This past Wednesday, January 6th was an important day. Wednesday was the Feast of Epiphany, the annual observance of the wise men’s visit to Bethlehem to see the Christ child. As a religious holiday, Epiphany has historically celebrated the revelation of Jesus and his true identity to the world. In Epiphany, we recognize that the light of Christ is intended to spread to all nations. The word epiphany, after all, means to have a sudden realization; to have an illuminating discovery that reveals the truth of reality.
What a strange Epiphany we had in the United States this past Wednesday. Instead of worshipping with the Magi as they honored the Christ, we watched a violent insurrection storm the Capitol.
Before I address those events, allow me to make a couple of clarifying remarks. First, I speak in my capacity as Pastor of this church who has been called to this pulpit. It would be a dereliction of duty for me to not apply the Scriptures to the reality of the world, just as I have endeavored to do with many current events since I arrived here. Moreover, we are Baptists, which means I do not speak for the leadership of this church. As Baptists, each member has a voice. Members are welcome to disagree with me, but as one called to preach, I must speak my conscience.
Second, for reasons I don’t have time to elaborate now, I do not believe the ideologies of American politics belong in the pulpit. The truths of the Gospel will, at times, overlap with the assertions of Republicans and conservatives, just as they will overlap, at times, with the assertions of Democrats and liberals. Thus, there will be times when I sound to you like a liberal and there will be times when I sound to you like a conservative, but on this platform I will fix my gaze on the cross. I will unambiguously and unashamedly call our church and God’s people to think first about the kingdom of God and its ethics. We have all too often been identified as Christians with our Americans politics, and they are not the same.
And now to the events of January 6th. First, I will address “the heinous attack on the United States Capitol. Like all Americans, I am outraged by the violence, lawlessness, and mayhem. … America is and must always be a nation of law and order. The demonstrators who infiltrated the Capitol [have] defiled the seat of American democracy. To those who engaged in the acts of violence and destruction, you do not represent our country. [And] to those who broke the law, you [must] pay.” Violence is not the way of Christ or the kingdom of God. The violent occupation of the Capitol on Wednesday was sin, plain and simple.
Second, the fabric of our society has been stretched and strained for far too long. It is beginning to rip, and not at the seams, but right down the middle. It is not too late to reverse our current course. The local church is the hope of the world. Not conservatives, not liberals, not Republicans, not Democrats. All these are of the world, but we are not. That which binds us, the blood of Christ, is far more powerful and true than anything we might disagree on. If we are separated and pitted against one another, the fault lies with us. Let us begin with our rhetoric. The inflammatory, hateful speech that accuses and indicts our fellow citizens and hides behind the distance of social media and electronic devices must stop. Let us follow the example of our Savior who listened first and asked questions second. Let us be obedient to the admonition of the Apostle Paul who said, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone” (Col 4:6).
Our American discourse has become corrosive and toxic, and as we saw this past Wednesday, it can lead to reprehensible and lethal outcomes. We need to regain, or perhaps learn for the first time, an ability to have constructive dialogue, even when we disagree. Our church should become a place that fosters such dialogue. While I don’t have any specific plans at present, I invite you to share ideas with me that might create space for such discussion. Moving people from combative exchanges on social media to healthy, face-to-face conversations will be a step in the right direction.
The events of Wednesday have the potential to be a dark foreshadowing. They could also be a wake-up call for us all … a realization … something illuminating … an epiphany.