Season 3 - Epiphany Season meditations

by Tim Isbell, posted January 2020 (written a year earlier)

These Epiphany meditations are the third part of the seven-part collection for every season of the Christian calendar. Unless you read it earlier, please read the introductory material at Responsive Prayer Meditations

Epiphany is a 5-7 week season to tell of God’s revelation of Jesus, the Christ, to the Gentile world. The variation in length derives from the lunar calendar.

Appearances mislead: prayer is never the first word; it is always the second word. God has the first word. Prayer is answering speech. – Eugene Peterson


The Church & the heavenly places

Epiphany - Ephesians 3.10-12

This scripture encourages and challenges me.

God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord. Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence.

This passage encourages me to keep working to build local churches. I don’t feel very good or successful at it, but it helps to know that this work is important in your eyes. Please help me help pastors build local churches. And please help our Cupertino church grow in health and size.

I learned long ago that you (God) intend for your Church to model a way of life to the secular and political worlds. And I presumed the “rulers and authorities” in this passage refers to the rulers of those worlds.

But Aron Wall interprets these words differently. He explained that the “unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” refers to beings that live in a realm beyond what we can see. He reads this passage to say that you are using the functioning of the church on earth as a way to teach the rulers and authorities in unseen places something they can learn no other way. I’m guessing that this is about the concept that all kinds of people come together in local congregations to worship you, and then go out into their worlds as the earthly “body of Christ.” This reminds me that your Creation is much, much bigger than our earth or anything that we can see from our earth.

I don’t suppose I really need to know more about this. But if there’s more for me to learn along these lines, please teach me.



Life as the beloved

Epiphany - Luke 3.21-22

“You are my Son, the Beloved; with you, I am well pleased.” I know you (God) said this about Jesus and that it’s quite a jump to think you’d say it about me. But that is what Henri Nouwen suggested in the Life of the Beloved. I still remember how meaningful a concept that was when I first ran across it in the 1990s. It still is.

I remember preaching a sermon titled Life as the Beloved. In reviewing the notes that taught that to get in touch with my blessedness is to become who you made me. As I live as your adopted son you transform me in a process framed with four words from Matthew 26.26, “While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’” In particular:

  • By living among people where the truth about me is spoken, I am chosen. So I am grateful to you and those who speak truth to me.
  • In cultivating a life of prayer that invites God’s Presence into my life, you bless me with your presence.
  • By facing my brokenness and putting it under your blessing, you offer healing and a way forward.
  • I had to be broken so that I can be given to/for others, both in life and given in death.
I’m so grateful to be living as your blessed. Thank you for the soul-satisfaction that emerges.


God & small churches

Epiphany - Isaiah 62.1-5

Lord, what a stunning expression Isaiah writes about Jerusalem, a place you love, and so does Isaiah. I want this to describe my love for your church. As Isaiah calls Jerusalem the bride of God, the New Testament describes the church as the bride of Christ.

Do you rejoice over our little Cupertino church? Will you gather others with us? Will you drench us with enough of your Spirit so that you delight in us as this scripture describes.

As noble as you are, it’s hard to imagine that you love our little church as much as Isaiah’s words describe. But I believe you do because it’s who you are. It’s compatible with what I read about you in Scripture and with what I experience. And then there’s the cross. What a price to pay for such a gathering of first-century ragamuffins! You obviously see something in us that we don’t see in ourselves. You must even see it in me. What a blessing.


Soul satisfaction in the final season

Epiphany - Luke 3:15-17,21-22

This scripture prompted me to re-read the card and note that I had prepared to mail to an elderly woman is in the process of transferring to a care facility. The enclosure I put with the card uses a stanza from the song “How He Loves” and includes these lines in the first stanza:

When all of a sudden, I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,

And I realize just how beautiful You are,

And how great Your affections are for me.

Lord Jesus, she has cause for depression. Even so, please make her current afflictions fade in the realization of the glory she will have for all eternity, in you.

Then I returned to the scripture, wondering why you prompted me to connect her to that song with the Luke scripture. I noticed the verse, “Everyone was expecting the Messiah…” John was self-aware enough to know it was not himself, but someone much greater. The next day, you asked John to baptize you and in the process, he identified you as the Messiah.

