Sunday, January 6, 2019

Year C Epiphany 2019 Exponential Grace

Year C Epiphany, 6 January 2019 
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA (8 a.m.)
& Duncan Memorial United Methodist for Ashland Epiphany Celebration
“Exponential Grace” 

Collect: O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. 
Matthew 2:1-12 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 
 `And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'" 
 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage." When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. 

Matthew 5:14-16 
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” 

Epiphany, when not applied to this day, is a moment of sudden revelation or insight. It is often combined with “Eureka! (I found it!)” or some similar exclamation. And this day is exactly that. When people from far flung places were illumined with the knowledge that something singular, unique in all the world, unique in all the history of the world has taken place. The wise men as we call them saw the unexpected. A “king” who was born without wealth or prominence. A “king” who was not in the capital city, but in the village 10 miles down the road. 

We remember this day because it is why we are here, too. We are here because the light spread. That original torch that was lit was handed down from person to person, from generation to generation, one candle at a time. From where we sit to Bethlehem is 5,967 miles, and yet, God found a way for you to hear and be illumined by the same message that the Wise Men received, God’s Light had come into the world. 

On Christmas Eve I love the end of our service, your church may do it to. We sing Silent Night and from a single candle, in our tradition the Paschal Candle, I light my candle, and our deacon lights his. Together we share flame, one person at a time, row by row. And they share it, and they share, and they share, and so on and so on and so on. Before the third verse, the church which was pitch black has suddenly become ablaze. Light comes from every corner, each light a beloved soul, their face illumined, glowing in the light that came from the Christ candle, the Paschal Candle alone in our midst. Life, like Grace, is not a Zero Sum Game. 

There is a disease running rampant in our society right now, this idea that for there to be winners then there must be losers. For me to have, someone else must do without. There is nothing than can be further from the Truth of Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus said he came that we might have life, but not so that someone can do without. “Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly.” John 10:10b And from that Abundance, we can share what we have been given. We are the light of the world, and the glow goes a long way. We do not hide it, we let it shine for all to see. We let it shine, so those away from the light can give thanks to God. We let it shine, so they can come and be illuminated as well. They can light their candle, and the light can go on. 
Life, like Grace, is not a Zero Sum Game. Life is meant to be exponential. From our limited capacity we tend to think arithmetically, 1 + 1 + 1 + 1… But from God’s point of view, God can see the exponentially replication that explodes out and cannot be stopped. When I light the first candles on the ends of rows, I get to step back and see the light go out and fill the entire church on Christmas Eve. It is beautiful, almost magical. It seems that way because it is exponential. It goes forth and cannot be stopped. 

When I got married, I did not think I could love someone any more than I did that day. But then we had a daughter. Now I did not love my wife any less, but actually I loved her even more than I did on our wedding day years before, and here was this fragile, beautiful little thing and my heart grew three sizes that day. (Like the Grinch.) And then we had another daughter, and once again, my heart hurt from all the love. I could not fathom before what that meant before it happened. Love grows and expands, but not arithmetically. Life, like Grace, is exponential.

A story is told of an official in China who is to be rewarded by the Emperor for his service, and it promised any wish that is do-able. The man, incredulous, says this is too great an honor. But the Emperor urges him to name his reward. So sly, the official says he wishes a meager gift, and asks for a chessboard to be brought forth. His request of the Emperor is to put one grain of rice on the first square, and then double it each square till all 64 are filled with the double of the previous one. The Emperor laughed, saying this is too meager and too simple. But the official understood the idea of exponential expansion. What started with 1, then 2, then 4, then 8, goes on by the 64th doubling to be 18,446,744,073,709,551,615 grains of rice. This promise, if kept, would have been all the rice in China for hundreds of years. We think arithmetically and God’s vision is exponential. And if that is an Epiphany to you, praise God. I am glad you see the light. Life, like Grace, is not a Zero Sum Game.  

Here in Ashland, think about it, if every person here committed to one Grace-filled act once a day for the rest of this year, and encouraged those we love and serve to do the same, we cannot imagine the difference it would make. The town, the Commonwealth, the nation, the world would be different. The prayer we pray repeatedly, “on earth as it is in heaven,” might actually begin to take shape. Unhide your light. Throw away your bushel basket. Shine your light before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. Life, like Grace, is meant to be exponential. May we make it so, to the Glory of God! Amen 

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Blessings, Rock