The baptism of Jesus, the church has always taught us, is an epiphany story and so it is fitting that we begin this short season of the church with Jesus dripping wet from his baptism. Epiphany is a time in the church in which we are invited to recognize Jesus once again. What began with a very private annunciation of the angel to Mary and then to Joseph, what was made known to the shepherds, and then the gentile wise folk, is now made clear to a crowd gathered around a poor excuse for a river. The circle is getting wider and wider. And from this day until Easter day everything that we read and hear in Holy Scripture is an epiphany of Jesus. This is an important season in the church’s year because these are the weeks in which we‘re invited to come and see who Jesus is, where he is to be found, and to understand what he is about – what is his business with you and I and our world and also important for us – how he went about that business – the manner in which Jesus led, taught, and loved.
We adults long ago learned that critical thinking was the way to go when it comes to managing our lives and world. Don’t believe everything you hear or read we learned. Plato and the great philosophers taught us that reason should be our guide. The heart just leads us into all kinds of trouble. The Romans taught us that power is the only path to peace and wealth and security. A lesson every empire since is still trying to teach the rest of the world. Critical thinking, reason, power….these are the tools of the adult…..these are the paths to mastery over our world and one another; they are the real world we adults inhabit.
Unless of course you’re a lover of poetry; or a lover of the scriptures of our tradition; especially the prophets of the Old Testament. One of the great preachers and teachers of our day Walter Brueggemann, preached it this way: Poet’s and Christians and Jews for that matter know that in poetry we can do things not permitted by logic or reason. Poetry gives us access to contradictions and tensions that logic simply must deny. Poetry doesn’t only remember; it proposes and conjures, wonders and imagines; it even breaks open what might be the future.
The plea of the Gospel reading this day to “keep alert or awake” has often fallen on deaf ears. The disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane couldn’t “keep awake”. For a time Christianity was kept alive essentially only in the monasteries of the dark ages – the rest of society couldn’t “keep awake.” And what of our day and age? The newspapers and media are always only too willing to spread the news of the Church’s decline and failures. Not very often do they report the good news. So we have to be honest it is all too easy to be put to sleep by the ever so well credentialed critics of Christianity. It seems we walk a slippery slope towards doubt and the giving up of all that we once believed.
One of the best preachers of the past century; Harry Emerson Fosdick, had some good things to say about doubt. Listen to part of a sermon he titled; “the importance of doubting our doubts”.
We’re so familiar with John 3:16 that I wonder if we even hear it? Or do we read it like a hallmark card – nice sentiment – and toss it aside. Such beautiful words and we dismiss them so easily.
A preacher far better than me said this about our gospel from John. “Our text tells us two things about the acts of God. We learn that God’s immediate and ultimate relationship to the world is one not of power or of indifference but of affection: For God so loved the world. God’s power is subordinate to his love. The world is subordinate to God’s love. The world is a place that is beloved of God. Like creation it is good, although terrible things happen in it for it is not perfect, it is not without pain, and the price of our freedom is to learn to cope with a world of ambiguity and danger, pain, joy, and opportunity. Through all of that God relates to us out of his love for us. The action of God, the act that counts is love.
We catch a glimpse this morning of two failed men. Peter who just a couple of weeks ago, we remember, denying Jesus three times. And Paul who persecuted the early Christians with every ounce of energy he had. One a villain – one a coward. That’s how the world saw them – but God saw something else. God saw the men they would become. Strange how often it is that God sees differently than us. Take the Gospel reading this morning as a case in point. The disciples have gone back to their regular lives – back to their boats, returning to fish and I suppose to wonder about how it all went so wrong. It’s as if Jesus had never been. How quick we all are to turn the page and give up; quick to start again and deny the past.
The story of Thomas and his doubts is familiar, and we are sure that we know how to read it. We identify with Thomas because we assume the issue is one of belief. And we think that we might be better believers – in spite of the commendation for those who have believed with out having seen – if we could just get some better evidence. Like how we imagine Thomas – we want some good first hand proof.
One of our traditions greatest preachers began his Easter sermon with these words:
Are there any here who are devout lovers of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!
Are there any here who are grateful servants?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!
Are there any here this morning weary from fasting?
Let them now receive their due!
“No, I tell you; unless you repent, you will all perish, just as they did.”
( Luke Chapter 13, verse 3)
I have to tell you that does not sound like good news to me. I could have stayed in bed with the National Post and read about the unlucky, unrighteous, and lazy, who deserve their fate and felt myself lucky, righteous and comfortably blessed. After all, I worked hard to get here. Don’t go telling me, Jesus, that I have to change, turn around, and repent or else my fate will be no better than those I long ago left behind. God no, don’t go telling me that – I’m too afraid to hear that. I’m afraid.
An Episcopal Priest, Barbara Cawthorne Crafton wrote this reflection on Lent which speaks eloquently of the times we live in and this season of the Church which we’re entering.
We didn’t even know what moderation was. What it felt like. We didn’t just work: we inhaled our jobs, sucked them in, became them. Stayed late, brought work home – it was never enough, though, no matter how much time we put in.
So the disciples have spent the entire night out fishing. They caught nothing. And Jesus comes along as says, “ Put out into the deep water, let down your nets for a catch.” Now Peter informs the Carpenters Son, “ We’ve worked all night but have caught nothing….but if you give the word, we’ll give it another try.” And they caught so many fish that they thought the net would break ! End of Gospel; at least we want it to stop there. After all who doesn’t love a story with a good ending ? And look for once those disciples had the good sense to listen to Jesus.