Three years later, imprisoned and soon to be murdered, John questioned whether you were the Messiah. So if my elderly friend’s soul-satisfaction is fading, she is in the good company of John the Baptist. Fortunately, we live on this side of the cross, resurrection, and Pentecost. So we have more reasons to trust that you are the Messiah who will come again in full glory and glorify all who have trusted in him. But hope in such times is still quite a challenge for us mortals.

When John the Baptist was in jail, his followers made a trip to ask you some questions. You sent them back to John’s prison cell with a fresh reminder of your incarnational glory. Fortunately, my friend’s family is well equipped to play the role of John’s disciples and to remind her of the glory awaiting her. Thank you for providing a hope that even transcends death. Please bless her family as they care for this dear woman of faith.


God in Scripture & Nature

Epiphany - Pilgrim Year Series (PYS) Epiphany Day, ch 2

A friend just emailed me about how you (God) touched his heart while he was going through this PYS section. I invited him to give some detail about the experience, and in the meantime, I re-read the chapter.

It encourages me to know that saints see two sacred forms of God’s revelation to humanity: Scripture and the Creation. I never saw this quite so concisely described before. Steve pointed out that you used the stars to speak to the Persian astrologers we call “wise men.” He extended this to today’s indigenous people and others I think of as pagans, along with other people that we moderns look down upon. Even so, they have some sort of link to you through nature and the cosmos even if they know nothing of Scripture. I don’t know how to think about all this, but it’s intriguing. I usually shy away from such concepts for fear that they lead to worshipping your creation instead of you. Steve’s assertion that “perhaps the creation should be reverenced and attended to as a divine messenger and not merely as inert dirt for us to manipulate,” makes me wonder if he might be onto something. Please teach me how to think about this matter.

The chapter includes Steve’s song “Good Friend.” (To listen click on Pilgrim Year Songs, then click on Epiphany and then on “Good Friend”) I like the song, and especially this stanza that you seemed to impress on him in a time of quiet meditation in the context of nature:

Be but your own good friend
And be good to the other
Cherish those sisters and brothers along the road
And to the earth extend
Every reverence and wonder
Tend to the wounds of your blunders
And honor God who formed our home.

The first half speaks into my thoughts on diversity in a community, as I hope you will help me express in Beyond Conversion 2. The last half speaks into my thoughts on the “care of our common home,” which I pray you’ll help me express in Beyond Conversion 3.



Living in God’s story

Epiphany - Luke 4.14-21

Thanks for this story about Jesus and the Lord God and the Spirit of God. I wish there were more passages that mention the three of you all in the same passage. But I’m glad for this one, and also for another one in the Epiphany season - the passage of Jesus’ baptism. But I’ll leave the Trinitarian concept for another day.

This week’s Luke passage stops too soon (though the rest of this story is in next week’s lectionary reading). It describes your announcement but it doesn’t tell how the crowd grew angry and tried to kill you. You (Jesus) escaped, but the anger against you grew until three years later the crowd did murder you.

Today is Martin Luther King Day. During the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike, he preached an unwelcome message and the next day James Earl Ray murdered King. I doubt that was the direct result of what he said the night before; It built for a long time to this tragic end.
I think I see some parallels. I’m pretty sure that the New Testament story informed King in his work against racism. He was able to do what he did because he knows that you did what you did from Galilee to the cross.

I’m struck these days with how crucial it is for me to live my everyday life in the backdrop of your whole story. I still don’t get every decision right but thank you so much for the roadmap you provide in Scripture. Though it wasn’t in my notes, you provided that insight into yesterday’s Sunday Meetup. And one person, for sure, needed to hear it. Thanks for showing up.

As I walked the neighborhood this morning the West Valley Sanitation workers were out in force, carrying away our ugly garbage and recycling. In a weird way, this is akin to when you take away forever our ugly sin garbage. Further, when the sanitation workers take away our recycling it is akin to you taking the broken and used up pieces of our life and recycling them into something useful.

There was a time when I considered such parallels as grossly inappropriate. Now I see this as perfectly in sync with who you are and your story. You are as comfortable identifying with a sanitation worker or refugee or even a criminal as you are identifying with Martin Luther King - or Timothy Keller. Indeed, King must have known this, too. I’m sure he experienced your presence in jail and was enlightened through your story - over and over.

There it is again: that beauty and elegance that I see more and more in you.



