Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Second Sunday after the Epiphany (Epiphany 2)

John 2:1-11; Romans 12:6-16; Exodus 33:12-23

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
There are three that testify: The Water, and the Blood, and the Spirit.
Water. Water is essential to life. A human body can live maybe three weeks without food, but only three days without water. Indeed, our bodies consist of 60% water, and every cell and organ in our bodies requires water to properly function and to remain alive. St. Peter even suggests in his Epistle that God created all material and living things out of created primordial water by the creative power of His Word and Spirit. It should be no surprise then that, in the Holy Scriptures, water is associated with cleansing, purification, and restoration. Thus, John the Baptist was out in the wilderness, calling people to repentance, purification, and restoration with God by the forgiveness of their sins through baptism with water at the Jordan River.
That is also why there were six stone jars of water at the wedding in Cana. The water was for the purification and restoration of the wedding party and the guests that they might eat the feast and participate in the wedding ceremony. The jars of water were there because of the Law of God, and because of the sin and guilt of the people. The jars of water were there because man’s sin had made ruin of his relationship with God. But, God, in His grace and mercy, had promised to look away from their sins and guilt if they were cleansed and purified by water. The water had no such power in itself, neither did the sacrifices in the temple and the tabernacle before that, but God had attached His Word of promise to the water, promising that He would look away from their sins – and so, He did. Thus, the water was not merely a symbol of the Law of God, but it was the Law of God. Even in the joyful occasion of a wedding feast, the Law stood threatening and demanding to be kept and fulfilled. For, the wages of sin is always and only death, a debt that we will all pay eventually.
And so it is that a proper understanding of Jesus’ first miraculous sign, changing water into wine, begins, not with Jesus, nor with the wine, but with the water and with the Law of God and with man’s transgression of God’s Law. The Law of God, and sin, and death hung over the wedding feast and the guests. The Law of God hung over the bride and the the groom. And yet, into this bittersweet occasion entered the Son of God Himself, the Word of God become flesh. Indeed, God so loved the world and the people whom He created that, instead of punishing and destroying His rebellious creatures, He became one of them, one with them, in order to cleanse, purify, and restore them. Jesus would do this, ultimately, not by the washing of water, but by the shedding of His holy, innocent, and righteous blood. For, the Law must be fulfilled. And, the water must be replaced, not with wine, but with Jesus’ blood which takes away the sins of the world. But, Jesus’ hour, the hour of His Passion, had not yet come. Therefore, for now, He would provide a miracle, a sign, that His people might believe in Him and trust in Him.
The occasion for this miraculous sign? The wedding feast had run out of wine. Now, Jewish wedding feasts were multi-day events, often lasting a week long. Family, friends, and guests had come from all around and they needed to be provided food and drink and water for purification for the duration of the wedding feast. It was early in the feast and they were already out of wine. This would have been a tremendous social embarrassment for the bride and groom and for their families. Mary, the Mother of our Lord, likely a relative or a close friend, was moved to relieve the situation, and she called upon Jesus to do something about it. What she expected Him to do is uncertain, but it is clear that Mary believed that Jesus could help. Jesus’ answered His Mother saying, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” Jesus’ reply seems strident and rude in our ears. Culturally, it was likely nothing of the sort, but Jesus did communicate something important to His Mother concerning His being the Son of God, His mission and purpose. Mary asked Jesus to perform a miracle, to use His divine power as the Son of God to solve the problem of the wine. Jesus addressed Mary as “woman” rather than as “mother” because she was asking Him to do this as the Son of God and not as the Son of Mary. The time would come for Jesus to solve the problem of the lack of wine, but that time had not yet come.
