Heavenly Father, thank You that you purposed in Your heart to send the Lord Jesus as the sin-sacrifice for the world, and that Jew and Gentile alike can be saved by grace through faith in Him. Thank You that Paul was Your chosen apostle to the Gentiles and that he was ready and willing to be a prisoner of Christ, and to suffer for Him, so that the gospel would spread throughout the world. Thank You for my great salvation, and may I be ready and willing to suffer for His dear name's sake, and bring many into Your kingdom, I pray. In Jesus' name, AMEN.
Welcome to the season of Epiphany. Epiphany is kind of a fun word to say. Not everyone knows what it means. So, let me give you the Webster Dictionary definition:
An appearance or manifestation especially of a divine being; a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something; an intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking; an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure; a revealing scene or moment.
That’s a complex way of saying “the light is coming on” when we all of a sudden understand a point. It’s like that Wow, I could have had a V8 moment!
We all have epiphanies at one time or another, they are usually over small things. I need to get my license renewed, I need to get my sermon finished, things like that.
Epiphanies do not hallways happen for good realization and they don’t necessarily come at convenient times or places. In fact, sometimes they hit as a complete surprise like when that Blue light suddenly pops on behind you as you are driving down the road.
Sometimes there is a mix of emotions that come when an epiphany strikes your brain. My brother’s birthday……….Was Yesterday!
So, what is all this talk about epiphany? It is Epiphany Sunday.
Webster’s Dictionary says Ephiany with a capital E is January 6 observed as a church festival in commemoration of the coming of the Magi as the first manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles or in the Eastern Church in commemoration of the baptism of Christ
This is the Sunday when many denominations celebrate the Magi’s story in Mathew. The song the 12 days of Christmas comes from this festival. We have left the season of advent on the Christian calendar and are now in the season of
“Wow, Christ came to the Gentiles” or more importantly,
“Wow Christ came with a message from God to ME!”
So, this morning we are looking at some of Paul’s description of the Epiphany and No he does not say the word he just describes the event.
As we read in Ephesians 3:1-12 for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given me for you, 3 and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, 4 a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. 5 In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: 6 that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 7 Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power. 8 Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, 9 and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; 10 so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him. So, Paul is reminding the readers of this letter what he learned through revelation from God. He has been chosen by God to pass on the secrets, the plans of God. He does not claim to be the sole carrier of the message; he says that God is revealing this news by way of the Holy Spirit to apostles and prophets. Those are positions set out in Corinthians as leaders in the church.
That is a pretty big responsibility. That is a really important job.
What were his qualifications to share this news, to have this important role?
In Acts we hear the story where, Paul experiences an epiphany on the road to Damascus. He saw a mysterious blinding light and heard a voice. He had an event where he knew he was talking to the Lord. And it changed his life.
-- He went from being a persecutor of Jewish “followers of the way” to an encourager. And the strangest part, he was especially encouraging to Gentiles.
He said it like this, “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.”
Epiphany is the understanding of a mystery. Perhaps not how or why, but understanding that through the gospel the gentiles are heirs with Israel…in the promise of Christ Jesus.
You’re probably thinking Pastor Pam we already know that.
We know about old Paul and how he was turned to the right path by Jesus.
We know he preached to the Gentiles.
Tell us something we don’t know!
-- I thought really hard and really long, looking for something new to reveal to you in this scripture. Then I realized that I am here today to remind you of the things you already know, but maybe you aren’t using the knowledge as well as you could.
Have you ever noticed that we have to teach children to share? Whenever you have a gathering of young children and a room full of toys, eventually it will become necessary for parents to remind their children to share.
The word “mine” is one that most parents wish would disappear from their children’s vocabulary.
At one point or another our child will not want to share their favorite toy, whether it is with a friend or a sibling or maybe even their parent.
How do we handle our faith…?
At what point are we willing to share what we have?
What we know is good and right and beneficial to everyone?
At what point are we willing to share how we feel about our church?
When might we be mature enough to share, to invite our un-churched friends and family and even people that we don’t actually know?
Paul had made a name for himself by persecuting this new sect of Jews that believed that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. He was actively protecting his faith and keeping it pure and assuring that only the righteous would be involved…would be alive.
-- Look at how much he has changed. Paul is writing to the Ephesians about this mystery, this message from God that he has already shared with them. He is not just writing to Jews; he is writing to gentiles that some years before he would have not even considered eligible to join in the Jewish faith. He was sure that you had to be a Hebrew to be one of God’s people.
Then he has this Epiphany, the light came on…. The event converts a very powerful religious man, a man that operated with the authority of the Sanhedrin, into a person with a totally different understanding of how God wants to relate to this world.
It gives him a new kind of power. … A power not to make decisions about people based on his personal understanding but, to allow God to lead him in his mission. He shares his understanding with the people he meets as a preacher and tent maker. Not as a representative of the Sanhedrin or church.
He is on a journey as a representative of God and teaches the good news message.
