Epiphany's Amazing "Aha!"

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e·piph·a·ny

əˈpifənē/

noun
  1. the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi (Matthew 2:1–12).
o   the festival commemorating the Epiphany on January 6.
o   a manifestation of a divine or supernatural being.
o   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.

11 comments:

Lou Moeller said...

Thank you, Carl, for this stunningly beautiful post. And Praise God for His work in our midst ... at First Pres, in our sister churches, in Boulder County and around the world. These gifts of friendship, generosity, and encouragement are truly the Holy Spirit's mark.

Unknown said...

Wow and Amen! Praising God through tears at my desk this morning. God is moving - in the hearts of His people, in the Church of Jesus Christ, among the nations. I am on the edge of my seat in anticipation of 2016! I expect to hear testimonies like yours again and again as God awakens the Church, sends revival in the nation and advances the Gospel to the world. Again, I say, Amen!

Kirsten Holmberg said...

I loved reading your account of this, Carl, even more than the Daily Camera's account. A holy moment, indeed, that made me both smile and cry. Favorite line: Epiphany blows the roof off the church’s parochialism and shows us its colorful community. Thank you for sharing your heart, the truth, and the meaning with us.

Tim Gray said...

We had an almost identical moment at Kirk of the Hills in Tulsa when we left the denomination in 2006. Such times are not only uplifting, but they remind us of how the true church lives--sharing in faith and substance, rather than mean retribution, years later, this is what I remember most out of our struggle.

Tom Gray said...

It is Tom Gray, not Tim. Sorry

Unknown said...

With tears of joy streaming down my face, I am thankful for the display of unity in Christ! We are not alone, we have fellow brothers & sisters in Christ serving, ministering, and standing firm on the truth of the Bible! HALLELUIA!!

Carl Hofmann said...

Thanks, friends, for reading the post and for leaving your thoughts. I'm grateful that we can share this gracious surprise with others and that they can be encouraged as well.

Mot said...

Simply Grace. Read your visitation by the Holy Spirit in action. Plan to use it in Sunday's sermon; 4 we are accountable in the Lord's presence now, & we can't be alone as Christ's body wherever the Holy Spirit leads us. May each one of you proclaim each gift so the world in & beyond Boulder feels God's power over all sin & seeks Him.

Anonymous said...

I attend one of those sister churches and I am so grateful and overjoyed that our leadership put feet to the ground in demonstration of Christ who binds us together as family! Wow! What a blessing! Praying for continued funding to finish the move to ECO for First Pres...

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