The Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ
January 6, 2013
One of the most classic movie scenes of all time is from “A Christmas Story.” I’m sure many of you know it by heart. All the little boys and girls are out on the playground on a cold winter day. And one little boy goads another, “I dare you to stick your tongue to the flagpole.” The children gasp! It was a dare. And to turn down a dare means that you are a coward.
Well, wisely, the little boy hesitates. He doesn’t really want to stick his tongue to a frozen flagpole. But the antagonist pushes, “I double dog dare you.” Okay, this just got real. A double dog dare? Backing down from a double dog dare means that you’ll be the laughing stock of the whole school.
But still, the boy backs off. He’s afraid his tongue will stick to the frozen flagpole. And then, then, the antagonist goes for the jugular. “I triple dog dare you!”
Well, you just can’t back down from a triple dog dare. You would never be able to take that albatross from your neck.
So, mustering the courage, the little boy approaches the flagpole, sticks out his tongue. And, much to the glee of American movie watchers ever since, the tongue sticks. All because he was dared.
Now, I have a challenge for you. I have a dare for you. Don’t worry, I promise it won’t hurt. It won’t cause permanent body damage. I dare you to invite one person to church. Before Ash Wednesday on February thirteenth, I dare you to invite somebody to come to Holy Comforter with you. I dare you. This is my Epiphany Challenge.
Now, as Episcopalians, I can see the fear in your eyes. I can already see the excuses bubbling up in your head. “I couldn’t invite anybody to church because I’m not the perfect Christian.” Well, I’ve got news for you. If you’re waiting to be perfect, then you’re going to be waiting a long time. Because you’ll never be perfect.
Or this: “I couldn’t invite anybody to church because I wouldn’t have the right words to say.” You will never have the perfect words to say. You just won’t. And my gut tells me that when someone invited you to church for the first time – even if it was your mother – they probably didn’t say the perfect thing. But look – here you are!
Or there’s this excuse: “Well, the person I would invite wouldn’t be welcomed.” You might think they are too cynical, too hypocritical, that they have too many tattoos, or that their purple mohawk would cause a stir. But you know what? Everybody is welcome here. And as a church, we are going to welcome everybody. We shouldn’t care if they’ve been in church for a thousand years or if they’ve never stepped inside a church. We shouldn’t care if their piercings jingle as they come up to communion of if they wear the perfect Brooks Brothers suit. All means all, and all are invited.
Because let me share with you the greatest theological secret in the whole world. All people worship something. Everybody prays to something. There is not one human being who doesn’t have for himself a god. Now that god looks different. Our God came as a Jewish rabbi in the first century. But other gods are a bit more subtle. Some people worship money. Some people worship sex. Others have the Kardashians and Kanye West as their gods. Millions worship the National Football League. Millions more worship at the temple of Macy’s or Dillard’s. Everybody prays to something. Everybody you know has a god. Each human being that has ever lived worships something.
Even the wise men from the east. The magi make it to Jerusalem and meet with King Herod. And they say, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and we have come to pay him homage.” I really wish the translators of the New Testament would have put it this way: “We have come to worship him.” Even the wise men, who had never met the Lord Jesus, were out to worship something.
I double dog dare you. I double dog dare you to love somebody else enough to tell them about the Lord Jesus. See, two thousand years ago, the wise men had a star to follow. A bright point in the sky, guiding them to the newborn Jesus. But that star is gone. The light in the heavens has vanished. So it’s now up to us. We have to be the stars. We have to be the guiding light for others. We can’t expect people just to show up and worship God. It’s up to us to show them how to do it.
Now, I want to be very clear about something. We all have to be on the same page about our purpose for inviting others to church. First, let me say what our goal shouldn’t be. We should not be inviting others to church in hopes that they suddenly open their treasure chests like the wise men did. When you ask somebody to church, the goal is not that they turn around and give us a bunch of money, or that they come with gold, frankincense, and myrrh…but mostly gold. If the sole purpose in inviting others to church is a hope that they give us money, than we cheapen our mission. Then our church is no better than Target or Best Buy.
And our goal should not just be to make our church bigger. If all we’re looking for is numbers, then it doesn’t matter what we worship. And if all we do is compare numbers, then the worshippers of the National Football League will beat us every time.
The real point of inviting somebody to church is to share Jesus. When you are the bright star in somebody’s life, inviting them into a relationship with the Lord Jesus, the goal is nothing other than a transformation of the heart. When the wise men visited the Christ child, they were changed. What the wise men saw changed their lives, the worship of the baby Jesus transformed them. They returned to east as different people because they had seen Jesus.
And that is our hope. That is our mission. We invite our friends and strangers and neighbors to church so that they can meet Jesus and have a deeper relationship with him. So that their hearts and our hearts can be bent towards a relationship with God. We hope that when we leave this place, we are different than when we came, because we saw Jesus. That is what it is all about. Becoming Episcopalians and the money and the rest of it all follow from what must come first – a living relationship with the Lord Jesus.
We know, we know, that a relationship with Jesus is really only possible when you have a community. You cannot be a Lone Ranger Christian. Why do you think there were multiple wise men? Because they needed each other to help them worship the Christ child.
Evangelism, welcoming strangers to our church, inviting others into a relationship with Jesus, being a star – whatever you want to call it – is a necessary part of our lives as Christians. It’s not optional. Somebody helped bring you into a relationship with Jesus, and God expects us to return the favor.
I dare you. I double dog dare you. I triple dog dare you to love God so much that you share that love with somebody else. A friend. A neighbor. A waitress. A stranger. A child. A parent. This is my Epiphany Challenge. That before Ash Wednesday on February thirteenth, you invite somebody into a deeper relationship with Jesus.
And finally – don’t be concerned with your success rate. If the person you invite never darkens our doors – that’s fine. If they show up and suddenly become an all-star Episcopalian – that’s fine too. Remember – it wasn’t just the wise men who saw the star pointing to the Christ child. The whole world saw it. It was in the heavens. The wise men were just the ones who took up the invitation. But somebody has to do the inviting.
So there it is. There is my challenge for you. My Epiphany Challenge. A triple dog dare. You can’t really back down from that.
This challenge is not about the money. It’s not about our church. It’s not about appearances. It’s about Jesus. It’s about transformation. This challenge is about deepening your relationship with the Lord Jesus. It’s about loving God so much, that you can’t help but share the love of God.