Epiphany, Reflectionary

By Another Road

And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

matthew 2:12 (Epiphany of the lord)

When I was 14, my family took a driving vacation through North Carolina. Every morning we filled the car up at an Esso station, and we picked up maps. At the end of the day, when we checked into our motel, my dad would have my brother and me draw the route we had taken so far. We spread the maps across the floor and used the black felt tip pens Dad brought home from his office. The next day, we would get new maps, and trace the entire route we had taken, without looking back at the previous day’s map. By the end of the trip, I understood how a map works and how to plot a route to get somewhere, anywhere. I took that skill with me whenever I visited or moved to a new place, studying and considering where I needed to go and what I wanted to see.

My dad never liked to go the same way twice, and he wanted to be sure my brother and I were equipped to find our way home, wherever we went, by another road. 

Now I recognize that the rise of GPS has influenced me to type my destination in and drive with the direction of the Google Maps voice. It took me much longer to learn my way around South Central Pennsylvania after moving here in 2013 than it did to learn Portland, Maine, after my last big move in 1987. 

If we only follow an automated lead from one point to another point – a point we have determined ourselves – how can we be open to God’s direction?

It’s worth considering that the magi were well-prepared to respond to their heavenly messenger and find a different route because they knew how to read the sky the way I know how to read a map. When told to go a different way, these learned wise ones knew how to resource themselves. 

I think the spiritual life is much the same. We don’t need to know everything all at once, but faith practices are the spiritual navigation techniques that prepare us for the times when God indicates we need to do something different. Our gospel lesson this week tells the story of the capital “E” Epiphany, the moment when Christ is manifested to the Gentiles. Small “e” epiphanies can come to us at any time, usually when we do not expect them, but only when we are ready. Realizations are seldom based in nothing. They spring from a sense developed over time, grow out of practices in which we persist, root themselves in the work we have already done. 

They come because we have learned how to unfold the map, recognize the available routes, and let God lead the way. 


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Epiphany, Prayers for Pastors

Brightest and Best ~ a prayer for pastors

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Our children, celebrating Pouncemas.

Brightest and Best,
hear the preacher’s prayer.

We have enjoyed our children,
taken trips, even
a Sunday of respite,
but now it’s time
to get back to it.

Our heads are foggy
with family dynamics
and considering whether
we, or some amorphous they,
need to clean up our acts.

Our bodies are logey
from holiday travel,
and unfamiliar beds,
and too much of every
kind of good thing.

Our hearts are heavy,
still,
with the world’s sadness,
the wrongs committed,
the troubles unsolved.

We wish to bring you gifts,
but most of the time
they are less than festive:
our shiny (lost) hopes,
a sweet-sour fragrance,
an anointing of tears.

Brightest and Best,
be with us
as we speak of your light
come into the world
and our hope that the darkness
will never overcome it.

Be with us, we pray.

Epiphany, Gospel of Mark, Study Leave, Year B

Preaching Mark

I’ll say it here. I love the Gospel of Mark. I look forward to Year B in the lectionary cycle. (Well, maybe not the summer with all those weeks from John’s gospel, but the rest of it.) I am in tune with Mark’s Jesus who is both incredibly, fully human and also mysteriously, definitively divine without making a big fuss over it. He’s short-tempered. He’s fallible. He takes naps. He gets people to leave and go away with him forever and then goes right back with them to their mother-in-law’s house.

I love the pacing. It’s a beautifully constructed piece of writing. In seminary I took a whole semester on Mark, which is not the only reason I love it, but we read one book in particular that diagrammed the relationships of one pericope to another, and as an old English major, I adored that exercise.

JESUS MAFA — The Transfiguration

So, today’s plan for Study Leave is to look at the texts for the season of Epiphany and look for ways to make the gospel come alive in worship. As usual, I will debate whether to skip Transfiguration Sunday in favor of preaching texts from the long possible weeks after Epiphany that don’t make it onto the calendar very often, but in this case, I’ll probably decide against it, because Mark lacks a Resurrection appearance and could use a little bolstering in the woo-woo mystical department.

(And since writing this, that is in fact what I decided.)

The morning is going well, and I’ll soon be moving on to Lent.