A number of years ago a young fellow I know came home from school on his 16th birthday carrying all his text books. He went to the trash can, kicked it open and dropped all the books into it. Then he announced to his parents his schooling days were over. Legally he could leave school – he was never going back, it was a waste of time. Needless to say there was a family discussion with a lot of shouting. In the end he won out. His mother and father could not convince him of his need to finish high school
For the next couple of years he worked at a number of Joe jobs. He didn’t make enough to pay a reasonable rent. One job, in a warehouse, lasted for a year and a half. One day during lunch break he looked around at men much older than himself. He looked at them, good men all, and it dawned on him, this is my future. Many of his high school friends had gone on to college or university; he was still working in a warehouse.
He got up, walked into the office and told his boss he was quitting. Then he went up to the Finch Campus of Seneca College and asked to see a student counselor. Hours later when he left the counselor’s office he had a whole course of studies lined up and he started classes the next day. Of course he went home from Seneca and asked his mother and father why they didn’t make him stay in high school. It was their entire fault.
On that day, on that lunch break, in that warehouse this young man had an epiphany – an insight, a revelation about himself and the value of education for him. He’s never looked back.
Today we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany – the feast of the Maritimers because as Matthew tells us, the wise ones came from the East.
As you’ve heard before, the communities for whom Matthew wrote his gospel were basically Jewish men and women who believed Jesus was the Messiah. They were seen by family and friends as traitors to their ancient faith. They were persecuted for their faith. As these communities grew and as the teaching of Jesus spread from country to country, non Jews came to believe in Jesus and became members of the community. For many Jewish Christians this was a problem. They, the Jews, were God’s people. Time and time again they read in their scriptures, “I will be your God and you will be My people.” They believed this promise was for themselves alone. They resented these Gentiles, these intruders. Years after the death and resurrection of Jesus these communities had their epiphany, their insight into the mercy and love of God. That epiphany is described in the story of these holy and searching strangers from the east, looking for this new born king of the Jews, wanting to pay him homage. They represented all those non Jews who searched for the life and the love of God, made visible in Jesus the Christ and experienced in these Christian communities.
This epiphany that God’s love embraced all people spread throughout the Christian communities everywhere. St. Peter, after his encounter with the Roman Cornelius, expressed it when he wrote, “the truth I have come to realize is this, that any person of any nationality who does what is right, is acceptable to God.’ In one of the earliest pieces of scripture we have, Paul’s letter to the Christian community of Ephesus, we read his way of expressing this epiphany, “in former generations, namely, in our past history, this mystery was not made known to humanity as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that is, the Gentiles, all non Jews, have become fellow heirs, members of the same body and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” – through the telling of the good news.
This insight, this revelation that God’s love embraces any person of any nationality is an insight Christian communities often lost sight of throughout history. Outside the church there is no salvation – which church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Churches, the Anglican Church, and the Protestant Churches. We have a sad history of religious wars, of forced conversions. We have failed to see the faith, love and goodness that vitalize non Christian religions. Thank God, in our time, we are more in touch with the real meaning of this feast of the epiphany – that any person of any nationality, who does what is right, is acceptable to God.
The tragic example of the Taliban and their fanatic, limited understanding of Islam and the teachings of the Prophet show the world how disastrous and evil religious fanaticism can become. But throughout our own history we’ve had our own versions of the Taliban.
Prejudices such as racism, sexism, homophobia, are proofs that as an individual or as a community we still need an epiphany – an embracing of the truth that we are all brothers and sisters before God, that any person of any nationality who does what is right is acceptable to God.
I’ve mentioned before that this ‘green church’ is meant to make green people. We all need an epiphany that opens our minds and hearts to the truth – earth does not belong to us, we belong to the earth and what we do to the earth we do to ourselves. In the book of Genesis and the story of Noah and the ark we read that when the flood subsided and Noah stood once again on solid ground, God showed him a rainbow in the sky and told Noah, “Here is the sign of the covenant I make between myself and you and every living creature to be found with you for all generations to come. I set my bow in the sky and it will be sign of the Covenant between me and the earth.” This is an ancient covenant the human family has failed to keep. Every day we read in the papers or hear on TV of the crisis conditions which our life styles, our consumerism, our wastefulness have inflicted on the planet. As members of the human family we need an epiphany, an awakening, which brings us to a critical mass of consciousness which convinces us of our need to change if the planet is to be healed.
As we continue to celebrate this great feast may we be blessed to enter into the wonder of this epiphany which teaches that God’s love and salvation are for all people – that any person of any nationality who does what is right is acceptable to God – and should be acceptable to us. May we be blessed with an epiphany that helps us understand our oneness with all God’s creation and live our rainbow covenant with the earth community with deep respect for all God’s good creation.