Tag Archives: Epiphany

Reflections with Pastor Ryan Strebeck: on Mark 1.9-13

Pastor Ryan Strebeck shares “Voices” (16:49).

Find more of Rev. Strebeck’s Sermons: Here

Mark 1:9-13 (NIV)

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

 

Spirituality of the Mundane

In the spiritual life we are prone to sensation.  We love a great story. Yet, we so often loose sight of the ordinary.  For that is where God loves to work the most.  It is a tortoise and the hare thing, I guess.  And in the process of using our spiritual imaginations, we loose sight of our limits. We are often unsure how the Lord uses our imaginations and how our imaginations use the Lord.

I came across this passage today on the spirituality of the mundane.  From Adrian van Kaam, “On Being Involved.”

On the way toward living a spiritual life, I become aware of the relevance of really being with whatever I am doing. To be whole-heartedly with people, nature, and my task fosters spiritual growth.  Not to be there means that I may grow less or not at all.  If I am serenely committed to the task God gives me to do or to the person He allows me to meet, it matters little what engages me.  Even the simplest task assumes a new dimension, a deeper significance. Regardless of its simplicity, each event becomes an encounter with reality, with all being, with the Lord  himself…

At the moment I am no longer simply and wholly with and in the situation, I become split, tense, and broken up.  This is true not only of decisive events, which may fill only a small part of my life, but even more of the innumerable simple, seemingly insignificant actions and meetings that make up most of my days.  The secret of growth, the source of peace, the hidden source of spiritual living entails being dedicated to the humble events which bind my days together.

Epiphany #3: Generosity Makes us Human

Epiphany #1: When God’s Humanity Unlocks Ours

Epiphany #2: In the Jordan River, the Baby is Not Thrown Out with the Bath

Epiphany #3: Generosity Makes us Human

good friend and maturing spiritual master clued me in this year to the depths of Epiphany.  I learned that, during this Christian festival of lights, believers for thousands of years have dwelt upon Jesus’ humanity.  I like that.  There is a sense that we got back permission to be human when God did.

This epiphany prayer introduces three important texts for the festival:

Today the bridegroom claims his bride, the Church, since Christ has washed away her sins in Jordan’s waters; the Magi hasten with their gifts to the royal wedding; and the wedding guests rejoice, for Christ has changed water into wine,  alleluia.

One of the things we know about Jesus but is generally hushed is that he was a party-goer.   He partied in such a way to make the prude religious leaders think he was a glutton and drunkard himself.  But he was simply dipping deep into the wells of human fellowship and pure enjoyment of life.  We could all use with a bit of good partying like Jesus in John 4.  We get this image that Jesus was lounging in the background watching the banquet scene unfold.

The mother in law, after the busiest day of her life realized that they did not order enough wine.  Luckily, they invited the blessed virgin.  She persuaded Jesus to intervene.  After he turned the vats of water into the choicest wine (thanks Jesus!), the master of the banquet makes the point: most folks get the guests drunk off the expensive stuff.  Then they bring out the cheapies when the guests can not tell the difference anymore.  But here Jesus helped the groom out in a big way: Jesus made it look like the groom went way beyond himself to treat his guests. I wonder if Jesus was making a striking point about humanity.  True humanity will lavish good things even on people who will have no idea what you did for them.  True humanity will spend its pocket on wasted gifts and memories that may someday never be remembered at all.

The poor will always be with us.  We give our lives to see their saved selves thrive in a saved world.  But sometimes, dying to self means partying like it is 1999!

Epiphany #2: In the Jordan River, the Baby is Not Thrown Out with the Bath

Read: “Epiphany #1: When God’s Humanity Unlocks Ours”

Epiphany #2: In the Jordan River, the Baby is Not Thrown Out with the Bath

good friend and maturing spiritual master clued me in this year to the depths of Epiphany.  I learned that, during this Christian festival of lights, believers for thousands of years have dwelt upon Jesus’ humanity.  I like that.  There is a sense that we got back permission to be human when God did.

This epiphany prayer introduces three important texts for the festival:

Today the bridegroom claims his bride, the Church, since Christ has washed away her sins in Jordan’s waters; the Magi hasten with their gifts to the royal wedding; and the wedding guests rejoice, for Christ has changed water into wine,  alleluia.

John the Baptist should all make us smile about our wild-haired over-intense moments.  For, it is in the baptism narrative that we find our demons washed away and transformed into a prophetic voice.  And we find the Lord of this earth coming not to destroy but remake us back into his humanity.