In the Old Testament times, wine was a symbol of both physical and spiritual joy. Wine was associated with the blessing of God’s presence and His favor upon His people. Jesus took the occasion of a wedding feast that had run out of wine to provide a revelation, an epiphany, of His true nature as both God and Man. Jesus turned the water set aside for the purification of the people under the Law of God into wine, the symbol of God’s favor, blessing, and presence with His people. This was a sign, a miracle, and a symbol of something even greater yet to come, for, when His time came, Jesus would pour out water, His blood, and His Spirit upon all people that they might be purified, cleansed, forgiven, and restored to a right relationship with God His Father.
“Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water’. And they filled them up to the brim.” In His Incarnation, Circumcision and Name, Baptism, perfect life of obedience, faith, and trust in God, Suffering, and Death, Jesus would fulfill all that the Law demanded. “And He said to them, ‘Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast’. So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now’.” The wine that Jesus provides is the very best imaginable! The cleansing, purification, forgiveness, and restoration with God Jesus will provide for His people in water, His Blood, and His Spirit poured out for entire world upon the cross will be all-sufficient, complete, perfect, and final. The joy that He will provide for His people will be perfect and forever and for all who will trust in Him for forgiveness, life, and salvation and bear His fruits in their lives, words, and deeds.
In this, Jesus’ first sign at the wedding in Cana, we see God’s backside, that is, a foretaste of His glory manifested in His Son Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah. We see God’s anointed King of heaven and earth beginning to restore His Creation. It is also significant that Jesus’ first miraculous sign occurs at a wedding, for His death and resurrection will be celebrated with a Wedding Feast in heaven, the wedding of the Holy Bridegroom Jesus and His Holy Bride the Church.
There are three that testify: The Water, and the Blood, and the Spirit. When Jesus surrendered His life upon the cross He gave up His Spirit. Fifty days later, on the Feast of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured upon His Bride, the Church, anointing and sealing Her as His own. When the centurion pierced the side of Jesus’ dead body upon the cross, from it issued forth water and blood, cleansing and purifying all the world, a blessing of cleansing, purification, forgiveness, and restoration with God for all who will believe and trust in Him and bear His fruits in their lives, words, and deeds. The Water, the Blood, and the Spirit – that is what Jesus’ first miraculous sign at the wedding at Cana pointed to. There will be joy in Jesus, and there is joy even now in Jesus, for all who believe on Him. Through Holy Baptism and faith, through His Word and the Holy Supper of His Body and Blood, you are a new creation. Even though you die, you will live, for those who believe in Him will never die.
Each and every Lord’s Day, and on Feast days, we, the Bride, gather here to participate in and to receive into ourselves this foretaste of the Great Marriage Feast of the Lamb and His Bride the Church in the Holy Eucharist. We join in Cana’s Feast until the Great Day of the Lord comes when we will no longer need this miraculous sign to cleanse and purify and restore us, but we will see our LORD and God and our Bridegroom and Redeemer Jesus face to face. But, until that day, we have this sign, this Sacrament, along with Holy Baptism, His Holy Word, and Holy Absolution to cleanse and purify and restore us anew that we might abide in faith, hope, and love towards God, towards our neighbor, and towards each other to the glory of God the Father, through faith in Jesus Christ His Son or Lord, by His Holy Spirit poured upon us and into us to enlighten, sustain, keep, and protect us in faith until He comes. By the Holy Spirit of the Living God, the Bride, the Church cries out, “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus! Come quickly! Come!”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Pawling Ecumenical Epiphany Walk

