Sermon by Pastor Mark Thompson
“Light for the Journey”
Central United Methodist Church 215 N. Capitol Ave. Lansing Michigan
Epiphany of the Lord
January 7, 2018
*Gospel Lesson 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.
“Light for the Journey”
“For we observed his star at its rising…”
They were looking for it in ancient times.
I look forward to 7:50 am on January 31. That is when Lansing will experience a total lunar eclipse. This is the time when the earth moves between the sun and the moon. The moon has a reddish glow to it. It is quite beautiful.
Of course, in ancient days, such a phenomenon was not seen as a wonderful event. space.com quotes E.C Krupp who said “that most people, most of the time, thought eclipses of the sun or the moon were trouble. Serious trouble,” he said. “And the nature of the trouble had to do with the fact that the foundation of their world seemed to be at risk [during an eclipse].” 1
A lunar eclipse, or other celestial events, would be seen as a sign that the deities were either fighting, lost a battle or were going to visit at the earth through the birth of a king.
So, we come to today wherein we hear of astrologers, people whose job it was to study the sky to watch for disasters or divine intervention, we have such people finding a star that told them that a new king was going to be born.
I don’t tend to give too much credence to the celestial movements even though they affect my daily living. Such effect is the ebb and flow of the tides is caused by the moon’s rotation around the earth. I enjoyed the tidal impact when I lived closer to Lake Michigan, yet I took it all for granted. I grew up on a small farm wherein the planting season was dictated by the lunar calendar. As a boy, I didn’t pay too much attention to that. Grandma Coon sure did, and it paid off with a plentiful harvest.
Taking this marvelous synchronicity to for granted was not the norm in the time of Jesus.
In the article “Eclipse Superstitions Then and Now” E.C Krupp’s work is cited again as the article reads
People living in the modern world might not often think about why eclipses would be so deeply terrifying to ancient groups, Krupp said, but the lives of those people would have relied deeply on the “fundamental rhythms of the sky.” Things like sunrise and sunset, the lunar cycle, and the change of seasons gave order to the world, traced the passage of time, and in many ways determined people’s ability to survive, he said. 2
So, on January 31st at a decent hour like 7:50 am, I will be in awe of the wonders of our universe. I will not be in fear or awaiting the birth of a king.
Thank goodness for times when such legends of the shinning of a star signaling the birth of a king. If it were not for such then I would be preaching on a different text this morning. That is to say that I enjoy the awesomeness of the story of the Epiphany, commonly known as the story of the Three Wise Men.
Let’s leave aside the reality that the story noted three gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh and didn’t say that there were three wise men. It didn’t say how many there were or that they were men.
Let’s leave behind the reality that the story states that they visited Jesus in the house where he was living and not the manger where he was born.
Too often we preachers get caught up in the trivial and fail to delve into the depth of the biblical story. To dig in deeper sometimes causes waves.
Such is the story of the Epiphany, the story of the shining light in the light of the world. As Reverend Peter Lockhart points out in his BlogSpot,
There presence: the presence of these foreign, probably even considered pagan wise men also affirms that the limits of God’s actions and activity is beyond any limits we might want to construct ourselves. God uses outsiders to affirm Jesus presence as God’s ultimate insider in the world. This good news for all peoples everywhere – God’s love transcends the boundaries even of our faith. 3
I like that. “God uses outsiders to affirm Jesus presence (the light) as God’s ultimate insider in the world.” It fits with my preconceived idea of how God is at work. I don’t care for the insider – outsider language, but it serves a purpose here.
Too often we think of God as being outside of our midst, a presence outside of who we are – someone out there. What if God, who is love, is present in our everyday lives, in the midst of our very acts of love?
What if the love experienced in the birth of some babies is the presence of God incarnate? What if the love present that breaks through in those birth experiences that are not basked in love… those times when a baby is given over for adoption due to the mother not being able to care for the baby… what if God’s love is present in very act of giving the child up for adoption.
What if love, God, is experienced in the giving and receiving of warm gloves given by “punks” in Reutter Park here in downtown Lansing? This “Punks with Lunch” 4 program is what some would consider outsiders doing diving work. I propose it is God, love, incarnate again doing the work in and through wise ones among us, even through those “punks.”
We are on a journey like the “wise men” of old. We, along with multitude of people through out the world. We are following the star of light that will lead us to a deeper understanding of God’s unconditional love.
Maybe our journey will take us to walk along beside of a refugee that is fearful of being deported. Our journey might be with a mother whose family is facing uncertainty due to changes in health care. Our journey might be with someone who is on the other side of understanding how life can improve in the United States.
Whatever our journey, let us keep looking for ways to see the light of God’s love in expected and unexpected places.
“For we observed his star at its rising…”
Where have you seen the sign of God, love, on this earth? In this city? In this church? In your family? In your life?
Name it for what it is. Name such signs of love shown, experienced, witnessed, for what they are: God present, seeking to transform this world, through you and me, through those inside the church and sometimes more so through those outside the church.
I want to see more of God. I want to experience more of God. I want to look inside of myself and clear away the dust so that as I journey through the remainder of my life I can keep looking for the light of love experience, love that transforms.
Will you join me and other wise people in the journey?
A heads up. At the end of the service I will be asking you to tell each other where you have seen love shone recently. I wonder if this time it will be different after we have thought about such love being God present.
Let us move forward with the strength of the Spirit of love, the spirit of God. Let us be those who seek equity and peace for all.
Reference and further resources
1 “There’s certainly a uniform response — and by that I mean worldwide — that most people, most of the time, thought eclipses of the sun or the moon were trouble. Serious trouble,” he said. “And the nature of the trouble had to do with the fact that the foundation of their world seemed to be at risk [during an eclipse].”
2 People living in the modern world might not often think about why eclipses would be so deeply terrifying to ancient groups, Krupp said, but the lives of those people would have relied deeply on the “fundamental rhythms of the sky.” Things like sunrise and sunset, the lunar cycle, and the change of seasons gave order to the world, traced the passage of time, and in many ways determined people’s ability to survive, he said.
Krupp wrote in his book “Beyond the Blue Horizon: Myths and Legends of the Sun, Moon, Stars and Planets,” (HarperCollins, 1991).
E.C. Krupp, director of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles
Even on my lips asking this question sounds a bit odd. I live in a culture that does not believe people are born into a destiny but rather that we shape our own. I live in a culture which prefers democracy over monarchy. I live in a culture which is largely secular not religious and many of the Jewish people I know understand themselves as Jews by race not religion.
3 Their presence: the presence of these foreign, probably even considered pagan wise men also affirms that the limits of God’s actions and activity is beyond any limits we might want to construct ourselves. God uses outsiders to affirm Jesus presence as God’s ultimate insider in the world. This is good news for all peoples everywhere – God’s love transcends the boundaries even of our faith.
Following the light of the star the story of the wise men helps bring the truth of God’s love for the world to light. Across the world today Christians are celebrating the showing forth of God’s light in the world known as Epiphany. Yet how well is the light shining, is the light of the star that lead the Magi still bright?
by Peter Lockhart
We’ll be meeting up at Street Kitchen for the first portion to assemble lunches and sort donations followed by heading to the downtown area in Reutter Park and surrounding areas for the afternoon. There’s 2 shifts (assembly and distribution)
As always, people who would like to donate items can drop things off at Street Kitchen during their business hours or bring with them on Saturday.
Suggested items are:
Non food: winter coats, SOCKS, GLOVES, hats (particularly larger sizes) thermals, hoodies, sweaters, pants.
Food items: fresh fruit (please bring on Saturday not prior), snack items for lunches.
Supplies: brown lunch bags/ sandwich bags