Please enjoy this reflection on Epiphany by Rev. Andrew McHenry. Rev. McHenry is a 1995 graduate of Saint Paul School of Theology. He served as pastor eight years at First Congregational Church in Emporia until moving to Paradise, California to lead Memorial Congregational Church. Shortly into his tenure, his own home and possessions, as well as the church building and most of the town, were lost in the Campfire in November of 2018. This piece speaks to the first Epiphany celebrated after the fire and explores the questions of rebuilding, decision-making, and unity. You can find other ponderings by Rev. McHenry by visiting his blog at https://pastormchenry.weebly.com/blog/archives/02-2019. – Dr. Melissa Pearce, Director of Alumni
Epiphany fell on a Sunday this year. January 6th is the holiday where we celebrate the coming of the wise men to visit Jesus as a child. In worship that day I pondered over Matthew 2:12 which says, “And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.”
This raised questions for me that go back to details the text doesn’t provide: Did all the wise men have the same dream simultaneously? Or did one of them have it and then the group collectively took it as a warning? What was the conversation like that led to this? What was their normal group decision-making process? How was it altered by whatever the dream was?
Of course, there’s no way of knowing any of this for sure, but it made me think of the common-sense wisdom that says, “Sleep on it.” It’s to our benefit when we can get a good night’s rest before making a major decision. Sleep helps us to process the facts, and then we wake up with a clearer sense of what needs to happen. Dreams are a part of our sleep cycle. Our subconscious minds generate images that reflect our emotional and spiritual state. If you can start to understand what the images represent as you’re dreaming, and then if you can then remember what you were feeling, you’ll come away with a deeper self-understanding of your spiritual/emotional wellness.
It can seem scary to throw God into the mix of this. Certainly, it would be a mistake to view every dream as a sign from God. (Most of us have had some pretty strange dreams.) But God can communicate His will in any number of ways. Think of how the divine hand can intermingle with our subconscious minds as we dream. We can come away from the process with a better sense of direction. I think of the words of Proverbs 3:6: “In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.”
All of this correlates with the broader scientific fact that a lack of rest can make for bad decision-making, while good rest can make for better decision-making. If you do a google search on sleep and decision-making you’ll find all kinds of scientific and health articles that speak to this.
These things came to mind when I was thinking about how to help the church in the decision-making process that we face. Many of our members have scattered, but new possibilities abound. There’s much to hope for, but there’s also a certain danger: Churches and other organizations can become deeply divided over questions of money and priorities. So on the last Sunday of January, I chose to preach on Philippians 1:27-28 – “…let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.”
I relate all of this to Paul’s call for “striving” or for a collective struggle. Unity is a struggle because it’s not natural. Entropy is natural. Quarreling and disagreement and backbiting are natural. But unity is something that we all have to struggle for together, with each of us playing a part.
This doesn’t mean that we’ll always agree. Disagreement, in fact, is a genuine part of God’s process since He’s made all of us differently. We begin with our varying perspectives, and then the Holy Spirit leads us as we pray and converse so that it all coalesces into a unified perspective that reflects the singular will of God.
That’s probably how it was for the wise men. Tradition says there were three of them, and I remember an expression I heard from a Baptist layman: “If you have three Baptists in one room, you’ll have four opinions.” Yet somehow they came to a consensus. They knew what they needed to do, and it wasn’t the default path of complying with the authorities. (Legal authority loses its credibility when it’s on the side of evil and oppression, as Herod clearly was.) So they took a path that was seemingly riskier; it was called “another way” in Matthew 2:12. Yet it turned out to be God’s way for them, which is always the best way to go.
And so it is for us: The Christian path isn’t always easy. The decisions we make are not geared towards our own comforts or ease. Our call is to take up the cross and follow Jesus. And we all know that the cross is followed by the resurrection. This is the witness of our faith which we struggle together for. And the fearless sense of collective direction that emerges is a sign of this salvation that comes from God alone.
God bless you,
Pastor Andrew McHenry