The Sunday after Epiphany
David G. Phillips
Episcopal Church, Summerton South Carolina, Jan. 7 AD 2007
and Holy Baptism of Mary Elizabeth Thurlow
Rom 12.1f Luke
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 passions –
whom 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
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
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.
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]
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
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
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