BY ANOTHER ROUTE
Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14; 1 Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
JANUARY 7, 2018 – Epiphany Sunday
Arise! Shine! Your light has come! We read this message from the third great segment of the Prophet Isaiah this morning.
Once again, the scholars parse Isaiah into three sections following the most tumultuous passage in the history of Israel…God’s people.
First Isaiah, verses one through 39 are written as the last days of a Jewish Jerusalem approach. Babylon brings a cruel siege to the great City of David and people are horrified not only at what the army of Babylon is doing to them, but also at what they themselves are compelled to do when they are starving to death.
That is what a siege is intended to do…starve the people out of the protecting walls around them. Without food, the walls do not create protection but a prison.
It is…in an ironic way…much like the lines from Richard Lovelace poem: Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage. Minds innocent and quiet take that for an hermitage.
An enemy with an army strong enough to defeat Israel’s forces…but not strong enough to survive the storming of such great a barrier…seeks to subdue the people by another route…turning their need for nourishment from an invitation to gain strength into a weapon against them.
Second Isaiah(Chapters 40 through 55) is written during the Babylonian exile. The leaders of Israel are taken out of the land and Babylonians are moved in so that they not only defeat the army…they end the history and culture of the people who worship and follow the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.
Then the Persians defeat the Babylonians and King Cyrus permits the leaders to return and is tolerant of their religious practices. We are in the era of Third Isaiah now.
“Arise! Shine! Your light has come! God has delivered God’s people from the darkness of slavery to sin and disbelief back into the light of faith”…back into the Way and the Truth and Life Eternal.
A new day of freedom has arrived. Arise! Shine! You have been delivered by another route.
An epiphany, in the broadest sense, is when you suddenly find yourself connecting many different dots that have been troubling you. You see the meaning of the whole of what you have been thinking. You no longer just parse out a way forward from dot to dot.
For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. I Cor 13.
How often is it that we come to that time when all that has gone before is not struggle…but deliverance? The beginning of a New Year is one of those opportunities. And so we find ourselves called to begin a New Year with a new heart and a new mind. Arise and shine.
One of the untold…or under-told …stories about Albert Einstein is that he worked in the Swiss Patent Office for a few early years. No one would hire him to teach.
This disappointment may have been the greatest break he ever received, though, because he spent 1901 to 1905 being bombarded with novel ideas or novel ways to apply old ideas.
In 1905 he had his miracle year in which he published four startling papers on the photoelectric effect, Brownian motion, special relativity, and the equivalence of mass and energy…which propelled into the highest ranks of world scientists. He was 26.
Novel thinking…fresh thinking… always new thinking…had become a habit with him rather than a fuzzy concept. He was able to come to any new situation unburdened by old ideas…living in the day.Epiphanies were waiting on his desk every day.
The man who still astounds us with his monumental insights came to his great calling by another route. I love it that he said that what we perceive as a reality is only an illusion, “albeit a persistent one.”
An ‘Epiphany’ with a capital ‘E’ is the celebration of the sudden understanding that Jesus was the Messiah, as witnessed by the visitation of the Wise Men, bearing gifts, because they…Gentiles…saw from their novel perch that he was the Son of God.
It was an Epiphany for Herod, too, who saw it not as an occasion for celebration, but a threat to his continued claim to the throne as King of the Jews.
Don’t miss this: It was the outlanders…visitors from the East …who were able to see Jesus for who he was because they did not have all the presumptions about the royalty of the Messiah’s family line and expectation that he would one day be a great leader.
The Messiah was who he was and he was coming to do what he was going to do. All they knew was that a star…a light in the darkness…had led them to this place at this time.
The wise menalso had a small ‘e’ epiphany in our gospel lesson today. They were ‘warned in a dream’ not to go back to Herod and so they returned home ‘by another route.’
And isn’t that how we all get home? Isn’t that how we have gotten here today? If anyone had told you three years ago that your next pastor was going to be a lawyer, would you have believed them?
If anyone had told you five or ten or twenty years ago that you would one day be living in Bigfork doing what you are doing, would you have believed them?