Biblical scholar John Pilch suggests that the dessert was a no-man’s land except for animals. Furthermore, because of its inhabitability and the type of beings associated with wilderness, the desert was seen as deviant place to have dwelt, let alone visit.

Jesus visits us in our deviant places and turns us not into pristine puritans but into prophets.   We keep our wild eyed edges.  They become powers that draw others to God and prepare their hearts for God himself.  Our sins are washed away, and this means that God did not throw the baby out with the bath water.  We remain ourselves, only now we can reach our God-given destiny like never before.

And this is possible because Jesus’ dominion would stretch far beyond the Rome of the first century.  We see this in the baptism scene. The fact that the dove shows up as an actual bird (see Luke 3.22-23) on the borders of the wilderness tells us  a lot about God’s view of our humanity.   Not only do we have a Lord of this world and of the universe, a Lord that finds this creation good and worth his time. We have a Lord who spends the extent of his time and energy calling out the best in us so that He can breathe again the breath of life into our wearied bodies.  For the chosen one has come to us: “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.”

On Epiphany: When God’s Humanity Unlocks Ours

A good friend and maturing spiritual master clued me in this year to the depths of Epiphany.  I learned that, during this Christian festival of lights, believers for thousands of years have dwelt upon Jesus’ humanity.  I like that.  There is a sense that we got back permission to be human when God did it.

This epiphany prayer introduces three important texts for the festival:

Today the bridegroom claims his bride, the Church,
since Christ has washed away her sins in Jordan’s waters; the Magi hasten with their gifts to the royal wedding; and the wedding guests rejoice, for Christ has changed water into wine,  alleluia.

The magi tell us something profound about the nature of our humanity.  Have you ever met a religious person who lives a life so beyond this world that you don’t know whether to revere or pity them?  I am not so afraid of raw human pride.  But when you mix it with religion, the results get explosive and often violent.

This is why the author of Matthew foils so starkly the comparison between Herod– the religiously sanctioned King of Israel– and these faithful magi from the east.  At its most simple level, the point is that Jesus is King to all the world.  But we must dig deeper and ask some hard questions.  After all, these non-Christians followed a star and were actually right about it.  Their astrology worked.  This should unsettle the average Christian.

We must also ask: what kind of humans were these who considered bowing their dignity low before a baby hundreds of miles from their kingdom?  These are certainly as much unlike Herod as possible, who could not travel 6 miles and discover the creator made flesh on earth. When he did, he sent his force to kill the babe.   Well, we can learn a lot from the magi, who were not fueled by their projects.  They were drawn on by hope.  They not only knew but gave themselves to their destiny, which was utterly tied with the cosmos.  And as they brought gifts from the earth to the swaddled baby, they knew that they must consider worthless their royalty or status if they were to gain the worth of human dignity they found on their knees before their maker, even if they knew him not.

Epiphany is about breakthroughs.  But these moments of aha insight don’t take us into space.  They ground us further into our humanity.  When our deepest religious epiphanies come, we are taken beyond our selves and often asked to give up our most cherished titles.  Yet, we always come back to our awkward, feeble tongued, issue filled lives, which depend on the earth as much as we toil upon it.  Still, somehow we are just a little bit more ourselves and a pinch more the type of humans we always wanted to be in the first place.

 

 

On Transformation and Transcendence

We cannot deny humanity’s constant search for something more, the stretching after our best selves, nor our consistent reactions to what feels most dissonant and most consonant in life.  This is what many have called, “transcendent formation.”  For Father Adrian van Kaam, it is the “art and discipline of living the good life.” It is our human response to forces and longings embedded deep within us. And in an age where authenticity acts as a crowning standard for the good life, we have a lot of good and bad people wondering about their lives.  Have I remained faithful to myself and others?  Am I the person I thought I would be?   What great questions.  They are the heart of transformation.

No matter who you are or what you believe– whether you know it or not–, this process of transcendence is always preparing you for transformation.  We express it in the clothes we wear, in the styles we try to create, in the projects we love to build.   Ancient wisdom tries to let us know two things.  1. We cannot force or deny transformation.  Living exclusively in either extreme is a sickness.  And 2. many of our life issues happen when we get overly attached to anything less than creator of the universe.  If who we are or what we want to become is out of sync with the nature of this Being, the universe will create for us first dissonance and then crisis.  At the most objective level, it is the universe magnetically pulling on our will to love.  It is the Mystery of this life unfolding our destinies changing us into manifestations of its love, peace, and joy.

1. Quote from Father Adrian found in his book on  Transcendent Formation, pp.1.