January 10, 2021
Epiphany: a sudden revelation or insight.
Epiphanies are typically life changing and, as in the case of the magi who visited the Christ child, such revelations can change us and lead us ‘home by another way.’ (Matthew 2:12)
I was thinking about ‘epiphanies’ a lot on this past Wednesday, January 6, the day of the Christian Feast of our Lord’s Epiphany because what was revealed on Wednesday was truly a life changing epiphany for me.
Wednesday was a day of tragedy, terrorism, devastating sadness, and disbelief that such a thing could happen in our country. More than one commentator, incapable of making sense of all that was happening moaned: we are supposed to be a light of hope and freedom on the hill top – how did this happen?
It happened because we have tolerated it.
+ + +
What has come to mind for me in these few days is once again the truth that was so firmly and powerfully laid out in the letter of James, the half-brother of Jesus when he spoke of the power of the tongue. (James 3). Most particularly: How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! (James 3:5). Words spoken can set things on fire, cause broken relationships, speak lies for the truth, and lead to such things as what we experienced on Wednesday.
And James isn’t through with us yet: From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh. (James 3:10-12)
The rhetorical fire consuming our nation has been so hateful for far too long. Lies have been spoken so consistently that they have taken on the mantel of truth.
Politicians who have spoken words to ignite fires in the hearts of those who choose to follow them have now begun back-peddling like someone who says something really terrible and then when caught says, “just kidding.” Want to know what the scripture says about that? Like a maniac who shoots deadly firebrands and arrows, so is one who deceives a neighbor and says, “I am only joking!” (Proverbs 26:18-19)
Wednesday was a true pulling back of the curtain – the truth can no longer be ignored. Words matter; words have consequences; exchanging the truth for a lie in order to manipulate weak followers results in what we all streamed into our homes this week.
We have suffered the consequences of what it means to ignore the impact of words on those around us; we have experienced the terror that comes of exploiting those who follow us for our own purposes. We have become so mired in the mantra of relative truth that we no longer able to identify what truth really is; our lack of a solid base makes us anxious and angry – our words become more inflammatory, and our actions less controlled. And so here we are…..
As Gandhi once said:
“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
These words are from a man who studied Christ and greatly admired the Lord, but just couldn’t quite become a Christian. Why? Because the teaching of Christ and the actions of Christians just didn’t jive. In fact Gandhi once said: “I believe in the teachings of Christ, but you on the other side of the world do not; I read the Bible faithfully and see little in Christendom that those who profess faith pretend to see. … The Christians above all others are seeking after wealth. Their aim is to be rich at the expense of their neighbors. They come among aliens to exploit them for their own good and cheat them to do so. Their prosperity is far more essential to them than the life, liberty, and happiness of others. The Christians are the most warlike people.”
Which brings me to my personal epiphany.
I saw something very disturbing on Wednesday – an epiphany as to just how far from Christ so many have gone in their attempt to use Christ to achieve their personal agendas. How Pharisaic and drunk on power so many have become – all in the name of Jesus!
In the midst of the chaos, destruction, hateful rhetoric and loss of life on Wednesday, I saw a huge red banner emblazoned with the name of Jesus set within the outline of the Christian fish symbol; I saw another banner screaming out: “Jesus is my Savior. Trump is my President” as though Christ and Trump are interchangeable leaders of equal value when nothing could be further from the truth!
+ + +
Over the years, I have seen the name of Jesus become politicized and used as a battering ram to wield against those who oppose whatever particular flavor of Christianity we have chosen to ascribe to rather than a cross of sacrificial love we carry into the darkness of death, knowing that the light of resurrection life is just on the other side.
Politicians increasingly use the name of Jesus to promote their own philosophies. Personality cult driven clergy use the name of Jesus to mislead their congregations into following the paths they have personally chosen to walk – the way of self-righteous judgment of those beyond their bastardized interpretation of scripture; the promotion of a non-Biblical prosperity gospel that ironically fills clerical coffers at the expense of the preyed upon poor who have been drinking the philosophical Kool-Aid; the blaming and shaming of those living lives of quiet desperation instead of lifting up the desperate to new lives of Christ centered hope and new beginnings.
Over the years, I have been guilty of tolerating these misuses of Jesus’ name and the actions that accompany those misuses. I thought ‘there are so many other things to worry about.’
I was wrong.
Words matter, and if their misuse isn’t corrected, if their actions tolerated, it all becomes normative.
I saw evidence of this misuse on Wednesday; it has been life-changing.
+ + +
I can no longer tolerate the misuse of Christ’s name and His Word. I can no longer tolerate hatred and judgment done in His name and I expect others to call me out when I exhibit these same intolerable behaviors as well. To do less comes with a price.
Who knows how many Gandhis are out there who were repelled by those who claim the name of Christ yet proclaim and behave so very differently!
Words matter. Actions matter.
Christ’s words are intended to bring life not death, peace not destruction. Our lives should reflect this truth.
And to God be the glory – AMEN.