Monday Matters (January 11, 2016)

3-1Epiphanies

Tis the season, apparently, for epiphanies. I can’t tell if that’s a churchy word, or if the broader culture uses it, but epiphany means revelation or manifestation, seeing something not seen before. On this Monday morning, we find ourselves near the beginning of the season of Epiphany, a season providing a series of stories about how people come to see who Jesus is and why that matters.

The season always starts with three wise guys following the star. It ends with a few disciples (ancient near eastern Keystone Cops) on a mountaintop witnessing Jesus’ transfiguration. In between we read stories about coming to see in a new way, about catalysts that bring about new vision. The cartoonist in me visualizes it as the clich√© light bulb going off over the character’s head. I’m wondering when you’ve had an aha/eureka moment like that in your own journey. How might you tell the story of your epiphanies?

In many corners of American Christendom, there’s an emphasis on telling the story, sharing the good news, testifying, witnessing. Occasionally, that drifts into over-sharing. It can be cheesy, creepy, coercive, self-righteous, manipulative. I’m mindful of what one of my favorite theologians, Dave Barry observed: “People who want to share their religious views with you almost never want you to share yours with them.” It’s no wonder many Episcopalians exercise the right of reticence when asked to talk about their own spiritual journey, their own experience of faith, their own relationship with Jesus.

Having said that, it matters that we think about these experiences, and that we find ways to talk about them. We learn from each other. We clarify our convictions by framing them in our words. I learned an important lesson when I traveled with a youth group a number of years ago. We worked during the day with young people from all over, often as many as 400 high school students staying in a school for a week. The days were spent in small teams, doing small construction projects, guided by the Hippocratic Oath that we do no harm, in the hopes that we might leave the place better than we found it. Sometimes that was a challenge.

Everyone gathered in the evening for rather lively worship. Let’s just say it was not Rite I. Part of the worship experience was an invitation for any young people to come forward and share a “God-sighting.” Where had they seen God at work in the day? For some students it was something simple, like the gift of a cold glass of lemonade on a hot afternoon. Others noted the faithfulness of people facing deep hardship, generosity from people battling poverty, hope expressed in the midst of grim situations.

My expectation was that our young people, good Episcopalians, would hold back, exhibiting that Anglican reserve that I know, love and model. But I sold them short. Lo and behold, our kids came forward, with wise and witty witnesses to the ways they saw God at work. Their testimonies were not prescriptive or coercive. They were incontrovertible “I” statements about where they saw God at work, stories of epiphanies.

And by grace, we were able to bring back that spiritual practice to our parish, where people would have passed out or fled if we asked for a witness or testimony. But they found the idea of a God-sighting accessible. And we noticed that if you go about your day looking for God-sightings, it can transform your day. So on this January 11, as the season of Epiphany is getting underway, keep an eye out for “God-sightings.” And if you dare, share them with someone.

-Jay Sidebotham

Songs of thankfulness and praise,
Jesus, Lord, to thee we raise,
Manifested by the star
to the sages from afar;
Branch of royal David’s stem in thy birth at Bethlehem;
Anthems be to thee addressed,
God in man made manifest.

Manifest at Jordan’s stream,
Prophet, Priest and King supreme;
and at Cana, wedding guest, in thy Godhead manifest;
Manifest in power divine, changing water into wine;
Anthems be to thee addressed, God in man made manifest.

Manifest in making whole palsied limbs and fainting soul;
Manifest in valiant fight, quelling all the devil’s might;
Manifest in gracious will, ever bringing good from ill;
Anthems be to thee addressed, God in man made manifest.

Grant us grace to see thee, Lord, mirrored in thy holy Word;
May we imitate thee now, and be pure, as pure art thou;
That we like to thee may be at thy great Epiphany;
And may praise thee, ever blest, God in man made manifest.

Hymn text written by: Christopher Wordsworth
 (1807-1885), 1862

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Jay SidebothamContact:
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
jsidebotham@renewalworks.org
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.
www.renewalworks.org