The Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany
February 17, 2019
Lord, lead us ever deeper into the mystery of thy life and our own; so that in this hour, at this time, and in this place, God’s word may be spoken; and God’s word only may be heard. Amen.
The task of the preacher on any occasion is to proclaim the good news of God in Jesus Christ. This morning is the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany in the church calendar and lectionary. Furthermore, this is a time not only for all of us to start thinking seriously about the direction our lives are heading, and what the purpose of our earthly existence is about, but to consider where the Church of Jesus Christ is going as it meanders and journeys along the path of what our Presiding Bishop calls the ‘Jesus Movement.’ Where are the signposts? Where are the maps? Where are we heading, and what does it all mean? In addition, for those of us affiliated with this organization located here at the corner of Willey and Spruce Streets - how does this entity called ‘Trinity Church’ fit into the picture?
Well, consider this:
When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:1-12)
This excerpt from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians both aptly and precisely describes my own feelings when I arrived here last fall as Priest-In-Charge. “I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling.” In case you’ve forgotten, last October and November Morgantown, indeed all of West Virginia, was experiencing the aftermath of a state-wide teachers strike; and the country was caught up with demonstrations over immigration, border crossings, and zero-tolerance policies affecting forced separation of children from their parents. At the same time, more happily; the WVU football team was on a red-hot winning streak, hoping to secure a coveted bowl bid, and perhaps even achieve a top-5 national ranking.
Well what happened?
You know because you were here and you lived through it. Things changed! – and not always the way you thought they would. Presumably things will change again … and again … and again. And I’m not just talking about new football coaches, or school closings, or sports play-offs. I’m referring to the basic, inexorable – and surprising – reality that life goes on … and change is inevitable. Here’s a personal case-in-point, by way of example.
Just over a decade ago when I was serving a church on Philadelphia’s Main Line, I was asked to participate in the annual local high school Career Day. The high school has a reputation for being one of the best in the country, and they are quite proud of the accomplishments of their graduates over the years; alumni ranging from Lawrence Summers, former president of Harvard and later Secretary of the Treasury…to Kobe Bryant, basketball superstar. So with all that in mind I was delighted, and frankly a little bit surprised, that they asked me, an Episcopal priest, to come and represent what a religious career was like; especially since the community was predominantly Jewish, and still is; in fact it’s the 2nd largest orthodox Jewish neighborhood in America next to New York City. Regardless of the demographics, I was upbeat and looked forward to the challenge. I was told to report early in the morning for coffee and donuts, and then to participate in an orientation for the day.
That’s when I sensed things were going to be quite a bit different from what I had originally anticipated. We were urged to join the hundreds of teen-agers in the high school auditorium, mostly juniors and seniors, as they were presented with some jolting information about careers in the 21st century. We all watched a career documentary film, and I was given the same hand-out that the students received. I admit I was somewhat stunned to read the following; the handout said…
The world in which today’s young people are coming of age includes these astounding realities: worldwide, the amount of technological information available doubles every two years; fiber optics telephone lines can transmit 150 million simultaneous phone calls around the world, and every six months that number triples. More than six billion cell phone text messages are generated every day. Internet users initiate 2.7 billion Google searches per month. College graduates in 2006 included 1.3 million graduates in the U.S., 3.1 million graduates in India, and 3.6 million graduates in China. In 10 years (by 2016) it was predicted the Number-1 English-speaking country would be…. China. REALLY? (The handout then went on to say)… We are currently preparing students for jobs and technologies that do not yet exist, in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.
We are currently preparing students for jobs and technologies that do not yet exist, in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.
Well, I can’t speak for you; but that captured my attention…because the handout, apparently, got it all wrong – at the same time it got it all right. All the career information offered may well have been true at the time, and even though it was written a dozen years ago in a very different cultural context, it didn’t turn out exactly as predicted, and I am perplexed to know what to do about that.
Personally, in the face of a broken world, let alone a world with the prospects of facing an uncertain career path, I would have liked to have drawn upon the sacred and ecclesiastical writings that in the past have offered some assurance and comfort; but the truth is, there is not a whole lot of encouragement to be found in dispensational literature, or even in those buoyant writings like Robert Browning’s, who stated that ‘God’s in his heaven, and all’s right with the world.’ In fact, just the opposite appears in Scripture. The Bible suggests that life will continue to pose challenges, and we are advised to be spiritually tough-minded and morally-strong so we can deal and cope with adversity.
OK. Fair enough. But where do we go from here with this sobering warning; particularly since we are facing some major changes in our religious life very shortly, at this very place, right here at Trinity Church? The truth is; religiously, philosophically, existentially, and realistically, we are in a brave new world, and we’ve never had to face before many of the issues confronting us now. As I was warned to expect years ago at the Career Day…this year in 2019 we are seeking solutions to problems that we just discovered and didn’t acknowledge or even know about until just last week. That’s a little scary.
However, as I’ve been reminded by several of you who have been here for quite awhile, and lived a goodly portion of life contemplating ‘the vast expanse of interstellar space… this fragile earth, our island home’ (to quote our Prayerbook), it’s important that we not become overwhelmed by the “problems” that confront us. Rather we should see them as opportunities and challenges. That makes good sense. But caution – there may still be some booby-traps out there.
Consequently, as we play out our destiny in light of our Annual Meeting that met last Sunday, I urge everyone to be prepared for changes ahead. I hope there will not be too many surprises, though inevitably there will be difficult decisions and choices to make as we work through the implications of the unknown future we face.
And second, I would encourage everyone to draw upon the traditional spiritual resources we DO have available to us, even though they are old-fashioned and maybe at times feel outdated. As Episcopalians, ours’ is actually a glorious heritage of worship, prayer, music, art, pastoral care, outreach to neighbors, visitation of the sick, feeding of the hungry… and we are uniquely trying to keep-open the church’s doors to “welcome the stranger.” Those are our traditional core values. In other words, we have an identity. Let’s keep doing what we are called to do, let’s do it faithfully, let’s do it showing good cheer, and let’s be witnesses to Christ evidencing our good spirit.
If we are faithful in our initiatives, God will reward us in kind. If we’re not faithful, we’re doomed. Remember St. Paul said quite perceptively in his declaration to the Corinthians:
My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.
Faith depends on that which is basic, deep, and spiritual: not on our own intelligence or abilities. Faith relies on the power of God. And we ask all this ….
In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. AMEN
CREDITS: available on request.