|Last Sunday after Epiphany, Year A||March 2, 2014||Last Sunday after Epiphany||Exodus 24:12-18, 2 Peter 1:16-21. Matthew 17:1-9|
|Seventh Sunday after Epiphany, Year A||February 23, 2014||Seventh Sunday after Epiphany||Leviticus 19:1-2. 9-18; Matthew 5:38-48|
|Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, Year A||February 16, 2014||Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, Year A||Matthew 5:21-37|
|John Hines sermon||February 11, 2014||Daily Office||I Kings 8:22-23, 27-30, Ps 84, Mark 7:1-13|
|Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||February 9, 2014||Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||Isaiah 58:1-12, 1 Corinthians 2:1-16, Matthew 5:13-20|
|The Presentation, Year A||February 2, 2014||Presentation in the Temple, Year A||Luke 2:22-40|
|Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||January 26, 2014||Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||Matthew 4:12-23|
|Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||January 19, 2014||Second Sunday after the Epiphany||Isaiah 49:1-7, Psalm 40:1-12, John 1:29-42|
|First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||January 12, 2014||First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A||Isaiah 42:1-9, Psalm 29, Matthew 3:13-17|
|➤The Epiphany, Year A||January 6, 2014||Epiphany, Year A||Matthew 2:1-12|
|Second Sunday After Christmas, Year A||January 5, 2014||Second Sunday after Christmas, Year A||Psalm 84, Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19a, Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23|
|Christmas Eve||December 24, 2013||Christmas Eve, 2013||Luke 2:1-20|
|Third Sunday in Advent, Year A||December 15, 2013||Third Sunday in Advent, Year A||Isaiah 35:1-10, Matthew 11:2-11|
|First Sunday in Advent, Year A -The Circle of the Church Year||December 1, 2013||Advent 1, Year A||Isaiah 2:1-5, Matthew 24:36-44|
|Last Sunday after Pentecost, Christ the King, Yr C||November 24, 2013||Last Sunday after Pentecost, Christ the King, Year C||Luke 23:33-43|
The Epiphany, Year A
Sermon Date:January 6, 2014
Scripture: Matthew 2:1-12
Liturgy Calendar: Epiphany, Year A
"Adoration of the Magi" -Andrea Mantegna 1430-1506 "
For centuries, the story of the wise men has fascinated and mystified us, captured us with its exotic flavor, drawn us to dreams, journeying, seeking and finding.
This story is particularly important for those of us who are pretty settled in our lives, who have found comfortable routines and habits that, when kept, make our lives predictable and seemingly easy to manage.
Think for a minute.
Imagine what it would be like to become aware of a sign in your life—in the case of the wise men—a star, and then to make a decision to set aside your predictable and routine life and take off on a journey of discovery, not even sure of your destination.
Would you do it?
Whether or not you would, the story of the wise men reminds us that in order to live as fully as God would have us live, we need to cultivate the art of being flexible.
Flexibility allows us to meet the spiritual, emotional and even physical challenges in our lives in a more positive way than being stuck in rigid routines that we resist changing to the detriment of living our lives to the fullest.
So tonight, let’s take a look at the flexibility of the wise men and see how, with their guidance, we can claim this positive trait of flexibility for our own lives.
For starters, the wise men must have been on the alert for a sign to begin with—they were watching the heavens. And so when the star appeared, they saw it.
Being rigid about the ways in which we live, being caught up in the routine of our lives, paying such close attention to what it is we have decided to do, often keeps us from seeing anything new. God might have something new for us to see, but we’re too stuck to see that thing, or even to look for it.
Yesterday at coffee hour, Elizabeth Heimbach told me the story of La Befana, the Italian Epiphany witch. Various stories circulate, but the general idea is that La Befana was busy with her daily routine of keeping house when the wise men came to call on their way to Jerusalem. In some stories, La Befana welcomes the wise men into her home and is such a wonderful hostess that they invite her to travel with them, but she just can’t tear herself away from her routine, and so she declines their invitation. In other stories, La Befana doesn’t even open the door and let the wise men in to begin with because she’s too busy.
La Befana lacks flexibility-and so, to her unending regret, she misses getting to see the Christ child. Ever since, she has gotten on her broom on Epiphany and delivers treats to children everywhere as she searches for the Christ child that she never did find because she was too rigid to leave her routine behind and to go seek something new.
Once the wise men saw the star, they decided to follow it. So often we see the thing God wants to show us, but we decide that our minds are playing tricks on us, or that whatever it is must not be meant for us, or we experience fear—I can’t respond to that! It would be too crazy! Or our rigidity sets in and we dig in our heels and just say no without even thinking. We make a conscious choice to ignore the sign that we’ve been shown.
