To Epiphany and beyond !!!
On the 6th of January we celebrated the Day of Epiphany, here we are reminded of the power and awesomeness of the light of Christ, the three Magi or Kings have in traditions been named as Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar who represent Europe, Arabia and Africa respectively. Their gifts a prophetic sign of who they came to honour and obey.
In Australia this day is quietly celebrated “in house” without our wider community knowing anything of its importance or tradition. In Prague, there is a traditional Three Kings swim to commemorate Epiphany Day at the Vltava River. In some European countries, children leave their shoes out the night before to be filled with gifts, while others leave straw for the three Kings’ horses. In New York, El Museo del Barrio has celebrated and promoted the Three Kings’ Day tradition with an annual parade for more than three decades. Thousands take part in the procession featuring camels, colourful puppets and floats.
A tradition of the Greek Orthodox Church’s caught my attention this year, as a priest will bless the congregation by throwing water at them, he would also throw a cross into the congregation and the worshippers are required to retrieve it. I like the idea of being purposeful about starting the New Year with the call to revive Jesus’ followers for the year ahead, with a call to revive our churches for the glory of God. I also think that with all the very, very hot weather we are experiencing, it’s not a bad idea, to have water to revive us. (Don’t worry I won’t be throwing water on you at church on Sunday, nor a loaded cross…..) So during the weeks after the Epiphany, we turn to the colour green (liturgically speaking) to remind us of our continued growth in the Spirit. How might you revive your faith for 2017, how might we revive our church this year?
The season after the Epiphany, is called the Season of Light. God is here, revealed in the presence of Jesus as he grows and teaches us to live in God’s way. Our stories from the lectionary include those of Jesus’ baptism, the calling of the disciples, and the showing forth of God’s infinite mercy and love. We too are called to action, to show forth the power of God in our lives. The light of God shows us the way.
This year we will hear from the Gospel according to Matthew. The Gospel of Matthew contains a collection of teachings from Jesus known as the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus taught that we are filled with God’s love and goodness. Love is like a light within us that shines out wherever we show love to ourselves and others. Goodness, kindness and generosity are simply like salt that adds flavour to food. So when we live in ways that are just, kind, and fair, it makes the world a better place for sure. Jesus is teaching Matthew’s community to live the love and goodness within them, even when it wasn’t easy. Jesus taught that we are filled with God’s love and goodness, and this should give us confidence to walk Jesus’ path. It is us who will make the difference to our own lives and the community surrounding us. Our actions, our character, our plans for justice making and peace building, our plans of interconnectedness and understanding, our generous hearts and pure intensions, all make a difference to us and the community that surround us.
In Jesus’ teachings from the Sermon on the Mount we are reminded of some “rules” they were trying to live by as a community. Jesus said it is not enough simply to follow the rules, but our hearts must be into it as well. In other words, when you are having a disagreement with a friend, you might follow the rules by not fighting in the playground, or at church or behind someone’s back. If you are thinking mean thoughts about your friend, your friendship will suffer, so will the church. Jesus encourages us to build strong communities of peace and love that are the foundation of rules and laws.
Sometimes the notion that Jesus requires us to be perfection crops up and the moral strain is felt, in the passage from Matthew at the beginning of this chapter, Jesus says, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”, in New Testament Greek, the term “perfect” here is teleios, meaning “unblemished, complete, finished, full-grown.” So how can we hear Jesus’ encouragement as anything but an insistence on the impossible?
The word perfection has many rich connotations throughout the Bible. Though the New Testament was written in Greek, Jesus used Aramaic, where the word for perfect (gmar) is closer to “ripe,” “fully flavoured,” or “fully flowered.” Perfection involves a fulfilment of the potential a thing has within itself all along from the seed state. In Latin the word means “completely formed or performed”, and the verb “to perfect” means “to bring to full development”. The Hebrew word for perfect, taman, also means something close to “mature,” “whole,” “complete.” So within these older contexts, perfection is a dynamic process to which we surrender. We know we can’t bring about this maturity by ourselves, but have to be part of what constantly recreates itself and moves toward balance and wholeness. Perhaps perfection could be redefined as opening to the flow of the whole – which is the flow of divine love. Therefore immaturity, insisting on one’s own way, selfishness, or folks who recreate again and again a narrative of being the victim in their own lives are shutting down the flow of divine love to themselves and whomever cops their flack—the people around them, thereby affecting the strength of your community to get on with the purposes of God.
Let us now return, then, to what Jesus might have had in mind when he said to his disciples that they needed to love their enemies. God, who loves perfectly, sees “the enemy” as part of the field of awareness one calls oneself. Let’s try translating the phrase this way: “Be whole, be part of a loving motion toward completeness.” Or “Be in the flowing light of the Godhead,” or “Look at things from a perspective that intuits how all things are interconnected.” If we redefine the term this way, then love of the enemy might begin to issue from the heart without so much moral strain, and the enemy we are called to love could be ourselves.
Imagine a shift of consciousness in which we stop seeing the world in terms of self and other, me and you, them and us. If this perception could be sustained, then loving the enemy might not be a matter of just being nice to someone nasty. Jesus nudges his disciples to assume the viewpoint of a loving, all-compassionate parent. Such an act of identification with universal compassion is not impossible if in our deepest interiors we dwell in God and God dwells in us. Jesus’ statement, then, is that of a mystic, or one who has experienced directly this sort of oneness and begun to live out of it in a constant way.
In Sermon on the Mount, we hear that God’s transforming love often comes through liberation, and we are challenged to see God’s unbinding of conventions as an act of liberation for the poor in spirit and those who mourn. This “sermon” is the vision, the beauty, it is wisdom, and an anticipation that was and is Jesus’s teaching to the world – it is important to loosen our grip on some of the conventions or narratives we hold most dear, in order to see God’s reality and in order to experience the liberating love that God offers. To awaken to Gods’ reality and love, we must be willing to see the world differently and see ourselves in a new light. The connection between obedience to the law and being the salt of the earth, a city on a hill, and a light to the world preserves a “well” community, enhances life’s flavours, brings about healing agents, and so on – and cracks through so the light can shine. We live out of heart-felt places for the sake of the common good. It is a life lived beyond hatred, harmful situations, it is life beyond hard and fast rules, and yet totally in keeping with a communal spirit.
We are invited to encounter the world as disciples and to meet it with more integrity in our thoughts and deeds. 1 Corinthians 3:10–11, 16–23 challenges us to build foundations which will provide shelter for so many people around us. We are invited to reflect on our foundations of peace, love, self-denial, inclusion, and service. What would a community look like that used such materials as the foundation for their life together?
The Season after the Epiphany begins and ends in mystical encounters and words of affirmation: “You are my beloved.” A dove becomes a sign of Spirit-nurtured growth; and the call of Isaiah and the call of disciples have us reflect on our own call, decision points, and clarifying light.
We spend four weeks savouring a collection of Jesus’ sayings presented as the Sermon on the Mount. The Beatitudes bend our understanding of the world around us and turn our world view upside down as we glimpse a re-imagined realm where the meek inherit the earth and the merciful receive mercy; we are reminded that we are salt and light in a world in need, and we are taken into the heart of the law and the gospel. How might you take the teachings in the Sermon on the Mount and make them relevant to your current situation? What do these visions mean for us today and how might we live into them?
Yours in Christ’s service