Today is the Feast of the three kings. It is the end of the Christmas cycle and the beginning of Epiphany. As Christians, we have spent part of our holiday remembering and recreating the remarkable story of a birth and angels and a moving star. But as soon as the original Christmas card picture is taken, reality sets in. And the story moves from promise and hope – to survival.
Threatened by competition, Herod wants the child dead, and sets his soldiers out to slaughter newborn Jewish boys. Joseph is warned about all this by an angel in a dream; and if he wants his family to survive, he needs to take the child and its mother to Egypt. And the wise men, who are onto Herod’s scam, survive by going home by another way.
But Joseph is concerned less about survival – and more about the promise. It was hope that drew the wise men to the manger, where they left their gifts; but they left with a vision of God’s presence, and a promise of an even deeper hope that completely transformed their lives.
We are people of the promise. Yet, as Dwight Zscheile points out in his book, People of the Way: Renewing Episcopal Identity, much of what the Episcopal Church has focused on has been survival. “For the past several decades, while the Episcopal Church has been in precipitous decline in relationship to a dramatically growing and diversifying US population, the conversation has largely been focused inward, upon the church” (page 3). He laments the waves of strategies and techniques that have been applied to achieve growth. He has discovered another way: “the thesis of this book is that renewing Episcopal identity will not come through one more conversation about the church and how to organize it better. Instead, the future of the Episcopal Church in the US depends upon attending first and foremost to God’s life and movement and discovering how Episcopalians are particularly gifted and called to join up with that movement. It is time to have a different conversation” (page 4). Not about survival, but how God is working in the world. Living into God’s promise.
For the next seven weeks, through this season of Epiphany, I will be leading an online conversation about Dwight’s book, and the challenges he raises and the insights he offers. I will post reflections a couple of times a week on how I see God working in the world – epiphany moments, and how that might lead me – and us, to becoming more intentional about being the “people of the way.”
You're invited to share your thoughts on the book in the comments section below.