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The Sunday after Epiphany

David G. Phillips

St. Matthias Episcopal Church, Summerton South Carolina, Jan. 7 AD 2007

Holy Communion and Holy Baptism of Mary Elizabeth Thurlow

Rom 12.1f     Luke 2:41f

 

Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind

That ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.

 

This morning, Mary Elizabeth Thurlow has been baptized – she has been made a member of Christ, an inheritor of the Kingdom of heaven.  She has received Christ through a simple trust in the faith of her parents and the Church – she has been born today as that great Christmas gospel describes it, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. [John 1:17]

 

She has been born of God…but who is God?

It is hard for us to lift our minds up to God who is without body, parts or passionswhom no man hath ever seen.  And it is hard to lift our minds up to God not only because God is so beyond us but because we are so absorbed by the world around us and its cares and tribulations.  And so God in his great mercy has come to dwell where we are looking – only in the world – and appears among us in the world, in the flesh in Jesus Christ.

 

We find it easier to begin to know God and to adore God as we look to the child in a manger – heralded by miraculous signs, and yet one who can begin to be understood by every one of us – we can all love an infant, a poor child, born to poor parents, in a lowly stable, so fragile, and yet, the ultimate sign of hope in our midst.

 

In this time of the Church year, we first know Jesus as an infant at Christmas, and then in Epiphany season we follow him as he grows up and then fulfills his adult ministry.  Epiphany means “manifestation.”  We see Jesus being revealed more and more fully for who He is Sunday by Sunday.  First we come to know that he is the perfect man, and then in time, we come to know Jesus, no longer according to the flesh - as perfect God.  As Christians, with our minds fixed on Jesus he leads us to the Father.  Then we know the God of whom Mary Elizabeth has been born again today.

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What about this morning?  What is being revealed to us about Jesus?

 

Our Gospel this morning recalls the only story that we have in the Bible of Jesus between his infancy and adulthood – it is Jesus as a twelve year old still under the authority of his parents.  We can imagine that this Gospel account is Mary’s recollections to Luke of this significant moment – Luke says, his mother kept all these sayings in her heart.

 

We learn that Mary and Joseph followed the yearly requirement under the law of Moses to celebrate the feast of the Passover in Jerusalem.  The Gospel says Jesus was twelve – the age of discernment, the age of passing from childhood into manhood, when a person begins to be held responsible for their actions.  It is why we have confirmation at around this age.

 

When Jesus’ parents left Jerusalem, in large parties of relatives and friends, they assumed Jesus was with them.  They discover part way home he is missing and return to Jerusalem frantically to search him out and finally after three days (!) find him in the Temple – sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.  And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.  Jesus’ response to his frantic parents is, How is it that ye sought me? Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?

 

This Gospel reveals Jesus as knowing Himself to be the Son of God, the only Son of His Father in heaven (I must be about my Father’s business) and the Gospel shows Jesus as the son of his earthly parents – of the flesh of the Virgin Mary and of Joseph by adoption – since he returned to Nazareth with them and submitted himself to them.  But Jesus also understands that it is the business of His heavenly Father to attend to the teaching of wisdom to the wise in God’s temple – in His gravitating towards the temple for this purpose He shows himself to be the Wisdom of God.  In Proverbs, the Wisdom of God says this:

Now my sons listen to me; blessed are those who keep my ways.  Listen to my instruction and be wise; do not ignore it.  Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway.  For whoever find me finds life and receives favour from the Lord. [Prov. 8:33-35]

Something that will remain a mystery for us is how much of the wise answers Jesus gave are to be attributed to his being God and how much of his wise answers can simply be attributed to having a pure and sinless human soul – that ever kept in perfect harmony an eye to the world and an eye towards heaven.

 

As we grow up, our vision of God, of wisdom and understanding, is skewed by our sin: by our pride; our petty jealousies; by our inappropriate response to those who sin against us; by our failure to forgive; by an excessive love of earthly things.  And because of falling into these sins, we hide ourselves from God.  How can we be wise, be full of understanding, when we hide ourselves from God who is Wisdom?  Jesus, without sin, had no such baggage.  Jesus as a boy, could reveal deep understanding and give perfect answers to the doctors in the Temple.  His earthly soul reflected to others the wisdom of heaven. 

 

And because of His pure and sinless soul, Jesus also knew exactly His heavenly Father's will when he chose to stay behind from His family and return to the Temple for those three days.  Despite it being an apparent act of disobedience to his earthly parents – his heavenly Father wanted Jesus  to do this that he might bear witness to all generations that it is the LORD that giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding. [Prov. 2:6]

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In today’s Epistle, St. Paul calls on Mary Elizabeth and each one of us to be like Jesus, proving what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God in every circumstance.  How does this come about?

 

St. Paul begins, I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God…

Everything begins with depending upon, and being sustained by, the mercies of God.  Today Mary Elizabeth, like each of us who are baptized, has been washed in the blood of Jesus.  We have all been cleansed of the fault and corruption which we inherited and so, by the mercies of God, we may begin to grow in wisdom.

 

St. Paul continues, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.

Since God is holy we must be holy to be like him.  And if we are more like him, more holy, we become at the same time wiser, filled with understanding.

 

We cannot get around this somehow, we could be the smartest of academic scholars and yet if we are not following in obedience the commands of Christ and humbling ourselves under God, we will know nothing of wisdom, of true understanding.  The simple proof of this is that when Jesus later became a man, the greatest teachers in Israel, the Pharisees and Scribes, could not even recognize the Messiah in their midst.  Rather than falling at His feet in worship and adoration and listening to every word that came out of his mouth, they sought instead to have Jesus put to death.  The Gospel tells us elsewhere, the great sins, blinding their vision to seeing the holy One in their midst, were pride and envy.  But it is only the pure in heart who shall see God, who shall know wisdom.

 

Holiness of life cannot be separated from wisdom and understanding – any more than the Holiness of God can be separated from the Wisdom of God, for God is One.

 

Be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.

Turning away from conformity to this world and towards obedience to Christ brings about a renewal of our minds.  [It may even lead Mary Elizabeth in future to disobey her earthly parents sometimes, to be obedient to her heavenly Father.  It is the task of parents to be discerning of the source of their child's disobedience.]

 

The more we live holy lives, the more we will begin to see Jesus daily in the temple that is our souls teaching us – and we will be astonished at his understanding and answers.  [see Gregory the Great on contemplation]

 

This morning we will now prepare ourselves for Holy Communion.  Let us ask the Spirit of Jesus to reveal to our minds even now those obstacles to a clearer vision of God – our sins which so easily beset us.  Let us confess them, trust in the perfect forgiveness Jesus offers and the cleansing he pours out on us in the Sacrament.  Then, let us pledge ourselves, our souls and bodies to be reasonable, holy and living sacrifices acceptable to God and we will prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.

O Lord, we beseech thee mercifully to receive the prayers of thy people who call upon thee; and grant that Mary Elizabeth, and each one of us, may both perceive and know what things we ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfill the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.  [Collect for Epiphany 1]

 

 

 

 

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