Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, Year B

Speaking with Authority

Readings: Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 111; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28

During the season of Epiphany, we have been exploring the many ways and times that God calls us, not only on a personal level, but also as a Church, and as a nation. The readings this week continue the theme of call as they explore how God speaks to us through other people. They explore the whole concept of authority. How do we determine God’s truth? How do we determine who is speaking with integrity?

The question of authority was critical for the Hebrew people. Prophets and priests claimed to speak and act in accordance with God’s will, and yet conflicts and disputes arose. They grappled with how God speaks to us. Moses wanted the people to know that God did not speak through magic, but through discernment. They settled on three criteria. First of all, the prophet needed to be an Israelite. Secondly, he was called to speak as God commanded, and finally what was spoken had to be realized in the events that ensued. It needed to be confirmed. That is an important distinction when it comes to discerning authority. Prophecy is not about foretelling the future; it is about having insights, discernment into how God leads us.

I came to a new realization about what authority meant a number of years ago when I participated in a healing circle. I was the only non-aboriginal person in the group. We sat in the circle and when we wished to speak we picked up a stone from the centre of the circle and as long as we held the stone we could speak. Many people spoke of their past hurts and anger. I picked up the stone and found myself talking about my experience teaching in a residential school, about my sincerity and sense of mission in going to the north, and at my hurt and confusion and anger at the injustice of it all. I said that I expected that they would feel nothing but contempt and anger for me. I put the stone back. The Elder, an old woman, a survivor of the Residential School system, picked it up. She went back and sat in silence for some time. Then she let out a whoop and returned the stone to its place. Another woman picked up the stone and began to speak. She told me that the Elder spoke for all of them. They could hear the authenticity of what I spoke, that it came from the heart, and that I was their sister. It was an ‘aha’ moment for me as I realized that in that one rather primal yell they had recognized her authority.

I do not wish to oversimplify it, but we Anglicans rest our authority on a tripod of Scripture, tradition and reason. Our religious experience is described in Scripture. It is defined in our creeds and in theological study, but most importantly it is lived out in our lives. I have always held dear the idea that to hold Christian faith does not mean parking my brains at the door, but rather using all the tools of my faith to make a reasonable decision.

That becomes helpful when we look at ethical dilemmas such as the one faced by the Christians at Corinth. The people of Corinth, including the Christian community bought groceries in the little shops in the marketplace. Much of the meat was the produce of the local temples. The sacrificial animals and birds were sold. That presented an ethical dilemma for the Christians. Should they eat meat that had been dedicated to a pagan God? They tried to reason. Idols are not real. Nothing has happened to the meat. Just eat it! What difference could it possibly make? Paul gives them a reason to reconsider. If it is a stumbling block to someone, then your decision is a bad one. Ethical decisions should result in doing the loving thing. If your action causes someone to feel a sense of guilt, then you need to reconsider so that the person is not hurt by your decision. A good example might be in the use of alcohol. If I am with someone who is an alcoholic and I drink, then I may be contributing to that person’s problem. I would be better to refrain from drinking. Even though what I am doing is perfectly reasonable, I should limit my freedom for the better good. I should do the loving thing.

That reasoned faith becomes helpful as well with some of the ethical dilemmas that face us today, such things as gay marriage that have the potential of causing rifts in our communion. Our authority when it comes to ethical decisions must come from within. We cannot use Scripture as a proof text. That can be ambiguous because it means that our standards are determined in each situation by what we understand to be the most loving thing to do. It means we must be open to the promptings of the Spirit and the guidance of God. Our Church is learning to do that while being cognizant that other parts of the Communion may not be in the same place that we are.

Jesus was known as one who could speak with authority. Hearing him speak in the temple gave people an understanding of their potential, of the possibilities. He did not talk down to them. He treated them as friends and equals. He taught them to be realistic about themselves. He helped them to know that God had called them to greater things than they could imagine. His authority made them do what all authority should do. It helped them grow.

Sometimes the person who bears authority is misunderstood. It was so with Jesus. A demented heckler shrieked at Jesus at the top of his voice. Jesus confronted the situation. He healed the person.

