Epiphany 3

22nd February 2023

Reflection (readings follow on below)

The word epiphany comes from the Greek and means to show or shine on. From this comes the idea of revealing, displaying or making manifest. A light shines onto something and what is in view is made clear. 

At the beginning of this season we heard the story of the magi. They had, it seems, devoted their life to looking at the stars (which are in themselves lights) in order to discover new truths about the world. They see a star and see it as pointing to the birth of a new and important king. The star itself doesn’t in fact reveal all they need to know, and they head to Jerusalem to consult Herod and his wise men to hone their understanding. Finally they do find the child and in worshipping the child, gain a new revelation. The child’s life is threatened by Herod and they depart by a different route. I am sure that throughout the remainder of their lives they continued to seek further enlightenment the child they had worshipped.  

The prophet Isaiah has been called to call the people back to God, for on’y then will they escape the danger that threaten them and their world. In today’s passage light comes not from a star but from God. The light is a gift from God to the people that brings them joy and release from the burdens of oppression – the physical oppression from their enemies and the spiritual oppression of sin. It is a light that shows them the way out of their troubles. It is a means of enlightenment.

As we look around our world today with war and conflict, oppression and injustice, climate and biodiversity crises, we know we need enlightenment. It seem that we can seek enlightenment in two ways – both of which are not in opposition to each other. Through seeking God’s light and renewing our spiritual well-being. And through seeking enlightenment about the natural world in which we live and about which we are not as well versed as we might be. In seeking to understand the world around us, we learn truths about God, about the amazing connectivity and interdependency and life enriching wonder of creation. In seeking to know God, we learn of God’s ongoing love for creation.

Isaiah 9:1-4

There will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;

those who lived in a land of deep darkness–
on them light has shined.

You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;

they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.

For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.

Psalm 27:1, 4-9

1 The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom then shall I fear? *
the Lord is the strength of my life;
of whom then shall I be afraid?

4 One thing have I asked of the Lord;
one thing I seek; *
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life

To behold the fair beauty of the Lord *
and to seek him in his temple.

5 For in the day of trouble he shall keep me safe in his shelter; *
he shall hide me in the secrecy of his dwelling
and set me high upon a rock.

6 Even now he lifts up my head *
above my enemies round about me.

Therefore I will offer in his dwelling an oblation
with sounds of great gladness; *
I will sing and make music to the Lord.

7 Hearken to my voice, O Lord, when I call; *
have mercy on me and answer me.

8 You speak in my heart and say, “Seek my face.” *
Your face, Lord, will I seek.

9  Hide not your face from me, *
nor turn away your servant in displeasure.

You have been my helper;
cast me not away; *
do not forsake me, O God of my salvation.

1 Corinthians 1:10-18

Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptised in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptised none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptised in my name. (I did baptise also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptised anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptise but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Matthew 4:12-23

When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—

the people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,

and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned.”

From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

Prayers for Creation

Feast of the Epiphany – 6th January 2023 

For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. Hebrews 3:4


Three gifts, 

carried by Magi

riding long roads from the East.


By a star

they had set their course

to seek out a new born king.


Yet from Jerusalem

the worldly snare

of incumbent power pulled them off course.


In Bethlehem 

a home for folk and beast alike, 

made welcome this wandering coterie of  strangers.


A child,

cradled by loving parents, 

is worshipped  with  gold and myrrh and frankincense.


Christ

bless this house

and all that cross its threshold.


Christus

mansionem benedicat.

Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar, returned another way.


A family –

threatened –  uproots, takes  flight.

How quickly they join the exodus of refugees.. 


A welcome?

On these shores?…  beyond this border? 

Do you really  deserve a home?


Is not earth our  common home? 

Who designs the borders?  Who decides who’s and who’s out?

These strangers our kin.


This is our  common home

to share with kith and kin,

with bird and beast and all that swims and squirms and creeps.

This  is our  home 

to share with tree and grass, weed and flower, 

with seaweed forests and coral reefs.


Christ

bless this our home –

our common home –  and all that dwell therein.


The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and all who dwell therein. Psalm 24:1


May we, like the Magi, 

seek what is true.

May we, like the Magi,

seek the other way.

May we, like the Magi,

worship the maker of our common home.

Amen. 

First Sunday of Epiphany

9th January 2022

Isaiah 43:1-7 

Thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,

he who formed you, O Israel:

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;

when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.

For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.

I give Egypt as your ransom,
Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.

Because you are precious in my sight,
and honoured, and I love you,

I give people in return for you,
nations in exchange for your life.

Do not fear, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
and from the west I will gather you;

I will say to the north, “Give them up,”
and to the south, “Do not withhold;

bring my sons from far away
and my daughters from the end of the earth–

everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.”

Psalm 29

1 Ascribe to the Lord, you gods, *
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his Name; *
worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

3 The voice of the Lord is upon the waters;
the God of glory thunders; *
the Lord is upon the mighty waters.

4 The voice of the Lord is a powerful voice; *
the voice of the Lord is a voice of splendour.

5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedar trees; *
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon;

6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, *
and Mount Hermon like a young wild ox.

