Epiphany… seeing with the mind and heart what might not be visible yet to the eye”
“Seeking 2020 Visions of God – Where will you see God in 2020?”
By Dave Whitmer
First of all, I’m just as surprised to be up here in front of you as you are to see me here. All I can say is, that in a moment of weakness, I said yes to MaryLee. And I must say it has been kind of fun. There’s a lot that goes into planning a worship service and it has been a good reminder for me of how grateful I am for everyone who makes it happen each and every week! I want to specifically call out our wonderful Office Manager, Dianne Mahler for all her help and technical specialists Ruth McIntyre, Don Hitchcock and Keith Calara for their help with the computer issues this week! So… if MaryLee asks you to give the Witness some Sunday morning, say yes. It is guaranteed to be an amazing experience!
We are currently in the liturgical season of Advent and we have been celebrating Epiphany. As we have learned, Epiphany commemorates the coming of the Magi as the first manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles. The three Wise Men (or Wise Ones – because it has been brought to my attention, that perhaps the Magi were in fact, women…!), These Wise Ones, who were considered astronomers of their day, had seen a star and followed it to try to find the new “king”. When they reached the place where the star had led them, they find Mary, Joseph and a baby. They had to have been confused. Where was the king they had “searched diligently” to find? Were they embarrassed to have brought the wrong gifts? The gold…OK. Who can’t use a little more gold, but Frankincense and Myrrh? These aren’t the kind of gifts you bring a little baby! I know…the author of the story was trying to declare Jesus’ holiness by having the Magi present him with these specific items. There is also some evidence these biological substances could have been gifted for their medicinal qualities. But I’m sure Mary and Joseph would have much preferred a subscription to a swaddling clothes diaper service! But I digress…
What has always intrigued me about this story is the sense these three kings had of who Jesus was. It is written that they bowed down and worshipped him! In this and other New Testament stories where people encounter Jesus they are profoundly aware that he is the Christ. There is a presence about him. He is special and it is apparent to people. He exudes a holiness that can be felt and experienced at a distance. From our scripture readings today, the shepherds were told of the birth of Jesus by the “angel of the Lord”. But it’s clear from this scripture that once they visited the manger and saw for themselves, they made it known to all who would listen that this was indeed the Christ! These common shepherds were visited by Angels sent by God and were profoundly affected by their encounter with Jesus!
There is a 1977 comedy named “Oh God”, directed by Rob Reiner. God (who’s played by George Burns) appears as a kindly old man to Jerry Landers (played by John Denver) who is an assistant supermarket manager. God has chosen Jerry to be his messenger to the modern world. The clip we’re about to watch takes place near the end of the film in a courtroom scene where Jerry Landers is on trial and God appears as his witness. Let’s watch the video clip…
What I like about this message is it is an example of God appearing to, what we would consider to be a common person – Jerry Landers, the Assistant Supermarket Manager. God’s message is simple: God wants us to be in loving relationships with God and with one another. Given this idea that God reveals God’s self to even the likes of me, I think it is interesting to consider how God chooses to be revealed to us!
I am aware of times in my life when I have experienced the presence of God:
- I witnessed God when my father passed away, in the many visits and casseroles delivered to our house by members of this church. People just kept coming to the door. They hugged my mother and sat with her and cried. At 10 years old, I understood this to be holy – a manifestation of God alive and working in the world through concerned friends and church family. Similarly, when my Mom passed away, our family was surrounded in love by this congregation and I know God was working in and through these individuals.
- I felt the presence of God when I witnessed the birth of my daughter Lindsay and my son Dale. The amazing power of a new birth and all the love and potential in those moments!
- And I must acknowledge the presence of God in being able to give the “Witness” today with my daughter Lindsay as my Worship Leader and my sister Barbara leading the “Children’s Time of Wondering”!
I have been thinking a lot about Mike Roback since his recent passing. For those new this morning, Mike was a kind and gentle man who lived his life for the youth of this church. He was beloved by many in this congregation and is sorely missed by all of us that knew him. Mike and I shared a bond because of Sierra Service Project. Sierra Service Project or SSP is a missioned-based organization that brings together groups of high school aged youth and their counselors, who converge usually on a Native American reservation to work on people’s homes. I served as a counselor, taking youth from Napa to SSP for about 10 years and also served on the SSP Board of Directors for 7 years. Mike, was one of the current SSP counselors and he and I shared this special bond together. SSP is a place where you can see God at work. The first year I went to SSP we were in Smith River near the California/Oregon border. My work team included about 5 or 6 youth, ages 14 -18 and included Stephen Lutz, Peter and Evelyn’s son. We were shown to our worksite and shown the project we were to work on – a set of stairs and front door landing for a mobile home. We were told the woman who lived there was named Carol and we might get a chance to meet her…or we might not. We made good progress on the stairs and so we also tackled a couple of other projects including some bathroom plumbing and electrical work inside Carol’s home. It was late in the week before our team had the opportunity to meet Carol. She came to me, one afternoon, and said she wanted to talk with me. She said: “Do you know that you are a gift from God?” I was a bit shocked at this and quickly sensed this was a moment I needed to share with my team. So I said “Can you please hold that thought?” and asked if she minded that I called the rest of the team over. We gathered on the newly built steps and she shared with the work team: “You are all a gift from God! Before you came I was considering having to move from my home. And, she continued, it’s not just my home, but it’s my family! All of my family lives in the surrounding houses and I was going to have to move away from them and especially my language” (this was critical because they still spoke the native dialect and she would not have the same opportunity to keep her language alive if she were to have to move). We cried together and my team experienced being the hands and “red shoes” of God alive for Carol in the rebuilding of her home. I experienced several other moments while at SSP where youth were changed by their experiences and they could begin to understand that God loves them and also what it feels like to give to another person without expecting anything in return.
For more than a year, the Adams Hall Dream Team has been meeting to dream about what we could or should do next with Adams Hall after 20 years as the location of the Hope Center. Many of you have shared your dreams and ideas for Adams Hall with members of our team. We have thought about our property, the city zoning, the urban and residential surroundings, our ministries as a downtown church and tried to discern what God might be calling us to do with our property in the future. Our District Superintendent Schuyler Rhodes recommended to Marylee that we might want to talk with a gentleman named Landis Graden. Landis represents a company called DCG Strategies and they have worked with many United Methodist churches throughout our District and California; various public entities like school districts and other governmental and non-profit agencies. They help churches strategize the best use of their real estate assets and help with the planning and even sometimes the development of those strategies to further the churches mission. Several of us met with Landis this past week and I think we all came away energized that we may have identified a partner to help us refine, articulate and plan our vision for the future. It is also important and significant that Landis and DCG Strategies have the support and recommendation of our District Superintendent, Schuyler Rhodes and our United Methodist Conference as we move forward to best steward our churches resources! We should be hearing back from Landis this week with his preliminary findings and suggestions. Should we make the decision to partner with DCG Strategies, we will participate in a process to identify what success in our specific case looks like and put together plans and a strategy to achieve our vision. We hope to be led by and see God’s plan for us come into full focus as we continue our work in 2020.
Where else will you see God in this coming year? Are you prepared for the many ways God will be revealed to you and will show you possibilities for sharing God’s love? Will you be able to look past your preconceptions and be open to have God work in your lives and the lives of those around you? As the Wise Ones of old, can we search diligently for God in Christ in our daily lives and be prepared to recognize these events so we may continue to realize God’s vision for the world!