Sermon: 5th January 2020

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Epiphany!

St Andrew’s Scots Kirk, Colombo
Isaiah 60. 1-9     Matthew 2.1-12

Wise Men Gifts

Prayer: May the words of my mouth and the mediations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, our Rock and our Redeemer.

And Nations shall come to your light,

and kings to the brightness of your rising.” Isaiah 60:3

The early Christians were really confident, impudent enough to claim that the coming of Christ Jesus was for everybody, everywhere, for all time.

In the story of the coming of the wise ones (Eastern astrologers) to Bethlehem, they saw a declaration of the breadth of Christ’s kingdom. This birth was not just a minor incident in an insignificant little nation, but a happening of cosmic relevance. It was a revelation; an epiphany.  We mark this event in church w’wide today.

They believed that in Christ God was breaking down the barriers of race and social distinctions and was superseding all other religions. This was indeed an impudent claim.

Jesus, a prophet of brief activity from an outpost of the huge Roman Empire, was held up as the Saviour and Lord of all, was a pathetic joke to both cultured Roman and Greek. But the Christians went on impudently proclaiming this message no matter how often they were mocked, thrown out of town, or imprisoned and executed.

Theirs was an epiphany gospel. Epiphany is a Greek word used chiefly for the unveiling of a God to the eyes of human beings. It is the event of revelation.

Sometimes those first Christians expressed their glorious, impudent, epiphany gospel with plain words as St Paul used: “We have seen the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”.

 Also, some of those early Christians simply told the story of the wise men coming to visit the infant king. It was part of the unveiling of Christ, as the Saviour of the world.

Remember I said two weeks ago that Matthew was writing to convince the Jewish community and so had to show Jesus emerging from the context of the Old Testament.  Remember the words Savithri read from the prophet Isaiah who looked forward to a time when the light of the Presence of God would shine forth from Jerusalem, and Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising……….. And they shall bring gold and frankincense and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.”

How does that impudent message sit with the present era?

Hasn’t the scenery changed?

Sri Lanka is a multi-religious country where many options are in the market – Hindu temples and the mosques of Islam, churches alongside numerous Buddhist temples.

These days there is considerable pressure on Christianity to drop its impudent claims about Jesus Christ as Saviour of the world. We are pressured to stop proclaiming that in Christ God has done something unique for all humanity.

Much of this comes from folk of considerable education and goodwill.  We are told that the community can no longer tolerate a religion that makes exclusive claims about its founder. Such claims are divisive. Our world, they tell us, is weary of all bigotry, divisions and religious conflicts.

So Christianity is advised to file down its sharp edges, confess itself as just another religion, and see its Messiah as just one religious teacher alongside many others.

There is a plea for a less evangelistic emphasis.  Some reckon the best thing we can do for the world, is to stop beating our own drum and get together with other religions to play a common tune. A merging of religions.

Others don’t mind us existing, along with other faiths. They like the idea of plurality. They merely ask us to accept the relativity of all religions. To go about our business quietly, being there for those who like our brand.

Well what do we make of this?    Mmm, let’s agree to the call for increased religious tolerance.

By all means, make every effort to really listen to other religions, seeking the good in them rather than the nastiness which sometimes comes to the surface. We would not want Moslems or Hindus to judge Christianity by extremists like militant Irish whether Protestants or Catholics, so why should we judge them by their extremists? Let us not talk with the religious louts. Let us look for the highest, not the lowest.

Maybe God does have some particular words to speak to us from other religions. Maybe we would benefit from allowing Islam to challenge us with their regular prayer and sense of the awesome, holy oneness of God.  Maybe we should let the Hindus remind us that God is literally to be found everywhere in creation.  Perhaps we should heed the warnings from the Buddhist about the danger of bondage to desire. Maybe we should allow the aboriginal people of this land recall us to the truth that existence is spiritual and the good things of earth and meant for sharing.

Maybe we should hear the Jews more readily when they insist that it is an ethical God who reigns in human history and that one goal is to serve the world – Do you know that with a population smaller than Sri Lanka’s 0.2 of the world’s population they have achieved 20% of all the Nobel prizes ever awarded. Religion can be a positive force for good.

I believe ours is an era when God is calling us to understand other religions, especially the international faiths that have stood the test of ages. We should respect them and treasure all that is good in them. Maybe God has a word to say to us through them, a word which we have long forgotten, or stubbornly spurned.

At the same time let us be true to our faith. Neither undersell Christianity nor soften its edges. God has spoken a unique word to us in Christ Jesus and it is our privilege to share that word. Jesus Christ  is our joy and light.

Lets us have the Buddhists and the Hindus and the Jews frankly witness to us concerning their faith.  In fact, I would not respect any other believer who did not express their faith in a forthright way.

In the same way, I must be forthright with my friends of other religions. I must share my faith gladly and frankly. We are welcoming our friends from the Bohra Mosque on the 19 January and we will tell them our story and of our faith and from previous experience that will be respected.

Then God, can use my Christian witness, along with whatever God chooses to use from other religions, to accomplish the beautiful purposes that are unfolding for humanity.

 With due respect for other views and other religions, I believe the world still needs us to carry on with that impudence of the early apostles: Christ Jesus has a universal relevance. Let this be said clearly, let it be lived wholeheartedly:

“They saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshipped him.”   Matthew 2:11

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