This scene is not as foreign to us as it seems. It is played out in our modern world. Jesus was saying something new. New things are often exciting, but at the same time they can seem threatening. Those who bear the prophetic word, those who advocate change, are often rejected or even attacked for their beliefs. The person who embodies the new can be regarded as the enemy to be defeated at all costs. The attack on such people can become quite personal. It happened to Moses. It happened to Jesus. It happens in parishes when the congregation becomes convinced that the bringer of new things is out to destroy the life of the parish. Such attitudes need to be challenged, gently, kindly, but challenged just the same. A spirit of open communication is essential in living out our life as a church community.

Perhaps the most challenging and transforming call of Christ when it comes to authority is that we must learn to give up our own freedom and power for the sake of others. We church folk tend to hold on to power. We do not want things to change. After all, we are the ones who have supported the church with our wealth. Don’t we deserve to have the same liturgies that have sustained us through our own lives? We want the same hymns. We want to hear the same comfortable words. If they come to our church we want children to be seen but not heard. We want newcomers, but we want them to be just like us, upholding the traditions that we hold dear.

If we are truly following Christ and are committed to the Mission of the Church, if we wish to bear the prophetic word, if we wish to answer God’s call to bring healing, then we must be follow the authority of our Saviour who was the servant of all.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Third Sunday after Epiphany, Year B

God Don’t Sponsor No Flops

Readings: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62:6-14; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

God calls us, not once, but again and again throughout our lives. God calls us to renew our baptismal covenant, to renew our life in Christ. Sometimes we are called to choose new priorities. Sometimes we are called to leave behind the things that have been keeping us from God, things that impede our discipleship. Sometimes we are called to make changes in our lives. Often a call comes to us when we are facing crises in our lives, for those are times when change is not only necessary, but even welcome. Whatever our call, it is a call to action. What is happening right now for us as individuals, as a church, as a nation? More importantly, how will we respond? Those are good questions for us to ponder during this season of Epiphany.

I was visiting my sister many years ago. I was sitting in the living room with my then teenaged niece. We were chatting, getting caught up. My sister called her to come and help with setting the table. She ignored her mother completely and kept on talking to me as if she had heard nothing. My sister called again a little louder. Once again it was as if Deirdre had not heard a word that was said. I asked her, “Why aren’t you answering your mother?” Her reply: “She isn’t mad enough yet?” Of course, my sister did eventually really lose her cool. Then Deirdre got up and did as her mother demanded.

When God calls on us to act, it can present a very similar reaction in us. We can find many excuses. “I didn’t hear you!” “I don’t understand what you want!” “It’s too hard!” “Find someone else!” “I don’t have enough knowledge.” “You couldn’t possibly mean me!” The real reason is far more likely to be “I don’t want to” or “I’m afraid.

Consider the story of Jonah. God’s call to Jonah was a call to action. No ifs, ands, or buts! He was to go to the people of Nineveh to give them a message from God. God wanted him to tell them that he was going to overthrow them because of the evil things they had done. Jonah was their last chance. And you know! He refused. Like my niece with her mother he heard what God was saying to him. He ignored the message. God went to great lengths to move him to action. He even had him swallowed by a great fish and thrown up on the shores of Nineveh. Still Jonah was reluctant to act. Finally God got through to him. He began his walk through the streets of Nineveh. “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” he cried out to the people. And, much to Jonah’s astonishment, perhaps even disdain, they heard and believed. They changed their ways. They proclaimed a fast and everyone put on sackcloth. The whole of Nineveh’s society got involved in changing their ways. Nineveh was spared.

The Gospel is about the call of the disciples. Jesus comes to Galilee preaching a message very much like his predecessor, John, a call to repentance. Yet it is a call to far more than simply asking for and receiving forgiveness. It is a call to renewed faith and radical change.

You know the story well. As Jesus is walking by the Sea of Galilee he sees brothers, Simon and Andrew fishing. He calls out to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people."

