Musings Sermon Starter

Epiphany Happens

It is the season of Epiphany and I’ve been thinking about how God reveals God in the world today. Many people complain that God is not as present or active as God was in biblical times. What if this really isn’t the case? What if we have lost the ability to see God or hear God as our lives have become more cluttered? What if God is really out there trying to do the same kinds of things that the Bible tells us about? When you’ve tossed and turned all night trying to sort out what is right and wrong, how do you know you haven’t been wrestling with an angel? Just because we understand the science of medicine better doesn’t mean that recovery from illness isn’t a miracle, does it? As we have become more dependent on science and technology, we’ve lost the ability to experience the awe, wonder, and mystery of our God.

I read the promise in the Isaiah text and I am convinced that these words are for all of us. Who cannot be moved by the idea that God is present with us no matter what is happening? Who can ignore the clear statement that we are loved, precious in God’s sight? I can tell you that I used to deny this promise. Some pretty horrible things happened in my life and I really believed that God wasn’t there and did not care. And I vividly remember the moment when I realized that God had been there all along. It began a change in me that took another 20 years to fully take root.

Still not sure that God is present in the world because of all the awful things that happen and the reluctance people have to make changes to prevent such things from continuing to happen? Okay. It’s sometimes hard to believe that God could sit back and watch war, violence, human beings destroying other human beings and the environment, too. Well, I don’t think God is passively watching anything. God is heartbroken and desperately trying to get our attention.

How can I be so sure of this? I take the sacraments very seriously. I have had the privilege to lead worship in many settings from very formal, traditional sanctuaries to living rooms and other unique places. But I have learned the most from leading worship in the psychiatric hospital where I now serve as chaplain. Our communion table is open to anyone who wishes to come, no questions asked. Let me tell you, it is a powerful testimony to God’s presence in the world to offer communion to those living with the shame and guilt of having done some awful things while they were experiencing a mental health crisis. This is the body of Christ, the blood of Christ, given for you… takes on a deeper meaning when you offer it to people who are often excluded from the communion tables of our churches. You are forgiven and loved by God is a statement that has set some people free from some horrible burdens. And when I say these words, I know they are true no matter what the person has done.

And this is where the Luke passage comes in. Jesus’ baptism. Jesus is God’s beloved and God is well pleased with him. I haven’t heard any voices from heaven or seen any descending doves, but I take this passage as a fulfillment of Isaiah’s promise. We are also God’s beloved. It’s that simple and that complicated. God is in the world and I know this because we are in the world. If we take a step back and really look at one another, we will see God, too. Then, if we see God in each other, maybe God won’t have such a hard time getting through our rational, scientific, techno-dependent approach to life.

I know this isn’t easy. I don’t always remember these things and it sure isn’t always easy to find something sacred in the people I meet. But when I see tears of joy in the eyes of someone who has committed egregious acts because I have told him that he is forgiven and loved by God… or when someone whose self-hatred keeps them trapped in a cycle of hospital admissions finally realizes that she is “good enough for God”…

This post may not seem to have much to do with what is going on the world, but I think it has everything to do with what’s happening around us. Too many people have forgotten that there is something sacred within them, within their neighbors, within their enemies. We have mistaken facts for understanding. There is mystery, wonder, and awe in the world. If you still need proof. Go look in a mirror and see the face of God’s beloved child.

Isaiah 43:1-7
Psalm 29
Acts 8:14-17

Sermon Starter

Little Christmas Thoughts

Christmas isn’t over yet, but it would be hard to prove it in many places. The stores have all taken down their lights and Christmas merchandise and replaced them with Valentine’s hearts. The radio doesn’t play carols anymore. Most people have packed away their decorations for another year. Who would guess that the Christmas season does not end until January 6th?

It seems that we make the trip to Bethlehem at a frantic pace, barely taking time to notice the journey. But we don’t linger there. The gospel reading this week invites us to take a breath, pay attention, and be changed by the experience of greeting Christ.

If you have not read T.S. Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi” it’s worth checking out. Eliot brings those magi alive in an unforgettable way. And once they are alive they are a bit meddlesome, at least for me.

I look at the news today and I am disgusted. The fiscal cliff fiasco and the impending debt ceiling debates make me want to run away. But then I am smacked in the head with the fact that more than 60,000 people have died in Syria. Right next to that tidbit, there is increased violence in Iraq and Pakistan. Further down the page, economic troubles in Portugal add to the growing list of struggling European countries. And these are just the headlines. It appears that no one is heading in a new direction.

So back to the magi. They went to Bethlehem to pay homage to the new born king. The had a long journey to get there. They were intercepted by Herod who had less than pleasant plans for this new king. They knelt before Mary and the baby Jesus. They offered their gifts. Then they went home by another road because the risk to Jesus was too high for them to return by the same route.

This is where they become meddlesome. Every time I read this passage I ask myself what gifts do I offer to Jesus and are these gifts the very best of what I have. This question is followed by a more difficult one: Does the road I travel pose any risk to Jesus, to my faith? Do I need to go in a new direction anywhere in my life for Christ’s sake, for my sake?

These questions and the search for their answers are better than New Year’s Resolutions if you’re wanting to make some changes in your life. If you got yourself to Bethlehem and knelt before that manger, why would you want to give less than your best or walk away unchanged?

If you and I linger for a bit, it won’t make headlines but it might make a difference.

Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
DSC00034RCL – Year C – Epiphany – January 6, 2013

Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14
Ephesians 3:1-12
Matthew 2:1-12