Trinitarian oneness

Epiphany - PYS Epiphany, ch 3 and 1 Corinthians 12.12-31

A couple of days ago I noticed this from Steve Bell’s writing, “God’s ‘oneness’ is not a numerical oneness signifying primordial aloneness, but is instead a relational oneness signifying eternal mutuality and love. According to this narrative, God is not one like a tree is one, but rather like a forest is one, or like a sequence of notes in a song is one, or like a family is one.”

Then this morning I read this week’s epistle which extends this concept of oneness to the church, your (Christ’s) body in today’s world, which is one body with many parts.

I’ve been thinking and reflecting for decades on the Trinity and its implications to the human community. But I had not noticed that the Trinity scales to the composition and functioning of your church. There it is again, a glimpse at the beauty and elegance of your design! And you give to me on the day I’m intending to write the Theology part of Beyond Conversion 2 - the part that includes the Trinity. Thanks, I didn’t see that gift coming!


Jealousy for a miracle

Epiphany - Luke 4.21-30

The people in your hometown had heard of the miracles you (Jesus) performed in other places. But in this scripture, when you returned to your hometown, you told the people not to expect any miracles. That angered them enough to attack you.

I see Christians with shaken faith because they asked for a miracle, but you didn't deliver. I've done it myself.

But, then, you could have sidestepped the cross with a miracle, but you didn't. So please help me follow the advice give others trust that “God is in control, despite appearances to the contrary. That is what we (Christians) believe. That is what we have seen. And that is what we have to offer the world.”

Not only did you endure the cross, but you also turned the crucifixion into the greatest miracle ever. If you can do that, surely I can trust you to convert my problems into something better, too.

Even so, I intend to continue asking you for those things close to my heart that remain dangling after years of prayer. I trust this is okay with you.


Claiming God’s invisible options

Epiphany - PYS Epiphany, ch 4, 2 Kings 4.38-41

(I later combined this meditation and the following two at Living through Snares.)

I see more governmental and political train-wrecks in 2019 than I saw in the 1960s. The U.S. government shutdown is in its 33rd day with no end in sight. We face political challenges too intractable for human solutions. Unbalanced wealth is terrible and getting worse, the truth has lost its value in public discourse, racism rises, we’ve degraded “our common home” to the precipice, and white nationalism passes for patriotism. Our leaders overflow with pride, greed, anger, pettiness, and obsessions for outcomes that match their narrow ideologies. America's citizens are as broken as our leaders. The rest of the world seems about the same.

Part of me wants to play whack-a-mole with evil. Then, this morning, I read three lines from Abba Antony:

I saw the snares that the enemy spreads out over the world and
I said, groaning, “What can get through from such snares?”
Then I hear a voice saying to me, “Humility.”

Further, as I teach the Kingdom Politics series in our local church, you (God) remind me that in times like these, your people have a long history of claiming invisible political options. I notice this especially in 2 Kings 4 - 7.

  • You filled a widow and her son’s flasks with oil.
  • You raised the Shunammite woman’s only child from death.
  • You redeemed the poisoned stew when Elisha throws in some seasoned flour.
  • You fulfilled the slave girl’s request to cure her master Naaman of leprosy.
  • You chose outcasts to discover grace and salvation in the enemy camp.
The everyday people in these stories lived in the kingdoms of this world. But their citizenship and their trust were squarely in your much bigger and everlasting Kingdom. Like them, I choose to live as a citizen of your Kingdom while residing at a postal address in California.

Even further, you remind me that today is still interim time, the time between the Garden of Eden and the fulfillment of your Kingdom. 2 Kings 4.38-41 seems to say not to get overly caught up in defeating all the evil that I see, but instead to ask you for help in adding good into the toxic mix and trust that in the end, you will sort out the evil.

So as I await your invisible options, I take it as your assignment to remain humble, do good wherever I can, all the while living “... as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves.” Such living is far above my paygrade, so I’m trusting in your Spirit to guide and carry me through.


My assignment regarding evil

Epiphany - Matthew 5.13-15

Several days ago, I wrote the Meditation, “Claiming God's Invisible Options.” Perhaps you must have thought I might miss your point, so you intersected my attention with more corroborating passages.

  • Matthew 13.24-30 tells the wheat and tares parable. A farmer planted wheat in his field, and that same night evil men planted weed seeds. When weeds started sprouting, the workers wanted to start pulling weeds. But the farmer said that would damage the wheat so they should let the weeds grow and the harvesters would sort out the weeds later.
  • Matthew 5.13-15. This time you teach that we are to live as salt and light in the world.
  • I ran across Martin Luther King’s quote, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
  • And here’s an Andy Crouch quote, “The proper antidote to bad culture is good culture.”

I think I get your point. You know I’m disconcerted by the evil in our nation and world. But you don’t want me fretting about it nor count on politicians to make laws to extract the evil from our society. Maybe you are giving the extraction assignment to others, but not to me. You seem to want me to look for ways to add good into the mix and trust you with the rest.

I think I've got it. Thanks!


A broader strategy for evil times

Epiphany - Philippians 2.5-11

(I later combined this meditation and the preceding two at Living through Snares.)

Yesterday I explained to a friend two of my earlier Meditations: “Claiming invisible options” and “My assignment regarding evil.” He responded, “But what about Jesus?” I instinctively replied that Jesus is the prime example of both.

Over the next day or two, I realized that response missed the importance of sometimes confronting evil directly.

You (Jesus) confronted evil when you cast evil out from the demonic man, and when you saved the woman caught in adultery from the religious leaders, and when you overturned tables in the Temple. The ultimate example was at the cross when you non-violently absorbed evil to provide a path to salvation for all of us, who are otherwise defenseless against sin.

There are also Old Testament examples such as Moses demanding that the evil Pharaoh set your people free from slavery in Egypt. Same with David and Esther. In all three, you spent years preparing these heroes for the confrontations.
These remind me of a Father Huddleston anecdote that I heard in 1965 sermon, Reconciling Agents of a Reconciling God.

We think of ourselves as peace lovers. But we live in places where there is no peace. We want peace, and wonder why other people don’t want to join us peace-lovers.

We are peace lovers, and we wish everyone else loved peace, too. But life is not about peace-loving; it is about peacemaking. Jesus did not just love peace; he made peace through shedding his blood at the cross. He said blessed are the peacemakers. Which leaves out most of us.

​Peacemaking is another name for reconciliation. We operate under a misconception of what Christian love is. We think it’s just about being kind to everybody, but in moments of tension, this immobilizes us from taking sides. Then someone will get mad at us, so we need to stand above the struggle and hope the trouble will fade away. This non-response is not Christian love.

Father Huddleston, an Anglican priest, ​was ​tossed out of South Africa because he spoke up repeatedly against apartheid and the atrocities of the government. A friend came to him one day and said, “Huddleson, why don’t you have a little patience and extend a little love to your brothers and sisters in Christ?”

Huddleston replied, “If I were the victim, I’d do this, at least I think I would. I understand that’s the right thing to do. But if somebody else is the victim, that’s an entirely different situation. It is easy to be kind and patient and understanding at the expense of cruelty and injustice to somebody else.” We’ve been doing this for one long, long time. And we called it Christian love, forgetting that there’s no love without justice. Love must go beyond justice; it cannot fall below justice. True peacemaking involves taking sides - with the exploited​ over the exploiter​, ​the ​victim over the ​oppressor, those who suffer infliction ​over than those who inflict it. To think otherwise is an insult to the Bible and to the Lord Jesus, who was killed on a cross precisely because he disturbed, upset, divided, and made people mad.”

One thing I know for certain; the evil that surrounds me is too strong for me. My hope lies in your Spirit and this list you seem to have led me to: :

  • Remain humble
  • Look for guidance from biblical stories, especially stories of how you and your followers managed first-century evil and also learning from the Old Testament.
  • Expect one of your “invisible options” to show up.
  • Seek your guidance on whether to hang tight and await one of your invisible options, finesse the situation by inserting some good, absorb evil, or directly confront it.

Thanks for your guidance on these things.


Gospel scalability

Epiphany - Acts

Thanks for yesterday’s epiphany.

It occurred in a meeting where we scanned the entire book of Acts seeking your (Holy Spirit’s) guidance on what to appropriate into a vision for the Northern California Nazarene churches.

Someone spotted that you helped Saint Paul adjust the way you communicated the good news to fit the hearer. Paul presented the gospel one way to religious people, another way to simple pagans, another way to intellectuals, and in even more ways to various government leaders who had power over him. It reminded me that I previously preached exactly this same concept.

Over many years, your Spirit helped me hand-craft explanations of the good news for a variety of people - and that’s 2000 years after the book of Acts! Plus, I minister within a completely different demographic, racial mix, and political setting than Paul’s.