7 The voice of the Lord splits the flames of fire;
the voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; *
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

8 The voice of the Lord makes the oak trees writhe *
and strips the forests bare.

9 And in the temple of the Lord *
all are crying, “Glory!”

10 The Lord sits enthroned above the flood; *
the Lord sits enthroned as King for evermore.

11 The Lord shall give strength to his people; *
the Lord shall give his people the blessing of peace.

Acts 8:14-17

When the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptise you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Now when all the people were baptised, and when Jesus also had been baptised and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Reflection 

Last week, Epiphany Sunday, we heard of the glory of God that rises above us when we are in darkness and which draws together the peoples of all nations along with the abundance that the earth has to offer. And we had the image of the star shining down over Bethlehem where God had become incarnate as a human child, attracting the attention and the worship of kings and the offering of gifts on such as scale as to unnerve the then Judean King, Herod. 

Today’s psalm looks to the natural world to describe the glory of God. This glory – this weightiness, this honourableness, this splendour, this abundance and dignity (recall how rich the Hebrew  word is) – is like the thunder of falling water, the breaking of cedar branches (think of the strength needed and the loud cracking noise), the liveliness of hills and calves, the energy of fire and storms! This description of glory sounds both energising and terrifying. Yet Isaiah also talks about the glory of God. He tells us that we humans are loved by God, that God knows us and calls us by name, and that he has made us for his glory! We should not underestimate how wonderful humanity can be, nor the the power of God’s presence. God knows how risky and dangerous and unpredictable life can be, and therefore God will always be there for us.

The ministry of John the Baptist was equally electrifying and terrifying. A figure standing out in the wilderness challenging people to reflect on the quality, the rightness of their lives, to be honest and own up to their failings, their greed, their apathy. His earnest desire was that they should not be going unprepared when the glory of God would appear in their midst. He doused those who were repentant with water to assure them that their past sins were expunged – but he also warned them of complacency. 

‘I may be washing your sins away, he said, but beware that  you do reform your lives, because there is one who is coming who will deal not in water but with fire! His will baptise with the Holy Spirit!’

The writer of the gospel then tells us of Jesus’s own baptism. The heavens break open and he is filled with the Holy Spirit and a voice from heaven  You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 

To be baptised with the Holy Spirit is to filled by – engulfed by – the glory of God. It is to experience that God know us and call us by name. It is to be empowered to live life as God’s children. 

The word Greek word translated as open also has the meaning of disclose which is a reminder to us that this is the season of Epiphany. Let us be willing this season to be open to the wonder – even the shock – of the glory of God that is being revealed to us. And to let that glory transform the way we respond both to God, to our neighbour and to the world around us. 

Marking Epiphany

Reflections and house blessing

Matthew’s Gospel portrays the Holy Family as living in Bethlehem in a house rather than travellers staying over for a few days –  in a stable or otherwise

Why are homes important? Think how we use the terms such as ‘coming home’ or ‘home-coming’, ‘make yourself at home’, ‘being at home with yourself’, ‘homely’ etc.

What makes a home a home? Is a home a particular house or can it be something more intangible?

In both Old and New Testaments God promises to dwell – to make his home – with his people.

Ex 29: 45 ‘I will dwell among the sons of Israel and will be their God.’

John 1: 14 ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.’

Rev 21:3 ‘And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them…’

To what extent are our homes places where God dwells?

Home Blessing: “A part of church history is the custom of blessing homes at the New Year. A family would hold a short service of prayer to ask God’s blessing on their dwellings and on all who live, work with and visit them. In this way, we invite Jesus to be a “guest” in our home, a listener to each conversation, a guide for troubled times, and a blessing in times of thanksgiving.

    “Chalking the door” or the door step may be used as a way to celebrate and literally “mark” the occasion. In the Old Testament the Israelites were told to mark their doors with the blood of the lamb on the night of the Passover to ensure that the angel of death would pass them by.  Deuteronomy says ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart … and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.’ (Deuteronomy 6:4-6, 9)

    Chalk is made of the substance of the earth and is used by teachers to instruct and by children to play. As the image of the chalk fades, we will remember the sign we have made and transfer it to our hearts and our habits.’

    From the (now former) worshipwell.org web page.

A traditional way of doing this is to write above the home’s entryway, 20 + C + M + B + 22 The letters C, M, B have two meanings. They are the initials of the traditional names of the three magi: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. They also abbreviate the Latin words Christus mansionem benedicat, “May Christ bless the house.” 

Prayers

Reader: “Peace be to this house and: to all who dwell here, in the name of the Lord.

All: Blessed be God forever.

Reader: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things come to be through him, and without him nothing came to be….. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-3.14) 

Using chalk, write outside above or next to the front door:-

 20 + C + M + B + 22

All: Lord God of heaven and earth, you revealed your only begotten Son to every nation by the guidance of a star. Bless this house and all who inhabit it. May we be blessed with health, goodness of heart, gentleness and the keeping of your law. Fill us with the light of Christ, that our love for each other may go out to all. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

May this home be glowing with warmth 

in the chill of winter

And a cooling shade 

in the heat of the summer sun,

May it be a place 

where one awakes with eagerness,

And a haven from stress, 

when the work of the day is done.

May God, our Mother, 

safely cradle this house in her strong arms,

And breathe the comfort of her love 

through every room.

May God, our Father, fire the minds 

of those who dwell here with hopeful dreams

And give them the strength 

to make those dreams come true.

May God, our Companion, 

fill this home with laughter

And weave a satisfying peace 

in times of solitude.

May the cupboards be forever full,

And the table spread with welcome cheer.

May friends come often through the door,

But yet the need for privacy 

be respected here.

May the wild beauty of God,

May the indwelling peace of God

May the surprising mystery of God

Inhabit this home.

Amen.

(Prayer by Jean Gaskin, published in Human Rites: Worship Resources for an Age of Change compiled by Hannah Ward and Jennifer Wild, London: Mowbray, 1995, p.91)