January 18, 2011

For more commentary on this week's readings, see the Reflections on the Lectionary page, which includes Lueking's current Living by the Word column as well as past magazine and blog content. For full-text access to all articles, subscribe to the Century.

Epiphany is the season uniquely applicable to us who are Gentiles, the grafted-on branches to the tree of salvation, those who do well to marvel at the magnitude of the grace of God Christ that includes us. This is not common in our religiously pluralist setting, especially in our part of the world where the common assumption is that we're not grafted on at all--we're mainstream.

In my lectionary column for the Century this week (subscription required), I bring up the dramatic shifts the world has seen in Christian demographics. My understanding of this has been helped immensely by one thing: pastoral sabbaticals. I took two during my pastoral years, in each case to visit congregations in developing-world countries for the purpose of learning from them what it's like to be a Christian in that place.

Bringing those experiences back to the congregation I served was enriching all around. It enabled bridge-building connections that grew and deepened over time, as Christians from overseas spent time with us and expanded our local experience of the global church. It also enabled me to alert parishioners traveling abroad as tourists, business people, students or military personnel to visit congregations and fellow Christians wherever they can find them. Here I weave some of these people's stories into the larger narrative of global church change.

It's tremendously important and satisfying to be part of such Epiphany connecting and recruiting. I know of nothing more effective in stirring a congregation from spiritual myopia to the broader vision of what God is doing in our world. It's another facet of Epiphany light, well worth our prayers, preaching and Spirit-moved participation in that kingdom once announced in Capernaum--the kingdom that extends to the ends of the earth and to the end of time.


More to Graft

What a lovely observation about being grafted into the tree of salvation. Living where Christianity is a mainstream lifestyle, it is a joyful thing and a cause for celebration that the graft has been successful in this community. The church blossoms and bears fruit when it is nourished by the root and grows in the light.

Thank you for sharing your sabaticals, too. They remind us that there are more branches, natural and wild, to be grafted into this wonderful tree. May we all embrace salvation through grace, not only for ourselves, but for our neighbors.