This season of Epiphany, following Christmastide and prior to Lent, is a season when we remember the “manifestation” of God in ways and to people who would not have seemed first on the list. (The Greek word “Epiphany” actually means manifestation.) From the very start, Jesus consistently showed the warmest welcome to people who otherwise did not show up on the usual invitation lists – because of their race, or religion, or vocation, or gender, or marital status, which hit pretty close to the bone for Jesus. The report was that his mother had said that she had conceived him not through Joseph (who was her fiancé) but rather “through the Holy Spirit.” If a 15 year old uneducated girl came up to you this morning and said she was pregnant but there was no father. That she sort of got pregnant in a dream… I daresay we wouldn’t believe it. And you can bet this wasn’t believed 2,000 years ago. In her day, Mary would not have been believed (rather, she was probably mocked and castigated). Nor would Joseph have been believed. And so the story goes – and we can bet there were plenty of stories – Jesus was probably seen as “illegitimate” in his birth, and then, as he grew up, a misfit who needed to get a wife and needed to get a job… until he was 30 or so, was baptized by John and began his public ministry. Thirty years is a long time… and given that his life ended several years later in crucifixion, a good many people never did come to believe any of it. It’s probably no surprise that in his life and teaching, Jesus consistently showed how “the first shall be last, and the last first,” because this was very much his own story. Jesus says, “last shall be first, and the first, last.” And for us to make this quite personal, we could say that the last – the last person on our own list, the person (or type of person) who may seem least or last or lost… or simply a loser – is someone on Jesus’ own list, someone for whom Jesus has an infinite amount of love and with whom he plans to share eternity.
Momentarily we will be invited to pray the Lord’s Prayer. You’ll recall, this is the prayer that Jesus shared in response to his disciples’ request, “How shall we pray?” And you’ll notice that what we call “the Lord’s Prayer” is in first person plural, not first person singular. We don’t begin the prayer by saying, “My Father in heaven.” Nor do we pray, “Give me today my daily bread.” Our Father; our bread. Our relationship with God is quite personal, but it is not private. It’s not that our own needs are insignificant, nor that they go unnoticed by God. The point is, that we are praying for ourselves in the same way that we are praying for others. And the “others” are everyone. We could start with the people whom we see pictured on the front page of today’s newspaper… and we could continue our prayer for God’s care and provision for those whom we could most easily forget or disdain… especially those with whom we most disagree or even hold with disdain.
In the calendar of the church we remember today a bishop of the fourth century named Hilary. I could use a pun and say that Hilary was pilloried… even by fellow members of the church. He was betrayed and rejected by a good many people, especially those closest to him… which is the most painful. Hilary’s conviction was that the love of Jesus was large, not small, and that his love for Jesus needed to be large enough (in his own heart) to encompass even those who rejected him. So? The love of Jesus is large… and needs to be large enough in our own hearts to encompass those whom we could find least or last or lost whom God calls “my children.” How else will they learn about the love of God except through us? Let it be on earth as it shall be on heaven: that love wins out. Love wins out.
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