So, here's yesterday's epiphany. Not only is your good news elegant in itself, but it is also elegant in its adjustability to address the needs deep in the hearts of all kinds of people.


God’s greatest glory

Epiphany - Matthew 3.13-17, PYS Epiphany

With the help of Steve Bell’s essay and some insights from Robin and George, I’ve noticed something about the Trinity that previously escaped me. I’ll try to capture it in a few sentences:

Your (God) highest glory is not the three persons of the Trinity, but it is the love that glues the three persons together. Matthew’s story of the baptism of Jesus is one pointer to this truth. As Jesus emerged from the water, you declared, “This is my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.”

I’m beginning to see that you didn't create us out of need, but rather out of the ecstatic overflow of love within the Trinity. In some way, you created us as pieces of living, volitional art.

Our volition leads us into sin and brokenness, breaking unity with you. But you remain invested enough in us to offer restoration. That path is through Jesus, and you invite us to mark it with baptism. Once restored into a relationship with you, we live as your Beloved. I’ll take my identity from that any day; it’s so much better than I can concoct for myself.

How extraordinary to live in unity with you!
––-
The next morning: Thanks for the above epiphany about the core of your identity and helping me write it down last night. I thought that was the end of it. Then in the middle of the night, you woke me with a three-word “punchline” that beautifully captures the epiphany. I don’t know how I missed it, but I did. So I awakened enough to write three words on the card that I keep by my bed so I can remember them in the morning. The words? “God IS love.”

As soon as those words came to me, I realized that I had always thought them a trite oversimplification. Now I know that they capture a profound truth: more than three persons of the Trinity or anything else, you are love!

So thank you so much for completing the thought. I certainly wasn’t coming to it my own.


Beholding

Epiphany - PYS Epiphany, ch 6 and John 1.43-51

I wish the Bible included more detail about when you (Jesus) called Philip and Nathanael to follow you. It doesn’t look like you had any previous history with either of them. Somehow, they must have noticed something engaging about you to make them drop what they were doing and follow you.

John adds a little more detail regarding Nathanael. You told him that you saw him under a fig tree and that you already knew him as a man of complete integrity, impacting him deeply enough to follow you immediately.

Separately, thanks for the enlightenment from Steve Bell’s story of Jean Vanier visiting his family home when Steve was just a boy. Somehow, Steve sensed that Vanier was distinctive. One night after dinner, young Steve went out to the backyard to play a game. Soon he felt someone behind him. Steve writes, “I instinctively looked up to discern a cause, and Jean Vanier was sitting quietly on the back step. He was gazing past me, so I thought, transfixed by an apparent marvel. I naturally spun around to see what he was looking at. At first, I was bewildered to see only our unremarkable garage, when suddenly I realized that he had been looking at me. I froze. I didn’t know what to do. No one but my parents had ever looked at me like that. Ever so slowly, I turned around again to meet his otherworldly gaze, under which I felt like I grew at least a foot. I don’t recall how long we looked at (beheld) each other, but I’ll never forget that face. For the first time in my life, I knew myself to be a marvel, even as I simultaneously came to know Vanier as a marveller.”

After that story soaked in, I recognized that you introduced someone into my preschool years who similarly beheld me. My maternal grandmother always had an outsized picture of my intrinsic worth. My mother and I lived with her parents. Mom worked, and I don’t recall her around the house much. My grandfather toiled long hours as a railroad conductor. When he was around, he was distant. Given the times and our living situation, I can understand why. Later, I saw his softer side.

So Granny was my primary caregiver and defender. I warmly remember many hours together. She taught me to tie my shoes and print my name. Occasionally a beggar would show up at our back door, and she’d invite him into her kitchen for a meal while I sat across the table. One day I severed my finger in the push lawn mower and rushed to the house for help. Granny sat with me in the backseat of a neighbor’s car, scratching my back as we sped to the doctor who stitched the finger-tip back in place. One Sunday, I dragged a skillet of frying chicken from the stove, pouring hot grease all over me. It was another terrifying ride with Granny for medical care. She comforted me through a long and painful recovery. In her eyes, I never seemed to do anything wrong - though I certainly did.

Today, I get it. You “beheld” me through Granny’s eyes. I didn’t perceive that you were behind her any more than Steve Bell recognized that you were behind Jean Vanier. But such occurrences prepared me to eventually, decades later, notice you beholding me with interest and blessing.

