Presence, Possibilities, & Purpose Rev Dr Durrell Watkins Epiphany 2016 This would normally be Baptism of Jesus Sunday, the day when we recall Jesus’ ritual immersion by John the Baptizer. It was the event that kicked off his time of discernment that led to his world changing ministry. But Epiphany happened midweek this year, and […]
Presence, Possibilities, & Purpose
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
This would normally be Baptism of Jesus Sunday, the day when we recall Jesus’ ritual immersion by John the Baptizer. It was the event that kicked off his time of discernment that led to his world changing ministry.
But Epiphany happened midweek this year, and I didn’t want to skip it. So we have extended Christmastide…not merely 12 days but 16 this year. If the rest of the world can back it up to Halloween, we can extend it half a week just this once.
There’s a reason that I think Epiphany is too important to skip over. It isn’t a story that I take literally. Only Matthew tells the story, and not for almost a century after Jesus’ birth. I certainly don’t believe that a traveling star navigated strangers to cross national boundaries to give expensive gifts to a peasant child. But beyond the theatrics of this story that comes so late in the tradition there are important truths, and those truths are worth lifting up today.
The magi were strangers, foreigners, and members of a religion other than Jesus’. Jesus’ family was Jewish. The magi were magicians, astrologers, priests in an eastern fire cult. They were Zoroastrians, worshipers of Ahura Mazda. They were from Persia.
Now, I have serious doubts if any such magi visited the holy family, but Mathew gives us a story of foreigners, of members of another religion, faithfully following their religious understandings and sharing their gifts. It is an incredible story of universalism.
Jews and Zoroastrians are children of God, the story suggests. Palestinians and Persians are loved by God. Those who call God Yahweh or Elohim or Adonai are embraced by the Holy One, as are those who call the divine Ahura Mazda. The story affirms what the Apostle Peter once said: “God shows now partiality.”
And that makes sense, doesn’t it? If God is omnipresent, then no one can be separated from God. No one can be rejected by God. Of course God is with and in the Jewish peasant baby, in and with his scandalized mother, in and with Persian priests. There’s not a spot where God is not. No one is beyond the reach of God’s love.
The examples in the story are Palestinians and Persians, Jews and Zoroastrians, peasants and priests. In our own lives it could be men and women, Catholics and Protestants, Christians and Muslims, gay and straight. No one holds the patent on God. It’s an important message.
The story also shows the giftedness of “the Other.” The magi, the strangers, the foreigners, the practitioners of another religion are the ones to recognize the potential of a peasant child. They are the ones to honor him, to give his family gifts, to protect him by returning home a different way rather than telling Herod where the family lived.
It is the Other, the Queer who follow the light of their hearts and discover the light of Jesus, the divine light that is in every person, even those with the humblest of backgrounds.
And so we see the magi giving Mary and her family gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. In other words, they gave resources, prayer, and medicine. They did what they could to share prosperity, encouragement, and healing.
What are the gifts that we have to share with the world? How do we recognize the Christ, the holiness, the sacred value in all people? And what do we do in response to the epiphany, the discovery, the awareness that God is with and in every single person we meet? How can we offer generosity, encouragement, and healing?
The first gift we have to give is the affirmation that there’s not a spot where God is not. We are forever in God’s presence. To those who are hurting, who are afraid, who are facing challenges, we say, “There’s not a spot where God is not.”
God is with you. God is within you. God will never and can never abandon you. God is omnipresent, so God is with you in tragedy and in triumph, in failure and in fame, in pain and in peace. No matter where you are, God is there, whispering encouragement to your heart, holding you in love, and seeing the goodness in you even and especially when you can’t see it in yourself. Someone needs that message today, and as we share that progressive word, we are giving pure gold.
The second gift we have to give is the reminder that the past is past and the future has infinite possibilities.
One year laws are being passed to criminalize same-sex marriage and a few years later marriage equality is the law of the land. There are infinite possibilities.
One year AIDS is considered a death sentence, and a few years later it is a preventable and manageable condition. There are infinite possibilities.
If you think healing isn’t possible, if you think that hope can’t be renewed, if you think that you can’t recover from failure, if you think that mistakes can’t be corrected, if you think that no one will ever see the spark of goodness within you, if you think you can’t learn something new or have an incredible new experience, please hear me today: the future has infinite possibilities! Your miracle could be just around the corner. A blessing could be at hand right now.
Listen, you might just hear a still small voice within you saying, “Arise and shine; your light has come!”
There are infinite possibilities, and that positive word is the sweet smell of frankincense for someone today.
The third gift we have to give is the message that we each have a special purpose.
The magi, fictional as they may be in Matthew’s gospel, have a purpose to affirm and celebrate a peasant child.
That child had a purpose to grow up to touch the untouchable and love the unlovable and see God’s sacred seal on every soul.
We each have a purpose. Your purpose may be to be a good neighbor, an encouraging friend, a generous employer, a loving parent, the savior of animals, a worker for justice, or a giver of hope. You have a purpose.
And in addition to whatever other purpose you have, I believe you have two other purposes. In addition to being a healer or a helper, a poet or a prophet, a teacher or a traveler…your purpose is to accept and celebrate your sacred value.
And, you have another purpose. Your purpose is to help build communities of caring, such as the Sunshine Cathedral, that will lift up and empower all kinds of people.
You have a purpose, you probably have a few purposes, and as you live into them, you are giving a practical gift to someone that can change their lives.
When you share your talent, when you share your awareness of your sacred value and the sacred value of all people, and when you share your prayers, your time, and your tithes with your faith community, you are touching more lives than you will ever know. Myrrh is a healing herb, but embracing our purpose will heal people as well. A Course in Miracles teaches us that we are never healed alone. When we embrace our purpose, we are sharing the power of healing with others. Embracing your purpose is a very practical gift to give to the world.
Presence, Possibilities, and Purpose…that’s the progressive, positive, and practical spirituality we are embracing and sharing here at Sunshine Cathedral.
It may be an epiphany for someone today that there’s not a spot where God is not.
It may be an epiphany for someone today that the future has infinite possibilities.
It may be an epiphany today that our lives have purpose.
And that epiphany can be the first of many miracles still to come.
2016 can be the year that we touch and bless more lives than ever before. I want us to become disciples this year, those who are committed to learning and growing and sharing more than ever before. I want this to be a year of epiphanies, a year of miracles, a year where we embrace the power of presence, possibilities and purpose. I declare that 2016 will be for us and for the lives we collectively touch a year of amazing blessings. And this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2016
I am always in God’s presence.
I give thanks for infinite possibilities.
My life has a holy purpose.
Miracles fill my world.
And so it is!