Enlightenment

As you heard on the Feast of the Epiphany and again in last Sunday’s sermon, this is a season of Light in which we remember that the Light of Christ is to shine forth into all the world. The Greek word “epiphany” means just that – a “shining forth.” But just how is that to happen? How is Christ’s Light “manifested” in the world today?

Well, I think our Collect – or Prayer – for today makes is very clear. Just a few moments ago we prayed “Almighty God, who Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth…”

If Jesus Christ is to be known in this world, it is up to us – Christ’s people – to get the job done. You’ll notice that the prayer does not say that only the “clergy, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory.” It asks that all of you, the people, may shine with his glory.

As excited as I am about the Search Process for a new Dean here, and as happy as I am about the good response to the recent survey, I always worry – in a moment like this – that too much emphasis will be placed on getting the “perfect Dean” who will somehow magically fix all that is wrong with this congregation.

Expectations that, as soon as the new Dean arrives, attendance will double, young families will magically appear streaming through our doors, and Trinity Cathedral will begin making the kind of impact in this community that will draw new members and increased commitment from current ones…Don’t hold your breath!

That is, don’t hold your breath for the next Dean to make all this happen alone. What we are praying for each Sunday is that God will guide the search committee and vestry to choose a Dean for this Cathedral “that we may receive a faithful pastor, who will care for your people, and equip us for our ministries…” That’s really about all a priest can do – and it’s plenty:

Be a person full of faith (which means full of trust in the grace and power of God); be a person who cannot only care for, but actually come to love, the people of this parish.  Be a person who can provide leadership, but also recognize that the Church is at her strongest when it is shared leadership – clergy and lay people; dean and vestry praying together to discern God’s yearning for this congregation and working together to carry that out.

So, in this morning’s Collect, we prayed that we might be ‘illumined by God’s Word and Sacraments.” Buddhists speak of their form of salvation as “enlightenment.” And we Christians have our own form of “enlightenment.” We get enlightened as we hear and read God’s Word in the Scriptures and as we receive the Sacraments of the New Covenant. At the very least that means being here on Sunday mornings to hear the Scriptures read and preached upon and to receive the very Being and Life of Christ into ourselves in the Holy Eucharist. If we do that, the Collect assures us, we will begin to “shine” with the radiance of Christ’s glory. I don’t know that that means a physical shining (although I have seen people so filled with the Spirit of God that they seem almost to glow). But it does mean that we can begin to reflect the Light of Christ in the way we live our lives, outside these doors, 24/7 as we say today.

If our lives gradually begin to take on the qualities of the life of Christ, believe me, people will notice. St. Paul writes in today’s Epistle “I give thanks to my God…that…you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind – just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you – so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift…” (I Corinthians 1)

If your speech and your knowledge gradually begin to reflect Jesus’ words and his wisdom, believe me, people will notice!  And then, the Collect says, he will begin to “be known, worshipped and obeyed to the ends of the earth.” We see that kind of progression beginning already in today’s Gospel:

First, John the Baptist encounters Jesus in his own life – he becomes “enlightened.” Then, he points this same Jesus out to two of his friends – “Look, here is the Lamb of God” – and they begin to follow him. One of those friends was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, and he passes the word along to him: “We have found the Messiah.” He brings his brother to Jesus and, as they say, “the rest in history.” “You are Simon, son of John. You are to be called Cephas!” (John 1:29-42) – the Rock.

You see how easy it is? See how easy it would be to grow this church? Be here every Sunday morning yourself, and bring your family if you can. Drink deeply of the Word and Sacrament available in this place, day by day and week by week. Become “enlightened” in those encounters with Jesus just as John the Baptist was, and go back outside these doors willing to let your life reflect that “enlightened” consciousness.

Don’t be afraid to speak about your faith, about the God you serve, and about the church you attend which helps you deepen that faith. And be as willing as John and Andrew were to invite your family, friends, and neighbors to join you here on Sundays. You can even offer to give them a ride…or promise to meet them here for services.

Oh, you’ll probably get turned down sometimes. You may even get as discouraged as Isaiah was in today’s First Lesson: “(For) I said, ‘I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and (for) vanity.’”

But, if you listen closely enough to that still, small voice within, you may hear the voice of encouragement – a voice which will say, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49)

It’s too light a think that we should be God’s servants to raise up members of Trinity Cathedral or to restore people to The Episcopal Church. God has given us to be a light to the nations…that his salvation may reach to the ends of the earth!

That, dear friends, is what “Epiphany” is all about!

 

 

 

 

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