If you’re a fan of the Cosby show, then you may have seen an episode in which Dr. Huxtable gives his elderly parents a cruise across the Atlantic Ocean to Paris for their anniversary. His parents immediately turn the trip down.
Why? Because they wouldn’t be able to open their front door every morning, find the NY Times on their doormat and then read it. They would miss their oatmeal for breakfast. And Dr. Huxtable’s mother says that she’d have to clean out her refrigerator before she went and she doesn’t want to do that. The real problem, though, is that they’re scared that they are too old and frail to manage the trip. So in spite of having been handed this gift, they aren’t flexible enough to say yes to a wonderful opportunity.
(Wouldn’t you rather eat French pastries for breakfast as a change from your usual oatmeal?)
At the end of the show, after thinking about it, the couple decides to go after all. They aren’t even going to tell their son—they’re just going to send him a post card from Paris. But that’s TV and the usual happy ending.
How many opportunities has God handed to us in our lives that require some risk on our parts, and we just say no, because we aren’t flexible enough to say yes.
Now the wise men also showed flexibility in their seeking of directions. They get to Jerusalem, the logical place to go and look for a new born king, and they talk to Herod. Herod tells them to go to Bethlehem, to search diligently, and when they have found the child, to come back and tell him where the child is so that Herod can go and pay him homage.
We know from the story that the wise men, having been warned in a dream, don’t follow Herod’s orders, but go home by a different way. They are flexible in discerning what they should believe and do.
How rigid we can be in our discernment! Black and white thinking is comfortable because we don’t have to be flexible in discerning what God would have us do in particular situations. This bumper sticker is an example of this sort of rigid thinking. “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.” Wait a minute! Really? The Bible has plenty to say that requires discernment and thought on our parts—for instance, here’s a fun one—the food list in Leviticus—anyone who ate venison during the New Year’s Eve party is in trouble!
As all of us know, our culture has changed when it comes to church and to church activities. Rigid thinking is something like—that’s the way we’ve always done it and so we’ll just do what we’ve always done better and bigger and we’ll be fine.
The most recent issue of the Virginia Episcopalian has a whole section on discernment that I encourage all of you to read—because the common point in each one of the examples given of discernment about new directions for both individuals and also for churches is that flexibility in discernment is essential if we are to find the way that God wants to lead us. And that way may not look like anything we could have imagined when we first began looking for the direction we were to follow.
Last of all, the wise men showed flexibility in their gift giving to the new born king. Scripture tells us that they opened their treasure chests and presented gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.
All of these gifts were extravagant and expensive and thoughtful. The wise men didn’t just show up, see the baby and leave. They brought gifts, and these gifts were tailored to the individual who received them—
They brought gold because they believed that Jesus was royal.
They brought frankincense because Jesus was divine. Frankincense was rare, and was burned on one of the altars in the temple at Jerusalem and the white smoke and the sweet smell that rose from it as it burned represented prayers ascending to heaven.
And myrrh, myrrh was extremely valuable and was used not only as perfume in the homes of wealthy people, but was also used in burials. Myrrh placed on burial shrouds helped prevent the smell of decay. This gift was an important reminder of the humanity of Jesus.
The wise men showed thought and flexibility in the gifts they gave. Their gifts remind me of our stewardship campaign this year. Rather than just rigidly doing what we did last year, we were flexible and generous in our gifts toward God’s work in the world, and so St Peter’s is able to do some new things this year like paying Amy to keep teaching Godly Play to the children, and we’ll be able to do more outreach, and to do some needed upkeep on our buildings thanks to your generosity.
And many of you give thoughtful and flexible gifts in the things you choose to do and the time you choose to spend in service to God through this church. You are true examples of taking up the example of the wise men in your flexibility in gift giving.
I have a little Christmas ornament of the wise men that I keep in my kitchen window all year that depicts the wise men on the move, traveling. They’ve seen a star, they’ve been flexible enough to break away from their routine in order to follow the star, they’ve been flexible about discerning what path to take, not just assuming that their immediate comfortable plans are the right ones, and they are traveling with gifts, extravagant, unique and thoughtful gifts that required some mental flexibility in the choosing.
So let’s hear it for the wise men, and choose to make this year of 2014 a year of flexibility in our own lives, and in the life of St Peter’s, as we look for the stars that God will surely place in the sky for us to find and follow.