Sermons That Work

The Stewardship of God’s Grace, Feast of the Epiphany – 2002

January 06, 2002


Like Isaiah before us, we have been visited with visions of darkness covering the earth, and thick darkness covering the peoples. We have seen the darkness that pervades what we now call Ground Zero. We have seen the smoldering darkness at the Pentagon. We have looked into a crater of darkness in Pennsylvania. We have seen the plumes of darkness rising above the mountains, villages, and cities of Afghanistan.

Some darkness we only hear about: the slave trade in Sudan; drug warfare in most of our urban centers; hatred and bigotry flourishing on the Internet; the extremes of religious fundamentalism of all kinds just about everywhere.

But the poet Isaiah also envisions light: new light; the Lord’s light rising upon us. We read of Wise Men in a far-off place searching the night skies for a sign of new life. It was only a few weeks ago, in November, that people by the thousands woke up in the darkness of 4:00 AM to stand for hours, heads tilted back, scanning the heavens for a celestial light show, the Leonid Meteor Showers. They hoped to glimpse multiple signs of light piercing our darkness as some sort of sign, perhaps, that the universe wants to move out of darkness and into light. The very presence of all of those people waiting in the quiet darkness was itself a sign of humankind’s yearning, its hope, its capacity to imagine and dream of a light that cannot be overcome by any darkness.

We who come to the celebration of this day of Epiphany know something of this light of the Lord’s. Like the Wise Men before us, we come to bring our gifts to lay at the birth place of this light. We know the light by many names: Lord, Master, Rabbi, Lamb of God, Good Shepherd, Alpha and Omega, the Bread from Heaven, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, the man from Nazareth, the Christ, Jesus. It may be because of the witness of those first Wise Men that we even know the light at all.

Or we may know of the light because of the stewardship of one individual who himself once fought against the light; a person who was a publicly-proclaimed enemy of the light; a soldier of the princes of darkness; a person who was the least likely of all people to be given “the Stewardship of God’s grace” for our sake and for the sake of the whole world. This unlikely person was Paul-formerly called Saul of Tarsus.

As we hear today, Paul is the one who announces that we who are Gentiles are “fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” Of this Gospel, of this Good News, Paul was made a minister according to God’s grace. And that is the paradox that resides deep within Epiphany: we are made, through Christ, to be both those who bring our gifts to offer him and those who receive the gift of God’s grace to be ministers and stewards of the Gospel ourselves. As Paul himself notes, this grace was given to him, the “very least of all the saints,” so that he might share the “unsearchable riches of Christ” and help all people to know that it is God who creates all things — not we ourselves.

The riches of Christ are indeed unsearchable; and yet we spend so much time searching for them. We search for salvation; we search for wealth; we search for security. We live with the continued delusion that the very meaning of life can be learned. We resist taking up the greater weapon of fidelity to a way of life that transcends understanding. The light Jesus comes to shine in our darkness is the light of Thanksgiving — of Eucheristia, Eucharist, Holy Communion. We are to be stewards of thanks, stewards of Holy Communion — and that makes us stewards and bearers of light, of the light, of the light that shines in the darkness and which the darkness cannot overcome.

One of the focal points of Epiphany is our Baptism. Through Baptism we are, each of us, given gifts by God. The greatest of these gifts are the gifts of God’s Spirit and God’s Grace. We are not all given the same gifts, but all that we have is a gift from God. All of the important things that we have and that we are come from the earth, from each other, and, when all is said and done, from God. The Outline of Faith (the Catechism) found in the Book of Common Prayer says, on page 855, that “according to the gifts given to us we are to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world.” That is, no one is expected to do or give anything more than one has been gifted by God to do or give.

Epiphany seeks to remind us that the life of faith is a life of accepting and acknowledging, of giving thanks for, those gifts God has so freely bestowed upon us and of employing those gifts to continue Christ’s work — the work of reconciliation. Like those Wise Men who came before us, we are those people who search the heavens for signs of hope and reconciliation among all the peoples of earth. We look for shooting traces of light in the darkness that seems so deep. Like Isaiah, we are those people who imagine that one day we shall arise and be radiant lights, and like Paul, come to know that even when we are feeling small and unworthy in the great scheme of God’s grace and glory, the stewardship of God’s grace has been given to us.
It is a gift; the ultimate gift.

And like Paul and the Wise Men before us, we will come to know that gifts only have life and meaning when they are taken, blessed, broken, and shared with others. This is the very heart of the life of Thanksgiving. A life of Eucharist revolves around our fidelity to a way of life that transcends understanding; a life of employing and deploying the gifts we receive to complete Christ’s work in the world and bring to fulfillment the sanctification of all life and all creation.

Because strangers in a far-off country once searched the heavens for a sign, we are here now and know something of the light that can drive away all darkness. Because of the stewardship of one individual, once an avowed enemy of the light, we are here and have been made One Body with the Light. Because of our fidelity to a way of life that transcends understanding, and because of our stewardship of God’s grace and the Good News of God in Christ Jesus, the whole world shall see and be radiant with the Light. The hearts of all people shall thrill and rejoice! If only, as Isaiah and the Wise Men implore us, we would lift up our eyes round about and see!

The unsearchable riches of Christ have been given to us so that we might give them to others, that all persons everywhere might be reconciled one to another; and that the glory of the Lord might shine throughout all the earth.

Amen.

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