manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi
the festival commemorating the
Epiphany on January 6.
a manifestation of a divine or
a moment of sudden revelation or insight.
Today, January 6, 2016, marks
Epiphany, which recalls the revelation of the infant King Jesus to the Magi, those
wise men described in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 2. On this day we celebrate
the inclusion of the Gentiles in the blessings of Israel, particularly in the
gracious reign of Jesus Christ, as it enfolds all nations, tongues, and tribes.
Every people, every group, every culture, and every ethnicity is embraced and
welcomed in the transforming, life-giving reign of Christ.
More commonly, “epiphany” is also an “aha” moment, “a moment
of sudden revelation or insight”, as the dictionary puts it.
Yesterday, I believe, our First Presbyterian Church of
Boulder, CO staff was given an epiphany. We were in our typical all-staff
meeting, 30 to 40 of us. We were tired after a long season which
focused not only on Advent and Christmas Eve celebrations, but also on helping
lead our denominational dismissal from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) to the
new denomination, the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO). As
part of the dismissal agreement, our congregation must buy back its buildings
from our presbytery (as they are only held in trust locally for the broader
denomination). This has necessitated a congregational capital campaign to raise
$2.29 million dollars. In our staff meeting, we’d just been told the good news
that the congregation had already pledged more than 2/3 of that amount. We then
went to prayer in preparation for communion together.
Our quiet group prayers were suddenly startled by a booming
male voice shouting at us. We anxiously snapped to attention to see
some 20 or more men rush into our midst. Quickly, they identified themselves:
they were the lead pastors of many, if not, most of our sister churches of
Boulder County. They'd heard of our decision to depart our denomination;
they’d read the somewhat disparaging articles about this in the local
newspaper; and they had come to show their support and solidarity. Each in turn
gave words of appreciation for the historic impact of First Pres on our region
and on their congregations. In fact, the lead pastor of our county’s largest
and fastest growing megachurch (and indeed one of our country’s fastest growing
churches) spoke appreciatively of the small group Bible study from our church
that over time grew into their congregation.
Then the pastors did an even more remarkable thing: they presented
our church with checks from their congregations in support of our capital
campaign, which we’d entitled “All In.” In total, our sister churches
contributed $48,000. For these busy pastors to make time in their
schedules to offer such kind words of appreciation, along with bringing us gifts of such staggering generosity from their congregations--this blew us away. We all knelt on the carpet for
prayer and then shared communion together. There were hugs exchanged, tears flowing, and much laughter.
Why is this act so significant and why does it constitute an
epiphany? Sadly, churches and pastors too often view each
other with jealousy and a competitive spirit. We lamely look at neighboring
congregations, particularly the newer and more successful ones, as competitors
for “marketshare”. We compare our attendance numbers, the size of our
buildings, the creativity and reputation of our programs and staffs. We mourn
the loss of church members who decide to move to these other congregations.
Granted, we give lip-service to all of us being on the same
team, but too often this rings hollow. In this surprising act of kindness
yesterday, these pastors demonstrated how Jesus views his Church: he sees us
all together in one body in a region, teaming up to minister together in his
name. First Pres, the most historic and long-tenured of these congregations, can often feel culturally irrelevant, stodgy, and passé in comparison to the
cooler start-up churches. But these gifts of praise, appreciation,
companionship, and money corrected our perspective: they showed us we’re not alone in
our ministries or pilgrimage; we’re lovingly surrounded by friends who share in the work with us. We're family.
Epiphany is first centripedal: the nations come in with
gifts to Israel, particularly to its Messiah, Jesus. Then, from this common
center in Christ, Epiphany is shockingly centrifugal: it spins out one
global people, Jew and Gentile united in Jesus, to go into the world with his message
of gracious embrace. Epiphany makes us gasp with fresh realization that God’s
blessings are all-embracing. His people are not just sequestered in a small
historic space: God’s people are spun-out in Jesus Christ far and wide.
Epiphany blows the roof off the church’s parochialism and shows us its colorful community. The people of Jesus can’t be limited to one place, one
parish, one tradition. In Christ, there is a great big beautiful family. Aha.