Challenges and Opportunities on the Journey of Faith
At The Episcopal Church in Okatie
The Second Sunday after Christmas Day
January 5, 2014
Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23
Journeys of all kinds present us with challenges as well as with opportunities. We are finishing a prime travel season at this point of the year. And I dare say that many examples of challenges and opportunities could be readily identified, as a result of recent journeys taken. The weather and crowded travel conditions probably top most lists of challenges, while reunions with family and friends might hold significant places on the opportunity side of things. On the other hand, “family” might be a category on both lists – challenge and opportunity!
The Gospel story today reminds us that the Holy Family was most certainly involved in the challenges and opportunities of journeys. First, Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus fled to Egypt, to avoid the threat of Herod. Then, after Herod died, the Holy Family planned to return to Israel. However, because of another threat – the new ruler, Archelaus – they had to detour to the district of Galilee and the town of Nazareth. Coming out of Egypt fulfilled a prophecy, and Nazareth held both prophetic and practical significance for Jesus’ nurture. Surely, the Holy Family experienced both the challenges and the opportunities that accompany taking a journey.
Our confirmands today reach a milestone on their journey of faith. The Prayer Book offers us this direction about today: “In the course of their Christian development, those baptized at an early age are expected ... to make a mature public affirmation of their faith and commitment to the responsibilities of their Baptism and to receive the laying on of hands by the bishop” (BCP, p 412). Similar expectations are stated for people baptized as adults. Therefore, on their journey of faith, our confirmation candidates have reached this point, this milestone.
Apparently, neither candidate had a dream last night that directed them to flee. And so, here we are. Make no mistake about this, however. There are both challenges and opportunities present on this journey of faith.
In a few minutes, I will ask the candidates to affirm the promises of their baptism. These promises either were made by them, if they were old enough, or they were made by others on their behalf – at baptism. Now the candidates speak on their own, in making these promises. It does us all well to listen to these promises and to recommit ourselves to our own journey. Then, all of us here will renew our Baptismal Covenant, which outlines particular challenges and opportunities of the journey of faith. Next in the liturgy, the prayers will follow, reminding us all of our beginning point on the journey – our baptism. Finally, the bishop’s prayer at confirmation emphasizes three gifts that are so necessary as we go forward – strength from the Spirit, power to serve others, and sustenance from God all along the way.
Thus, today’s Gospel story reminds us of some attributes of the journey of faith for us all – even as we listen to the challenges and opportunities faced by the Holy Family. Today, the candidates for confirmation reach a significant milestone on the faith journey ... and all of us here have the chance to renew commitments to our journeys as well.
I want to turn our attention now to another journey of faith – and that is the journey of Episcopalians in Okatie. I pay tribute to you for not fleeing, even though the threat may have seemed real. I congratulate you for keeping on your journey of faith, even though a detour may have seemed enticing and, probably, easier. On the journey which lies ahead, I remind you of the prayer at confirmation – for strength from the Spirit, for power to serve others, and for sustenance from God, all along the way.
I know of some of the challenges you have faced – but I cannot imagine them all. In particular, you have stories of personal challenges, as you live and work among people who have chosen a different path from you – and that division has taken place within a fairly small community. There is pain to deal with, as well as a sense of loss. Then, there are the substantial challenges of beginning a new church. And, believe me, I have heard from some of you and from others elsewhere these words: “I did not expect to be doing this work at this point in my life!” Thus, on this particular journey, challenges certainly do confront us.
However, opportunities abound as well. We have the chance to play a significant role in the preservation of The Episcopal Church in this part of South Carolina. The opportunity exists for us to reconnect with the wonderful heritage and traditions of The Episcopal Church and of the historic Anglican Communion. It is our present call to live into the very words of The Baptismal Covenant that we soon will affirm – to “respect the dignity of every human being” (BCP, p 417). In short, we have the opportunity to make a difference – in our day and for many, many days and years to come.
As with other journeys, this one certainly has its challenges. However, like other journeys, it also presents us with opportunities. May we, therefore, continue to pray for strength from the Spirit, for power to serve others, and for sustenance from God, all along the way. Amen.
The Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg
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