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Meditations, Reflections, Bible Studies, and Sermons from Kowloon Union Church  

Epiphany, Justice and Unity

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 27 January 2019, third Sunday after Epiphany, by Rev. Ole Madsen. The scripture readings that day were 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a, Luke 4:14-21


Dear sisters and brothers in Christ Jesus,

We are still in the Epiphany Season, and thus we read our texts for to day with the glasses of Epiphany. But we also read our texts with glasses of our longing for Christian Unity and for justice – because we have just ended the ecumenical week of prayer for Christian Unity.

The word Epiphany comes from Greek epiphaínō, which means I appear, display or “I shine upon”. The word signifies the revelation of God’s glory in Christ, that is the manifestation of God’s presence to us in Christ.

Glory means splendor or brightness, the light that comes from an object so that we realize its presence or existence, e.g. the brightness of the moon, sun, and stars. The word indicates splendor due to majesty or other kinds of magnificence, excellence, dignity, and grace.

At the feast of Epiphany, we celebrate three manifestations of God’s glory in Christ.

Firstly, His glory was made manifest to the heathen magicians or wise men through the apparition of a unique star that guided them to Bethlehem to find the new-born king, the saviour of humankind, and restorer of creation.

Secondly, Christ’s glory was made manifest at his baptism in the river Jordan by John the Baptist. As the voice of God proclaimed, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

The third manifestation was the changing of water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana in Galilee. John concludes the account thus: “What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.”

Today we meet Jesus in the time after his baptism. He is beginning his ministry. After his baptism Jesus went out into the desert to meet God his Father in fasting, prayer and bible study. When he had been strengthened by prayer and fasting the Devil approaches him to challenge him to take a shortcut to success in his ministry. But Jesus does not follow the suggestions from the Devil, because all the Devil’s ways were injustice. Justice is following God’s way, injustice is to make oneself a god – cheating others by fake miracles, exercising vain power, making oneself great at the cost of others through wealth, fame and might. This was not the way he had chosen for himself at his baptism: At his baptism He identified himself with all those who were longing for salvation, because they were oppressed by the burden of sin and alienation from God. He wanted to manifest God’s way among the oppressed. Justice is to walk rightly with God, it’s right relations to God and humans. He himself was God present to us in human flesh and blood.

Jesus began to teach all over Galilee. He started to proclaim and manifest God’s kingdom.

This revealing of God’s glory or presence in Christ sets everything aright in creation, among humans, and first of all in our relationship with God. God’s presence in Christ is revealed in such a way that creation is fulfilled according to its original pattern, i.e. that every created being fulfils its purpose in serving others. At a personal or individual level this is experienced when Christ restores our original nature, freeing us from the power of original sin. When our original nature is restored, Christ lives in us, and this spills over into our relationship with one another, as we recognize Christ in the others. This form the basis for fellowship, the sister-brotherhood of all humans, and it sets us free to serve other humans, nature and our fellow earthly creatures in love. This will lead to the consummation of all things in Christ’s unity with his Father.

This Jesus explains in the synagogue of Nazareth. He has been anointed with the Holy Spirit to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to captives, to bring healing to those suffering from any ailment or from being outcasts or marginalised or being oppressed by those in power or by demonic forces.

He proclaims the year of favour to all people. The year of favour was according to the Torah, the mosaic law, every 50th year (Leviticus 25). This was a year of justice, e.g. if anyone out of need had sold himself to be a slave, he would regain his freedom this year. Relationships were healed, so that the people might be one holy people of God. The year of jubilee or of God’s favour exemplified the intentions of God with humankind:” to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6,8).

The church is meant to be an example of God’s intentions with humankind. The Christian fellowship is the body of Christ. This is what St. Paul is describing in today’s epistle. We are different, have different abilities and different spiritual gifts, but though we are many we are nevertheless one body. No one is more a part of Christ’s body than another. All are of equal importance. Everyone is indispensable for the upbuilding of the fellowship. This is a fellowship marked by justice as we walk with our God and our brothers and sister in right relationships. When the Christian fellowship is characterised by our love for one another, this is the cause of hope for the surrounding society. In a way the Church is called to be a prophetic word to the world demonstrating an alternative to exploitation and self-interest, challenging power structures, corruption and oppressive patterns of behaviour in society and in culture.

When the Church is divided or torn apart – often for very secular reasons, this is a counter-prophetic message. “Sometimes Churches are separated along ethnic lines, and some may wound the unity of the Church by regarding themselves as sole guardians of the truth. There are those who are excluded and pushed to the margins.” (From the program of the Prayer Week). That’s why we pray for Christian unity. “God transcends the boundaries of ethnicity, culture, and race.” In Christ God identified with the outcast and oppressed, and he invited them into his fellowship, and calls us to do the same.

As we pray for Christian unity we also pray for the world – even for those in power and for those who persecute Christians and other people of faith, because this is just, “right and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator, Christ Jesus who gave himself as ransom for all.” (1 Timothy 2:-5 in extract).

As we follow Jesus, we learn from his compassion for humans in need that also we should care for the needs of the world around us. We are not isolated islands in the sea. As Christ out of love became the God incarnate in human life thus we should be living members of our world – not just observing the destructive patterns of life but engaging ourselves in creating patterns of trust, peace and justice. We cannot help being moved as we witness how creation and humans suffer from injustice and abuse. Some injustices are due to complicated social, economic, political and societal structures and patterns, some are due to the behaviour of individuals. Often we feel helpless face to face with these injustices. Often we would like to revolt. Resistance is often in order, and prophetic protest is important. But what we shouldn’t forget is that even as we suffer under injustices or fight them, we shouldn’t imagine others as enemies. Jesus teaches us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. A changed attitude towards evildoers may be the first step to alter unjust patterns and to change an adversary. Praying for people will change our own attitude, and maybe we’ll begin to see that the evildoer is created in God’s image like ourselves; he or she is also created to be a follower of Christ. Our strongest weapon against injustice and evil is that we ourselves live in right relations to God and others, and that the Christian church moves towards that unity in Christ for which Christ prayed in the night in which he was betrayed (John 17): 20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

And thus the epiphany will be fulfilled: God’s glory and presence in Christ spills over into the world to bring together in unity what was put asunder because of our sin. As he was anointed with the Holy Spirit, he baptises us with God’s Spirit to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to captives, to bring healing to those suffering from any ailment or from being outcasts or marginalised or being oppressed by those in power or by demonic forces – and to start living out of the eternal year of God’s favour.

Glory be to God Father, Son and Holy Spirit
as it was in the beginning, now is and ever shall be
world without end. Amen

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, January 27, 2019

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