Thanks for preparing my heart to recognize you. Please help me to look long enough to behold and bless the younger people in my life today - especially our adult kids, grandkids, and many younger people around the church. And, maybe most of all, my wife and our peers in this season of life.

(From Pilgrim Year Epiphany, ch 6. Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche which has communities around the world for people with intellectual disabilities and friends who live with them. Henri Nouwen served as one of those friends in a L’Arche community in Europe.)



Where heaven & earth intersect

Epiphany - Psalm 138 (MSG)

Last night I was tired and fading fast. But I wanted to plant something from Psalm 138 in my head to “sleep on.” I wanted to dwell on every line, but I lacked the stamina for that. So before sleep took over, you (Jesus) seemed to draw me to this single line in verse 2:

I kneel in worship, facing your holy temple, and say it again: "Thank you!"

Each time I awoke in the night, my attention went to the history of places where heaven and earth intersected.

I remembered how the Old Testament Tabernacle and Temples were locations where you wanted to meet with people. But they were afraid of you and pleaded for intermediaries. So you provided Moses, Aaron, and generations of priests.

In the gospels, you dispensed with intermediaries and came in person and became the location where heaven and earth met. You connected earth with heaven when you ministered among people, and even more so while you hung on the cross between heaven and earth.

In Acts, just before you ascended into heaven, you told your followers to wait together for you to send your Spirit. They did, and your Spirit came and filled them on what we now call the Day of Pentecost. Almost immediately, the place of intersection of heaven and earth moved one last time to the fellowships of believers, which we know as churches.

Since the first century, all kinds of people, like me and different from me, live as members of local churches. Still today, you commission churches, imperfect as they are, to exist as your distributed “body” in this world. You assign us the role of reconciling all kinds of people to you by inviting them to become part of one of those fellowships where you intersect directly with your creation.

If you had not revealed this centuries-long thread, I never would have seen it. How elegantly it shows your tenacity at offering your presence to us throughout history. Thanks for the elegant thread and your presence throughout the night.


Love anyway

Epiphany - Psalm 138.6 (MSG)

How great the glory of God! and here’s why: God, high above, sees far below; no matter the distance, he knows everything about us.

It’s a frightening thought that as holy as you are, you have such full visibility into everything about me!

Many in our world are neurotic about their personal privacy. People don’t want the government, their supervisor, their parents, their mate, or anyone to know everything about them.

I, too, experience these feelings, but I’m not sure why. Possibly, I think that if someone knows that much about me, they will use it to control me, decreasing or eliminating my volition. Or maybe I figure that if they knew everything about me, I would not measure up. Or perhaps something more.

But you already know everything about me! You know my darkest thoughts and feelings. You know what I have done wrong and those things I should have done but didn’t. You even know the times my attitude is sinful. And yet you love me with abandon - all the while allowing my volition. Despite all you know, you still want good things for me. You even invite me to partner with you in redeeming your creation! This fact about you is concurrently true, good, and beautiful. There are those three transcendentals again!



Hope beyond

Epiphany - 1 Corinthians 15.12-20

Thank you (Spirit) for the lectionary scriptures. I read through the four for next Sunday. Jeremiah 17, Psalms 1, and Luke 7 are so similar. It’s clear that your ways and the ways of your people are different than the ways of the world, that you lift the humble while the proud stumble. It’s clear from the Corinthians passage that your people take the long view, trusting you for mercy and justice beyond this life. So I think I’ll soak on 1 Corinthians 15.19 for a few minutes. Will you speak through it?

And if our hope in Christ is only for this life,
we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.

In the activeness of life, I can go long periods without remembering the enormous implications of your resurrection. Thanks for this reminder that what I see in this world is not all there is to see. Thank you for the hope that exists for this life and also for the next. Please help me share this with the people you put on my calendar - especially those who are so enmeshed in this world. And also help me to share it with those who are running short of time.


Bubble-up economics

Epiphany - Luke 2.21-40; 6.17-26, PYS Epiphany, ch 8

Steve Bell’s writing reminds me that forty days after you (Jesus) were born in a Bethlehem stable, Mary and Joseph carried you to the Temple in Jerusalem and presented you for a priest’s blessing. Your family’s temple offering of two turtledoves showed their poverty. A few minutes later, the Spirit sent two humble prophets, who probably didn’t know they were prophets, to bless you again, this time as the Messiah, the Lord and Savior of the world.

