Thursday, January 06, 2011

The Feast of Inclusion

Thursday, January 6, 2011 -- The Epiphany of our Lord Jesus Christ
 
To read about our daily commemorations, go to our Holy Women, Holy Men blog:
http://liturgyandmusic.wordpress.com/category/holy-women-holy-men/

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 942)
Psalms 46, 97 (morning)       96, 100 (evening)
Isaiah 52:7-10
Revelation 21:22-27
Matthew 12:14-21

Epiphany is the feast of inclusion. 

In much of scripture, the Gentiles, or the other nations and tribes, are treated with disinterest at best.  The teachings did make exception for the "aliens who live among you," the foreigners who actually dwelt among the Jews in Israel.  The Torah taught God's people to give the same rights and the same respect for the aliens living within Israel as for the Israelites themselves.  But throughout much of the rest of Hebrew scripture, the Gentiles are either ignored or chastised.  The Gentiles are often regarded as the unclean followers of idols, or they are the enemy.  The Gentiles are seen a source of defilement or a threat to be defeated.

Much of the Biblical story is a tribal story.  It tells of a people who had separate laws, customs, religion, bloodlines, villages, and national boundaries.  It speaks of God's care for them and God's call to them.  The others, the Gentiles, are those who do not know God or who follow cursed idols.  They are excluded from the tribal blessing and frequently are regarded as mere enemies.  Through much of the story of Israel, there is a profound separation from and animosity toward Gentiles.

Yet there is another strain in the Hebrew scripture, another tradition.  The book of Ruth tells the story of an upright and righteous Moabite woman who becomes the ancestor of David.  That story was written in a time of strong nationalism, during the ethnic cleansing carried out by Ezra and Nehemiah.  The book of Ruth functioned something like protest literature, a story of a righteous foreigner in an era when the authorities were expelling them.

And the book of the prophet Isaiah insists that God intends blessing upon the Gentiles through Israel.  The prophet is elaborating on the call of Abraham, of course.  When God blessed Abraham, God called his people be a blessing to all the earth, to all nations -- a blessing to the Gentiles.  Isaiah reclaims that high vision and imagines the full redemption of Israel and Jerusalem to be an international event, provoking universal peace and salvation.

Jesus himself treated the Gentiles with the same care and compassion that he treated his own people.  He gave to foreigners the same healings and feedings and teachings that he offered to his own people.  His generosity and friendship toward Gentiles often scandalized even his own disciples, and was a source of the complaints against him that helped provoke his crucifixion -- "he associates with tax collectors and sinners."

The early church inherited this generous tradition toward those of another faith, nationality, race or culture.  Early on, we see the church extending welcome to Gentiles, inviting them into the Christian fellowship without the necessity of their becoming Jews.  We see the story of the Holy Family welcoming aliens and strangers to their home with their child Jesus.  Wise Men from the east, whose study of the stars probably had religious significance to them, bring gifts and are gratefully received by Mary and Joseph.  They then depart to their own country.  They don't become Jews.  They don't become Christians.  They return to their home and their religious traditions, having established a holy relationship of homage and respect with the Family of God.

On the Feast of the Epiphany, the Church declares the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, to the world.  We proclaim that the Gentiles are included.  God's love poured out through the incarnation is a blessing for the whole world, not just the tribe of Israel or the tribe of Christians.  In Jesus, the definition of neighbor is expanded universally.  My neighbor is anybody, especially anybody in need.

No more tribalism.  No more monopoly of God.  No more exclusion or prejudice.  God intends blessing upon the whole world, upon all humanity.  If we are to be the Body of Christ, we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves, to love others as Christ has loved. 

The First Sunday after the Epiphany is the Feast of the Baptism.  In our Baptismal Covenant we promise to "respect the dignity of every human being."  That is an Epiphany call -- an invitation to vision.  God's intention is to bless the whole world, outsiders included.  We are invited to share in that vision and to manifest universally divine love-incarnate in our own lives as well.

Lowell

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Audio podcast:  Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week.  Click the following link:
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Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at missionstclare.com -- Click for online Daily Office
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site www.ExploreFaith.org at this location -- http://explorefaith.org/prayer/fixed/index.html --  Click for Divine Hours

Discussion Blog:  To comment on today's reflection or readings, go to http://lowellsblog.blogspot.com, or click here for Lowell's blog find today's reading, click "comment" at the bottom of the reading, and post your thoughts.

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

See our Web site at www.stpaulsfay.org

Our Rule of Life: 
We aspire to...
    worship weekly
    pray daily
    learn constantly
    serve joyfully 
    live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


2 Comments:

At 12:35 PM, Anonymous janet l graige said...

Lowell,

What a gorgeous reflection of all being called Christian can entail. I personally feel this beautiful challenge to love and serve all so deeply - it is good to read your words and have it articulated so eloquently. I hope many are pondering these reflections.

Peace and Light and a Blessed Epiphany, Janet

 
At 7:56 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Thank you for your kind words, Janet.

If only Christians could be as generous to those of other cultures and religions as Jesus was...

Lowell

 

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