Today is the start of the season of Epiphany. See, you’re asleep already, aren’t you? Epiphany? Not many people get excited about Epiphany. Epiphany is the season between Christmas and Lent, both of which are much more well known because both have all kinds of special observances associated with them. Well, the Christmas season, the twelve days from December 25 to January 5, may not have special church observances, but at least we know what Christmas is all about. Perhaps not so when it comes to Epiphany.
The word “epiphany” means revealing. So the season of Epiphany is meant to focus on the revealing of Jesus as the Christ, the savior of the world. It begins with the visit of the wise men, who, according to tradition, arrive in Bethlehem twelve days after Jesus’ birth. Next Sunday we remember Jesus’ baptism. And so on with the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, until we get to Ash Wednesday, which is March 6 this year.
The wise men are apparently astrologers, people who study the stars. Somehow they deduce that the star they see means that “the king of the Jews” has been born. And they believe this child is so important they make the journey to see him and bring gifts.
It’s important to note that since the wise men are “from the East” that means they probably are not Jewish. Matthew is thus giving us a glimpse of what is to come; that Jesus is the savior of the world, that God’s love is intended for all people everywhere. Jesus’ own people, the Jews, are certainly not excluded, but the story hints that everyone else is included.
And how do they know where to go? They follow a star. They somehow know that this sign in the heavens is God’s way of leading them. And they are willing to go.
What sign or signs is God giving us? It is perhaps instructive that there was not just one wise man who saw the star and made the journey. In fact, Matthew doesn’t say there were three. Three has been the assumed number because three gifts were brought to the baby. The fact that it was more than one wise man suggests that it’s not a bad idea to check with others when we think we have a sign from God. The history of religion is strewn with the names of people who claimed that God was telling them something, only to be proven wrong, sometimes tragically wrong.
So we need to talk together about what sign or signs we’re seeing, about where God might be leading us in the coming twelve months and beyond. Here’s my two cents worth, just to get us started.
First, I believe it’s important that we finish the improvements and changes we’ve been making to our facilities. Last year we checked the big one off the list by installing an elevator. We’ve also added a family bathroom. Those are significant and important projects, because both of them enhance our hospitality. Both of them fill a significant need. We have also moved Children Worship and Wonder to a more suitable room. It too fills an important need, because it gives children a major head start in life on the faith front. It teaches them about worship and the church year and stories from the Bible. We are fortunate to have this program.
Construction of the new nursery is underway. We currently have two nice nursery rooms, but they are separate rooms, and we only have two attendants. There need to be two adults with any group of children, meaning we don’t have the people to care for two separate rooms on Sunday mornings. The new setup will be one room divided by a low wall, enabling the two attendants to look after all the little ones and still be in touch with each other. In our world today it is vital that parents know that their children are well cared for, with the appropriate people in the appropriate space. Our new nursery will do that.
This Tuesday we have a meeting scheduled with the man we have been working with from Point
Source Audio. Last month the facilities improvement team gave the go ahead to have Point Source install a projector, screen, and camera in the sanctuary. This will give us the capability we have enjoyed in the fellowship hall for years, namely adding a new visual dimension to our eleven o’clock worship. For a very long time it has been known that we all remember more of what we see than what we hear. So we will soon have a visual aspect to the sermon, in addition to looking at me or Ann. We may also try putting the words to the hymns on the screen, so that you can look up instead of down while singing. We can put announcements on the screen. And so on.
The camera will connect to the existing tv screen in the gathering area, the existing projector and screen in the fellowship hall, and a tv screen in the new nursery. That gives us the opportunity to show – and hear – whatever is happening in the sanctuary in those other spaces. So for example, when we have overflow crowds, they will be able to see and hear the service as it happens. Also, when we upgrade our wi-fi, which we need to do sooner rather than later, we will be able to have both services live on Facebook. Anybody anywhere in the world can then tune in.
The final project is new youth rooms for the Chi Rho and CYF, our middle school and senior high youth groups. They will be the rooms that are now the nurseries. The fact that these groups will have their very own rooms, which they don’t have to share with anyone else, is also an issue of hospitality. It says that we value them by making room, or rooms, for them. That in itself will be attractive to young people looking for such a group.
Remember that the funding for these projects is designed as a two year campaign – last year and this year. We are getting very close to our goal, so keep those gifts and fulfillment of your pledges coming.
Next underneath the star I hope I see the resurrection of some of our mission teams. We already have a couple of yeses from people willing to be on the generosity team. This is the group which keeps generosity in front of us as a spiritual discipline, year round. We also need to bring back to life the welcome team, because we are fortunate enough to have visitors, and we need to be consistent in our follow up with them. It would also be a good thing for us to get the caring for our church family team back together. That is always a need, in the life of TCC and every church. So if you feel God leading you by any of those stars, or any other mission stars, let me or Ann know about it.
Third, I’ve managed to put off getting a legacy society started for a long time. But the Board of Directors meets three weeks from tonight, and I plan to put that on their agenda. A legacy society is simply a list of those who have made a planned gift to Timberlake Christian Church. It’s nothing radical or different from what thousands of churches and other organizations already do.
I’ve mentioned before the church where I worked when I was in seminary which had in every newsletter, which came out every week at the time, the question, “Have you included the church in your will?” It’s really not that hard. You can leave a specific amount, which is what Helen Beth and I have done. You can leave property. You can leave stock. You can leave a percentage of your estate. You can leave your pet hamster, but we’d rather you leave that to your least favorite cousin. There are all sorts of ways to leave the church in your will.
And/or you can set up a charitable gift annuity. This is a very simple instrument. You set aside a certain amount, then for as long as you live, you receive income from it. If you’re seventy, you’ll receive 5.6%. If you’re eighty, 7.3%. Can’t find those rates on a cd, can you? Then when you expire, whatever’s left comes to the church. You call that a win-win.
The purpose of a legacy society is not to relieve us from making our regular giving. The purpose is to allow us to expand our mission and ministry, to make funds available for things we otherwise could not do. We already have a really good permanent funds policy in place, which comes into play for legacy gifts that are not otherwise designated. But you can designate your gift, to things such as the senior minister’s golfing fund. For example.
We follow the star. Hopefully, we follow whatever it is God is using at the time to show us a way ahead. We need to be alert to such signs. And we need to talk about them, so that together, we can follow the star. Amen.