Epiphany is the season of light and revelation. “In him [the Word] was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4). The season begins with God revealing the Christ-child to the non-Jewish world as the Magi from the east follow the light of the miraculous Bethlehem star. “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2) they ask Herod. Some thirty years later, Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan River inaugurating his mission and ministry into the world as “a voice came from heaven: You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11) confirming Jesus’ identity as the Son of God.
Not only does the glory of God shine in and through the Christ during the Epiphany, but we, who live in the Northern hemisphere are now gradually moving towards longer daylight with every passing minute as we continue our seasonal journey towards summer. December 21st was the shortest daylight day of the year with about eight hours of sunlight from sunrise to sunset in Kamloops. Today, almost a month later, we are now experiencing an extra half hour of sunlight.
The light of the Christ also shines in on us and in our lives as we move from Christmas into the Epiphany. Matthew describes how Jesus’ ministry fulfills what was said by the prophet Isaiah; “the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Matthew 4:16). Through the incarnation at Christmas, the Christ enters our human world as light enters our dark world and sinful lives. “Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light” (Micah 7:8) declares the prophet Micah. The light of God shines again upon us through the season of Epiphany beginning with the baptism of the Christ as “he saw heaven being torn open” (Mark 1:10) and the voice from heaven resounded forth.
“A voice came from heaven: You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). Wow! Wouldn’t it be awesome to see and especially hear everything that took place? Wouldn’t be wonderful, if when we are suffering, unsure of ourselves, confused about which way we ought to go, bothered by the way the people mistreat other people - if we could see the heavens torn open and a voice audibly proclaiming, “with you I am well pleased” (Mark 2:11). Okay, maybe it would be nicer to hear something more directional like ‘do this’ and ‘don’t do that”. But in our dark world today, wouldn’t we like to hear that voice speak to us, to answer our prayers, to speak words of comfort into our lives? We could get so much reassurance that our faith and mission is on the right track if God would speak to us audibly and we could hear God’s voice directing us.
It was a dark time after the children of Israel had settled into the Land of Promise. Egypt was a long-forgotten memory. Moses was ancient history and years had passed since the name of the great warrior Joshua had been spoken. The priesthood which God had established under Moses’ brother Aaron had become immoral and corrupted. A new era was about to begin in the life of the children of Israel with the birth of Samuel. “The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days, the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions” (1 Samuel 3:1).
When Samuel was a young boy, he heard a voice calling to him. “Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was” (1 Samuel 3:3). The Lord God called out saying; ‘Samuel’. Three times, the boy heard, got up and went to the priest Eli saying, ‘here I am, you called me.’ But old Eli had not called the boy and told Samuel to go back and lie down. The narrator of this story then explains saying “Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him” (1 Samuel 3:7). The elderly priest finally realizes that the Lord God must be calling to the boy and so he again tells Samuel to go lie down, and this time if the voice calls again to answer “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:9).
It might be nice to hear God’s voice like Samuel did, but once we answer and declare “speak Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:9) - we are committed to whatever the Lord God has to say to us. Being opened to receiving God’s Word comes with great responsibility. Samuel grew up and it was “recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord” (1 Samuel 3:20) throughout the land of Israel. It would not be easy being a prophet. One of the first messages given to a young Samuel was God’s disapproval of the corruption of the priesthood. After prodding the boy for God’s words “Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, ‘He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes” (1 Samuel 3:18). Soon afterwards, the Philistines attacked and captured the ark of God as thirty thousand Israelites are killed along with Eli’s two adulterous sons Hophni and Phinehas. When Eli received word about the ark of God, “Eli fell backward off his chair by the side of the gate. His neck was broken, and he died” (1 Samuel 4:18).
“God said to Noah, I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. So make yourself an ark of cypress wood” (Genesis 6:13-14). Without a doubt, this was a very strange request when we consider that there were no great seas where the ark was built. “The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation” (Genesis 12:1-2). Abram was asked to give up his belief in the many god’s and accept the directions of the One true God. The call of Moses sounds a bit like that of Samuel. Moses has been raised in Egypt and did not know the Lord God. “God called to him from within the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’. And Moses said, ‘Here I am’” (Exodus 3:4). The Lord God was sending Moses back to Egypt – back to the last place on earth that Moses wanted to go.
God might not call you to such radical and challenging tasks, although what God might call you to what might appear that way at first. When we willingly open ourselves to listen to God as an obedient servant - we must also be prepared to obey and follow the direction which God may be leading us into. In the 1980s God called to me. Why me? I don’t know! As a family we were not ready to make such a radical change in our comfortable life. Ten years later, I was accepted and ready to begin seminary in Ontario – only seven hours from home. God closed that door. We didn’t have the money and there was no financial assistance available from our rich church. Our pastor believed that we should have the money in the bank before making this type of a move. Two years later, after we had changed churches, we found ourselves packing our belongings and moving to Saskatchewan – about thirty-six hours from home, with minimal cash, no place to live and only a conditional acceptance at the seminary. After praying for us our pastor’s only instruction was ‘go in faith, trust in the Lord’. We did and God provided everything we needed.
The season of the Epiphany might also be a season of trust, as God’s servants listen to hear God speak to and direct us – His followers here on earth - in God’s continuing mission in the world in which we live. Like Jesus, we begin our work in the kingdom with baptism. In baptism God calls us to himself making us members of the family and giving us the gift of the Holy Spirit. “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying” (Titus in 3:5-8).
The mission of His followers is not all that complicated. God calls and we answer, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:9). God speaks to His followers and His followers obeys. “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16) are the final words spoken to those who have been baptized.
