Epipha-what??

One of the cool things about being a “liturgical tradition” is that we mark the passing of time with church “seasons.” Often, these seasons correlate with seasons of the year and/or “seasons” of Christian life. The easiest season in which to see this correlation is Pentecost: the “green season”; a season where the focus is on growing in faith; a season that happens during spring and summer. Cool, right?

We have just entered the season of Epiphany, the season following Christmas. (The Christmas season is another that has a pretty obvious correlation in the world. 😊 ) The word “epiphany” can mean a revelation, manifestation, or sudden intuitive realization. The church uses the word to describe the way the divine nature of Jesus was made known to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi. And so January 6th has become known, in the Church, as Epiphany Sunday when that revelation was made known to travelers from the East.

Many traditions recognize several other “epiphanies” as part of this season. This week in worship we celebrate the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by John the Baptizer. Early theologians emphasized two themes for this celebration: 1) Christ serves as a model for Christian baptism, the sacrament that makes frequent appearances throughout the New Testament, and 2) by being baptized in the Jordan, Jesus has set apart all the waters of creation as baptismal water. The big manifestation (or revelation) that happens is the voice of God coming out of heaven to proclaim Jesus as the “beloved Son” and the Holy Spirit descending in the form of a dove. In coming weeks, we see further manifestation of the power of the Holy Spirit in Jesus (another epiphany) as he changes water into wine at a wedding celebration.

If you consider that an “epiphany” can also be a “sudden intuitive realization” – an “Aha!” or “Now I get it!” moment – then it might be time well spent to take a moment to ponder where God is being made known in your life. Is it in the casual and supportive word you got from a friend? Is it in the impulse of generosity that strikes you out of nowhere? Is it in the unexpected moment of peace during a busy day or the sudden realization that you are, in a particular moment, happy?

The Epiphany season brings us clear, defined moments in Scripture where Jesus comes to us and the love and grace of God are clearly manifest in the story. Nothing in Scripture suggests that those moments don’t happen anymore. I believe that they are happening all the time and all around us. Can we pull our eyes away from the bright sparkly things of the world and see God at work in our lives? Can we tune out the bells and whistles and hear the Word spoken by our neighbor? It’s hard, I know. Will God in Christ come to us and work in our lives even if we can’t quite pull our attention away from all that glitters? Absolutely. God is working in your life. Seeing it, experiencing the epiphany, is an extra blessing. May that blessing be yours, today and always.

"Always"

Last week I wrote about how some of the songs from “Muppet Christmas Carol” struck me in this year’s screening. Well, I left one out. Kinda on purpose. Kinda like how I wish they’d left it out of the movie.

However I might feel about it, it has something to say to us. The title is “When Love Is Gone,” written (again) by the incomparable Paul Williams, and it is sung by the young Scrooge’s love interest who is tired of waiting for him to achieve his version of “success”…after all, he never has enough…and decides to move on with her life. Belle, for that was her name, with eyes searching the distance to catch a glimpse of the future she had hoped for (ooh, “narrator voice”), sings:

“There was a time when I was sure
That you and I were truly one
That our future was forever
And would never come undone
And we came so close to being close
And though you cared for me
There's distance in your eyes tonight
So we're not meant to be…”

I’m going to try to avoid making too much of a metaphor out of this. But the phrase that jumps out at me here is “we came so close to being close.” And then there are the words of the bridge verse:

“It was almost love
It was almost always
It was like a fairytale we'd live out
You and I
And yes some dreams come true
And yes some dreams fall through
And yes the time has come for us to say goodbye…”

Again, we hear the desperate sadness of “almost.” How many times in our lives have we come so close to something only to lose it? How many times has “almost” described the result of our dreams of success? And let’s not forget the context of this song.

In Dickens’ actual text, Belle accuses that the root of the problem between them is idolatry:

`It matters little,' she said, softly. `To you, very little. Another idol has displaced me; and if it can cheer and comfort you in time to come, as I would have tried to do, I have no just cause to grieve.'

`What Idol has displaced you.' he rejoined.

`A golden one.' 

