‘Beyond Tribalism’ – 3rd January 2021 – The feast of the Epiphany

Welcome to our first service of 2021 in which we celebrate the Epiphany of our Lord

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21 01 03 Epiphany Eucharist.docx

The Readings

Ephesians 3.1-12

This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given to me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow-heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given to me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.

Matthew 2.1-12

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.” ’

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.


Scripture quotations are taken from New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Sermon
By Revd. Sue Hammersley

I am grateful to the Revd Michael Bayley for giving me permission to use his sermon preached at the beginning to 2019 as the basis for my sermon this morning.

In the 1662 Book of Common Prayer the feast of the Epiphany, which we are celebrating today, has the subtitle, ‘The Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles.’
It is an example of the way the narratives around Jesus’ birth illustrate vital aspects of the Christian faith.

It may be hard for us to appreciate what a momentous step it was for the young Christian church to move outside its Jewish womb. The Jews had a turbulent history of being conquered, deported, returning to their homeland and enjoying independence, before being conquered again.
They had survived by developing a sense of their own peculiar and special God-given identity. They were God's chosen people. There were two categories of people: those who were in, the Jews, and the rest who were out, the Gentiles.

Moving out of the Jewish fold nearly tore the young church apart. The Jewish party within the church at Jerusalem insisted that any Gentiles converting to Christ had to keep the Jewish law. This was something that Paul fought against, tooth and claw. He says in 1 Corinthians 12: “For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit." This is emphasized again in today's reading from Ephesians: “The Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel." (3:6)

In the book of Acts, Luke records how a council was held at Jerusalem and eventually it was agreed that Gentiles could become Christians without having to follow the Jewish law. It was a momentous decision that led to that extraordinary explosion of the church all over the Roman Empire and beyond. It proclaimed that, as Paul reiterated in Galatians: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (3:28) It was a decisive rejection of tribalism. This matters not just for the Christian church but for humanity as a whole.

Tribalism cannot just be dismissed. It is often the means by which a person gains their sense of identity, value and belonging. It can be a vital and integral part of somebody's very being and therefore those tribal values and the tribe itself will often be defended ferociously. David Jenkins, the former bishop of Durham, puts the dilemma well. “It is useful to draw attention to the fact that that by which we identify ourselves and have our sense of identity, significance and belonging is also that by which we de-humanise others." (The Contradiction of Christianity, page 16)

At this moment in world history and, especially, in British politics there is a danger of this kind of tribalism escalating. Fear has the power to make us retreat into our bubble, whether it is the fear of an invisible virus or people who look, sound or behave differently to us. As we separate from the European Union we must do all we can to maintain those relationships of trust which have been vital to the lasting peace which we have valued in recent years.

The German historian Helene von Bismarck was quoted in the Guardian on New Year’s Eve. She said:
“Populists depend on enemies, real or imagined, to legitimise their actions and deflect from their own shortcomings.” If the EU has been the “enemy abroad” since 2016, it will steadily be replaced by “enemies within”: MPs, civil servants, judges, lawyers, experts, the BBC.
“Individuals and institutions who dare to limit the power of the executive, even if it is just by asking questions, are at constant risk of being denounced as ‘activists’”.

The Epiphany is a good time to remember that there is, firmly rooted within the very foundation of the Christian tradition, not so much a rejection of tribalism but a going beyond it. The gifts of belonging, purpose, meaning, identity, being accepted, need to find their roots not just within a tribal group but within the whole of humanity.
The world in which we live today is one which needs to hear the message that we can find our safety not just within particular groups, but as valued members of the human race. This might not feel natural at times because it is, in fact, an act of grace; it is part of our becoming fully human and is not something which we can take for granted.

One of the great advantages which I can see in the emerging relationship between St Mary’s, St John’s and St Mark’s is that it challenges the assumptions each of our communities has developed around what it means to be church. Together we will discover different aspects of faith which we might question or we might embrace. We are not looking to find the lowest common denominator or create a new form of “bubble” but to show that we are all following Christ. This doesn’t make us the same as one another, it doesn’t mean that we will always agree, but it invites us into relationships of trust such that we believe that we are stronger together than we could ever be apart.

Paul says in 2 Corinthians, “If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come." (5:17)

The prospects for 2021 seem as difficult and perplexing as any I can remember. The message of God’s all-embracing love for the whole of humankind seems more important than ever. And so, as we look towards this new horizon, let’s listen again to the words of Minnie Louise Haskins, quoted by George VI in his 1939 Christmas broadcast when, just 3 months into the Second World War, the future looked very dark indeed:

I said to the Man
who stood at the gate of the Year,
give me a light that I may tread safely
into the unknown. And he replied
Go out into the darkness and put
your hand into the hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light
and safer than a known way…


The Prayers
Adapted From Common Worship: Times and Seasons

Let us worship the Saviour with joy
and make our prayer to our heavenly Father.
The magi came from the east to worship your Son:
Father, grant to Christians everywhere
the spirit of adoration .
Lord of glory,
hear our prayer.

The infant Christ received gifts of gold, incense and myrrh:
Father, accept the offering of our hearts and minds
at the beginning of this year we pray for all those who continue to offer their skills and energy in science, medicine, education, poverty relief and logistics in these difficult times. We pray especially for those who have given up their much needed free time over the Christmas period.
Lord of glory,
hear our prayer.

The kingdoms of this world have become
the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ:
Father, grant an abundance of peace to your world. We continue to remember all areas of war and unrest, of famine and natural disaster. We pray especially this week of the people of Croatia and Norway coping respectively with the aftermath of earthquake and landslide.
Lord of glory,
hear our prayer.

The Holy Family lived in exile and in the shadow of death:
Father, look in mercy on all who are poor and powerless,
and all who suffer, thinking especially of refugees, victims of persecution, the homeless.
Lord of glory,
hear our prayer.

Your Son shared the life of his home and family at Nazareth:
Father, protect in your love our neighbours,
our families and this community of which we are a part. We remember those on our own streets, the people of Walkley and our neighbouring parishes. We think especially of those known to us.
Lord of glory,
hear our prayer.

Father, we rejoice in our fellowship
with the shepherds, the angels, the magi,
the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph
and all the faithful departed.
In your unfailing love for us and for all people,
hear and answer our prayers through your Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.


Common Worship: Times and Seasons, material from which is used here is copyright © The Archbishops’ Council 2006