In many churches today, the first weeks of January are dedicated to the annual stewardship drives as some are preparing to present the financial budget for the New Year. Sadly, the word stewardship has been too narrowly defined and as such it has been misused and abused by the church. I remember in my early years as a Lutheran being sent to the home of inactive members and asking them to make a written annual financial commitment to our church’s financial planning and budget. The idea, although having some merit in planning one’s business expenses in a money dominated world, leaves a sour taste in my mouth when I consider this aspect of stewardship in the church especially as Paul says, “God loves a cheerful giver” (1 Corinthians 9:7) while Peter teaches “each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10). Peter recognized that stewardship is about more than money as we also weekly thankfully proclaim and joyfully remind ourselves in our offertory prayer that we offer up our whole selves to God in return for all of God’s generous gifts to us.
The call of the Epiphany is to come and see what God is doing. The star of Bethlehem was a beacon of light shining in the night calling the gentile nations to come and see what God was doing in his chosen people – the descendants of Abram and Sarai. Today, Epiphany is a light shining in the darkness calling the world to come and see what God is doing amongst His followers. As God’s stewards in creation, we must focus on the Gospel’s mission to the world, and not what we need to do for ourselves, as we were called in baptism to be a light to the world. When we answer “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:9) we become part of God’s mission to call others and to graciously invite them to come and see the light of God’s great Epiphany shining forth through the Gospel. “Philip found Nathanael and told him, ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote - Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’ ‘Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?’ Nathanael asked. ‘Come and see,’ said Philip” (John 1:45-46).
‘Come and see.’ It’s that simple.
“How precious to me are your thoughts, God! (begins the Psalmist). How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand - when I awake, I am still with you” (Psalm 139:18). Without a doubt, money is an essential commodity to keeping the church open and doing God’s work in the community. As followers of Christ, we have been called by God into this place and we have also been blessed by the joyful contributions of our members. The psalmist and many others throughout scripture recognise that stewardship is more than simply money. Stewardship is more about celebrating our membership in the family of our God.
Let’s be clear – stewardship is not about being the church or being a member of a church while stewardship is about embracing and celebrating our membership. Financial stewardship is about our individual commitment to support the church of which we are a member. This form of stewardship can’t be supported by scripture as our financial gifts and offerings, which all belong to God in the first place, are offered back to God in thankfulness for He who first gave them to us. “Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering - fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock” (Genesis 4:3-4). Notice that the Law had not yet been given by God on Mount Sinai – as these offerings were given in pure thankfulness.
By the time Jesus walked upon the earth, tithes, offerings and sacrifices had devolved into a legalistic practice which was required to be practised by all the children of Israel living under the Law of God. Membership within the family of Israel required you to be obedient to the rules and regulations. The prophets of old denounced the practice of mindless sacrifice. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6) declares Hosea. Jesus spoke of establishing his church, but church membership was never a part of that conversation and in reality, a formal institutional church organization and membership doesn’t begin to take shape until emperor Constantine legalizes Christianity within the Roman Empire.
When we look back into the gospel, we discover that Jesus’s primary concern was with repentance and a commitment to live as members of God’s kingdom. Through our baptism into Christ, we become children of God, members of the kingdom, and heirs of salvation and eternal life. Stewardship is a lifestyle which calls us to remember the day when God reached out and made us a beloved member of the family. “You are my son [daughter], whom I love, with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11) the Lord God spoke on the day you were baptized. Stewardship is a call to remember our membership and to reflect backwards and to remember everything that God has done for us and through us. During the season of Epiphany, throughout the entire year and throughout our entire lifetime, we remember when the Lord God spoke to us and called out our name as we in turn can respond “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:9).
Stewardship is about being family and being perpetually involved in the work of our family’s mission into the world. We are called, we respond, and we are sent into the world with a simple mission to invite others to join us as Jesus declares saying, “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19). This is exemplified in the gospel today. The Word becoming flesh calls and invites Philip who in turn goes and finds Nathaniel. Philip has seen and believes and now he extends the invitation to his friend Nathaniel to also come and see. “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote - Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph … Come and see” (John 1: 45, 46). Nathaniel moves from skepticism to faith when he accepts the invitation to come and see. Upon meeting Jesus, he declares, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel” (John 1:49).
Today, we continue to extend the invitation to come and see. But where is Jesus today? Martin Luther directs us into finding Jesus with his explanation of the third article of the Apostles Creed which says, “I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel.” Scripture is clear in that we cannot come to, find or see Jesus - except by the Holy Spirit. We receive the Spirit in baptism as Luther again reminds us that “the Spirit enlightens me with his gifts, makes me holy, and keeps me in the true faith.” We will find Jesus Christ incarnate in His Word when we read our Bibles with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We will find Jesus revealed to us in the Means of Grace – baptism and Communion. We will find and see Jesus wherever we find the fruit of the Spirit and the mission of God being done in the world by the true followers of Christ as God continues to call and invite the people to become members of His family.
The light of Christ continues to fill the world as the darkness slowly disappears. Stewardship is about living in His Light and allowing His light to shine through us as we answer the call, reach out to others, and invite them to come and see Jesus. God speaks through His Word. Are we listening and willing to respond, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:9).
Copyright © 2021 St. Andrew's Lutheran Church, Kamloops
We are a family of followers of Christ, who learn and share the Good News of Salvation, making disciples of Jesus Christ.
We hold weekly Sunday morning services at 10:30 am. We also host a Bible Study each Sunday morning at 09:30 am and on Tuesday afternoon at 1:00 pm. Please join us.
Our music team plays from a repertoire of many hundreds of Christian songs and Hymns, occasionally with new arrangements of traditional and contemporary selections.