This is an Epiphany sermon. It riffs on the idea of “wise men”. The fact is that in the story there are a lot of men who would be considered wise, but are fools for various reasons. It is only when we are gifted stars to guide – the wisdom of God – that we wind up at the manger.
“Love sought is good, but given unsought better.” – Olivia, Act 3, Scene 1, Twelfth Night
That line is from Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night, otherwise known as Epiphany. You might have been forced to read it usually as a sophomore. The play has two themes that play on Epiphany. The first is wisdom and foolishness, or what is wise and what is foolish. The second – like most of Shakespeare’s comedies – is about the true nature of love. Olivia thinks she is being wise playing a “courtly love” game which ends with her foolishness of falling in love with a woman dressed as a man. And it is all played as a farce. Shakespeare’s comedies have all kinds of troubles today.
I guess I blame Reformed Protestantism. If you followed Calvin or Zwingli, they more or less ditched the church year. Every Sunday was the Lord’s Day. Elevating any day as a Holy Day was Judaizing (using Paul’s term from Galatians.) And while they have a point, every Sunday is a little Easter, life is not quite that flat. Romans 14: 5-6 should have solved that. But the United States was largely a Reformed Protestant project, so we get Christmas Day and grudgingly Easter (although that is disappearing into Spring Breaks not always around Holy Week), but we’ve lost the seasons.
The season of Christmas is twelve days, Dec 25th – Jan 5th. The carol The Twelve Days of Christmas is an echo of that. It might also be a Roman Catholic crypto-polemic against the Reformed erasing. And the entire 12 days were often something of boozy hazy time ending with a big party on Twelfth Night when gifts were exchanged. After all, it was the coming of the Magi that brought the gifts. Hispanic Cultures still maintain a bit of this as Tres Reyes. The Protestant Work ethic couldn’t imagine 12 boozy days, so we pack up the tree the day after.
But that’s enough dissembling, or maybe I’m just in a Christmas Season mood and can’t think straight. Olivia’s middle of the play statement captures something about the Christ child and the love of God. It is good that we love God. For God has sought our love. But the better is that he has loved us unsought. When we were lost in darkness, God sent His light. Whether that light is the fuller light of prophetic revelation, like “out of Egypt I have called my son” which ties the entire story of Israel to this Israel reduced to one, or a light given in a star to a bunch of foolish astrologers, God sought us out wise and foolish, while were all in the dark. He gave us His love unsought. When we were still sinners, Christ loved us.
The church built in a season, and then a fuller Epiphany season, to absorb the immensity of that truth. She can proclaim the reality in an hour. Your head can hear the message. But the heart doesn’t always work on the same timetable. And lots of wisdom and foolishness happens as love moves from head to heart.
Biblical Text: Luke 9: 28-36
Luke’s account of the Transfiguration is interesting. You have to pay close attention to how he tells it to pick it up, but I believe if you do you get rewarded for it. This sermon meditates on three of those interesting differences. Luke’s transfiguration takes place during prayer. What does that mean for the role of prayer? It’s the transfiguration, which is the latin term. The Greek is metamorphosis, which Luke leaves out. Jesus is not metamorphosized, but his glory is revealed. Which in the context of a Greco-Roman religious world is meaningful. As pagan practices start finding their way back into our world, Luke’s avoidance of the term is a meaningful warning. The last is Luke’s use of the word Exodus. How are we included in the Exodus of Jesus? How do Moses and Elijah help us? And how might we see better our own exodus? (On a personal note, I like this sermon, but I willing to think of it as too personal parochial happenings.)
Biblical Text: Luke 9:28-36
The text is the Transfiguration which has become the standard text for the Ending of the Season of Epiphany. As such this sermon is the last in this loosely connected series. The evangelist Luke’s treatment of the Transfiguration is unique. In the parallels it is the Easter before Easter. In Luke it is Epiphany that starts the journey. And it is on the journey that everything we fear we might lose as the epiphany fades, or that we never got because we were sleepy and didn’t see the entire thing, is confirmed in the living. We remember the mountaintop, but that is the symbol for the life. Without the life, the mountaintop loses its meaning.
Biblical Text: Luke 5:1-11
We are moving into the second half of an Epiphany Season. And this is turning into a little longer series of at least semi-joined sermons. This second half often just gets dropped, when Easter is earlier, so we don’t always get to these lessons, which is a shame. Because it is these that ask the important questions of how do we respond to an Epiphany. If we have seen God, what do we do?
Last week showed a couple of broad wrong paths and the narrow right path. This weeks lessons walks us through the deeper give and take. Epiphany, Repentance, Reassurance, and Call.
Biblical Text: Luke 4:16-30
We are continuing through our Epiphany series which might be subtitled “seeing God”. The normal ways of seeing God that the Epiphany texts help us to see are Word and Sacrament. This text is no different in that, except this text asks the next question: what does seeing God mean for the one who sees? And Epiphany is always also a test. Do we believe? Do we trust the promises given in the Word of God and the sacraments, or do we demand what we take as greater signs? This sermon ponders Jesus’ reception in his hometown, and parallels that reception among those who have been made his family by baptism.
Biblical Text: Luke 3:15-22
In Last week’s message we pondered What is an Epiphany answering that a Biblical Epiphany was seeing God. Following the Star is not just about a mental change or even a change of habit, but it is about meeting God. The question then becomes how does this happen? The texts of the season answer that for us. This message ponder’s Luke’s unique portrayal of the baptism of Jesus which is one that cares little about the actual baptism but instead pairs it down to the simplest presentation- The Word of the Father and the Presence of the Spirit. How do we see God? In the Inspired Word.
Biblical Text: Matthew 2:1-12
Our common answer to that question I think would be something of a snoozer. We have dime store epiphanies. This sermon looks at what a real epiphany is. And then it looks at what an Epiphany demands of us. If we see the star, are we willing to follow? Openness to that answer makes all the difference.
The texts in “year C” of the lectionary and when Epiphany proper falls on a Sunday make for a wonderful series. Over the next few weeks we’ll be taking a good look at how the light enters and grows in the Christian life.
Biblical Text: Mark 1:4-11, Romans 6:1-11 (and the general Epiphany Texts of the Magi, Cana and the Transfiguration)
Full Sermon Draft/a>
Holy Days, like Epiphany, often come with a phalanx of texts associated with them. The day itself is a concept, and over time various texts carry that theme with slightly different emphasis. For Epiphany the texts are: The Magi, The Wedding at Cana, The Baptism of Jesus and then the Transfiguration. Stars, and lights, and voices and glory manifest. The actual text of the day is the baptism, but the sermon is a pondering of all of them, and really of the season. How do we see the glory? How do we see God? Is it all at once? Are we capable of understanding that? The sermon points at two expressions of the glory that are manifest in waters of the Jordan. And then how that glory is given to us and how it is manifest here and now, and in the world to come. At some point along that trail of Epiphanies, we do really “get it”. Be rest on the promises of Jesus, and that the Holy Spirit will enlighten us and one day sanctify us.