The Pawling Ecumenical Epiphany Walk is a unique and wonderful tradition that reflects the spirit of the season and our community. Members of Pawling’s Christian churches and others from our community walk from church to church enjoying a sampling of how each congregation celebrates Christmas and Epiphany.

Isaiah 9:2-7

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
I just love this Epiphany Walk! It brings out the best in our community. It brings people together that might have some real differences to celebrate what they share in common. I think we need that, don’t you?
One thing we all share in common is the incredible, crazy year we’ve just completed! We experienced an election cycle unlike anything our nation has ever seen before. Regardless of who you voted for, there was, and there is still, a lot of fear and uncertainty, discord and strife. But, here we are! We made it through! It’s a new year and, while we may not have a lot of choice as to what happens, we do have a choice as to how we let that impact and affect us. We have a choice: We can choose to be negative, pessimistic, and hopeless, filled with fear, and anger, bitterness, and depression, or we can choose to be positive, resilient, and hopeful, filled with love and compassion, charity, and understanding towards all, whether we agree with them or not.
That’s what one of this town’s most famous residents was all about, wasn’t it? The Power of Positive Thinking? Norman Vincent Peale was right, wasn’t he? People who think positively and hopefully are, generally, happier and content. They are pleasant to be around, and their positivity is positively contagious. Physicians and nurses, whether they are believers or not, testify that patients who remain positive and hopeful do much better, heal quicker, and die more peacefully than those who are negative, pessimistic, and resentful.
I do not know how Dr. Peale would explain the “Why” of this fact. I suspect that he and I might disagree a little, but that’s ok. For me, the reason that those who think positively and remain hopeful even in the face of uncertainty, discord, and strife is because of the object of their faith. You see, if you really think about it, positivity and hopefulness are not states of mind that, if you work really hard, you can conjure up in yourself. No, but positivity and hopefulness are fruits, products, if you will, of faith. Thus, the question is really, “What, or Who, is the object of your faith?” The answer to that question is something that we all share together in common, isn’t it? Jesus. Jesus is the object of our faith. Our common faith in Jesus produces in us the fruits of positivity, contentment, love, peace, joy, and hope.
We live in this world together. We share many of the same concerns and are tempted to have the same fears and anxieties. But, we also share the same Savior: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.”
Jesus was God’s gift at Christmas. Jesus is the gift that keeps on giving, even now. Of what have we to be afraid? The government is upon His shoulders. “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.” “Our help is in the Name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.”
Throughout the Epiphany season we remember and celebrate the manifestation of Jesus as both God and man. God became man in the incarnation, which we celebrated at Christmas; the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. But, the God-Man is revealed in His Words and deeds, in His teaching and miracles. In Jesus Christ, the true Light has entered our world. Even now the darkness of sin and death are receding as the Light conquers darkness. Though we still face darkness in our world and in our lives, we do not walk in darkness, but in the Light of Christ. Once we were darkness, but now we are Light in the Lord. And, we are not like those who have no hope. The Light of Christ shines upon you; let it also shine through you upon the lives of others. Let them see the Light of Christ shining through you that they may join us in the family of Christ. For, the message of Epiphany truly is this: Jesus is for all the world, and you are His Light in the world. Go forth and shine.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord (observed)

