The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:
s010e05 Lockleys 2/1/2005 Epiphany
"this mystery .. has now been revealed" Ephesians 3.5
Today we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany, the manifestation of the Christ to the Gentiles. In the good old days the Epiphany was always celebrated on the 6th of January, 12 days after Christmass. However this only happens once every seven years, so it is good to transfer this to a Sunday occasionally.
An epiphany is something recognized or realized, usually suddenly. However the time factor is not especially important. Some things can dawn on us over a period of time. So one can often suddenly realize something, or one can see how different events have come together. So when I went to Durham and met Bishop Francis Loyo, it was a little epiphany for me. I thought: this was where I was supposed to be. I'm sure that each and every one of you has had some similar experience as this. As you have gone through your life, I'm sure you've had occasion to think; that God has lead you to be a mother, or to be the person with the particular occupation you have. This is not to say that you can't move on. God may well have other places for you to travel, but where you are at the moment is where you are supposed to be.
Of course, it is hard to look around and not be blown away by some manifestation of God. I recall thinking, when I was very young and snug in my bed, listening and appreciating the comforting sound of the rain on the galvanized iron roof. Sadly the roof leaked. In those days they didn't have the continuous sheets and the joins always rusted. It was never the same with the tiled roof that replaced it.
Specifically the feast we call the "Epiphany" refers to the visit of the three wise men to the baby Jesus. If one thinks about it there are contained within this story numerous epiphanies. Firstly the star was a small epiphany to these men. They saw something unusual, which they thought they should investigate. They set out and they were led (or led astray) to Jerusalem where they expected to find what they were looking for. So here is another epiphany, that God was to be found elsewhere. They arrive at Bethlehem, and their arrival was an epiphany to Mary and Joseph, though probably not to Jesus. Similarly the rude circumstances of Jesus' birth would have been another epiphany to the travelers. And the story as it is told is an epiphany to those who hear it, and to us, that the work of God is found in the ordinary not in the extra-ordinary. All of these little epiphanies come together and point lots of people to realize that here was something extraordinary happening.
Being epiphanies, they are signs that we choose to follow, or not. God does not compel belief, because belief is not God's first priority. Our loving others, and specifically our loving others who do not love God in the way we do, is God's first priority for us.
God provides a multitude of little epiphanies all around us. They are there, not for us to follow, one or the other, to hurry about following each and every one, or argue which one or the other are more true or kosher or whatever. There are a multitude of epiphanies, so that all will have an opportunity to grasp the loving kindness of the Lord. Each of us will see differently.
As I type these words I have, by chance, in front of me a guide to St Tecwyn's Church, Llandecwyn, in Wales, written by Fr Jim Cotter. In the guide Fr Jim invites us to look around and appreciate what is there. The scenery in which the Little Pilgrim Place is set, the people buried in the church yard, the Castle in the distance, a symbol of past political and military power, the people who live and work in the area, those who provide the amenities we enjoy and the list goes on. Each of these is a little epiphany; each of these links us to others, past and present.
God provides a multitude of epiphanies, because God wants all to appreciate the loving kindness of the Lord, and an essential part of that loving kindness is that it is extended to absolutely everybody. If this were not the case, we could not claim that God is actually loving and kind. God might be; sometimes; but not always. No, God makes sure that each and every person can perceive something of the loving kindness of the Lord, in his or her own particular way. This is just the way God is.
It often worries me that others so often see the Church as concerning ourselves with matters of belief. Perhaps it is an indictment on us and our proclamation of the gospel that we are not associated with being loving. We hope and pray that people will "know we are Christians" by the fact that we go to Church, when this is not what Jesus, or the song, says. (John 13.35 "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.") How critical we can become of those in the world who spurn the church, when in fact they have not seen. They have not seen in us something of the loving kindness of the Lord.
See, actually the situation is that we are wont to try to hide the loving kindness of the Lord from other people, but God loves others too much to restrict epiphanies to the church's bailiwick. Mere mortals, even those who profess their undying love for the divine, will not thwart God. God will not be hoodwinked.
So instead of being critical when others see something of the greatness of God in nature, through a telescope towards the sky, or a microscope towards the inner cosmos, in their relationships or whatever, we ought to rejoice that they do; and see it as another expression of the loving kindness of God for all. God will not be offended if someone appreciates the creation somewhat more.
It is interesting that Sir David Attenborough looks at creation and venerates it, but also sees the cruelty there and cannot possibly believe in a loving creator. We do well to acknowledge his honesty and his search rather than criticize his outcome. I am sure that God loves Sir David Attenborough and all that he has done for our appreciation of the creation. The world would indeed be a poorer place without his contribution. And this should alert us to the fact that cruelty does exist.
At least, let us decide where we can, to not be the source of more cruelty, especially if we purport to be cruel in the name of God. And the chief way we can be cruel towards others is to attempt to hide the loving kindness of the Lord from others; to deny the reality of their perception of God.
The whole of the ministry of Jesus was centered round seeing the good in others, when those who were so devoted to the Lord, refused to see any good in them. And they killed him for it. This tells us where the source of cruelty is and it's logical outcome. The source of cruelty is where people claim there in only one way to perceive god theirs!
God is about being open and up front. God is not afraid of anything. We do not need to protect God, from others or from the truth about ourselves. In this epiphany may we realize a little more that we can be ourselves with God. God will not be the more pleased as if the divine likes this intimacy; but when we also allow others this intimacy as well, then we are rather more likely to be at peace with them.
As I have gone through life, and I have suddenly perceived something, one often thinks that this perception comes from outside oneself. The little quantum leaps seem acts of grace, consequent from our searching, but also new and unexpected. I have often thought: how could I have been so blind to something that is now so obvious?
So the perception that God loves all people equally, can be deduced from logic, but in the end derives its truth from being revealed. It is both an age-old truth, yet it dawns on us as new and entirely unexpected. God isn't playing hide and seek; indeed it is more likely that we as humans hide ourselves away from it. We have been brought up to comply rather than to trust. I am reminded of the story of the dust under the rug. God loves each and every one of us far too much to want us simply to be compliant.
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