Updated: Jan 30
We are now at the fourth Sunday after the Epiphany. Remember what Epiphany means?
We are in our cycle of preparation, baptized by the Holy Spirit and readying our hearts to have our faith tested in the wilderness.
But, it is more fun for many Christians to look at this period through the eyes of Carnival, where the fancy floats have all been prepped, decorated, stocked and loaded with people who will be throwing strings of red, green and purple beads to cheering crowds of people.
Some say the word “Carnival” comes from Late Latin, meaning, “farewell to meat,” as a preparatory period before a fast.
“Carnival” brings to my mind a place of flashing lights, a Ferris wheel and cheap thrills, Kewpie dolls and stuffed animals for rings tossed and balls thrown at stacked cans. It means something only in town for a short time, before the big top tents are folded up and the show moves on to another town.
Still, most Christians see Epiphany as a one-day event, with no connection to a season that ends on “Fat Tuesday” … “Mardi Gras” … also called “Shrove Tuesday,” “Pancake Tuesday,” or “Pancake Day.” We associate that as the end of an unknown period of time (longer than 40 days), when we are allowed to do anything we want (if not expected to test the limits of sins), before we boldly sacrifice one vice.
Mmmmmmm Betcha can’t eat just one.
Ten days from now is all the time we have left to act like bears planning for hibernation. We see Carnival as a time to rush to get full of berries, spawning salmon, wayward hikers and/or any and all park pick-a-nick baskets left unattended. In other words, we think surviving Lent is all about over-eating now … satiating all our sinful lusts … ahead of 40 days of forcing ourselves to do without.
Doing without one sin .. for a whole month and a half! (Praise be to God that February only has 28 days!)
The problem with that view of this time of year is it completely misses the point of Epiphany and the true meaning of the Lenten period.
If you miss those points, then you set yourself up to be just like one of the Jews of Nazareth that tried to throw Jesus over the cliff.
Last week we read that Jesus was filled with the power of the Spirit when he went to Nazareth. Last week and today we recall Jesus reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah and saying, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
That part, “in your hearing,” actually means, “those who also are full of the power of the Spirit, so they can understand.”
Jesus had just read Isaiah saying that the promised Messiah would come demonstrating signs: of good news to the poor; proclaiming the release of bondage to worldly sins; to give foresight to those who were blind; and to free those oppressed by dogmatic leaders.
All of that was in the report that preceded Jesus’s arrival in Nazareth. For those who were enabled by the power of the Holy Spirit to understand an interpretation of holy scripture … (according to last week’s reading from Nehemiah) … Jesus’s saying, “That’s me,” should have led to tears of joy from an assembly of those who could understand.
Instead, the hackles of their necks got stiff.
None of them were filled with the power of understanding. They were the same ole “stiff-necked” bunch that God often sighed over.
The Jews of Nazareth reacted about the same way a Christian congregation (of the Catholic-Episcopal-Methodist persuasion) would react to someone standing in the pulpit saying, “Epiphany is not about partying hardy, free days of debauchery, or eating pancakes until you pop a button. Epiphany is about being filled with the Holy Spirit so you can understand what it is you believe in.”
I know some Episcopalians who would have stood up and cheered Jesus’s homily, simply because they would have only heard it as short. But, to tell an Episcopalian he or she is misunderstanding the purpose of one’s religion, “Where’s the torch and pitchfork?”
When the argument between Jesus and the Nazarenes had Jesus tell them about how little Elijah had done for the Israelites (of the Northern Kingdom), they became livid.
“How dare you say something negative about the greatest prophet of the ancient days!” they must have shouted.
The scrolls they kept safely in protective racks were, to them, all that was holy about Judaism. Because Isaiah had scrolls there, he was holy. Because the scrolls (what we know as the books of Kings) told of Elijah, Elijah was holy. BUT, there certainly were no scrolls about Joseph of Nazareth and his impish son, who the Jews of Nazareth watched grow up … Jesus.
Jesus said the 61st chapter of Isaiah’s book told of him and his public record.
Imagine how that would sound TODAY, if someone was to come and sit on this bus stop bench and proclaim, “I am the fulfillment of a Biblical prophecy.”
Would you say, “Alleluia!” or would you gather together in small groups and begin a whisper campaign of destruction?
