Sunday, January 3, 2016

I've Had an Epiphany

You've heard, of course, about the responsibility to distribute God's grace, which God gave to me for you, right? God showed me his secret plan in a revelation, as I mentioned briefly before (when you read this, you'll understand my insight into the secret plan about Christ). Earlier generations didn't know this hidden plan that God has now revealed to his holy apostles and prophets through the Spirit. This plan is that the Gentiles would be coheirs and parts of the same body, and that they would share with the Jews in the promises of God in Christ Jesus through the gospel. - Ephesians 3:2-6 (CEB)

This Wednesday (6 January) is Epiphany. With that, Christmas has come to an end, as my good friend, Jeff Carter, is wont to remind us all in his blog. Unfortunately, it has been my experience that not too may people know what Epiphany is. I am under the impression that some people think an epiphany is what Smee thought it was in the movie, Hook.

Instead of it being an Apostrophe, what is Epiphany?

It is the Feast during the Christian calendar, which commemorates that God has become human in the person of Jesus. The word, "Epiphany" means "striking appearance" or "manifestation."

When I lived in Germany, this was also called "Three Kings Day," which is the traditional day celebrated when the Magi visited Christ, according to the account in Matthew 2. This is as close to Halloween that German Christians like to get. (German Christians actually despise Halloween, which falls on the same day as Reformation Day, when Martin Luther published his 95 Theses.) Children will go around, dressed as 3 kings, sing songs, and people would give them treats as they did this.

Of course, the "kings" were not really kings at all. They were astrologers, people who thought the stars controlled our destiny. I find it ironic that there are several instances in the Bible where God uses methods that we normally would consider repugnant:  A seance to tell King Saul that he was going to die; casting lots (like rolling dice) to decide who should be king, who was guilty, or who should be an apostle.

God often uses things to confound us and the scripture given to us for Epiphany is no different.

In this passage of Ephesians, Paul was talking about something quite revolutionary:  It was possible for people to become followers of Jesus without becoming Jewish first. For Christians today, this goes without saying. However, this was controversial at the time. Jesus was a Jew. Jesus was circumcised. Jesus worshiped in the Temple. Why shouldn't all Christians be Jews as well?

This was not an easy thing to ask of people, especially grown men. To be circumcised as adults and then to obey the dietary and ceremonially restrictions was asking so much of someone who simply wanted to follow Jesus. So Paul made a huge announcement:  Gentiles (non-Jews) were coheirs and would share in the same promises. They would be partakers of the Gospel:  the Good News. They had every right to have fellowship with God.

Following Christ is not a restrictive club:  It is open to all. We all have claim to fellowship with God.

With each successive generation we see that God's love is open to all, regardless of their situation in life. In Paul's generation, it was the Gentiles. Non-Jews were also able to partake in the love of God. As a missionary, I learned quickly that I was not supposed to force the culture I was in to worship God in the way I thought they should. In others words, I was not supposed to force Germans to worship God in an American style. (In reality, sometimes I had to force my German Christian brothers and sisters to sing songs in German, rather than English.) Hudson Taylor realized that one could look like a Chinese person and still worship God. Bruce Olson realized that one could change the Bible to suit the culture of the Motilone Indians. (In their Bible translation, the wise man built his house upon the sand because the Motilone built their houses on poles in swampy, sandy soil. To build such houses on rock would be foolish indeed!)

In our present day generation, I believe God is telling us that one does not need to change his/her orientation to worship God. One could even be in committed relationships with people of the same gender and worship God. God's love is not exclusive to anyone. God's love is for all, especially for those we have marginalized. In our generation, the people who have been the most marginalized are people in the LGBT Community. Thankfully, there are several organizations which have sprung up to speak for LGBT Christians and to affirm that we all belong to the same family. (Some good examples are the Gay Christian Network and the Reformation Project.) We all are Christians. We may disagree with each other, but God's love is for all and we cannot disagree with that.

And, if I may be so bold, Paul might even say today:  "Earlier generations didn't know this hidden plan that God has now revealed to this present generation through the Spirit. This plan is that the LGBT Community would be coheirs and parts of the same body, and that they would share with heterosexual Christians in the promises of God in Christ Jesus through the gospel."