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God is everywhere

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. (Isaiah 60:1)

A father was home with his children one afternoon.  He was reclining on the couch, half sleeping, half watching a football game, when his children came into the room.

“Dad, we have a play to put on?  Do you want to see it?”

“Sure, he said.  He sat up, shook off his slumber, and prepared himself for their production.

His four children, four, six, eight, ten years old, were the actors:  Mary, Joseph, and the wise men.  Joseph came in with a broom.  Mary came in holding a baby doll in her arms; another child was an angel, flapping her arms as wings.

Finally, the last child, the eight-year-old, came out, with all of the jewelry on that she could find in the house, her arms filled with three presents.  “I am all three wise men,” she said.  “I bring three precious gifts:  gold, circumstance, and mud.”

The father didn’t laugh or correct his child.  The father knew that his children had somehow gotten to the heart of the Epiphany story:  God is with us where we are, our gold–where we are at our best; our circumstances–where we might be even now, even our mud–where we are when we are most human.

Epiphany is a wonderful way to begin the year. Epiphany is the story of God seeking us out in every way possible. Epiphany is the story of God’s determination to proclaim the “good news of great joy for all the people.” (Luke 2:10) In the birth narrative story found in Luke’s Gospel we hear of God doing whatever it takes to reach out and embrace us. God comes to a young woman in a distant village, calling her “favored one.” And through her a child is born who will be the prince of peace, the shepherd of all people. God announces the birth of the Messiah through angels to shepherds watching their sheep in a dark field outside Bethlehem. In Epiphany, the birth narrative in Matthew’s Gospel continues to a story of travelers from lands east of Judea who go seeking the cause of a significant celestial event and find themselves “overwhelmed with joy” as they kneel in the presence of the child.

We celebrate today the light of God that has come into the world and who can be found everywhere. The Magi who journeyed from the east discover at the end of their quest, not a prince born in a palace, but the infant Jesus born in a simple stable. They make a wrong turn in Jerusalem assuming that the one who would command such a momentous earthly event must be found in a large elegant city filled with the forces of power. But God who is everywhere–who is always showing up in surprising people and places–guides them to Bethlehem, a rural place, dusty, unnoticed, and humble, where the vulnerable child plays beside his parents.

God reaches out to people who tremble at God’s glory and people who observe the glorious star at its rising and then persistently tracks its course so they may bow down and pay tribute to a king. All along the way, it is God who guides them. God does whatever it takes to reach out and embrace all people.

As it was true in the beginning of Jesus’ infancy, God’s embrace, God’s radical generosity grows and grows. Jesus’ life and ministry is about growing the circle of compassion larger and larger until all are within its boundary—no one left outside. Jesus eats with those who are cast away from society. He reaches out in healing love to people who are sick and people whose physical and mental challenges isolate them from the world. Jesus even enters into the realm of death, offering life to those who call on him. Ultimately, Jesus draws all people to himself as he goes to the cross in love. In Jesus Christ, no one is beyond the radical grace of God.

In this time of Epiphany, we are invited to open our hearts to all the ways that God is manifest in our lives. God is not out there. God is as close as our breath, as intimate as our thoughts, as central as our heartbeat. God is with us in our times when we feel on top of the world. When our lives and actions speak loudly of God glory. When we witness to God’s love in our lives and in the lives of others. This is our gold standard and sometimes we wish every moment could feel like this. But God is with us in our everyday routines. God is with us as we wash the dishes after breakfast, when we walk the aisles of the grocery store, when we do the laundry and bathe the dog, when we make the bed and sweep the floors. God is present and active in all. And God is with us when we fail to live up to our own expectations, when we find ourselves held captive to despair and disappointment. God is with us when we are in the “mud”– when nothing we do seems to be right or make us or the world better. When every relationship seems to be an effort rather than a joy. God is there.

And just as God is present in us and in all we do, God is also present in everyone, no exceptions. Far too much of our time and energy in this life is spent in separating those who are deserving and those who are not, those who are worthy of love and those who are not—picking and choosing where God is and where God is not. But this is not ever up to us or those in power or those without. God is everywhere in everyone. All are God’s beloved. Everyone, no exception. God delights in and seeks us out. Whether we are young or old, healthy or ill, religious or none, engaged in the world or isolated from it, generous or fearful, wise or hardheaded—all beloved. We are all a part of Christ’s body, made in the image of God, filled with the Holy Spirit, no matter where we are in life’s journey, no matter whether or not we are aware of this gift.

I have just finished reading the second of Gregory Boyle’s books on his work in loving and healing young men and women who have been thrown away by their families and the world finding their only place in gangs and in prison. The book is called Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship. Gregory sees God in everyone and everywhere and it fills my heart with joy to read of the unbridled compassion that transforms once broken lives into people who have the “thrilling discovery of their own goodness and light.”[1]

He tells wonderful stories of his relationship—he calls it kinship—with these men and women and how his first connection with them is often when he is leading worship at a juvenile detention center. He passes out his business cards inviting the young people to come and see him when they get out of prison—many take him up on his offer. He tells the story of a time when he was saying mass at the San Fernando Juvenile Hall with nearly three hundred detained minors—mostly gang members–present. He has asked a young man to read from Psalm 138. Gregory Boyle is seated with his eyes closed, allowing the proclamation of the word to flow over him rather than read along in the worship sheet. The young man reads with exceeding confidence, “The Lord…is EXHAUSTED.” This wakes him up and he hurriedly refers to his worship sheet where it reads, “The Lord is exalted.” But G thinks to himself that exhausted is a much better way to think of God. He says, “I’m not sure I want to spend eternity with a God who wants to be exalted, who longs to be recognized and made a big deal over. I would rather hope for a humble God who gets exhausted in delighting over and loving us. The exhausted God is better than the exalted one.”[2]

There are times in each of our lives when we feel that God is distant, even that God is absent. But this is not the story the scriptures teach us. Scriptures tell us over and over that it is God who always seeks us out. God never leaves us. God is in the breath we take when breathing in and out is hard. God is the step we take when walking seems painful. God is in the friend who holds us when we feel disconnected and alone. And God is the inspiration in our hearts when in gratitude we witness to God’s love.

The travelers from the East were seekers and God honored their quest. God called out to the Magi from the heavens so that they could find Jesus. God guided them to their destination though the Magi never knew where their journey would take them. The Magi played their part as they did not simply stay home admiring the star from their window. They went in search, they opened their minds and hearts, they endured all the troubles of travel, even a confrontation with the local king, Herod. Yet it was God who called them and it was God who guided their discovery.

Today is Grace Church’s Fifth Birthday! We continue to learn what it means to be a community outside a sacred building, turned loose in the world without stained glass to define or ground us. Epiphany is a great day for us to have our birthday. Each and every moment we are invited to see God everywhere, to recognize that God delights in us and calls us to share that delight with the world. That is what the community of Grace does. We worship an exhausted God who is too busy delighting in us to be disappointed in our circumstances or our mud. God wants to be in the midst of all that we are.

As we enter into the season of Epiphany, we are invited to open our eyes and our hearts to all the ways God is seeking us out, bringing the “good news of great joy for all of us,” so that we like the travelers from the East may come before this child and be overwhelmed with joy.

[1] Gregory Boyle. Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2017, p. 208.

[2] Ibid, p.15.

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