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."
“Go and search diligently…
Sometimes I feel as if I am Herod. And other times, I feel as if I surrounded by a bunch of Herod’s. Herod wants to find Jesus but isn’t willing to embark on the journey himself. He doesn’t want to do the work. He charges the magi, - visitors from the East, - to go on the journey for him.
"Get answers and bring them back to me."
The magi are of a journey on their own. They are trying to understand a sign they have been given from the heavens above - a star in the sky that leads to truth and light.
Are you willing to go on the journey?
Can you see the star?
Pope Francis, in his sermon yesterday commemorating the feast of the Epiphany, said this, we need to resist “the inclinations toward arrogance, the thirst for power and for riches… If we want to find Jesus, we have to overcome our fear of taking risks, our self-satisfaction and our indolent refusal to ask anything more of life. We need to take risks to simply meet a child. Those risks are immensely worth the effort, since, in finding that child, in discovering Jesus’ tenderness and love, we rediscover ourselves."
I wonder what kind of journey this will be for me.
I wonder what kind of journey this will be for you.
What kind of journey is God inviting us, - the people of St. Matthew’s, - to go on?
Can you see the star?
All of us know that looking for Jesus, finding Jesus, understanding Jesus, walking with Jesus, following Jesus, is the work of the journey of faith.
The Epiphany journey is the quest of a lifetime. We have to seek out signs and wonders and miracles. We must listen diligently for answers to prayers. We must believe in angels and messengers and shepherds and wise men. We must find space and silence to appreciate the difficulty of healing. We must walk the path of trusting ourselves. Trusting others. Trusting God.
Can I see the star?
Am I willing to take the journey?
For me, the most difficult part of the journey is trusting God. I rather just rely on myself. I am predictable. I don’t know if I can trust God that much. If I trust God, and things go wrong, - things don’t go the way I have planned, - who do I blame?
When I look around at all of us gathered here at St. Matthew’s, it often your hope, your faith, your lives - the parts we are proud of and the parts we try to hide - that give me strength for the journey with God, and with you. We ARE each other’s maps. We ARE each other’s constellations.
Can you see the star?
This Epiphany journey is beautifully captured in a movie that came out last year called
All Saints. All Saints is based on the true story of All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Smyrna, Tennessee.
As the film opens, the church is being inventoried - in order to sell off everything and pay off late mortgage payments. Father Michael Spurlock, a newly ordained priest, is sent by the Bishop to close the church down. The congregation has shrunk to fewer then 12 members. Many have left Smyrna for better opportunities elsewhere. Others have swarmed to the new-and-happening evangelical congregation right up the street. The Bishop wants to sell the massive property to a big-box store. All Saints is blessed with a large campus on fertile land.
Fr. Spurlock’s wife and son are not thrilled to be in Smyrna. They are counting down the days till they will be out of there. Their focus is on bigger cities - Nashville,
Atlanta or even New York.
And so is Father Spurlock’s. He is not thinking of the people standing right in front of him. However, he is thinking about many things - the charge from his bishop, his lack of enchantment with Smyrna, Tennessee, the brooding and pouting of his wife and son, and his own ambition to be the rector of a big congregation - anywhere else but Smyrna.
And yet, this gathering of people is his greatest asset.
Can they see the star?
The Big-Box planning team arrives at All Saints’. They examine the property, the buildings, all the stuff within the church’s walls.
“Look at this wood.”
“What about these windows?”
“Beautiful light fixtures. We will get a fortune from these.” - -
Fr. Spurlock looks around. Has he really seen the place?
Within his congregation there is an accountant, a farmer, an administrator, a historian, a nurse. And suddenly, out of nowhere, a handful of Karen, - Burmese refugees who are Anglican, - show up in Smyrna. So they have come to worship and to settle down and become members of the local Anglican Church.
What kind of journey have the Karen been on?
How did they end up in this part of the world?
The teachings of Jesus and the structure of Anglican worship are universal.
The stars are shifting around Fr. Spurlock.
Are his eyes open?
Can he see the star?
The Karen, the Burmese refugees, are farmers. They love All Saints’. They begin attending. They want to work. They are hired to pluck chickens at the nearby chicken farm. And they notice the fertile land surrounding All Saints’. All is looking good for the Karen in Smyrna, Tennessee.
Fr. Spurlock is noticing this too. He is putting two and two together and getting four. But he doesn’t like this equation. It doesn’t compute with his plans, the plans of his Bishop, the plans of his family, the plans he has for his vocation, but God has been sending Spurlock a multitude of signs and wonders. And suddenly he listens to God’s call
In the middle of the night, clouds come in and the rain pours down. In the middle of this thunderstorm, Gods gives Fr. Spurlock a new map. Look around and see all that is surrounding you, - see what is in front of you. The possibilities are endless. But you have to look.
You have to see the star.
Then you have to commit to following it. Which isn’t always easy. You have to do the work. There is property. There are people. There are complicated relationships. There is suffering. There is love. There is faith.
What are you willing to do?
Who are you willing to listen to?
Like the magi, we encounter Christ and we are changed. Like the congregation of All Saints’, if we look around our congregation and truly appreciate what is surrounding us, the possibilities are endless.
What are we not seeing?
What signs are we missing?
Are we taking for granted the mission and ministry ideas God has made know to us?
The Epiphany journey never ends and is always within reach.
So, this month I invite you to look around and see the stars. As we prepare for our Annual Meeting, as we reflect upon and celebrate everything we have been given as we discern together how well we are living into our mission and ministry, I ask you to pray about our Epiphany journey. It is a journey with no maps but there is a star up ahead.
When I interviewed to be your Associate Rector, I was told your sacred story. I heard about hopes and dreams and the roads that were taken and decisions that were made
bring us to this point in this congregation’s journey. I saw the stars, your stars, and I enthusiastically said “yes” to this journey with you.
We have to say “yes” and then move with God and with each other not really knowing where all of this will lead.
We know what we have been promised. God with us. Love in action. Death and a tomb. New life in unexpected places. Gold, frankincense and myrrh - the epiphany journey.
Can you see the star?