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The Lamp of God’s Word for our Epiphany Pathway

By the Rev. Dr. James D. Findlay

James FindlayAs we continue our journey through Epiphany and the light increases, both within us and in the natural world, the Scripture texts for the Sundays of the season offer us further guidance and opportunity for spiritual reflection and experience.  For those of us in the United Church of Christ, Micah 6:8 can be seen as our “denominational identity mantra”: “and what does YHWH seek from you, but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God?”  We often utilize the first element of this trinity of sacred phrases as our collective calling-card: we are the Justice Church, the people who seek righteousness in the world, especially for those who are oppressed.  This is certainly how we UCC’ers are sometimes known – but have we taken the fullness of this text into our hearts and lives?  How often do we practice mercy, much less “love it”?  How merciful and forgiving are we, especially of those with whom we disagree about politics, ideology, world-view, or cultural behaviors?  Are we humble or arrogant, ego-bound or seeking ego-lessness, in our walking with God?   Do we consider the steps we take to be further steps with and into the Presence of God?  Or do we sometimes bask in our “correct opinions” which stem from our properly progressive form of Christianity?  Perhaps Micah’s striking rhetorical question can probe us anew in these days – and we can work patiently yet purposefully to practice mercy and humility, in concert with justice-seeking, making all these virtues bear fruit together in our meditations and our daily lives.

Isaiah 58:1-2, Deut. 30:15-20, and Lev. 19:1-18, as well as the textual gifts from Psalm 15, 112, and 119 all see justice behavior, prosperity in the world, and our own happiness as intimately linked together.  However, this need not be seen only as a “call to action,” or as an admonishment to be constantly busy in external deeds.  Rather, it is rooted in our communion with God, which grows with spiritual cultivation; our union with the Divine Nature, which is our own.  As Lev. 19:2 states clearly, God’s Word to us shows that our life flows from our union with and imitation of the Creator: “Be Holy, as I YHWH your God am holy.”  Our acts of compassion, mercy, and justice, then are not primary, but secondary.  First, last, and always, in our lives with the Lord we seek to ever more be a reflection of the Lord.  God’s holiness shines in us with Epiphany holiness, and becomes our own.  We are only a mirror in whom God is reflected, a window through which others see the Holy Light.

The New Testament texts of these later Epiphany days provide us with a steady diet of sacred Word-food from the Sermon on the Mount and the opening pages of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians.  Some of the highest and hardest sayings of Jesus echo once again in our ears and our hearts: “if your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away” (Matt. 5:29); “But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also” (5:39); “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (5:44).  Are we to submit to abuse, or engage in self-abuse, or love those who do wrong?  We want to say, “Surely not!”  But Jesus is a powerful teacher.  He certainly means for us to practice humility, justice, and mercy completely, in a seamless whole.  And like Leviticus, Jesus’ greatest gift to us is to make clear to us that we are pieces of God in the physical realm: we are constant blessings and constantly blessed (Matt. 5:3-12); we bring spice and light to a dull and dark world (5:13-16); and that we are meant to be like God: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (5:48).  Jesus sees us as reflections of Divine Light.  And so we are!

Finally, Paul’s letter is addressed to us, not just to Christians of long-ago Greece.  He tells us that the Christian message of suffering love is power and wisdom, even if the world does not see it that way (1 Cor. 1:18-31); that we comprehend God through God’s Spirit within us (2:11-13); that our attachment to factions and divisions in the church and the world are a problem of our perception, but that God works through everything and everyone so that spiritual growth constantly occurs (3:1-9).  As Paul suggests, we can become more spiritual in our practice of life; we can discern God’s presence in all things; see that we are God’s temple and dwelling-place (3:16-17); and know that all we are and all that is done belongs to Christ (3:21-23).  And as the Epiphany season culminates in the Transfiguration of Christ, may we experience the Light of God transfiguring us constantly, so that our spiritual lives become a process, as a favorite hymn says, of our being “changed from glory into glory, ‘til in heaven we take our place.”

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