calvin: is that church is where the word is preached and the sacraments are duly administered.
the word (the gospel message of the bible) is preached and the sacraments (baptism, communion) are duly administered.
This is a true and accurate description of the Church, but doesn’t really evoke the message of epiphany - divine revelation.
My definition of the church is - anywhere where two or three or more are gathered together in the name of Jesus Christ and to learn, worship and to live out Christ’s ministry.
The church is those united, confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord and live out His teachings.
Half of the definition is a belief, understanding and conviction to Jesus
And the other half of the definition is the active ministry and mission following Jesus’ example.
In the Ephesians reading today, Paul spends some verses talking about how he was divinely chosen to be an apostle, speaks about his call to be the missionary to the Gentiles.
Then hits us with some incredible statements.
Paul states that he is here ‘to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things.’
News of boundless riches.
I know that when I hear boundless riches, I think of winning 649 or finding Aladdin’s lamp and what that might lead to.
We are to understand that Paul is promising riches beyond any limits
and I don’t know about you, but to me - news of that is worth listening to.
And then “to make everyone see what is the plan…from the God who created all things”
It sounds like Paul is about to answer the most-asked philosophical question… what is the meaning of life and then by the creator that made it…
And then Paul inserts an interesting element - He states the purpose of the church
so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known.
Paul slips in a very significant detail right before the climax of the ‘purpose of life’.
Paul states that the church, the followers of Christ, the people of God are to be a tool or a vehicle in which God will make his purpose known.
One illustration that I like which deals with the concept of "through the Church," is that the church is a ‘theater’ to display God’s manifold wisdom.
In the days past ‘theatre’ would have been only understood as a place for plays of drama and comedy, while that is still true, now-a-days it is more often thought of a ‘movie theatre’,
And this modern understanding is better suited for the illustration
Where God is the light - the source of images… and it is projected on the church, as the screen…
We are to be a device for God’s light to shine through or to display.
So what is the message that the church is to display, the wisdom of God, and the climax of passage:
St Paul write: ‘the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.’
God’s purpose of all time has been completed… ‘carried out’ in Christ Jesus, our Lord…
The work is done… Humanity is restored to God, made perfect through the sacrifice of Jesus…
Available now for all that have faith in Him.
An Epiphany… revelation of God, that now goes beyond a chosen people or nation, an epiphany to include the Gentiles.
Finally… that we are to trust - in faith …
That we have access to God… we have returned to relationship with God… in Christ’s work –
We are brought to the great reunion with God – in the image of St. John’s Revelation
we are brought and bought by God to the heavenly city of God.
Where every knee will bow, where every tongue will confess
Where there will be no more struggles and every tear will be wiped away
This… is to be understood in boldness and confidence.
Consider the whole passage: which starts with Paul’s credentials,
Then states his call to mission to the Gentiles
And narrowing down or funneling through the church
Then the climax - the statement of the purpose of the church:
To present the epiphany of Christ, that “the Gentiles have become fellow heirs… members of the same body…and sharers in the promise of Jesus the Christ
So, Epiphany is both a call and a challenge
It calls out to see and understand the unique salvation through Christ and to boldly access God.
AND it challenges us: to be the church…. to be partners with God
To be ‘the screen’ in which God projects His wisdom - His eternal purpose for salvation
We need to ask ourselves what do we need to do, for the world to see God projected “on” and “through” us?
Lord, our Lord, may your light shine through all of us, in the words that we have to share, in the lives that we live as a testimony, a witness to our faith in You - and stir in the hearts of all gathered here this morning, what purpose you have for us. Amen.