|First Sunday in Lent, Year B||February 21, 2021||First Sunday in Lent, Year B 2021||Genesis 9:8-17, Mark 1:9-15|
|Ash Wednesday sermon – “This is the season to unlock the doors of our hearts”||February 17, 2021||Ash Wednesday, Year B||Isaiah 58:1-12, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21|
|Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B||February 14, 2021||The Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B||2 Kings 2:1-12, 2 Corinthians 4:3-6, Mark 9:2-9|
|Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B||February 7, 2021||Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B||Isaiah 40:21-31, Mark 1:29-39|
|Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B||January 24, 2021||Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B||I Corinthians7:29-31, Mark 1:14-20|
|First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B||January 10, 2021||First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B||Genesis 1:1-5, Mark 1:4-11|
|➤Epiphany, Jan. 2021||January 6, 2021||Epiphany, Year B,||Psalm 72, Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12|
|Christmas Eve, Year B, 2020||December 24, 2020||Christmas Eve, Year B||Luke 2:1-20|
|Fourth Sunday of Advent – Messages of Hope||December 20, 2020||Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B 2020||Luke 1:26-38, 46-55|
|Third Sunday of Advent – “I’m not the one”||December 13, 2020||Third Sunday of Advent, Year B||Isaiah 6:1-4, 8-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8,19-28|
|Second Sunday of Advent – Repentance||December 6, 2020||Second Sunday of Advent, Year B
||Isaiah 40:1-11, Mark 1:1-8|
|First Sunday of Advent – The Waiting||November 29, 2020||First Sunday of Advent, Year B 2020||Isaiah 64:1-9, I Corinthians 1:3-9, Mark 13:24-27|
|Last Pentecost – Christ the King, Year A||November 22, 2020||Christ the King Sunday, Year A||Ephesians 1:15-23, Matthew 25:31-46|
|Pentecost 24 – Diocesan Convention (Rt. Rev. Phoebe Roaf, Bishop of the Diocese of West Tennessee)||November 15, 2020||Pentecost 24, Proper 28||Matthew 25:14-30|
|Pentecost 23, Year A||November 8, 2020||Pentecost 23, Proper 27, Year A||Matthew 25:1-13|
Epiphany, Jan. 2021
Sermon Date:January 6, 2021
Scripture: Psalm 72, Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12
Liturgy Calendar: Epiphany, Year B,
Some of you may be familiar with the book, The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to your Mate, by Gary Chapman.
In his book, Chapman lists five love languages, the love languages of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch.
The love language that applies to this celebration of Epiphany is “receiving gifts.”
Receiving gifts is at the heart of the Christmas story. Jesus is God’s gift that God hopes we’ll receive– God coming to us and abiding with us, our Lord Emmanuel.
Throughout the Christmas story, people receive gifts.
Mary received the gift of the Holy Spirit. Joseph received the gift of dreams. The shepherds received the gift of a message from the angels, the gift of being the first to know that the Messiah had indeed been born. The wisemen from the East received the gift of a star, the sign that they had been seeking for no telling how long that a royal child had finally been born who would be king of the Jews.
All of these people graciously received their gifts, and then acted on them by giving a gift in return.
Mary received the news that she would become pregnant even though she was a virgin by saying, “Here I am” and giving the gift of herself.
As Bishop Porter reminded us on Sunday, Joseph received messages from God in his dreams, and decided that yes, he would be Mary’s husband despite her scandalous pregnancy and that he would protect her and be a father to her child.
The shepherds received the gift of good news and went to Bethlehem to see for themselves, and then shared the good news that the Messiah had been born.
The wise men from the East received the gift of the star, the sign that they had been seeking. And once they received this gift, they set out to follow the star. The wise men gave gifts to the Christ child when they found him, and I suspect that they also gave the gift of taking the news of the newborn king back home with them.
What strikes me this year about this familiar story is that Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and the wisemen had to be gift receivers BEFORE they could become gift givers.
Since the gospel reading for tonight is about the wise men from the East, I’ll mention them again. The wise men had to receive the gift of the star before they could travel to Bethlehem and give their famous gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the infant King.
In the letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul talks about being a gift receiver before being a gift giver.
Paul received the gift of God’s grace.
Listen to this.
Paul says that “Of this gospel I have become a servant ACCORDING TO THE GIFT OF GOD’S GRACE THAT WAS GIVEN ME BY THE WORKING OF HIS POWER!
Paul had to receive the gift of God’s grace BEFORE he could share the gospel with all the world.
In Psalm 72, part of which we’ve heard tonight, the King needs to receive the gift of God’s justice and righteousness BEFORE he can rule justly, rescue the poor, and crush the oppressor.
So my question for me tonight, and for you as well, is this.
What is God trying to give me that I need to receive so that I can do the work God is hoping I will do in this world?
What is God trying to give you? What is God trying to give us, St Peter’s?
