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Sunday, January 20, 2008

It's the Epiphany Season: LIGHTEN UP!

“Here is the Lamb of God” John 1:29-42
January 20, 2008 – Epiphany II – The Episcopal Church of St. Paul
(the Rev’d) Elizabeth Kaeton

The gospel for this morning is another manifestation of the glory of God in Christ Jesus. That is what this Epiphany Season is all about – how the Light of God has come into a dark and broken world.

This morning’s gospel begins with John the Baptist’s witness to the incarnation. When he sees Jesus coming toward him, he declares, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” It ends with Andrew and Simon Peter being called to serve as disciples. Jesus is named by Andrew as “Messiah” and Jesus renames Peter ‘Cephas’ which means ‘Rock.’

This is very serious stuff, this business of being a disciple of Jesus who is the manifestation of God’s glory. Everything changes – the way you view the world, the work you do, the way you seem to other people, why, even your name changes.

I chuckle now as I think back on my own Confirmation process. I was a very devout Roman Catholic child who was caught up in the fantastic stories of the early Christian martyrs. I think the martyr stories are especially attractive to pre-teens who are consumed with the changes happening to their external and internal bodies. I even took on a ‘Confirmation name’ – something I understand RC kids still do – Stephanie, in honor of St. Stephen, the first martyr.

The nuns used to read us a story about someone being martyred for their faith as a prelude to just about every single event in the church. Whether it was a class or a bus trip to an amusement park or before the start of a league game or a dance, the nuns would huddle us together and tell us an horrific story in graphic detail about the martyrdom of some poor soul to the lions or some other torture.

The telling of the story would end with some pious nun saying sternly, “So, children, now you know how much your faith is worth – how Jesus suffered and died for your sins and how people suffered and died for the faith you have today.

(No one ever just ‘died’ they ‘suffered AND died’. That was such a key element to the story we children would often chime in ‘suffered AND died.’)

The nuns would smile and continue, “Don’t squander the rich heritage of your faith. So, children, there’ll be no foul language or inappropriate behavior on the dance floor. Remember,” sister would say, “Jesus died for your sins, and these martyrs died for your faith. The least you can do is behave like proper ladies and gentlemen.” Wait! Pepetua was tortured, suffered AND died so I could be a proper lady?

Jeesh! Those nuns were a barrel of laughs! Jesus may have been the Light of the world, but they weren’t about to let any of that light shine on them - or, us, for that matter. They were drop-dead serious about being disciples of Jesus. Perhaps this is why I have grown up thinking that one of the best manifestations of the Light of God is humor. Actually, I think there is rich humor at the cross roads of the sacred and the profane.

I’ve never told this story before from the pulpit, but these dark days require the extra courage of humor. I’ve always maintained that laugher in the face of any evil is the best statement of faith. I think this story illustrates my point about humor as an epiphany or manifestation of the glory of God – and how the way in which we view Jesus influences how we see Hm.

(NOTE: The readers of this blog will recognize this story from a few days ago. I decided to take a risk and preach it here in Rebublicanville, where things have been pretty grim these days.)

I was hired as Chaplain at the University of Lowell (MA) in January, ordained Deacon in April and priest in October. Until I was priested, I had to rely on the generosity of local clergy for reserved sacrament in order to provide weekly Eucharist for my students. No one at that time (1986) and in that Diocese was using bread - only wafers.

A friend had been ordained to the priesthood and her family had made the communion bread. There were three consecrated loaves left over and she asked me if I wanted to take them home, which I gladly accepted.My beloved Ms. Conroy, still in recovery from her RC days, was troubled. "That's a lot of bread," she remarked. "How are you going to store it?"

"Oh," I said, "I'll just put it in the freezer." She was horrified. Completely horrified. "YOU CAN'T PUT JESUS IN THE FREEZER" she yelled.

Well, here's one of the first rules of a committed relationship: When your beloved lets you know what will disturb her, especially at the crossroads of the sacred and the profane, you have an absolute obligation to use it to torment her. So, I did.

I brought the consecrated bread home, wrapped it carefully (and in fact lovingly) in several layers of aluminum foil, and put it in the freezer. The next morning, while she was sitting at the kitchen table, drinking her coffee, I opened the refrigerator, and in a high, squeaky voices said, "Barbara. It's me. Jesus. I'm right here behind the chicken and in between the packages of frozen broccoli and peas. Help me. I'm so cold."

Ms. Conroy, thoroughly disgusted, got up, took her coffee and snarled at me as she left the room.The next morning, I did the same thing, much to her disgust. When she left the room she called over her shoulder, "You're going to rot in hell for that."

On the third morning, I did it again, but this time I bumped the torment up a notch. I did my impersonation of a very cold Jesus, ending with, "Barbara, help me. Save me." I opened the freezer door wide and yelled into it, "If you are really the savior, save yourself!"

At which point, Ms. Conroy slapped her hand on the table, got up and took the two loaves of consecrated bread out of the freezer and tucked them under her arm. "Where are you going with that?" I asked.

"To feed the birds!" she replied, adding over her shoulder as she walked out of the room, "I'd rather they ate of the real presence than to have Our Lord go through this!"

We laugh about it now, but she didn't talk to me for a week after that. Yes, we still torment each other. Regularly. Perhaps that's one of the reasons we'll be celebrating our 33rd Anniversary this year.

Jesus is the Light of the world. Yes, that’s a serious vocation – especially in these dark days when the word ‘recession’ hangs heavy in the air. And, feeling the fullness of His presence at the Eucharistic banquet is a holy and sacred moment. We, too, believe that Jesus is fully present in the elements of the Eucharist. That being said, I fear we can take our faith so seriously as to contribute to and, in fact, become part of the darkness.

Jesus is the Light of the world. Jesus is the Lamb of God. But, do remember that Jesus is that-same self ‘Joy to the World’ that we sang just a few weeks ago at Christmas. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had the week from hell this week. Even so, if there is no joy in your life in Christ, something is seriously missing.

It’s the Season of the Epiphany.

So, everybody (myself included): LIGHTEN UP.



doug said...

Well, don't leave us in suspense--how did the congregants respond? Any of them leave for the Southern Cone??

Desert Kat said...

Well, if they did- that's just more for the rest of us.