In the same years, Caesar sat on the throne in Rome. He was also called the “son of God” and the “savior of the world.” What a difference between you and Caesar!

Many people now think influence and wealth trickle-down from top to bottom. But, I notice that many impoverished immigrants and refugees come to America, and, against expectations, many of them and their progeny make impressive contributions to the country. Whether they know it or not, I'm confident that your Spirit is the “wind in their sails.” I credit this to you because I see this same thing, over and over, in the Bible. The most extraordinary examples are the humility of your incarnation and crucifixion.

I love God's ways of lifting the humble and lowly, partly because God lifted me well beyond expectations. So it is unsettling when you say, later in Luke 6, “What sorrow awaits you who are rich, for you have your only happiness now." I know whatever wealth I have is the result of your Spirit. Still, your warnings to the rich convict me. So, please show me how to deploy these blessings in ways that honor you.

About two hours after writing this meditation, I noticed this corroborating quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Blessing does not constitute privileged status; it confers responsibility.”



The Spirit and the kingdoms

Epiphany - Luke 6.22-38

Recently, our pastor used this passage to explain how you (Jesus) call us to a quality of living far above what any nation expects of its citizens.

No nation tells its citizens: Love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. When someone takes something from you, let them have it. Lend money without expecting repayment. Forgive.

No nation ever considered building such a holy society, let alone trying to implement one.

Yet you tell your people that such holiness is how you want us to live, here and now. What a contrast!

Fortunately, you don’t just tell us to live this quality of life; you give us your Spirit to help us do so. We don’t get it correct all the time, but we discover that as we live with your Spirit at our center, we become more like this list of characteristics.

You also provide help for the nations. They think they survive because of their great leaders and hard work. But I know the credit belongs to your Spirit, who directly breathes enough life into nations to keep most of them from disassembling. Beyond that, your Spirit enters nations through faithful remnants of your people serving as salt and light.

Thank you for your faithfulness to the nations and for giving us followers a way to influence your creation. You are worthy of all my worship and praise.



The humility of God

Epiphany - 1 Corinthians 15.21-28, Philippians 2.5-11, Luke 4.1-13, John 12.20-36,

In the Sunday MeetUp a couple of weeks ago Aron Wall had us read this Corinthian passage:

After <our eventual resurrection> the end will come, when <Christ> will turn the Kingdom over to God the Father, having destroyed every ruler and authority and power. For Christ must reign until he humbles all his enemies beneath his feet. And the last enemy to be destroyed is death. For the Scriptures say, “God has put all things under his authority.” (Of course, when it says “all things are under his authority,” that does not include God himself, who gave Christ his authority.) Then, when all things are under his authority, the Son will put himself under God’s authority, so that God, who gave his Son authority over all things, will be utterly supreme over everything everywhere.

Aron pointed out that ultimately, everything on earth will realize that it is subject to you (Christ). Even after such a sweeping victory, the passage declares that you will humbly return to your original place within the Godhead. I have long appreciated the incarnation and crucifixion as instances of humbling yourself to live among us to offer redemption for our betrayal. But meditating on the four scriptures (above) provided additional insights:

  • Your earthly mission advanced God’s higher purpose to put not just the earth, but all things everywhere, under your authority. You are higher than the angels, powers, and principalities mentioned in scripture.
  • I see the enormous disparity between how Satan uses its other-worldly power to hijack your creation through deception and how you use your other-worldly power to offer redemption to a deceived world. The world lives in the tension between pride or humility, greed or generosity, and darkness or light.
  • You won the battle at the cross by remaining true to your identity. You voluntarily laid down your life to provide a way for me, and everyone who will follow you, to become one of your people.
  • Even after completing your cosmic mission over all of creation, you will humble yourself to return to your position in the Godhead.
  • I’ve long admired people with power who show restraint in using that power - now I realize you are the extreme example.

These insights of what is and what lies ahead increase my trust in you and encourage me to live humbly in the present world. I will finish this meditation with two requests:

  1. Please transform the hearts of our political and business leaders who self-identify as Christians to humbly choose truth over self-promotion.
  2. And please call our voters who self-identify as Christians to promote and vote for such candidates.


I trust God filled your Epiphany Season with many epiphanies of your own, 

Tim




End Notes

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