Carolyn McCarthy, Elder
The Three Kings, the Magi, set out on a trip that would change them forever and each one of us is invited to do the same. Today is Epiphany Sunday and my message is largely borrowed from Fr. Richard Rohr.
An epiphany, by definition, is not an idea. People can do anything they want with an idea.
An epiphany is a new experience that changes everything.
Before you can do anything with the experience, it does something with you.
Most of us prefer the safety of ideas and words. We are afraid of authentically new experiences. Unlike the Magi, we do not tend to allow stars to lead us to new and unknown places. Most of us stay inside our private castles and avoid such questionable adventures. That is the safe choice. Yes, we may avoid death, but we also avoid birth. We miss out on the great epiphany.
An epiphany is not an experience that we can create from within. But it is something that we can only be open to and receive. Epiphanies leave us a little bit out of control, off balance, and they always demand that we change. It is more comfortable to have an intellectual religion that leaves us in control and does demand that we change at all.
Religion without epiphanies becomes digging in your heels. It is dogma.
Religion with epiphanies becomes living ON your heels, ready to go wherever God manifests. One wonders if the three kings ever went back home at all. Because they had been changed, their view of home may have been changed too. They were altered by their experience of God.
Today’s feast of the epiphany has a message. Epiphany tells us that Jesus was someone to be personally experienced, not just mentally agreed upon, proven, accepted or argued about.
The categories are entirely different: true human experience demands that the whole person be engaged. In that light, one wonders how many people really experience things since we are hardly ever fully present to experience our own lives.
If you are like me, you are usually somewhere else than here. Distracted.
God wants more than our minds it seems. As Jesus put it, we are to give God our whole mind, our whole heart, our whole soul, and our whole strength. In other words, we offer not just our intellectual agreement to certain ideas about God, but our very selves as persons. It is love rather than mere duty, surrender and trust rather than mere obedience.
The Magi bring themselves and their assumptions on a perilous journey, and only then can they offer their gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. It all leads to an encounter that rearranges their lives, their self images and seemingly even their pocketbooks.
They find themselves in another country, and in another religion than their own, they trust their skills as astrologers and God uses their skills.
The Kings disrupt their daily lives. They literally leave their comfortable and luxurious lives behind and, remarkably, submit to another, an unknown King.
It makes for an extraordinary image and lesson. One might say it was a rather UN-religious decision. It did not follow the rules.
But those Kings had a revelation.
A Biblical revelation is a personal encounter.
It is not classroom study or the discussion of ideas. Vulnerability and trust is more important than mere intelligence. As Martin Buber, the Jewish philosopher, put it “All real living is meeting.”
It is relatively easy to discuss and have opinions. It is much harder to be fully present in spirit. The first allows us to remain who we are, unchanged, and the second requires that the ego moves out of the way.
Ideas can be weighed, proven and dismissed. So, how do we know an authentic God encounter? The fact is, we rarely do know. We seek, and hope, and trust, and seek again. Which is probably why most of us prefer words to faith. And that, according to Fr. Rohr, is exactly why the Word became flesh.
The epiphany we celebrate today is the Incarnation itself, the Incarnation of God in Christ, which helps us to see God’s image and God’s incarnation everywhere else too.
Paul is pure poetry and song when he writes about this is Colossians. Paul says “Christ is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation. For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth… and in him, all things hold together.”
Our Christ is the magnificent showing forth of what has always been happening, but we were afraid or unable to see it.
The Gospel leaves us deliberately off balance, on our heels, so we have to stay on that brave astrologer’s journey, seeking a star outside of our own little Kingdoms. Be careful not to rebalance yourself too quickly, or you could miss the transformative power of the Good News.
Go home by another way, realigned and more in tune with what is.
God always comes to us, disguised as our own life. Amen.