Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Proper of the Day: II Epiphany

This year Epiphany was on a Sunday, so all the succeeding Sundays of Epiphany feel late to me. Typing "II Epiphany" on January 20th is just a little odd. And Epiphanytide itself is as short as it can be - only 4 sundays in all before Lent begins. I wonder what it was like when the Church actually observed "Pre-Lent," the Sundays of Sexagisima, Quinquagesima, and Septuagesima. This year, Septuagisima would have been this Sunday. The Gospel for today in the 1928 BCP is Matthew 20, the Parable of the Vineyard. I guess I never understood why we needed a Pre-Lent when we have, well, Lent!

Anyway, I continued to serve supply at St. Thomas's Vernon, and here is what I offerred at the 10 AM service. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback - it's the easiest way to improve.

St. Thomas’s Episcopal Church, Vernon

The Second Sunday After Epiphany 2008 (BCP)

Isaiah 49 1:7; Ps 40:1-10; I Cor 1:1-9; John 1:29-41

The Rev. R.F. Solon, Jr.

May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be always acceptable to you, O Lord our rock and our salvation. Amen.

It seems like this January there’s always something going on that’s a bit unusual, a bit out of the ordinary. Two weeks ago it was the weather, and well, this past week, it’s been the Presidential campaign. Som of you know that I was a political science major in college. Although my ardor has faded a bit, I find myself drawn into this race like no other campaign in several years. I’ve been almost captivated by what’s been going on. Iowa and then New Hampshire and Michigan and now Nevada and South Carolina. If nothing else it’s been a nice geography lesson. And make no mistake, this nation is at a crossroads. We have significant decisions to make about the future of our country and our place in the world. We in New Jersey will have an opportunity to take our share on the councils of the nation on our primary of February 5. Incidentally, that’s Shrove Tuesday, too, so I hope you’ve got pancakes or something else fun planned. Go vote, and then go eat!

I’ve also been really proud of our nation in this campaign. It seems, regardless of what some of the pundits are saying, that people are really engaging the candidates and the issues. And there’s still a lot of uncertainty. For both political parties, the idea of a front runner seems to be a bit tentative at best. There is a lot of voting still left to do. That’s why February 5 is so important – it’s quite possible, even likely, that what we do in New Jersey will have a real impact on the nominations this year. Yesterday afternoon I was watching CNN, and they showed one of the Democratic caucus meetings live, from Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. Perhaps some of you caught it too. You’d think, compared to some of the other things broadcast live from Las Vegas, like boxing maybe, that watching people caucus would mean going right for the remote. But it was amazing! What was remarkable was the engagement of the voters. They really were getting into it. Although it seems simple enough, apparently the rules of the caucus are about as complicated as those for our own Diocesan Convention. People were patient, though, as the caucus chairwoman guided those 164 voters through the process. Voters had to show colored cards depending on which candidate they were supporting, and there was good-natured cheers for each candidate as the votes were called and tallied, right there live on national TV. Now Barack Obama won that particular caucus, although Hillary Clinton won the overall state. I was proud of America at that moment. I was proud that we have caucuses, that people in a very real sense have a say in our government. I was proud that we televised it live. I was even a little proud in myself for watching it, when there were several movies on HBO I hadn’t seen yet. Yesterday American revealed to the world, and to ourselves, us at our very best. I think we need more of that, and I was very glad to see a good start at it.

There’s a lot of that revealing going on in the Scripture appointed for this day as well. John announces Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” Believe it or not, it’s only in the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation that Jesus is given that title. It’s very evocative. We’re reminded of all sorts of things when we hear it. You might think of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, or maybe the 23rd Psalm. You probably know that I like things liturgical, because I believe there is no higher calling for Christians than to first proclaim God’s Good News in our worship. Just before the distribution of Holy Communion the traditional anthem is “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.” It became part of the Eucharistic service as early as the 7th Century, and although the printed program says differently, we’ll sing it today as well. This particular title is so important that John repeats it again the next day. Throughout Christian history the image of the Lamb of God has been much loved and appears in art through the centuries.

John gives an important clue to what’s going on when he says. “I came baptizing with water for this reason, that Jesus might be revealed to Israel.” It’s an odd thing to say, when you think about it. Apparently, John’s whole purpose in life, his entire reason for being, was to baptize Jesus. This makes sense of course, if you remember that one of John’s own traditional titles is The Forerunner. He’s the one who comes first and announces who Jesus is. He admits it himself. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that in the older translations of this passage, the word “revealed” as we have it today was translated “manifested.” The King James Version has it, “And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.”

Remember we sang about Jesus being manifested at the end of our worship last week? Manifest at Jordan’s stream. Manifest at Cana, wedding guest. Manifest on mountain height.

This is the season of Epiphany, the season of Jesus being revealed, shown, announced, to the whole world. John cried out, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” That’s our message too. That’s the Good News, that here is the One who can and does end all the separation between humans and God, between humans and each other, between humans and the universe, and even between humans and our inward selves. We join John is saying “We ourselves have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” And we can say that honestly, because do see God in Jesus, in his Body and Blood right here in our Holy Communion.

We’re watching America manifest herself this political season as once again the America of honor, of pride, of respect for the rule of law and in our political processes, the America that believes in democracy and human rights for all. It’s good to see. It’s a task long overdue. And yet, we Christians have an even more honorable calling. It’s more important than politics, more important than caucusing, more important even than voting. Our task is to announce our Good News not only to America, but everywhere. Our task here at St. Thomas’s is to reveal, show, manifest, the Good News here in Vernon and the surrounding areas. Today is your own Annual Meeting. I encourage everyone to stay and attend if you possibly can. It’s an important time of the year for this congregation. You’ll celebrate and reflect on the past year, both its ups as well as its downs. You’ll take counsel for the welfare of this congregation and its work in the world. You will elect members to the Executive Committee and Diocesan Convention. The acts of worship, service, and community that St. Thomas’s performs is the very mission of Jesus, to reconcile all people to God in the power of the Holy Spirit. You are living out Epiphany by your very presence here on Rt. 94. I think you can be proud of the work you have accomplished, like we can all be proud of what America is accomplishing as well. You are showing Christians at our very best by your worship and welcome on Sundays, the Hiker Hostel and Interfaith work, and all the other activities that members of St. Thomas’s perform on a regular basis. Every Sunday, every day, actually, you here at St. Thomas’s proclaim with John, “Look, here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world…Come and see!”

May it continue to be so!

In the Name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.


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