I wouldn’t have. We have all come to this place by another route. We are armed with understanding that experience has given us, our ability to reason out the meaning of our lives, the traditions of our culture and the great writings that have been handed down to us.
We tend to use only part that kit of tools….Scripture, Tradition, Reason, nd Experience…at any given time, but when things get interesting and the going gets tough…when life throws surprises at you from the Left Field bleachers…it is good for us to do all we can to bring all we can into our attempt to understand what is happening and why.
I remember the day my father picked us up after Sunday school and told us Lee Harvey Oswald had just been shot. He said we should be paying attention to everything that was happening that week because it was a big moment in history. You need to remember this.
In Daniel Goleman’s book, Emotional Intelligence, he talks about the need for people who seem to be getting their response wrong time after time, to stop and think when they are surprised.
Stop. Pause when agitated. Why are you upset? How can you respond to the present situation? How else can you respond to it? What are all the other ways you can respond to it?
Then ask yourself how each of these alternatives will play out if you decide to go down that path. Which one of them is the best in the long term and in the short term?
Only then can you feel confident that you have made the best decision…the one that will lead to the best result. I don’t know about you, but in my experience it is when I only have bad choices and have to pick the least undesirable of them that I seem to make the best choices.
Paul had his great Epiphany and epiphany…spelled with both a large and a small ‘e’ and found that he had not seen the great choice that was his best way back home …by another route.
He had been a persecutor of Christ’s church. He became its herald. Suddenly the dots were connected and he chose to serve the One he had so recently hated.
He writes to the Ephesians and to us today that “God’s purpose is now to show the rulers and powers in the heavens the many different varieties of his wisdom through the church…” just as God had showed him new wisdom in Jesus Christ.
Jesus was not the blasphemer after all. He was. He had had an epiphany. And he wanted no one else to make that mistake ever again.
Easter was a great week for me this year because of something that came as a surprise. Marcie Peck called me at the parsonage on Maundy Thursday to tell me that some young man had just hit our sign across the street with his pickup and I should probably go up there.
As I walked the two blocks from the house, I wondered what I was going to do about this. When I got there, I found a very sorry young man. He was on his cell phone to his father…telling him what he had done…the second day he had his driver’s license.
He had his license and his proof of insurance out and he looked like he was sure I was going to holler at him. I just patted him on the shoulder and told him he had a long way to go to catch up with me. I said I was glad he had hit the sign instead of our 125-year-old apple tree that used to be part of the Sliter homestead apple orchard.
I thought about telling him to call me back after he had been run over by a pickup and hit by a car…but it didn’t look like he would see any humor in that.
I talked to his father on the phone and met with him at the site and we discussed ways we could get things fixed. It just so happened that the youth group was just ending and Gary Hastings came out and told the father exactly what he needed to buy and where he could get it…then explained how he thought the job should be done.
Saturday, they showed up with a friend,
the necessary materials and a cement mixer and set the frame in place for the sign to go up. Father and son were doing something together and learning from it.
Not one shot was fired in anger this whole time…and on Easter Sunday morning, father, mother and son all came to worship with us. The young man’s mother thanked me for being kind to her son…but like I say: he has a long way to go to catch me. Anger would not have helped.
I had gotten to a completely different place…a better place than I could have hoped…by another route. It was a positive experience for everyone and we had a nice crop of apples this year from our dear old tree.
Today, we are conditioned to react rather than respond. Our default response is set at ‘Anger’ which is probably as good a way to get to a bad result…short or long term…as there is.
But we are called by this old, old Book of Love to respond another way…to find our way home by another route. “Wake up,” it whispers to us today, “and see not only what you want to do but what you might do. Check your default thinking at the door and find a more abundant life through me.”
Come unto me, all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest,” Jesus tells us. “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Again, those lines from Richard Lovelace come to me: Stone walls do not a prison make, or iron bars a cage. Minds innocent and quiet take that for an hermitage. If I have freedom in my love and in my soul am free, Angels alone that soar above enjoy such liberty.
It’s time to quit making things as hard…and harsh…as they can be. It is time to have big and little ‘e’ epiphanies…and return home by another route. Amen.