Audio transcript available at https://youtu.be/JABsoSK_neM.
Epiphany 2 C 17th January 2016
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
It’s the second Sunday after Epiphany today! I don’t know what Pamela talked about on the Feast of the Epiphany two weeks ago, but last week was the Festival of the Baptism of our Lord so I didn’t actually discuss the idea of epiphany.
When I was studying literature in the year 2000 we were in class and it just so happened that Stephen was with me- it was before he had begun studying for his degree in education. The lecturer, who was a self styled “heathen” had nonetheless been a choir boy at St Andrew’s Cathedral and was deeply steeped in both the bible and in the seasons of the church, and understood things that few people in contemporary Sydney Anglicanism understood. He was making a point about a knowledge of the bible, particularly the King James Version, being absolutely essential to read and understand much literature, even of the Twentieth Century. People began to argue with him, suggesting to him that it was past and gone. He picked up the novel we were studying, The Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce, regarded as a seminal work of fiction and important for anyone who wanted to write. He said, “In this book the writer describes an Epiphany. Who knows what that is?” and Stephen, who wasn’t even in the class, said, “It’s a revelation! Something has been revealed, made clear.” Now, I hadn’t been very sure how to answer the question, and was so glad that Stephen had done so. I might add that that moment was an epiphany for Stephen- he realised that at almost fifty, having never done any study since his HSC, he could go to university, and not only go but enjoy the experience of learning. When he was retrenched 18 months later that epiphany came back to him and he went to Uni confident that he was taking the right path.
So if an epiphany is a moment of revelation, what have these passages to say to us?
If we had been reading the Gospel of John sequentially we would have seen that after the prologue, which sets out all the themes of the book clearly for us, John testifies to Jesus and says that he has had an epiphany, a revelation- he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and remaining with Jesus. Presumably this happened, as we read last week, at Jesus’ baptism. The next thing that happens is that Jesus wanders into John’s space and takes a couple of his disciples by inviting them to “Come and See”, and then a few more disciples join after the same invitation, “Come and See”. And ‘on the third day’, a very significant phrase, I think indicating the beginning of the next stage, they go off to a wedding and for Jesus everything begins. At Mary’s request Jesus turns the water into wine, which is the first sign or miracle, in the gospel of John. “Jesus did this at Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him”. This sign of power was an epiphany for all of those who were there. What it revealed was God’s glory, in the person of Jesus. John has already had it revealed to him in a mystical moment of sight, and now everyone gathered at the wedding has an opportunity to come and see.
It is interesting, however, that different people, depending on their circumstances, have different degrees of revelation. For Mary, it seems to be a confirmation of something that she has already seen and known- she has complete confidence that he will be able to make this happen, and also confidence that while Jesus isn’t sure that it’s the moment, it really is. So for her the revelation is a confirmation of what she already believed. For the servants who saw it all it must have been an extraordinary experience. We have no clue from the passage what the upshot was for them but it was certainly a moment of revelation, while it was less so for the steward, and presumably went almost unnoticed by the bridegroom and bride, preoccupied as they would have been with their own part in the festivities. It is very important, and one would presume, a consolidating experience for the disciples. Here they are just gathered together as a group and together they experience this amazing thing, which reveals to them something about God and something about the person of Jesus. All of which teaches us something important about revelation- what is revealed is dependant as much on the receptivity of the person as on the greatness of the act, or event. If this was Luke he would be saying, you who have ears, hear and eyes, see. What might seem to be obvious to us, clear because of revelation, may not be obvious to others.
The disciples and the servants, and Mary of course, saw something very important about God at that moment. God reveals God’s self as generous and loving. The God of abundance and mercy blesses these people at the wedding without them even really being aware of it! I love this passage and could talk for hours about it but today let us just notice that in God’s economy there is both quantity and quality. The wine, gallons and gallons of it is good wine. And so it is with all of God’s grace, the very finest love that can be had, poured out in abundance.
When we look at the passage in Isaiah we can see that God has not changed, it is just that we are gradually realising more about God, in the person of Jesus. Isaiah is also showing us a wedding feast. Now this passage actually begins at Chapter 61.
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
And then the beginning of Chapter 62 where we read from this morning,
For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,…
The nations shall see your vindication,…
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God….
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married;
This is all a description of a wedding banquet,
and this wedding, with its garlands and anointing with oil is a feast of healing and restitution, good news, as it says, for the captives and oppressed, the broken-hearted and those who mourn. There is no description here of the banquet itself, but we read a description just a few weeks ago- remember the bit about rich food and well aged wines, and we are all invited to the banquet. All those who mourn and are heavy hearted, those who are captives in whatever way, are invited into God’s feast, and the devastation that often goes with human life will be repaired. This is very good news for all of us that feel moved by the things that humankind inflicts on itself- the wars and genocide, terror, poverty, and deprivation. And there are also the terrible things that happen in our broken natural world- fires and floods, earthquakes and mudslides all of which we have seen over these past days and months. We all mourn unless we are so wrapped up in ourselves that we don’t care about others. And, our God of abundant grace, promises healing and refreshment.
In this passage from Isaiah, the condemnation, justly given and received is also undone. The bride of Hosea and Ezekiel, condemned for unfaithfulness, will be restored at this wedding breakfast, this new union of God and God’s people.
“How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights,
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.” Psalm 36
Here the psalmist is also conscious- has had a revelation or epiphany- of God’s generosity, love and concern. We can take refuge in the shadow of God’s wings, because in God is the fountain of life- its very source. Do you notice that it is in God’s light that we see light? This whole business of revelation is predicated on God, God’s self. It is through the light that our seeing and hearing is given.
So, if we are people called to the light, called to hear and see, called to be light in our world, called to be epaphanic revealers of God, how do we go about it?
Well, we join together in a body, called the church, to be the bride of the bridegroom Christ. And we show forth God’s glory from that position. Is this easy? Is it easy to show forth God’s generosity and love to the world? Well, it seems from past experience that perhaps it’s not! We are, however, given the Holy Spirit to enable us and to equip us. One of the things that never ceases to amaze me is that God is prepared to work with such flawed and fragile human beings. We are the beneficiaries of God’s amazing and abundant grace and yet we complain about what we have not got, we compare ourselves to others and are jealous of the gifts that God gives so abundantly. That is the situation in the Corinthian church- a church of huge potential and amazing gifts and yet they are divided, and so are not functioning as revealers of God’s glory to those around. And what about us, here, at St Mary in the Valley? Are we showing forth the truth about God? The Holy Spirit is gifting us with everything we need to be light in our world and these gifts are not for ourselves but for others- we have to share them and mutually enrich each other, so to be equipped to share God’s abundance with the world. There are people all around us who don’t know anything of God’s outpouring of grace, people who mourn, people who are oppressed by their circumstances, people who desperately need to come and sit at the banquet, that is for everybody- the great marriage feast of Christ and his bride the church. The church is reveals God’s glory in our world. The church is to be the provider of epiphanies for the people that surround us. As we start our journey together in this New Year, let us gather together and let the Holy Spirit equip us to reveal to our nation the truth of the great and abundant grace of God.