Surely that is one of the memorable lines in Scripture, even with the change in wording. It cannot help but speak to each of us. It draws us into the story with its very simplicity. At the same time, it raises some questions. How could it possibly be that easy? How could a few simple words spoken by Jesus be heard with such clarity by these simple folk? Did it really happen that way? Had Jesus known them for a long time and built up a relationship with them? How could anyone respond so completely and so quickly to God's call? Would I have responded as Andrew and Simon did? I suspect I’d be more like Jonah in my response.

William Clare Menninger, a distinguished American psychiatrist, toured the states for years as a lecturer and consultant. Frequently people asked him for the secret of a good and happy life. He always said: "Find a mission in life and take it seriously."

It is good advice. Even more important for us as Christians, it is our call. It is our call to find the mission to which God has called us, and to take it seriously. Jesus offers us that mission. He proclaims, "The kingdom of God has come near." The kingdom with all its spiritual blessings and possibilities is here, now, in this place, at this very time. Turn back to God. Repent. Accept the Good news. Have faith. Act on it.

No matter what our worldly vocation, we are all invited to share in the redemptive dream of God for this world of ours. We are called to use our own special gifts and talents to ensure the success of the kingdom. We are called to follow, to love, to forgive, to witness, to serve, and above all to hope, to hope that our offering will make a difference.

I suspect that is the most difficult thing to overcome. We look at the task and think, 'it is just too much. There is too much to do. I can never make a difference.' When we think that way it is very easy to convince ourselves that there is no point. But if we are to live up to the hope of our calling, we must trust that we are part of the solution. We must trust that God's plan will ultimately prevail. We must trust that God will enable us to accomplish what we are called to do.

There is a wonderful story about Ethel Waters, the black actress and singer. She was performing in New York when Billy Graham was holding a crusade back in the fifties. She went one evening and slipped into the choir. Reporters found out and questioned her, "Aren't you afraid to identify yourself with something like this? You're famous. You have a reputation. This might fail." She replied, "God don't sponsor no flops."

God calls us, not once, but again and again throughout our lives, to renewed life in Christ, to choose new priorities, to leave behind the things that keep us from truly serving God. Like Jonah, God may call to us through the crises of our lives. Like the disciples, God may call us from the ordinary routines of our lives. The question remains, how will you respond to God's call? Whatever your call may be, remember that "God don't sponsor no flops!"

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Second Sunday of Epiphany, Proper 2, Year B

Called to Be!

Readings: 1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20); Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51

We Canadians, as most of the world, are addicted to our phones. Consumer studies show that almost eighty-five percent of Canadians have a Smartphone. We are used to calling others and to being called. In this day and age we feel uneasy if we go out the door without our cell phone. What if someone needs to get in touch with us? But when it comes to being called by God, we are less sure. We wish it were as easy as receiving a phone call. We question. What does it mean to be called? How does it happen? How can we discern God’s call? Are we all called by God? Our readings today explore the ways in which God reaches out to us and helps us to discern our calling.

Samuel received a call from God when he was just a child. He was three years old when his mother took him to live in the temple at Shiloh where he was to serve. Eli, the priest in the temple, was an old man. His two sons were servers in the temple. But their greed had given it a bad name amongst the people. Eli had not spoken out about their bad behaviour. This had cut him off from God’s good graces.

There in the darkness of the night, God called Samuel. Samuel heard the call, but not on his own. He needed Eli, the very one who was out of favour with God, to help him respond. He needed someone’s guidance. He needed help to know that it was God calling him.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus invites Philip to follow him. He in turn finds his friend Nathanael and invites him. Nathanael’s first response is negative, even scornful. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” He retorts. Philip knows better than to argue. But he also knows Jesus. And indeed the answer for him is a resounding “yes!” So he invites Nathanael with the same words that Jesus used in inviting him. “Come and see.” What is he inviting him to come and see? Come and gain insight into the mind and purpose of God. Come and deepen your relationship with God. Come and answer the call to serve.

A number of years ago I read a book about our sense of call as humans. It was called The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling, by James Hillman. His is not by any means a Christian way of looking at call, but he comes surprisingly close to describing the process through which God helps us to determine who we are meant to be. He says that even very young children have a sense of call, and that if we really listen to what they are saying, we can help them to discern their life’s work. He recounts the story of the English philosopher, Collingwood, who at eight years of age tried to read Kant’s Theory of Ethics. He could not understand it. He knew with a sense of urgency that he needed to. It became his life’s work. Did God call him? That is how I see it.

