Celebrating God’s Outrageous Openheartedness on Epiphany
Today’s post is by Susan Becker, RDC, who is a 59-year member of the Sisters of the Divine Compassion, White Plains, NY. Susan is a clinical social worker in private practice and also serves as the Interfaith Chaplain at Pace University Pleasantville, NY . She has been a member of her congregational leadership team since September. As a member of the LGBTQ community, Susan shares her own experiences as well as those of 22 other sisters in an anthology entitled, Love Tenderly: Sacred Stories of Lesbian and Queer Religious, published this month by New Ways Ministry.
Today’s liturgical readings can be found by clicking here.
Reading the lectionary’s scriptures year after year, the words and phrases that always touch me are the ones that celebrate God’s part of the bargain, no matter what, in the covenant with people chosen,, set apart, cherished, protected . “I have called you by name, you are mine.” “I will hold you in the palm of my hand.” “I will never leave you or forsake you, and I will lead you to a land I will give you.” “I will bring you home.” And God added divine theatrics to these declarations– dreams, pillars of both cloud and fire, voices emanating from the heavens – just to reinforce the points.
I’m not sure how God decided whom to choose. What I do know is that if some were chosen, others were not. Whole tribes and nations were relegated to the margins, somehow on their own. The “other.”
Which brings me to today’s Feast of the Epiphany. You remember the story. Three astrologers from the east undertake a journey, mostly in darkness, following a hunch about a star and a promise. These people were “other.” Non-Jews, a portion of the “not chosen.” They arrive at the place Mary and Joseph and Jesus are staying and are invited in. And then, as Matthew tells us, they recognize the One as “the One.” Let’s not miss the moment. This recognition is not so much by the magi’s skills as about God’s outrageous openheartedness by erasing the line between chosen and not chosen.
The message of the Epiphany is about universal inclusiveness. There’s no ambiguity in the story, no one at the door checking ID, no Point of Entry, no test of orthodoxy, no loyalty oaths. It appears that the only requirement for “chosenness” is a longing in the human heart for the Holy One.
If you go back to the Old Testament you can trace the story of Salvation History as the story of a God who continually tries to broaden the divine embrace. This God teaches, cajoles, bribes, interrupts sleep, bargains with…does anything to get our attention, to convince us of that embrace and to bring us safely home.
One time as I headed off on a desert solo retreat, a friend of mine reminded me to have expectancy rather than expectation. The invitation was to let go of what I had decided this was going to be all about so that I could open enough space to recognize the millions of ways God shows up. As people of faith we know, we truly know, the God toward whom we move is moving toward us. Our task is to tap into the deepest part of ourselves where the Divine dwells and ask to see with God’s eyes.
Our lived experience at the various levels of our institutions-church, state, national and international – is anything but inclusive. People not like “us,” which is often defined as white, straight, cisgender, English-speaking, preferably male, are either suspect or simply don’t count. While so many walk the journey from spiritual homelessness to affirmation, recognition, and acceptance, our tribal instincts about who’s “in” and who’s “out” live on.
How does our experience as part of the LGBTQ community line up with God’s expansiveness? Some days it sure doesn’t’ feel that way. We know someone, or know someone who knows someone, who has been made to feel that they are “other.” Or maybe it’s our own personal story of being made to feel as “other.” Whatever experience, these are stories of a people to whom God is present in sign and symbol and flesh that we must claim as ours.
As we emerge from an awful year in which everything has been politicized and opinions end in polarization, I invite us to remember the image and the reality of the event we celebrate today, another moment in time when God says anything’s possible.
If we still need convincing about God’s Epiphany agenda, the last couple of lines in Matthew’s account provide the exclamation point. The magi were warned in a dream about Herod’s ill will toward the Child. Yet, as God has done from Genesis to that moment to this moment, God shows up – sometimes with divine theatrics –to make sure we all get home.
—Susan Becker, RDC, January 3, 2021
Thank you, Susan, for a beautiful reflection. The insight of the Maji as “the other” but as among the first to whom Christ is revealed underscores a message for our divided times. And the marginalized bring gifts to share. God’ outrageous, open hearted stance draws forth the generous spirit and participation of all.