Saturday, December 30, 2006

SERMON FOR SUNDAY, DEC. 31, 2006


Yes, it's true, I am preaching tomorrow for the first time at Hermitage UMC. I am nevous as HE Double Hockey Sticks!! So, pray for me (even if it's after the fact). We have 3 services which means I get to do this 3 times. YIKES!!

Here's my sermon at least in written form. I typically don't read it or use notes, so I give it all up to God and let my thoughts intermingle with God's thoughts and hope that there is at least a little harmony going on :)

Shalom and HAPPY NEW YEAR (not to be confused with the REAL new year- Advent which already took place)

My sermon:

Scripture reading: Matthew 2: 1-12 from The Message

There was once a very wise and respected Orthodox Priest who was travelling on a boat across a great Russian sea. One night while on the boat he overheard the captain telling his crewman a story about 3 holy men who lived on a nearby island. The priest was intrigued by the story and told the captain, "I have to know more!! Tell me about these 3 holy men."

"They say that these men have been on this island for years and years- and they are as old as the wind", the captain said, "and day and night they pray and talk with God, asking for blessings for all people in the world. I had heard rumors about them for years as I travelled this sea. But last year I actually stumbled onto the island where they live and saw them with my own eyes."

Now the priest was really amazed and curious. "Well what did they say to you?"

"They are men of very few words. They do almost everything in silence, but like I said, it is believed that they spend their day in prayer to God for the sake of their own souls and the rest of the world."

The priest looked out into the distance at the speck that was identified as the island where the 3 holy men lived. He made up his mind right there- he had to go!! Being the distinguished priest that he was he just HAD to see these 3 "wise men" for himself.

He made arrangements to have a crewman row him to the island since the ship could not make it that close to the inland. When he made it to shore he didn't have to walk far when he came upon 3 men who were standing in a circle who all seemed to be mumbling to one another. They all 3 looked very old, and very worn- wearing very little clothing, sun burned and wind worn skin, long unkept hair and grey beards that touched the ground. The priest thought to himself- these are no holy men, they are just 3 crazy men who probably either escaped a prison at some point or an insane assylum.

The priest approached the men and said, "I have heard that you are very holy because of how you pray, I am so curious- when you pray what do you do?"

One of the men looked at the priest and said, "We are not holy men at all. We do not really know how to pray at all, we only know how to help one another when we are in need. When we speak to the Holy One we speak as three and we pray to three."

At that the three wise men who were now looking rather foolish to the priest went back to their mumbling.

The priest, who now felt it was his duty to help these three poor men, decided to teach them the proper way one ought to pray. So he taught them that when they prayed together they should speak the words that Christ taught to pray- "Our Father, who art in heaven..."

All day and all night- for 3 days he repeated the prayer with the 3 men. And together they prayed the Lord's prayer over and over until finially on the 3rd day they could recite the prayer on their own. Feeling quite proud that he had passed along some real "wisdom" to the three hermits, he departed back to the boat on which he was travelling.

That night as everyone else slept the priest looked out over the waters feeling at peace with his experience on the island and a bit proud of what he had accomplished with the 3 hermits. He looked toward the island where they lived and noticed what looked like a bright star, only this star was low to the ground, in fact it seemed to be moving toward the ship.

This bright light was moving closer and closer to the ship and now many of the crew were awake and getting pretty scared at this bright light. Was it another ship coming toward them? Was it a ghost hovering over the waves? Then they could all see exactly what it was- Surrounded in light were the old men walking right on top of the water as if it were solid land under them. They walked right up onto the ship and stood before the orthodox priest. "Father", one of the men said, "we have been saying the prayer you taught us over and over since you left, but we got to, a certain point and can't remember the rest and so we prayed to God that He would lead us to you to teach it to us again."

The priest, now standing in awe of what he had seen with his eyes, crossed himself and fell down before them. "No no wise ones, it is I who this entire time should have been listening and learning from you how to live a holy life. Today I have surely seen the presence of God's child."