Martin Luther King was aware even as a young child that God was calling him to fight against racism. Even when his family, worried about his safety opposed his efforts, he continued to challenge racial discrimination.

How do we personally discern God’s call? Sometimes it happens through other people in our lives, people like Eli who have insights into the way God works. Such people are able to share their insights with us and help us to discern God's call. I had such a mentor when I came to discern my call to ordination. I made an appointment with my parish priest to talk to him about the process. Now you have to know that I was the organist in the parish, and he was sure that I was going to hand in my resignation. He opened the conversation by telling me that he realized that they were not paying me very much and that it would be redressed at the next Vestry. I thanked him, saying, "That will be very helpful given what I am hoping to do." I went on to tell him about my sense of call. He leaned back in his chair, gave his characteristic ‘humph’! "It's to be avoided if at all possible," he said to me. I spent the next two hours explaining why it was that I could not avoid it. He repeated his admonition. "It's to be avoided if at all possible." In exasperation I reiterated that it was not something that I could avoid. He simply commented, "Well, that's wonderful, isn't it!" He opened up his library to me and mentored me through the process. What a gift that was as I began to articulate the longing in my heart!

Sometimes it happens through invitations like the one of Philip to come and see. God calls us as individuals in a personal way to serve, to follow, to share. Where have you heard God’s call? How have you passed on that call to others? How do we become open to God’s presence and call?

Sometimes it happens to a group of people who begin to listen and act on God’s call to them. It rather reminds me of the movie “Field of Dreams”. In it, a man receives the message, “Build it and they will come.” ‘It’ is a playing field. And he builds it, although not without the usual obstacles. He converts the field on his farm into a playing field complete with lights and seats for people to watch. ‘They’ are the great players of the past. And they come out of the corn stalks to play great baseball. People come from all over to see the games. But most important, the builder is confronted by his own past.

“Build it and they will come” seems sometimes to be the way we operate in the church. A few people get together and build a lovely church. They begin to hold services and wait for people to come. And it may work for a time. Given the right location, people may notice the church and come. Like Samuel, they may come in to find out what it is all about. They may even become involved and begin to serve in some way. But, like Samuel, they may not yet know the Lord they are serving.
Or they may be like Nathanael, hanging around the fringes, rather angry and suspicious. Yet there is some sense of longing they cannot seem to fulfill, a sense of need, or a sense of duty, a sense of guilt. ‘I come to church for my children, for my family.’ 'It’s the right thing to do.’

But if the church is really going to be vital, if it is really going to reach out to the community, then just building it and waiting will never work. The people who come will never be enlivened. You see, invitations need to go out. People need to be invited to come and see, to come and meet Jesus, to come and see who we are, to come and see what Christianity has to offer, to come into relationship with the God who walks with us.

It is not enough to assume that people will hear the message. We need to invite them in a personal, eyeball-to-eyeball way. So 'unanglican', isn’t it! We are all ministers of the Gospel. We all have parishes or arenas of service. We can invite. People should be able to see something of God’s love and saving power in our lives, in the things we say, in the things we do and primarily in how we live our lives.

What about this congregation? As you enter your sixtieth year in this corner of Oshawa, what is God's call to you? You proclaim that you are "the Church with a heart". Are you the heart and soul of this community? Are you here to meet the needs of the long-time members of this church or are you an inviting and vital congregation reaching out to others, serving Christ in this place? How is God calling you to be the church?

People are looking for fulfillment and renewed spiritual life. They are looking for God. If God is at the centre of our lives, they will find what they are looking for. This place will be alive in Christ. We will discover what Paul wanted the Corinthians to discover. It is not simply a matter of following the laws set out by the community, but of living our lives centred in Christ Jesus. Being different. Being set apart. Living lives of prayer, discipleship and service to God, and then sharing it with a needy world. Amen.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Baptism of the Lord, Year B

Epiphany, God Made Manifest

Readings: Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11

We have entered a new season of the Church year, the season of Epiphany. During the Sundays of the Epiphany we focus on how God is revealed to us. An epiphany is an appearance, a visible manifestation of God. The Epiphany immediately brings into mind the magi bringing gifts to the baby Jesus. The Wise men in their visit to Jesus were not the Epiphany. They were the beneficiaries of one. God was revealed to them through the child Jesus whom they visited.

