It is a new year, full of promise and new opportunities. We begin this New Year with the Feast of Epiphany, which falls on a Sunday only every seven years or so. You will notice when you arrive that the sanctuary will still be dressed for Christmas (minus the tree). This is a good reminder that the season of Christmas begins with Christmas Eve and concludes with the Day of Epiphany (January 6, which in the Eastern Churches is Christmas). The usual pattern for us, however, is to move from Christmas to the Baptism of Jesus, from birth to adulthood. The day of Epiphany, however, invites us to consider the coming of the magi to Bethlehem, bearing gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh (the scripture reading for that Sunday). More importantly, the Day of Epiphany invites us to reflect on the revelation of God’s presence in the person of Jesus. The word epiphany comes from the Greek word that means “manifestation.” So, as we begin this year, we can ask the question: how do you see God being manifested in your life and in our world? Of course, as we ask that question, we do so with Jesus as our guide.
As we begin this New Year, I’d like to note a couple of items of importance. First of all, 2019 marks the fortieth anniversary of our presence here in Troy. In 2009, we celebrated thirty years of our presence here with the Rev. Todd Adams, then the Deputy General Minister, preaching. At that time, we burnt our mortgage, celebrating the fact that we were finally debt free (thanks to an estate gift from Marilu Robertson). I’m not sure how we will celebrate the fortieth anniversary, but we will have to do something special. Since we’re talking anniversaries, I should point out that 2020 marks the centennial of Edgar Dewitt Jones’ arrival in Detroit, which set in motion the merger of Central Christian and Woodward Avenue Christian Churches, as well as the building of what long time members now call the “old church.” Some in our midst still remember Dr. Jones, though not the building of that structure (as it was 90 years ago in 2018).
So, we begin the year with anniversaries in mind, remembering that this congregation has had a long and fruitful ministry in Metro-Detroit. We continue to bear witness to the love and grace of Jesus today through our ministries, both inside and outside the church building. Just one note on this, one of the ministries we have been engaged in for many years is the provision of Christmas gifts to Head Start children in Detroit. This year we contributed 108 bags, which marked one quarter of the gifts provided children in that program. We don’t cover them all, but through the ministry of this church at least some children have a brighter Christmas experience. This is a blessing that emerges from the faithfulness of this congregation.
The second item I wanted to take note of is the prospect of my Sabbatical next fall. Yes, it is time for that to occur (September through November). We received a wonderful grant funded by the Lilly Foundation and administered by Christian Theological Seminary. Not only will it provide funds for me (as well as Cheryl) to experience some travel, rest, and renewal, it helps fund pastoral coverage, pulpit supply, and special guest presenters. The theme is “River Crossings.” In different ways the congregation and I will be invited to envision the future, the crossing of rivers into new realities and opportunities of church life. What will the future look like, and how will we get there? Answering these kinds of questions will involve prayer and study and renewal. In this regard, we have scheduled two special weekend presentations. Dr. Ron Allen, a friend of the congregation and recently retired professor of preaching and gospels and letters at Christian Theological Seminary, will be with the congregation in September for a Saturday workshop, and then in the pulpit on Sunday. Then, in November Dr. Marti Steussy, professor of Hebrew Bible at Christian Theological Seminary, will be here for the annual Perry Gresham Lectures. Both of these events will be funded by the grant, but for which we will charge a fee. For some reason, people attach more meaning for things they pay for. I know that you will be blessed by these events, which will come sooner than we think.
So, with that, I say Happy New Year! May we open ourselves up to what God has in store for us as we continue our journey together in the power of the Holy Spirit and the presence of the Risen Lord!