Matthew 2:1-12; Ephesians 3:1-12; Isaiah 60:1-6

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The Christ child was born into a world very much like ours today, full of political strife, fear, racial and cultural suspicion and jealousy, covetousness, greed, and apostasy. Herod was a pretender king, an usurper of the throne of Israel by force and by fear. Religiously, Herod feigned to be a Jew. Culturally, he was a Greek. And, politically, he was a Roman. All this goes to show that Herod was a man of few convictions, save those that served his own interests, which he guarded in paranoid fear and hatred of any and all perceived threats to his power and throne. Thus, when wise men, Magi from the East, came to him seeking a newborn king of the Jews, Herod immediately set his mind and heart to discover and to destroy this new threat. Though he cared nothing for the Scriptures and faith, he was nevertheless quick to utilize them to serve his own interests, consulting with the chief priests and the scribes of the people. Likewise, these men, though they knew the Scriptures, did not believe them. As for the people, they were more afraid of Herod and what he might do than they were of the LORD and His Word. Truly, darkness covered the wholeness of the earth. But, the primordial Light of creation had just pierced the darkness of the world and of men’s hearts, the Light of the world no darkness can overcome, though it might desperately try. The wise men saw that Light and they came to worship the true King of heaven and earth. And, as the saying goes, “Wise men still seek Him.”
St. John wrote of Jesus saying, “The true Light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to his own, and His own people did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His Name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” We do not know what the wise men heard or knew of Jesus, or how they came to know the prophecies of the Christ, but however it came to be, they were seeking light and knowledge and release. That is to say, they were not simply comfortable and content in this world with its values, pleasures, and material possessions. Were they wealthy? Were they kings? Were they astronomers or astrologers? We simply do not know. But, it doesn’t really matter. They were Gentiles, non-Jews, pagans of one sort or another. What the children of Abraham had all but completely forgotten and rejected, save a promised few, a remnant, these men from the east, and countless others, were ready to seek and to receive in fulfillment of the prophecy: “And nations shall come to Your Light, and kings to the brightness of Your rising. Lift up your eyes all around, and see; they all gather together, they come to You; Your sons shall come from afar, and Your daughters shall be carried on the hip. Then You shall see and be radiant; Your heart shall thrill and exult, because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to You, the wealth of the nations shall come to You. A multitude of camels shall cover You, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring Good News, the praises of the LORD.”
All the world would come to this Good News, which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh and dwelling among us, the Light of the world who shines His Light upon all those dwelling in the darkness of sin and death. Jesus was God’s gift of love and mercy and grace and forgiveness for all the world, for all who would receive Him and not refuse and reject Him. The promise of the Christ was always for all the world, not for the Jews only, but, as Moses spoke to Israel before they entered the Promised Land, for “whoever is standing here with us today before the LORD our God, and [for] whoever is not here with us today.” Just as the light of the sun shines upon all the world, so too is Jesus Christ for everyone, for the Jew first, and then the Gentile. Truly, the only way to escape the Light of His justifying grace is to flee from it, to deny it, to refuse it, and to reject it – that is, unbelief.
Herod, the Chief Priest and the scribes, and even the people of Jerusalem were all troubled by the Good News. They were like those whose deeds were evil, and so they were terrified by the Light and hated it, they sought to hide from it that they might carry on in their wickedness unabated. The wise men, however, stand in stark contrast to Jesus’ own people. When they heard the Good News, they received it with joy and relief and thanksgiving. They set out on a long and likely costly and dangerous journey towards Light, towards the true King of the Jews and of heaven and earth, even if they didn’t know or understand completely who or what they were seeking. They could not be deterred, not by distance, cost, and hardship, and not by wicked, paranoid, and power-hungry Herod, not by the self-righteous, legalistic, and faithless religious leadership of Israel, and not even by the indifferent, complacent, and largely unbelieving people upon whom the Light of Christ first shone in the Word of the LORD, the Word made flesh, born in Bethlehem as prophesied long ago. Indeed, this is one of the chief themes of the Epiphany season: when the Messiah appears His people are those who receive Him in faith.
Many have speculated that the gifts of the magi each have a specific meaning, however, the point is not the individual gifts, but rather that they came and worshipped this Child as the King. They believed the Holy Scriptures, they followed the star, and they gave honor to Jesus with their worship and gifts. I want to stress here that it is not your knowledge of the Scriptures that saves you – nor is it your lack of knowledge of the Scriptures that damns you – but it is faith, and faith in Christ alone, that justifies and saves you. Therefore, let us always be on guard to not set up roadblocks and obstacles to those walking in the darkness of sin and death that prevent or prohibit them from seeing the Light of Christ and coming to worship Him with us. Let us not be pumped up with pride and self-righteousness and behave as hypocrites before each other and the world, but let us humble ourselves and consider ourselves nothing but beggars who have, nonetheless, received the richest and most valuable of gifts – forgiveness of our sins, mercy, compassion, and eternal life in Jesus Christ. Truly, we Gentiles are “fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.” As much as the Jews were the children of Abraham and the chosen people of God in the promise of the Messiah, so now are all who believe and trust in Jesus Christ sons of Abraham and “children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
The Word epiphany means, “to make manifest” or “to make known.” We, along with St. Paul and all believers, the Church of Jesus Christ, are prisoners for Jesus Christ on behalf of the Gentiles, that is, those who do not yet know the True Light Jesus Christ. We, the Church, have stewardship of the great and holy mystery that “the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.” Let us never think that the Light of Christ has shone upon us merely for the benefit of ourselves, no! But, the Light of Christ must shine through us in our lives, words, deeds, and worship, that all the world might be enlightened by His Light and be saved. That is why we are here. That is why the Church of Jesus Christ is here. That is why the Lord has not yet returned: The LORD is patient and longsuffering, “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
“Arise, shine, for your Light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.” Yes, wise men still seek Him where He may be found – here, in His Church, with His Word and Wounds, to forgive you anew, to restore you to brightness, to equip you and to send you bearing His Light in love, mercy, grace, compassion, charity, and forgiveness that those walking in the darkness of sin and death may come to His Light and join us in His Family. Come eat. Come drink. And, go forth shining with His Light. This is according to the eternal purpose that the LORD has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in Him.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.