We too need to expect Epiphanies in our lives, times when God is revealed in a personal way to each of us. Such times help us to come to know God better. They are times when God seems to reach out to us through time and space. Each Sunday in Epiphany focuses on the ways in which God reveals God’s self to people.

Today we read of how God is revealed to us through the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives. In the Old Testament reading, the spirit is revealed as “a wind from God which swept over the face of the waters.” The creating spirit of God hovered over the waters, the source of life. In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Paul points out to the people of Ephesus that the Holy Spirit should have been the great gift of their baptism. He is surprised to find their lack of understanding at how God is revealed. He wants them to experience the Holy Spirit in their lives as a gift of grace. Finally in the Gospel, God is made manifest through the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River.

The Jews were constantly looking for God’s revelation. But they came to a time in their spiritual life as we all do when God seemed not to be present with them. As God became more and more absent in their lives, they looked back with yearning to the days of the prophets when God had been very much a part of their experience. They felt as if the Holy Spirit had been absent since those days. The voice of God which had spoken to the prophets was heard now only as an echo. They looked for the time when the sky would be opened and God would once more speak directly to the people.

And then it happened. Jesus came to John to be baptised. The heavens opened. The dove hovered over him. God called out words of affirmation. “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Clearly in Mark’s Gospel the voice is Jesus’ personal experience. The onlookers are unaware of what is happening. But we who read the Gospel are to understand it as a revelation, a manifestation to us, the people of God. Through it we are to understand Jesus’ unique relationship to God, and his call to ministry.

But we are called to understand far more. For this incident in our Lord’s life is within the experience of each of us. We are intended to experience that same descent of the dove in our own life. We are to experience God’s presence in our lives. How is God revealed to us? Where for us is the deep sense of peace, the sense that our wills and that of God are in harmony? Where is the sense of a presence from which we receive affirmation of our call to ministry?

How do we experience God’s presence? How do we hear God? How do we experience God at work in our lives? How does God speak to us? A young woman asked me that question one day. In fact she had many questions. She had not been brought up in the church and had little experience with the faith. She did have a real hunger for spirituality, so much so that she found her way into the church in which I was serving. And so we had the first of many conversations about how we come to know God.

She said that if anything could convince her of the existence of God it would be going through something like she saw in the movie, “Twister”. Her picture of God was of a judgemental being who punishes, a harsh God, a God of anger. She expected that God would be revealed through some manifestation of power.

Many people have that kind of understanding about God. After all, it would be so much easier to hear the kind of God that spoke angrily and loudly. That kind of God one could really understand. It would leave no doubt in our mind. We want theatrics! Thunder! Lightning! The works! We want something that will make us really take note and know that God is speaking to us. We want to be scared somehow into faith.

Yet it seems that most of the time God’s voice comes in much gentler, subtler ways. Somehow the way in which God speaks to us is more difficult to discern. Not that hearing God’s still small voice is necessarily any more consoling than it would be to hear thunder! To hear God speak in the silence is not always to hear what we want to hear. God may tell us in that still small voice that what we have chosen is not what God would have us do. God may well order us out of our complacency, out of the safety of our lives and into the real world. God may lead us in directions for which we can see very little value.

The other misperception about how God speaks to us comes from intellectuals. They know all the theological jargon. They understand the difference between transubstantiation and consubstantiation. They can speak with authority about the Trinity or about the grace of God. Strange as it may seem, God does not talk ‘God-talk’. Thank God you don’t have to have a theological degree to come into relationship with God. God speaks through the ordinary. God uses words like flower or rainbow or snowflake. God spoke and life began. We speak in concepts. God speaks in reality. That is the great truth of the process of creation.