Gary Chapman tells the story in The Five Love Languages of going to the island of Dominica, in the Lesser Antilles, on an anthropology trip. There he met a young man named Fred. They became friends during the weeks that Chapman was on the island, and when it was time to leave, Fred gave Chapman a crooked stick, fourteen inches in length, which Fred had pulled from the ocean. It was silky smooth from having been pounded over and over on the ocean rocks. Fred told Gary that the stick had lived on the shores of Dominica for a long time, and he wanted Gary to have the stick as a reminder of the beautiful island. Chapman says, “Even today when I look at that stick, I can almost hear the sound of the Caribbean waves, but it is not as much a reminder of Dominica as it is a reminder of love.”
Gary received that stick from Fred as a gift given and received out of love, and not only is it a gift of love that Gary received, but it also became a gift of love that Gary gave—he used the story of the stick as an example of gift receiving in his book about love languages, a book that has helped many a marriage to thrive.
A story appeared in The Washington Post Health and Science section yesterday that I found fascinating. The story is about a person receiving a gift of love that I would say God sent to help the man who received it not only to cope, but also to heal, as he experienced an incredible level of ongoing stress.
Here’s a summary of the story. Evan is a WWII vet who worked as a supply officer in a combat hospital during the war. Now Evan, in his 90’s, is in hospice after a long battle with cancer, and just wants to die. But one day, when Scott, the social worker, comes to visit, Evan’s spirits seem to have lifted.
When Scott asks him what has changed,, Evan tells Scott about something that had happened back in WWII when he worked in the combat hospital. The war had made Evan believe that nothing good could come from human beings. He felt unsafe and alone. One cold day, casualties came in non-stop. He and others worked all day to load the injured soldiers from the rail cars onto stretchers and to carry them to the hospital triage. Finally, the last train of the day came in. Evan’s hands were numb and cold. As they hauled in the last of the casualties, Evan’s grip on a stretcher slipped. As a result, the man on the stretcher rolled off, hit the ground hard, and died right there as Evan looked on, horrified. (I’ll spare you the gory details.) That night Evan lay in his cot crying over the man who had died. He couldn’t stop crying over that man and all the others he had seen die. His cot shook with his sobs. He thought he’d go insane from the pain he felt in his heart.
Then Evan said that he looked up, and there was a guy sitting on the end of his cot, wearing a WWI uniform. He was covered in light, like he was glowing in the dark. He was looking at Evan with love. Evan could feel the love. He had never felt that kind of love before.
What Evan felt after this visit was that, in his words, “no matter how screwed up and cruel the world looks, on some level, somehow, we are all loved. We are all connected.”
This was the first of several visits, and at each visit, the visitor wordlessly expressed love and peace and left Evan feeling calm.
After the war, the visits stopped. Years later, when Evan was cleaning out his mother’s belongings after her death, he found an old photo. It was his visitor. His mother had written on the back, “Uncle Calvin, killed during WWI, 1918.”
Now, Evan told Scott that his mood had lifted because his visitor had come back. “I saw him last night at the foot of my bed,” Evan said. “He spoke this time. He told me he was here with me. He’s going to help me over the hill when it’s time to go.”
Having worked as a hospice social worker myself, I could relate to this story. I too have heard stories from people near death who have a received what I understood from my own Christian perspective as a gift from God, a gift the person needed, an assurance of love, of calm, of peace.
But here’s the best part of Evan’s story. Having received a gift, Evan gave the gift of good news to Scott, the social worker. He gave the gift by asking a simple question.
He asked Scott, “Did you ever have something strange happen? Something that tells you that no matter how bad it looks, you’re connected with something bigger, and it’s going to be ok?”
Scott suddenly had a flashback to thirty-five years earlier, a flashback which I won’t describe here (you can read the article), but the bottom line is that Scott remembered that he too had felt at the time that yes, as he states in the article, “that the world that we inhabit is lovingly mysterious and eager to support us, especially during times of disorientation and crisis. It even sends messages of love and reassurance now and then when we’re in pain.”
So Evan received a gift of love and reassurance, and then he gave that same gift to Scott, who then gave it to me when I read Scott’s article in the Post.
The Christmas story of the birth of Jesus, the angel saying “fear not,” the shepherds running to Bethlehem, the star, and the wise men who followed that star, not knowing where it would lead them—this story reminds us that every gift God sends to us, no matter how curious or unusual, or unexpected, is a gift of pure love– a deep, strong, true, life giving, sustaining love.
What gift of love is God trying to give you, hoping that you will receive it?
Chapman, Gary. The Five Love Languages: How to Experience Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate. Chicago: Northfield Publishing. 1992.
Janssen, Scott. “Ghostly visitor lit a ray of hope for a dying man.” In The Washington Post, Tuesday, January 5, 2021, Section E, Health and Science.