There are times when I wish I had just a 10% share of the gifts Paul seems to have. I would like the clarity of mind that he demonstrates so often in his letters. I would like to have “some” of his boldness, the way he risks everything for the gospel. (I am totally afraid to say I want to be as bold as he is; because of the pain and suffering he experienced. )
You know I tend to put Paul on sort of a high pedestal. I have him up there on this really high pillar so far above me. All because his faith is unquenchable, and his drive is unstoppable.
Then in this reading today and in other places, he mentions something…it seems to be a personal insight as to how he sees himself.
After reminding his readers that he was personally called by god for his work, He says, “Although I am the very least of all the saints”
Here he is writing a letter of correction and encouragement to the people in Ephesus, and he reveals to us how he feels about himself.
-- He does not claim to speak from a position above them. He speaks from the perspective of a person that is just barely in the kingdom of God.
As I look up toward his pedestal I think, wow he is so humble too. I add a few more inches to the platform. And he seems even more difficult for me to model in my life.
I don’t think this is a display of false humility. I believe he is revealing how he sees himself. How he still regrets his past. How he can’t forget all the wrong things he had done to put down these people that believed that the messiah had come.
He believes that his past, his mistakes, his sins make him the lowest, the least of the saints, the least of God’s people.
I don’t know about you but of all of Paul’s traits, that is the one I most often feel I match.
I doubt my holiness, my righteousness and my ability to be qualified to ever speak for God.
And because I feel this way, I have wasted, years and years and allowed opportunity after opportunity to pass by where I could have shared the good news with people I have met.
I have let something else keep me from being a spokesperson for God. I have looked at these amazing biblical characters, Paul, Peter, Moses, Rayhab… you name them, and I have made the decision that there is no way that I could ever be that strong, that bold, that fearless and that Godly.
I compare myself and find my talents and abilities wanting…..
-- If Paul were with us here today,
-- he would be appalled by the idea that we might consider him a super Christian.
-- He would probably be upset that we would have any opinion of his personality and his abilities.
Why, because Paul’s main objective was to help people understand the Who, what and why of Jesus Christ.
I think that he would tear his clothes as a sign of remorse and grief if any of his story got in the way of any person responding to God. He would feel horrible if anyone noticed him and missed the message.
Paul in no way claims any credit for his skills, his talents, his holiness.
Paul, continues, “this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery.
Paul teaches that it is only by the grace of god that he can do anything. That he has any power. That he brings any qualifications as a spokesperson for God.
If you or I try to measure our abilities against Paul or any of the godly leaders in the Bible, we will never feel good enough or qualified. But that is not really true….because they are borrowing, they did not do anything on their own.
They were empowered and helped by God…any comparison we make is unfair to us and will make us feel like we are never ready to serve as God intends us to serve in the kingdom.
Because we tend to disqualify ourselves, , we will never really live as a full member of the family of God.
Here is the Epiphany God wants you to hear this morning.
God did not send Jesus into this world so that you would have the faith and boldness and confidences of Paul or Peter or Billy Graham and anyone else we might put on a pedestal.
He sent His Son because He wants you to be like Jesus.
I know that sounds even harder and the only way you can do that is to fully receive the message of grace.
When you put on Grace it covers, really covers all of your past. It does not matter who knows the truth about you. It only matters that you embrace the power that comes from receiving the forgiveness and the righteousness of God.
That Grace does not place you on any kind of pedestal. It does not make you to be the model for how any other person should live their lives.
-- It only makes you a person that by the grace of God you are a living representative of God that is expected to share.
Paul understands that it is God’s grace that gives him the qualifications needed to tell the good news. This is in spite of his past, and in addition to his personal qualifications.
He understands that it is his mission and his assignment to “make plain to everyone” the who, what, why and how of Jesus Christ.
Beloved this morning I am not here to ask you to copy what God asked Paul to do.
Perhaps, that will give you a little relief of your worry or guilt.
However, as the children of God, we take on responsibilities within his kingdom. As we grow up in the church we are to take on more and more responsibility. Because of our family connection and the grace that covers us we also take on the mission of plainly speaking for God. We do that by relying solely on the leading of the spirit that we receive as we grow up in the family of God.
It is not who we are or who we are like it is who we look like…our family traits. The traits of Love compassion, and caring.
Let’s look at the big picture.
A church is not a church if it only does things for itself and for its members.
A church that lives like that is only doing half of its designed mission.
A church that lives like that is just a club!
Club membership has temporary rights and privileges instead of eternal opportunities and satisfaction.
Paul points out how the understanding of God is to be passed on to the community where the church sits.
He says, “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known …”
The church has a mission to share the wisdom of God, the good news.
The message is about grace and love and a relationship with our creator.
The qualifications to speak for God come by Grace to the individual believers to share what we know.
I have heard in the past Christians describing that they come to church to be fed.
My question for you is how are you going to use that energy, that knowledge to share with those outside of God’s family?
How is God asking you to share what you know about Him? How will you respond? Will you respond? Will you have your epiphany?
‒ Pastor Pam