I suspect that when we are really listening to what God is saying it comes to us, not in some dramatic way, but in the still small voice. How have you encountered God within the last few days? Was it in some earth shattering revelation? Or was it in a letter from a friend or when you were tucking a little one into bed? Was it during a phone call from a friend, a smile from a stranger, an unexpected apology, a touch, an affirmation, a kind word? I would even bet that it didn’t happen in church. God speaks more outside of church than inside. Thank God for that! That is the glory of God! And if it all seems too ordinary for you, too quiet to be God, then I suspect that you need to listen even harder, for you are probably receiving a revelation from God.

Because we are celebrating the Baptism of Our Lord, even though there is no baptism we are going to renew our Baptismal Covenant. At baptism we were promised God’s gift of grace working in our lives. However, like the Ephesians we may not even be aware that there is a Holy Spirit at work in our lives. Baptism isn’t about knowing everything there is to know about God; it is about knowing God.

How do we recover that sense of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit as the source of our gifts? We need to experience the Holy Spirit at work in us with the understanding that such encounters with God are God’s gift to every Christian. We need to expect that God will meet us in our everyday lives. God is constantly revealed to us and in us to others. Each new discovery takes us deeper into relationship with God. It is not about knowing everything there is to know about God; it is about knowing God. What a great thing that is to experience in our lives!

No matter at what stage of our Christian life we may be, there is possible a deeper encounter with God who waits to enter our experience. We must be prepared to search and to be open to such a possibility. We cannot be self-satisfied. We must journey into a maturing and deepening spirituality. Each new discovery takes us deeper. It becomes a new beginning, a new birthing, a renewal of our baptism.

As we renew the promises of our baptism may it bring to us that deep sense of peace, that sense that our wills and that of God are in harmony, that sense of the presence of God in our lives, and our willingness to become all that God calls us to be. May it be a time when we understand that we are beloved children of God. May it be an epiphany for each one of us. Amen.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Feast of the Epiphany

A Lasting Resolution

Readings: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72: 1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12
All of the wrapping paper has been cleared away by now. Most of us have taken down the tree and packed the decorations away carefully in their boxes. We have made, and possibly even broken, our New Years resolution. Christmas is but a fond and distant memory. We face now its aftermath - the cleaning up, the paying of the bills and the kind of lingering depression that somehow seems to accompany such endings.

But you'll notice that the church is still decorated. That is because Christmas, as a religious celebration is not over. Today is only the tenth day of Christmas - two to go. The song the "Twelve Days of Christmas" is not completely frivilous. "Twelfth Night" is not the title of a Shakespearean play for nothing.

You see, there remains for us to celebrate, one important aspect of Christmas. Today we are marking a feast which actually comes on January 6th, the Epiphany of our Lord. Epiphany means "manifestation". The Epiphany and the Sundays that follow it celebrate the revealing of God's incarnate self to humanity, the unfolding of the great mystery of the Incarnation. It is an unfolding, not only to the people of Israel, but also to the whole world.

The common theme in today's readings is how God is revealed through Christ. They speak of a revelation far beyond the borders of Israel as the light of Christ spreads through the whole world. In the Epistle to the Ephesians, Paul speaks of the great mystery of the Incarnation; a mystery made known to him through revelation and participated in by all of creation. It is, for Paul, a possibility of a unity so wonderful that it could change even the past. It is the eternal truth for the future.

Isaiah calls the Hebrew people to take heart, for God comes like light in the midst of darkness and transforms the world. What hope that brought to the exiles! The Israel to which they had returned was poor and shabby, a pale shadow of its former greatness. But God, Isaiah assured them, had not abandoned them. New blessings would transform the Hebrew people. Foreigners had destroyed its greatness; foreigners would bring it back to its former glory. Isaiah saw his nation possessing such light that others could not help but be drawn to it.

As Christians, we hear it in the context of the salvation God offers us in the birth of Christ. We see prefigured the response of the world to the coming of Christ. The light has come. The glory of the Lord has risen upon the world. The light stands out distinctly in the darkness. Like the star of Bethlehem drew the magi towards the Christ Child, so that light shines out to each of us. It beckons. It draws all of humanity towards it.