What if God spoke to you and said that EVERY book in the Holy Bible was about YOU? Would you believe God?
Could you become brave enough to walk up to a stranger and say, “I am the Son of Adam”? Could you proclaim, “I am the one who the prophets Jeremiah and Isaiah foretold”? Could you say with conviction, “I am the reincarnation of Jesus Christ”?
To be able to say such things, they would ALL have to be statements of truth, and not simply thoughts of possibility, because God only speaks truth.
To be able to say such things, YOU would have to be filled with the power of the Spirit, such that none of the words you uttered were formulated from self-generated thoughts in your brain, willfully spit out of your lips.
You would have to be well aware of the dangers that would rise up, but you would have no concern over what others might try to do to you for speaking the truth.
When Jesus told the Jews of Nazareth he was the Messiah prophesied by Isaiah, and that he had already done greater things that the most renown of Israel’s prophets had done, Jesus was speaking as a child would speak.
Have you ever watched a child speak before a large audience … when the father has to prompt the child by whispering loudly what to say … then the child obediently says that?
Jesus spoke what the Father whispered. Jesus was not the son of Joseph, with Joseph whispering to Jesus. Jesus was the Son of God; and as Jeremiah wrote in song, “The Lord said to me, “Do not say, “I am only a boy”; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you.”
God instructed His Son, “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.” He continued saying, “Now I have put my words in your mouth.”
In David’s song of praise, he began by stating the essence of being with the power of the Spirit. He sang, “In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge; let me never be ashamed.” Thus, when filled with the Holy Spirit you have no fears to keep your mouth quiet.
David then sang, “I have been sustained by you ever since I was born; from my mother’s womb you have been my strength; my praise shall be always with you.”
David did not write that song as a baby. He wrote it as an adult, one who had come to that dawning, after having been filled with the Holy Spirit.
When Paul wrote in his epistle to the Christians of Corinth, he mentioned his childhood as well. He wrote, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.”
Adulthood does have a way of slapping the child out of us. What was once cute becomes nothing more than a sign of immaturity and foolishness, after a certain point in development.
Paul said he put an end to childish ways, but he did not put an end to the core being of a child, which is love. Instead, he wrote, “If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”
Paul then defined “love” as, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
This means love IS God. Therefore, if one can do amazing things, but one is without God, then one is nothing.
Paul wrote, “Faith, hope, and love abide, these three,” which means they all patiently wait together in expectation. Paul then said, “The greatest of these is love.”
When you realize “love” means God, and God is the most important element in that spiritual compound, then “faith” is the repentance of sins from understanding one’s childish wrongs, and “hope” is the promise of redemption from those sins … as an adult. But, without God, faith and hope are nothing.
Jesus witnessed that lack in the synagogue in Nazareth.
The same condition of lack is present in Christian churches all around the world (certainly in all other denominations). Christianity has become a reincarnation of that failed state of Judaism that Jesus knew.
Therefore, as Paul wrote, “Now we see in the mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.” We either learn from our past … or we are doomed to repeat past mistakes.
Jesus has become like Elijah. Both ascended into heaven as living human beings. The Jews still expect Elijah will return again, before their Messiah comes. Christians expect Jesus will return again.
But, wasn’t Jesus like Elijah returned … unrecognized? Hasn’t Jesus since returned many, many times after he ascended … in the Apostles, in Paul, in all who are and have been filled with the power of the Spirit … those who have been appointed over nations and kingdoms – those of Christendom? Was Jesus not recognizable in all of those bodies AND was he not unrecognizable when he appeared as the gardener at the tomb … on the road to Emmaus … and by the shores of the sea?
Why do we continue to look for external salvation coming from the sky, as if faith and hope is everything … when without God in our hearts, giving us the power of the Holy Spirit within, making us Jesus reborn to fearlessly speak God’s will … we are nothing?
Eh doc, whatta you looking for?
The season of Epiphany is time to grow up, stand up tall, see how ALL the holy scriptures were written for YOU to understand AND for YOU to go forth and explain and interpret so other will understand.
You must be empowered with truth so you can say, “This scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
“Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the clutches of the evildoers and the oppressor. For you are my hope, O Lord God, my confidence since I was young.”
“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)
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