"God calls us as followers of the Christ child to eliminate poverty from our common life as well as safeguard this planet, our island home"
January 8, 2015
By the Rt. Rev. Prince G. Singh
VIII Episcopal Bishop in Rochester
Epiphany is an amazing feast that reminds us of what I believe to be a few salient tenets of the Gospel (Matthew 2:1-12). These are: inclusion of all in beloved community to recognize the face of God in each other, bringing gifts of meaning, and overcoming the sin of polarization.
Human beings tend to have the proclivity to hang out with those who are similar to themselves. Homogeneity is a trend that is easily accessed and often available in most human interactions. Difference, on the other hand, is less easily accessed and often less readily available in most human interactions. The central place of the Magi in the proclamation of the good news of Christ’s birth is significant to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. According to Armenian tradition, the Magi were from Arabia, Persia and India. Wherever they were from they were outsiders and strangers in Bethlehem. I love the fact that a central icon of the nativity places these strangers in a place of visibility and dignity. The inclusive love of God seems to constantly seek out ways to include the other. Where there is inclusion there is heaven, which is another way of saying the presence of God. So, here’s a suggestion for an actionable practice: to invite people who are different from you to your home for a meal. I invite you to make them feel like royalty itself, as children of God. Try and do this at least one time this year. Several of you already practice such inclusion. Could you consider coaching others to practice such an inclusive and gracious expression of Christian love? Then, perhaps you could go to your Church, talk to your priest, and start a group like the one at St. Thomas’ in Bath called Curious Christians—several churches have similar reflection/study groups—to reflect on questions like, “How/where do I see the face of God in this encounter with the other?”
There are enough gender jokes about the Magi, being wise guys not asking for directions and bringing gifts that were not more practical like soaps, casseroles, milk, or diapers to Mary and the baby Jesus. In a culture where we have just come out of a season of consumerist commodification we have the opportunity to consider gifts of meaning to one another. Over the Holidays, I had the privilege of witnessing the gift of knitted hats (about thirty of them) that were hand-knitted by a woman who was diagnosed with cancer. Her spiritual exercise was to knit obsessively so that thirty or so strangers could wear something that was handmade to remind them that they too were made by the hand of God. I have come to realize that sometimes the best gift is the gift of presence, when frankincense, gold and myrrh are not readily affordable. So show up! You are a hand-knitted gift of God!
Finally, I want to remind us of the sin of polarization; “us versus them.” Who are these strangers from the east? Recently there has been increased clamor around a polarization of black and blue; racism and the police. While both are important issues in themselves, I think this kind of polarization works with a false dichotomy; an unproductive pitting of one against the other. In the past few months, Officers Daryl Pierson (RPD), Rafael Ramos (NYPD), and Weijan Liu (NYPD) were allegedly murdered by persons of color. This does not make all people of color dangerous, unless we allow such thinking to persist, percolate and polarize. Michael Brown and Eric Garner were killed tragically by police officers. This does not make all police officers abusers of power. I know police officers in the city of Rochester who care deeply and risk everything to protect all. Let us be careful not to get into unproductive dichotomies that are destructive to our common life.
I close with another important false dichotomy between poverty and climate change. The third, fourth and fifth marks of mission are: to respond to human need by loving service, to seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation, and to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth. God calls us as followers of the Christ child to eliminate poverty from our common life as well as safeguard this planet, our island home. I recently met with a group of faithful saints who, in spite of coming from very different walks of life, wish to keep our unified attention on both these missional priorities of the Church. I’m also delighted to mention the ongoing work of Rachel Rejoices, a network of Episcopalians who are currently engaged in educational ministries among youth and children. Together, they are offering us new and exciting ways to commit to the education and wellbeing of children. I commend these groups to you to help expand and deepen your missional engagement. Please be on the lookout for information on their activities and feel free to reach out to them at the links below.
This Epiphany and through the New Year,
May God bless you with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart! Amen.
May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among people! Amen.
May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, starvation, or loss of all that they cherish, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy! Amen.
May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done! Amen.
-a Franciscan Blessing
Committee on Poverty & Climate Change:
Diocesan Committee - Seeing the Face of God in Each Other: