The Feast of the Epiphany: January 6, 2019
As we conclude the Christmas season today in our celebration of The Epiphany, sometimes known as The Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, the lessons reveal to us people who could dare to imagine. Imagination is creative. It takes what we know and what we hope for and projects it into a future not yet foreseen. I recall a conversation with a U.S. Episcopal bishop many years ago who was adamantly opposed to the ordination of women. It became apparent that his objection was less theologically based than one might have expected. It was more that he just could not imagine a woman in that role. We cannot do what we cannot imagine.
Isaiah, St. Paul, the Magi – they were all imaginers to the full. They could see the present for what it was, along with the challenges with which they were faced. Yet they could also see the future in grace-filled visions. They knew God was with them and that God already held the future. That was the key.
We too often shrink from creative solutions to things. Being cautious we tend to merely tinker with what we already know. “Going boldly where no one has gone before” works on Star Trek, but going exactly where others have gone before is the pattern for most of us. Now that’s not always wrong, but our Scriptures call us to faithful risk-taking. In times of anxiety, especially when the future is filled with unknowns, we often find it a time to entrench, to batten down the hatches, to circle the wagons – choose your favorite metaphor – when in fact the moment is crying for a new boldness and sense of adventure. Now is such a time for us, for our Diocese and entire Episcopal Church, and gosh yes, for our country.
In the faith story we inherit, the people of God put their imagination in service to God. Someone has said that prayer is precisely that – imagining with God! Through this prayerful imagination God speaks, makes his will known in the community of the faithful, and a revelation comes. A messenger is heard. What if Mary, Jesus’ mother, had played it safe? What if the Wise Men had said gee, the journey is just too long and too tough? What if St. Paul had decided to stay home and ignore the voice that called him into an entire new way of being faithful?
In today’s reading, Isaiah imagines a whole new future for Jerusalem and its people. The Wise Men found themselves compelled by astrological forecasts of all things, and followed a star. They risked a long journey in search of a King whose significance was beyond even their own understanding. Paul imagines a grand plan of God revealed in Christ to bring all people to himself, unified in the person of Jesus. He took risks and resistances were overcome.
I wonder if we remember the amazing words of the baptism liturgy when we pray for the one just baptized: “Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.” God works through our imaginations! It is one of the gifts of our baptism for which we pray. It is God’s hope for Harriet being confirmed today. What we cannot imagine we cannot do.
If we are to carry out God’s desire for our life individually and even corporately as a parish church, we must hook our star to the star of Christ. Being fearful is easy and the pundits around us are constantly trying to manipulate us with fear tactics. If we give in and allow our anxiety to rise above what is reasonable and even creative, then we tend to move to the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy to mere survival. But God is about creativity and life. Whatever God is calling forth from you, the people of God at Good Shepherd, you have an opportunity to imagine what that is and even, if you are so bold, to imagine a whole new future for yourself. This kind of trust, faith if you will, is not built on certainties. It is built on the promise of God that is the core ingredient of hope.
So when we pray for someone who is sick, we are to imagine him or her well. If a married couple cannot ever imagine the possibility of joy in their relationship, then they probably will not experience it. If a congregation cannot imagine an invigorated and committed people with empowered mission being offered in the Spirit, vigorous life-giving worship that captures people’s hearts, than they will never attain it. If a country cannot imagine a Congress that can actually get along and get something done that is constructive for the good of all, then it will not occur. If the world cannot imagine peace, it will not be realized.
I recently read of a man who had lost his job and was down on his luck in every phase of his life. He was in danger of losing the things he loved the most and could have given up and thrown in the towel. But instead of that, he went around to people on the street, collected food stamps and got a group of folks together to feed one another and the homeless of his town. He cooked a turkey on the street in an old file cabinet drawer. To do such a thing required his imagination and a bold desire of the will. We have a God who throughout Scripture proclaims to ancient peoples and to us, do not be afraid. Do not be anxious. To God they are diseases of the soul when we allow them to control us.
Today is Epiphany time. It is a time when our hopes and dreams can be revealed. We begin by bringing our gifts, our very selves, to the manger, even this altar, with all we have to give. In this act we give ourselves to Christ himself and ask to be renewed in the power of the Spirit. Imagine yourself faithful. Imagine yourself whole and full of love. Imagine God at work in and through you. Imagine God calling you, yes you, and say in response, “Yes God, we will imagine a new world with you.”
Bishop Skip Adams
The Right Reverend Gladstone B. Adams III was elected and invested as our Bishop on September 10, 2016. Read more about him here.