Light Shines in the Darkness :: Epiphany

Scripture Focus: Acts 6.7
So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. 

1 Peter 2.9-10
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Reflection: Light Shines in the Darkness :: Epiphany
By John Tillman

On Christmas, the Advent candles fill our homes and hearts with joy and light. In Epiphany, we set that light on a lampstand for the world to see the light of Christ.

Epiphany’s purpose is to draw attention to the expanding and inclusive nature of the gospel. It is good news of great joy that will be for all people. The light has come to everyone—Gentiles included. No one is to be left in the dark.

The Temple Ezra rebuilt had always been intended to be a light to the nations, demonstrating God’s holiness and love. Just as the priests, stood between the people and God, confessing sin and administering pardon, so too was the nation of Israel intended to be a priest for the nations. It is this function to which Peter is referring when he describes the church as a “holy priesthood.” (1 Peter 2.9–10) Israel struggled to maintain the tension, however, between being holy and being a light to the other nations. We do too. 

Holiness and mercy seem to be consistently difficult for communities of faith to balance. In some communities, the emphasis on holiness is an impenetrable cultural barrier. Sinners don’t dare approach, even if the community would allow them to. In some communities, there is little in the way of holiness, for mercy has come to be interpreted as the non-existence of sin, rather than forgiveness offered for sin.

The Temple Solomon built was destroyed by God because it lost sight of holiness. The second Temple Ezra built would be condemned by Christ for losing sight of mercy and for preventing those of other nations from seeking the God of Israel. 

God would make us holy not so that we will be absent, abandoning the world, but so that we can be present, serving the world to demonstrate God’s love for them. It should be light which dispels darkness, not the other way around. 

Pray to be a light:
Jesus, Light of the world, help us to have a holiness that is not off-putting. May holiness be a light that comforts and reveals love, rather than condemnation. May the light of your holiness and love be a beacon in us, calling others to repentance and the renovation of their souls.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
I will confess you among the peoples, O Lord; I will sing praise to you among the nations.
For your loving-kindness is greater than the heavens, and your faithfulness reaches to the clouds. — Psalm 57.9-10

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Ezra 6 (Listen -4:24) 
Acts 6 (Listen -2:35)

Read more about Radical Outreach to Outcasts :: Epiphany
If we listen long enough, Jesus will ask us to allow someone in, whom we would prefer to keep out…share our blessings with people who do not deserve them.

Read more about Setting a New Standard
Jesus rejected the morally compromised thinking of his culture, while at the same time welcoming into his fellowship those in clear violation of what he taught.

The Necessity of The Spirit

Acts 7.55
But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.

Reflection: The Necessity of The Spirit 
By John Tillman

We look ahead today reflecting on our readings for tomorrow and two extraordinarily different outcomes for two men led by the same Spirit…

Many times in Judges, the Israelites rebelled over the course of one generation and from the next generation a Judge would rise up to save them. But not the first Judge, Othniel. He had been there the whole time.

Othniel was already a great hero of Israel. He had every advantage and privilege available to him at that time. He was wealthy from his military conquests. He was part of an influential family. He was a seasoned military leader. He had a strong spiritual heritage, being from the family of Caleb, a mighty hero of faith. But despite this, Israel suffered and Othniel could not save them. Until God’s Spirit came on him.

Othniel was a great leader and a great warrior. But it was the Spirit of God, not Othniel or his skills that saved Israel. In Othniel’s day, the Spirit of The Lord coming on a leader was a rare, miraculous event. But in our case the miracle has already occurred. The main thing keeping us from accessing the Holy Spirit is…us.

Jesus promised the Holy Spirit and told the disciples that it is to our benefit that he leave and the Spirit come. But the benefit may not be something that looks like victory to the world. In Acts, we read of Stephen, who was filled with the Spirit and spoke with power. We like that part. Then he was stoned to death.

Othniel and Stephen are two men touched and led by the Spirit of God to very different outcomes. From the world’s point of view, one was a victor and one a victim. In many ways, the Kingdom perspective of their situations is the reverse.

Othniel seems to have won a great victory and Stephen seem to have lost everything, until you keep reading. 40 years later, Israel is back in the same predicament, tragically repeating the same mistakes over and over. But 40 years after Stephen’s death, the church he died for was spread across the known world by one of the very men who helped put him to death.

We need the Spirit in our lives not because our skills, our wealth, and our influence cannot accomplish things of significance, but because what is truly significant is often hidden, like a treasure buried in a field, and we must follow the Spirit, forsaking all else to find it.

Prayer: The Greeting
O Lord, I cry to you for help; in the morning my prayer comes before you. — Psalm 88.14

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Judges 2 (Listen – 3:19)
Acts 6 (Listen – 2:35)

Today’s Readings
Judges 3 (Listen – 4:30), Acts 7 (Listen – 8:49)
Judges 4 (Listen – 3:57), Acts 8 (Listen – 5:10)

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Readers’ Choice Submissions

It is once again time for us to seek out the voices of our readers and hear from you about posts from the past eleven months that have challenged and comforted you and helped you find new meaning in the scriptures.

Readers’ Choice posts will be republished during the month of August and periodically throughout the Fall.

Follow the link to fill out the form. Feel free to fill out the form multiple times for multiple submissions. Please limit your submissions to posts published this calendar year, between September of 2018 and today.

For any questions about The Park Forum, or to make suggestions of posts via email, contact John Tillman at john@theparkforum.org

Why Do We Need the Leading of the Spirit?
The leading of the Spirit—O, how highly necessary is it! Who can be without it?

Read more about Spiritual Practice as EDC
The daily practices of prayer, reading the scriptures, meditation are tools that can connect us powerfully to the Holy Spirit, help us define who and whose we are, and allow us to walk with the confidence of our secure identity in Christ.

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