Rev. Dr. Paul Moore
January 7, 2018
LINK TO PDF VERSION (Good for saving or printing out)
Tuesday evening Karisse and I were driving back from Tucson. We noticed a glow in the eastern sky. The sun had set behind us, so it wasn’t the sun. Then, the almost-full moon emerged in stages from over the mountains. It didn’t look at all like a big rock in the sky. It looked like a lantern, lit from inside by an orange light. As it rose the color of the light of the moon turned more ivory and silver rather than orange. The marks that the ancient Aztecs called “The Jackrabbit in the Moon” were clearly visible against the shiny orb.
What struck me was the degrees of appearing. We didn’t see the moon as it is all at once. First, we saw the shining in the east, highlighting the silhouettes of the mountains; then the orange lantern, with the mountains as shadows below; then the full, brightness of the moon, with the mountains bathed in silver light.
This is the first Sunday after the Epiphany. Yesterday was the day itself, but being so close, and seeing that Epiphany falls only rarely on a Sunday, we decided to celebrate this day today. It is a day when we tell the story of the Magi, of Herod’s impossible cruelty, and the way the Child, Jesus is protected and then prophesied over.
The word, Epiphany, means “to bring to the light.” The theme of all the readings is the emergence of divine light on God’s people. Like the moon, the light does not just appear suddenly out of darkness, it appears by degrees. In the Gospel lesson today we see a clear progression. Jesus is recognized by Gentile wise men who follow an astrological sign—showing Jesus to be of cosmic importance. Jesus is recognized as a king—and taken (mistakenly) to be a direct political threat by the sitting monarch. Jesus is honored as prophet, priest and king by the wise men, showing perhaps more insight than the Jews among whom he was born, and in hind-sight the whole story seems to be orchestrated by angels, showing heavenly intervention. Jesus is revealed by degrees.
Jesus in the Epiphany is the Emerging God, the God who is revealed in stages and over time. This will be the theme of our Epiphany season this year.
How is God the Emerging God? The first thing to recognize about the Emerging God is that God is there, whether we know it or not. The moon was there, even when all we could see of it was a shine in the east. Our experience did not change the reality. God is always there in the divine fullness. It is we who do not apprehend fully, who experience God as the emerging God.
Our experience with God is the core of our relationship with God. We really have nothing else to go on. Oh, we can make theologically necessary statements. Like with the moon, we decide, “Well, even though I didn’t know it, God must have been there all the time.” Then, when we wonder where God is we take comfort in knowing that, in the long run, God will prove to have always been there. But in the final analysis, the spiritual life is lived where we are, in the immediacy of our experience of God. From where we stand we see God emerging on the scene, as progressively we see more and more of the divine heart at work in the world.
A moment’s reflection will show you what I mean.
When I was a child God was a character in a book. God was the principle actor in the Bible. God was the one to whom my parents prayed. God was the one thanked when good things happened to us. God was the one invoked when we felt guilty. God was, in many ways, like a Super-Daddy, there to explain things and set the stage, and there to set rules and forgive offenses. The primary source of knowledge about God was what my parents told me the Bible said.
As I grew and studied the Bible more, things began to change. I began to read on my own and come to conclusions on my own. God became more real. I began giving thanks to God for the sunrises and the rainbows, even for good grades on tests and wins at basketball games. Portions of Scripture became a kind of legal code for me, telling me what was right and what was wrong. God became the source of a sense of forgiveness when I transgressed that legal code.
But then I grew more. There came a kind of “teenager” time in my spiritual life. All the previous conclusions were somehow seen as conditioned by human ideas. What Mom and Dad said about the God of the Bible became suddenly suspect, precisely because Mom and Dad had said so! God became something of a mystery to plumb in my own right, and I knew, (because that’s how you are at that stage,) that I could find the RIGHT answers. In fact, I had already found a good number of them and I was glad to share them with you at the slightest provocation.
But then God revealed more of the divine heart to me. I realized that even my oh-so-certain conclusions were conditioned by my own limitations, just like others. I wondered if this God is perhaps not so much interested in the answers we give as the questions we ask. I began noticing tell-tale resonances between the emerging God of Christianity I had come to know with what I was learning about other religious systems foreign to my experience. Somehow this God of the Bible was bigger than the Bible, and the God of Christianity was maybe bigger even than Christianity. I began to relax into a kind of God who is fuzzy around the edges, who is far more interested in right relationships than right theology, and in a world patterned on a justice born of honest love than of power politics.
Now I’m finding that such a fuzzy God can be very demanding at the same time (go figure!) In what almost seems to be coming full-circle, if it weren’t for the naivete I had enjoyed, God now looks at my world and points a loving finger at all the ways we are unloving, self-centered and ego-driven and his face contorts in all the pain of the world. God looks at my world and points a delighted finger at all the ways we are loving and selfless and self-giving and smiles all the sunrises of the world.
The God of my youth is certainly the God of my current life, and yet there is so much more revealed, so much more to know, and so much to know that I yet do not know! God is the emerging God.
Now take a moment and look back on your own life. How has God been the Emerging God for you? Then turn to a neighbor and share one insight you have about the way God has unfolded the divine self to you.
God is also the emerging God in congregations. In two weeks we will gather for our Parish Meeting. We will celebrate our common life in one combined service at 9:30. Afterwards, we will hear reports from the various ministries. We will elect people to the Vestry and as delegates and alternates to Convention. We will, in a way, tack down our current understanding of our common life over the last year.
Bu there is another question. If God is the Emerging God, what might we become? In what ways is God seeking to reveal yet more of the divine heart through us to Silver City and beyond?
- What are the questions we will need to ask ourselves?
- What are the questions we will need to ask the world around us?
- What are the questions we will need to ask of God?
Another way to say it would be:
Since I came going on six years ago, we have seen a shining on the eastern horizon, and the mountains were silhouettes against the horizon, in the outreach programs that were going on when I arrived, and in the emerging hope that we felt together.
We have seen a giant orange orb emerge, casting the mountains into shadow and amazing u1s with the light that seems to shine from within as our outreach ministries matured and took root, and we have explored new worship styles and ministry opportunities together.
As our vision of our self rises on the horizon and takes on its full light, what kind of divine light will we shed on our world?
God is emerging among us.