Revelations in our time
The word “epiphany” (from the Greek epiphaneia or theophaneia) means “appearance” or “manifestation” of God, and has roots in the word for sunrise or dawn. For Christians, Christmas marks the coming of God to us; Epiphany celebrates the appearance of the Lord in the midst of humanity. Epiphany not only reveals the Savior to the world but also calls the world to show forth Christ — to be witnesses to God’s true light.
In our lives of faith, some epiphanies are dramatic and send our lives down a different path. Others are more subtle, even commonplace, and influence how we see ourselves and the world. Either way, whether God whispers to us or knocks us for a major loop, we are in for a change.
As we celebrate Epiphany 2018, we asked some members of the PC(USA) to share their own epiphanies.
It’s been three years now, but my dream from that night is still vivid. It was my first day as the new pastor at a church. I was walking up a gravel driveway. Surrounded by high grasses, I scanned the scene, puzzled. No building, no steeple …. just a farm.
I woke from the dream at 3:17 a.m. Church on a farm — how compelling could that be! Worship in a barn, in an orchard ….Sunday school with chickens …. and folks could deliver food on the way home. Farm-to-food pantry, farm-to-school cafeteria, farm-to-prison, farm-to-whatever!
I googled “farm church” to see if such a thing existed, but found nothing. I went to GoDaddy and, to my surprise, the domain name www.FarmChurch.org was available. For $85 I could have it for five years. Awake to a new possibility, I got out my credit card.
— Ben Johnston-Krase, co-founding pastor, Farm Church, Durham, North Carolina
My RV ministry was celebrated as a church without a building. However, I found myself reverting to a “traditional” church mindset, trying unsuccessfully to interest people in coming to my chapel for what I had to offer. God gave me an epiphany: I needed to be present with these residents in the power of the moment, like Christ did with the woman at the well. She, too, would probably have felt ineligible in a traditional church setting.
The journey of one man from his initial self-disclosure of being an atheist to his opting to stay to hear my message after a music performance was a series of “moments” — opportunities to connect, building trust and relationship. Helping when needed, offering sympathy when his dog died and compassion for his sports injury, as well as being honest and vulnerable about my own life made all the difference in bridging the gap.
— Tamara John, founder/director, Hope for Life Chapel RV Ministry, Huntington Beach, California
Just a common and ordinary person
I remember a recent epiphany I had because it shapes me every day. One day it became clear to me when I realized that to witness and experience Jesus Christ, one does not need to be a “wise man” or have a fancy title like “magi” or “king.” One certainly does not have to have an impressive-sounding job like “astronomer.” One does not need to possess expensive and exotic gifts to give. One does not even need to travel long distances in a group of three, although companionship helps. This epiphany led me to finally understand that even a common and everyday person in Indiana, like me, just trying to get through life on a daily basis, can witness, experience, worship and be changed by Jesus. I remember this epiphany because by the grace of God it happens almost every day.
— Andrew Kort, pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Bloomington, Indiana
A lesson from my tree
On the edge of my front porch, I’m elevated above the road and set back just enough to be hidden from view. It’s the perfect spot for reflection. Many days at dusk I would return to that spot. But for me, reflection often turned into self-loathing as I would mentally go over a list of things I’d left undone or could have done better.
One day I particularly noticed a Japanese maple in my front yard. Its craggy branches bend, twist and weave through each other. No one could have predicted exactly how this tree’s branches would grow, and no other tree’s branches are exactly like this one’s. There’s no such thing as a perfect or imperfect Japanese maple.
I realized I could look at myself the same way. There are a lot of ways to be a loving, responsible human, and no two will look identical. I’m here not to achieve an imaginary ideal but to create my own craggy life.
— Elizabeth Jeffries, member, Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community, Pittsburgh
The ‘gift’ of pain
My spiritual epiphany began when I woke up one morning last May unable to move without extreme pain. When I tried to stand, I collapsed on the floor, involuntarily shaking and crying out in pain. Countless chiropractic and orthopedic appointments confirmed that I have a bulging disc and arthritis in my lower back.