Now we can turn the conversation theologically. This is what happens when we allow anything to displace the place of God in our lives. Or, in a practical manner of speaking, “love” in our lives…the love of God for each of us individually and the love God wants to show to the world through us. Who wants to ponder over coming “so close to being close” to God in Christ? Who wants to say it was “almost love” that they showed to their neighbor: that it was “almost always” that they followed Jesus?

My sermon last Sunday, the last Sunday of 2018, ended with three minutes of silence to ponder (with Mary, the mother of Jesus) the working of God in your life. It’s now 2019. Don’t wait until the last Sunday of the year to ponder how close you might be to becoming the follower of Jesus that you are called to be. None of us do it perfectly, of course. Not even close. But the love of God for us is so great that it’s okay when we fall short. 

You see, with God and God’s love for us, there is no “almost” and no “so close.” God’s love for you and for me is complete and irrevocable. So even when we can’t figure out how to make relationships work, or serve our neighbor the way we’re called to, or help and protect those who are displaced, or be the generous stewardships we are drawn toward being…God loves us and saves us and calls us still. How that call is coming to you in your time and space is up to you to discern. Take the time to listen. Draw close (and closer) to God. And may God’s blessing be upon each of you in this New Year.

Holidays - Muppet Style

The start of the Christmas season in the Kappus household is usually signified by a viewing of “A Muppet Christmas Carol,” a fanciful retelling of the Dickens classic starring Michael Caine as Scrooge (played straight out of Dickens’ text), Kermit the Frog as Bob Crachit, and the rest of the Muppet crew filling in most of the roles. It is funny and heartwarming and gets the message of love and compassion across to all ages.

It is such a significant part of our family heritage that I may have heard my son say to our grandkids: “Kids, you are biologically required to like this movie.” There is plenty of Muppet shenanigans and some very upbeat and memorable music. I wanted to share a few thoughts that struck me this time around from the songs, written by the incomparable Paul Williams.

The opening number is called “Scrooge” and is sung by the whole town as he makes his way to his office. The final verse states:

There goes Mr. Heartless, there goes Mr. Cruel

He never gives, he only takes, he lets his hunger rule

If being mean's a way of life you practice and rehearse

Then all that work is payin' off cause Scrooge is getting worse

Every day, in every way, Scrooge is getting worse!

We say that to our kids all the time, right? “Practice makes perfect.” Be mindful of what you are practicing. Is it kindness? Is it compassion? Maybe even more significant in our day…is it empathy? Can you imagine what someone else’s journey or plight might be like?

The song “It Feels Like Christmas” has much to say and reminds us, among other things, that “when you do your best for love, it feels like Christmas.” A particularly poetic line describes it as “the summer of the soul in December.”

It is the season of the heart

A special time of caring

The ways of love made clear

It is the season of the spirit

The message, if we hear it

Is make it last all year

The closing line: “It’s true, wherever you find love, it feels like Christmas.”

It makes sense because the hallmark of the Christmas season, indeed, the distinguishing mark of the Christian life is love. How do you make clear the ways of love?

Finally, as the cycle of ghostly adventures winds up, we find a Scrooge born anew. The song “Thankful Heart” closes the show. Having stalked with cold disregard through the town at the opening of the show, Scrooge now goes out on Christmas morning to sing (yes, Michael Caine sings) his newfound wonder.

With a thankful heart, with an endless joy

With a growing family every girl and boy

Will be nephew and niece to me

Will bring love, hope and peace to me

Yes, and every night will end and every day will start

With a grateful prayer and a thankful heart.

Scrooge opens up his heart and life to everyone in his community, recognizing that they all have something to bring that could make his life more meaningful.

He closes the song, and the movie, with:

With a thankful heart that is wide awake

I do make this promise, every breath I take

Will be used now to sing your praise

And beg you to share my days

With a loving guarantee that even if we part

I will hold you close in a thankful heart.

Let’s commit ourselves to singing the praises of our neighbors and fellow humans. Or, as Luther puts it in his explanation of the 8th Commandment: “We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.”

Go ahead. Ask yourself the question that is begging for an answer: “Who is my neighbor?”

Happy New Year and God’s blessing as you continue to walk the path of Jesus.