A Sermon From All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Briarcliff Manor
Sermon preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck, Rector, on January 16, 2005.
Based on John 1:29-41 (2 Epiphany, Year A).
If you were asked to write down the ten words that best describe you, what would they be? Some of us might include words like lawyer, mother, people person, opera buff, Jets fan. We’re complex. We have many responsibilities and passions that define us. And they evolve over the years. But as you think about your list, and certain words come immediately to mind, do you include the word “Christian?” Is your faith part of your defining identity? This isn’t an exercise in guilt. Just because “book lover” came to mind ahead of “Episcopalian” doesn’t make you a less faithful person. But it’s important to reflect upon our true defining characteristics. Because when you strip everything away, our identity comes down to one thing: we are children of God. That’s who we are. It’s the foundation of our identity. And it’s imperative that we remember this if not always, then certainly on occasion.
I raise this issue as particularly appropriate to think about during this Season after the Epiphany. It’s not a liturgical season that gets much press. It’s usually referred to as “that time between Christmas and Lent.” And indeed that’s what it is — it lasts from January 6th through Ash Wednesday. But it’s important in its own right. The season pays particular attention to and describes various events that manifest the divinity of Jesus. So we get readings about the baptism of Jesus, the first miracle at Cana, and the calling of the disciples, among others. And through these proclamations, we are called to respond to Christ in the living out of our faith.
Another great theme of the season is that Jesus, as the light of the world, was given to all for all time, for the salvation of the world. In other words, that Jesus was made known to both Jew and Gentile and we are challenged to help make Christ known to the world. This morning we heard God proclaim to the prophet Isaiah, “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation will reach the ends of the earth.” We, then as inheritors and stewards of Christ’s gospel are heralds of the Epiphany. We are called upon to make Christ known in the world. Which is no easy task.
This past Sunday night the Adult Education Committee sponsored a forum on spirituality in the workplace. It was a superb panel discussion with fellow parishioners from a variety of professions – the law, teaching, finance, corporate communications, journalism, and the FBI. Aside from fascinating insights into what folks do during the work week, it was a fruitful conversation about the joys and challenges of living out the faith each and every day. It’s not something we can relegate to two hours on a Sunday morning.
Most of us are “citizen soldiers” when it comes to our faith. We have jobs other than Sunday morning. There are deadlines and commitments, phones to answer, children to tend to. In other words there is life to live. We are not cloistered monks or nuns. We don’t have the time to pray as much as we’d like or as much as we should. We have other things we need to do and other things we need to get done. But perhaps a helpful model does come out of the monastic tradition. The Benedictines speak of living life as a prayer. Which doesn’t mean that we walk around on our knees with our eyes closed. But it does mean our lives can be prayerful examples to others of right-living. We can influence others by modeling thoughtful interactions with others. We can treat our fellow pilgrims on this journey of life and faith with the respect and dignity that fellow children of God deserve. Perhaps this is the most powerful witness we can make in our lives. Maybe this is how we can be heralds of the Epiphany in our lives, in our communities and in the world.
We can’t literally drop our nets and quit our jobs to follow Christ. And he doesn’t demand this of us. But the spiritual life must be the guiding force of our lives. We can hold our nets in our hands but our hearts must belong to Christ. The single defining criteria for who we are must be as children of God rather than lawyer or teacher or even priest.
So, to be a herald of the Epiphany doesn’t mean you have to go knock on your neighbor’s door and hand her religious tracts. But it does mean treating that neighbor as yourself. Most of us can’t relate to bringing the gospel to people in far off lands. It’s hard enough just spreading it to our children or maybe even our spouses. But in a very real way we are all heralds of the Epiphany. To be a Christian is to share the peace of Christ with others. Not across the globe necessarily but right here in Westchester County. There are plenty of missionary opportunities and there are many ways to be modern-day heralds of the Epiphany. But it all starts with your true identity as a child of God.
In less than a month we’ll arrive at Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent. And on Ash Wednesday we’ll receive ashes with these words: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” On this day, in this brief season, it is enough to remember that you are a child of God, and to God you shall return.
© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2005