And so we come to Matthew’s Christmas story, the story of some astrologers from the East searching for the child Jesus. What were they searching for as they scanned the sky, night after night? Were they looking, not just for a new star, but also for a new way of living their lives? They must have been dissatisfied with their lives to be searching so diligently, hoping against hope for something new. So when they saw a new star they packed their luggage, saddled their camels, and followed without any hesitation. They blazed a trail that has been followed ever since, the trail toward a new vision, a new society. It is a trail that leads in new directions, in new ways of relating to God.

Surely it is our life work as Christians to follow that star, to search for the whereabouts of Christ in every situation, to see where and how and in what area Jesus wishes to be King. It is our vocation to keep asking, “Does Jesus reign in my life?”

These days are the darkest of the year, a time when the stars are most visible to us. One star in particular gives hope to us and to our faltering world. It leads to something significant. The magi followed a particular star through the dark nights and they met Christ. We are called to be the stars that lead others through the darkness of night to Christ who is the light of the world.

What is the star for me? What is the single, over-riding purpose of my life? What is the purpose or dream or hope or challenge in my life? Those are the questions of this season of Epiphany. Does the star bring me into relationship with Christ? Am I willing to follow the star where God is leading? How do I even know where God is taking me? Do I take the time in my busy life to look up at the night sky and see the star? Am I aware enough to see where the star stops?

Does anyone notice in the rush and madness of twenty-first century life? Someone is mugged. He screams out to passersby for help. And except for the disinterested glance of the taxi driver, a politician, a salesperson, and a few hundred people, it goes unnoticed, unchallenged. It leads me to ask, “Where are the sages in our world?”

Where does the star lead me? Do I track it through the streets of Oshawa, in my workplace, in the park, to the mall? Do I follow it as it stops over the refugee, the widow, the immigrant, the young woman with the child? Does it take me past the person sitting in the wheelchair, the street person with her shopping bag and cart, the disturbed young man crying out his obscenities, the drunk lying in the gutter? Does it take me past the child shivering in the cold? Or the needy waiting in line at the Food Bank?

Do I follow the star wherever it leads? Do I follow it to Bethlehem where I offer my gifts, my talents? Does it lead me to the place where I can worship God? Do I lead others in the search for Christ? Do I help them on the journey to hope? To what or to whom do I open my treasures? What gifts do I offer? Are they my finest gifts? Do I give of myself to God and to others? Does that become the consequence of knowing Christ?

The magi were transformed by their visit to the manger. In what way has my life been transformed? If I continue to walk in old paths, in old directions, then what has Christmas accomplished? What difference has the Incarnation made in my life? New life means new paths, new goals, new attitudes, new motivations. What paths are being opened up before me as I enter a new year? Am I a new person? How has my encounter with the Christ child affected my life, my way of living? What is God trying to accomplish in me at this very moment?

The season of Epiphany that we are entering is a time to reflect on the changes that we need to make in our lives. It is a time to make resolutions that we will try to keep throughout the year. It is not about making some New Year’s resolution that we will keep for a time. It is about the gifts we bring to Jesus. It is about the loving actions we can offer to help spread God’s realm. It is about what we can offer to help transform our own lives and the lives of those we touch. It is about our loving actions becoming a part of our prayers for those in need.

This is a time for this parish in particular to reflect on the changes that need to be made in your corporate life. As a parish in transition you face new challenges. You are searching for a new Incumbent. How do you open yourselves to embrace new ways of doing things, new leadership? What growth needs to take place? What are the challenges to growth? How do you meet the financial obligations of the parish and still respond to the overwhelming needs of the people in your community? How does this parish reach out into the community to draw people into deeper relationship with God? How do you embody Christ in the twenty-first century?

It is a huge task. But God is there in the midst of us. Jesus comes to us as a little baby, drawing us closer to God. As the magi bring gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, so we bring our time, our talents, our treasures, our gifts of love to God. And in so doing we reach out into a needy world with the light of Christ, the light that transforms all of creation.

The Second Sunday after Epiphany, Year A

Come and See Readings: Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-11; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42 Invitations come in many shapes and sizes. They ...