The epiphany here is that God used my pain to open me up to the pain of others. I have a newfound sympathy for those without health insurance (what would I have done without it?), for those in parking lots struggling to get out of their cars, for the folks whose gait betrays their discomfort. I am not willing to say that God is “in” my pain — or anyone else’s — but God is certainly using it to teach me compassion: training me to look beyond myself to be present with, and possibly ease the suffering of, others.
— Joshua Bower, pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Albany, Georgia
Never too old to learn
I was reading some children’s books. Molly Bannaky is the real-life story of an indentured English woman who homesteaded in Maryland and fell in love with her African slave. The couple married despite the miscegenation laws of the time. They had four daughters, one of whom was the mother of Benjamin Banneker, an astronomer and mathematician born in 1731. Molly taught Benjamin how to read using her Bible. Banneker was 57 when he discovered astronomy, taught himself, and made the difficult calculations to predict a solar eclipse; 59 when he helped to survey the future capital city, Washington, D.C., and wrote a personal letter objecting to slavery and received a response from Thomas Jefferson, then the secretary of state; and 60 when his almanacs began to be published. Age and race are imagined realities, but the ability to keep learning is a gift of grace.
— Anita Coleman, board member, Presbyterian Writers Guild and Presbyterian Women
Forgive me if this sounds like a cliché. I can’t imagine that I am the only one who has had this experience. It’s just that when I think of the revelation of God, God’s sudden appearing and making herself known in my life, I can’t help but think about the birth of my son. Maybe not the birth per se, but that first moment of holding him was a moment when I recognized the love and presence of God in a way that I had never known before. In that moment of holding this small, vulnerable creature in my arms, all the metaphors that I’d heard about God’s parental love for me came into clearer focus. I didn’t love my son because of his merits. I didn’t love him because of his virtues. I loved him because of his existence. His life brought me joy. In that moment, in that way, God became more fully known to me.
— Derrick Weston, Arlington Presbyterian Church, Arlington, Virginia
My epiphany came in the garden. In my first season, I managed to harvest one cucumber that cost me roughly $112, due to the cost of building the garden. It was a very tasty cuke. My harvest has grown, but I still have problems I can’t seem to solve. Moths eat any hardy greens, and my zucchini made beautiful blossoms but no fruit. As I stressed over this, in the niches of my yard, a miracle sprouted in my driveway.
A stalk of corn — complete with silk, an ear and kernels — grew out of a crack between the stones. How? Someone seems to feed ears of corn to the squirrels, as I often find cobs dropped in the yard. How can a kernel take root in a crack, but my healthy vine has produced only two cucumbers?
This is what my relationship with God feels like. I am busy working in my neat little box, sometimes hard, sometimes lazily, while miracles are happening all around me. And often the greatest epiphanies come from something I thought was trash, something useless and meaningless. If I step back and look around, who knows what might grow.
— Abby King-Kaiser, associate director, Center for Faith and Justice, Xavier University
Small acts of faith
This sexagenarian desires to finish life well. I know our Lord gives mercy and grace freely, and nothing I can give can repay that generosity, but I fret over rapidly fleeting sunsets and waning physical stamina. How do I live this last quarter of my life? What have I left to accomplish for the Lord? Scrolling Facebook, I experienced an epiphany as I read a friend’s thanksgiving for answered prayer. I realized when I bow my head at the keyboard and pray for family, friends and acquaintances, it is not only sustaining those folks in difficult situations, but also, it is a testimony to God’s faithfulness. In our cyber-prayers, pain and sorrow is lightened and joy is magnified. Seemingly insignificant acts of faith resound across networks of thousands longing to know their lives matter to God. And I’m at peace in my time and place in the kingdom of God.
— Roberta Updegraff, member, Lycoming Presbyterian Church, Williamsport, Pennsylvania
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Categories: Faith & Worship, Presbyterians Today
Tags: Epiphany, faith
Tags: acts of faith, church, epiphany, farm church, first presbyterian, first presbyterian church, god, japanese maple, life, love, moment of holding, pain, parental love, pastor first presbyterian, pastor first presbyterian church, presbyterian, presbyterian church, rv ministry, traditional church, tree's branches
Ministries: Presbyterians Today