“Epiphany” isn’t a word people use very often. It means “manifestation, striking appearance, revealing.” In the church, it describes how Jesus was revealed to be the Son of God. Gradually, over several occasions – his baptism, the wedding at Cana, his first sermon in the temple, walking on water, the transfiguration – the disciples came to know who Jesus truly was: the Son of God, the messiah. Of course, these events didn’t cause Jesus to become divine; they only revealed something that had been true all along. Instead, these and other miraculous events caused the disciples to have a flash of insight, an epiphany.
Last weekend, your vestry and I had a similar experience on our annual retreat – we had an epiphany. We traveled to Camp Gravatt to plan out the coming year. We were led by a gifted facilitator, a priest named (appropriately enough) Grant Wiseman. Our goal was to figure out how we might lead this parish to become a stronger and healthier community. Over the course of the weekend, we shared our deep love for St. Simon & St. Jude, and we talked a great deal about the mission and ministry of our parish.
Our epiphany came when Father Grant took us through a series of videos titled Celebrate What’s Right With The World. These videos helped us change our perspective on a few things that have been causing us concern. As we watched the videos, we began to realize that by changing our perspective we could change the life of our parish. Instead of concentrating on problems, we began to look at all our strengths as a parish. What’s working well? What can we go out and celebrate? And as we looked, we began to appreciate our strengths and think about ways we can make them even better.
Our epiphany was that God has already blessed us richly, and that we have a great many opportunities for growth – enthusiastic growth.
One example of how our perspective changed was when we looked at how much of our facility is used by groups from the community. All of us have long appreciated that SSSJ isgrounded by our outreach projects. We toil in the pumpkin patch for an entire month to raise money to donate to charitable organizations. We serve hotdogs downtown on Saturdays. We make up snack packs for some of the least privileged children at Oak Pointe Elementary each week. We donate food and clothing to Sharing God’s Love, buy toys for children at Christmas, give away Easter baskets to abused and neglected children. These are amazing programs that involved a great many of our members. We should celebrate these projects!
But as wonderful as all these projects are, our greatest outreach ministry is the way we
share our facilities with the rest of the community. Every day, hundreds of people pass through our doors in search of a better life. The Lunch Box chapter of AA is one of the largest in the Columbia area and it meets 6 days a week. There’s not a week that goes by that someone from AA doesn’t tell me how important this particular chapter has been in changing his or her life. The New Beginnings chapter of Narcotics Anonymous began meeting about a year ago. It grew very quickly, and they have now started a second weekly meeting. Boy Scout Troop 312 has called St. Simon & St. Jude home for twenty years. In that time, we have sponsored dozens of Eagle Scouts and helped hundreds of boys become more self-reliant citizens. Venture Scouts and Girl Scouts are also active here. Meanwhile, two nights a week, we provide a place of recovery for court-ordered and voluntary domestic abuse counseling groups.
All of these groups gather in our church because we welcome them in. And as the vestry began to reflect on it, we began to realize that one of our greatest strengths lies in our willingness to open our doors to the community – even to those who choose to worship someplace else. We began to change our perspective, and see these groups not as something outside of who we are, but a constituent part of our church and our identity in the community. Over the years, St. Simon & St. Jude has become a Community Cathedral, a place where everyone in the community is welcome.
God has blessed us richly in many other areas as well. We have a music program that is far better than we could ever afford. We have creative and willing teachers and young people who are engaged and want to participate in the life of the parish. We are a diverse church – racially, politically, theologically, and spiritually – and we welcome and support each other regardless of differences.
At the same time, we recognized the need to improve in some key areas. We want to work harder an making our worship more engaging and enthusiastic. We want to foster more fellowship and study through small groups. We want to help all of our members identify the gifts God has blessed them with. And we want to do a better job of telling the world who we are at St. Simon & St. Jude and invite others to join us.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus returns from his retreat in the desert “filled with the Holy Spirit.” And he goes to the temple and reads a passage from Isaiah.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
The spirit of the Lord is upon us as well. He has sent us to proclaim release to those addicted to alcohol and drugs. He has given us a place that serves the entire community, changing lives and strengthening young men and women. He filled us with a diverse and creative congregation.
All of these things, our incredible strengths and our opportunities for improvement, combine to make us a unique place in the kingdom of God. We are who we are, not because of what we can’t do, but because of who we already are. All it takes is for us to open our eyes, see what’s already right in our parish, and build on that. All it takes is being open to the epiphany of God’s already abundant presence in our church and our lives.
Let us proclaim this year, as the year of the Lord’s favor at St. Simon & St. Jude.