With that the 3 holy men left the priest in the boat and still draped in starlight, they walked across the oceans waves back to their island to pray for the world the only way they knew how."*

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

In our scripture reading for today we encounter another band of "holy men". We don't know much about the wise men except that they were known as "Magi" which can be translated as either magicians or scholars. Tradition has held that they were astrologers from the east, probably in Persia. We're not even sure if there were three of them or if they were all men. Tradition has had the group as large as 12 to symbolize the 12 tribes of Israel but "3 wise men" each bringing a gift for this star lit child king has been the long held tradition that has stuck in our imaginations.

Whether there were 3 or 300, this band of "stargazers" realized that this star was no ordinary occurence. Their imaginations were stirred and like the orthodox priest who heard a story that caught his imagination, they just could not stay put. THEY HAD TO FOLLOW THAT STAR and see where it would lead them.

And so for months they travelled and travelled through deserts and villages following this star. I can only imagine that on their journey they might have talked about what kind of special person was to be found when they arrived wherever this star was leading them.

And so finally they arrive into Jerusalem. Ah yes, of course the star would lead them to Jerusalem. It's the natural place that God's chosen king would show up. But instead of finding a new king they encounter Herod. After speaking with Herod and others in Jerusalem it's apparent that this new king is not in Jerusalm. So they keep going, leaving the frenzy of the city behind them and wander into the small village of Bethlehem.

And finally they come to stable with a child in a manger.... oh wait that's someone else's story. No no, they come to a house where Mary, Joseph and the child, Jesus, are staying. And it is there that they come face to face with God's imagination and their own. How wonderful it is when God stirs our imaginations and invite us to dream what things might look like in the world and then every so often we get the smallest glimpse.

I find it interesting that in God's imagination God used the most unlikely of people to greet God's gift to the world- God used two peasants, who in their culture would never have any sort of power or prestige, to be the parents of Jesus. God sent invitations and announcements of Jesus' birth to groups of people that good religious folk would never be caught associating with- shepherds and gentiles from the East. When we think of shepherds we see them as great people- they cared for animals, they are symbols of people who are loving and caring of others. But in Jesus' day shepherds were looked upon as kind of the lowest of the low- they were dirty and uneducated and could not be trusted. If the shepherds were around today you might find them on the side of the road holding a sign that says "Will shepherd for money". And you might be tempted to lock your doors and turn away as if you don't see them... But God saw them and and not only saw them but chose them as the people to greet his son into the world. But he didn't stop with the outcast. These scholars from the East represented much more than just wise men who saw Jesus as a king.

In God's imagination God could see a world where all people were God's children, not just a select few. You see this star that the Magi followed meant more than they could ever understand. This star lit up the night and created a path for all people to experience God's love. The magi brought gifts for whomever awaited where the starlight rested but what they did not expect was that their gifts would be met by the most wonderful and awesome Gift- God's gift made real.

If we are honest with ourselves and this wonderful story then we are bound to find ourselves somewhere in the story. We are all on a journey of sorts in this life- following a star. The question is what star are we following? And what is waiting in the "Bethlehem" where that particular star shines?

But as the church I'm afraid sometimes we mistake ourselves as identifying with the Magi or the shepherds who praise the baby they encounter and don't realize that we look a lot more like the good religious leadership that was in Jerusalem that was terrified at what this new King might mean for the way things were. You see, when we open our doors and begin welcoming the people that God imagines in God's community things start getting messy- we have to come to grips that the people God calls us to be in relationship might come from a different background, life experience, socio-economic circumstance, or lifestyle.

I have a feeling that the star was God's way of saying that, "you don't get to choose who is a part of my family- I get to choose that. So you better love whoever comes and accept them for who they are."

So now here we are at HUMC and this week's reading puts the question to us- are we following the star? And where will it lead us? Thank God that only God knows that answer but my hope is that as we travel this star lit path together we will see in each other the image of a loving Star Child and as we look at those God brings into the life of this church, whether though our doors or out in the world, no matter who they may be or their background- the light will be shining enough for us to remember they too are following a star lit path.

May we all be Magi who are seaching together. Amen.



* Story is an adaptation of a Leo Tolstoy tale.

4 comments:

emily said...

i think you did a great job! = )

St.Phransus said...

thanks, i was pretty nervous.

Mary Beth said...

What a great sermon! A little birdie told me that it was wonderful in person, too!

:)

TN Rambler said...

Sounds like it went well. I liked the sermon. Hope it got easier with each service.

W