Sunday, January 26, 2014

They left the boat and their father

Matthew 4: 12-23, NT pages 3 and 4 Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles – the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea – for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. Sermon I’ve been asked, as you probably have, about what, if any, sports you played as a teenager. I grew up playing baseball and even made the team in high school, which was a big deal in Cobb County back then, but to say that I played baseball in high school feels like a stretch of the truth and the more accurate statement is probably that I was on the baseball team, that I wore a uniform and watched the games, for in reality I very rarely played. In most instances, the only time I actually caught or threw a ball on game day was during warm ups. One wet spring day, too early in the season to be warm but early enough for a game, I remember how muddy the outfield was. Despite the mud I worked hard during those pre-game drills because I didn’t have any need to stay dry or to save my best stuff for the actual game, pregame warm-up being the only chance I had to so much as step on the field. By the end of warm-ups my cleats were drenched, so before the game started I took them off and put on a dry pair of tennis shoes that I had with me. As soon as I had done so I heard my coach say, “Evans, you’ll start in right field today.” I had been waiting so long to hear those words, and I sprung off the bench to change my shoes, when over my shoulder I heard him speak again: “Changing his shoes! There’s no time for all that – Jones, you get in there. It looks like Joe would rather stay dry in the dugout than play baseball.” In our second scripture lesson today, like the second lesson from last Sunday, Jesus is offering an invitation. For those who follow, the lesson is: if you want to be a disciple of Jesus you better have your cleats on when he calls. The disciples are our model here, as with great immediacy they follow – which can raise some important questions about who it was that they were so anxious to follow and what it was they were so ready to get away from. I’ve heard it said in Maury County that many have heard the Lord call them to the ministry out in the tobacco field during the scorching heat of summer, as preaching one day a week sounds so much better than working tobacco six days a week. But it’s not clear that these first disciples are trying to escape from something as miserable as a tobacco field or anything else, as a matter of fact it seems as though they were so compelled to follow Jesus that they willingly leave much of value behind. That’s consistent with the other accounts of Jesus calling his disciples. Last week we read of three who gave up a full day’s work and whatever pay they might gain for their labor to follow him. In a world of constant effort and continual production, to give up a full day is to give up a lot – but in today’s reading the cost of discipleship may seem even higher – as at the end of the day James and John, the sons of Zebedee, are mending their nets when Jesus walks by: “Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.” I’ve seen a few boats left behind on the side of the interstate, and I hear that the two best days for a boat owner are the day you buy the boat and the day you sell it, but a boat for these men was the tool that enabled them to work, to support themselves, and to feed their families. To walk away from your boat was to walk away from your livelihood, or to leave your livelihood for your father to deal with until you got back, if, when you got back, he wanted to have anything to do with you. Certainly many sons and daughters have walked away from the family business or the family farm despite stern warnings and even tears from their parents. Sometimes they leave “their boats and their father” only to return to it, the challenge of making it on their own in a harsh world fills them with appreciation for a job they’ve always taken for granted. So appreciative in fact that some are willing to hear the words “I told you so” in order to come back to the family trade, never wanting to leave it again. Others may leave home, chasing after some dream or some love interest, but the chasing and the risk eventually comes to something that makes them happy. Most parents grow to accept such a change in expectation and learn to accept that things don’t always turn out how you want them to but how they are supposed to. In such cases some families end up with more happiness than they ever would have had otherwise. But there are others – others who in walking away from their father do so much damage that there is no way to pick up where they left off. That’s the fear that keeps some from following the desires of their hearts or even the call of Jesus himself, as there can be so much pressure for you and me to stay exactly where we are. I know that feeling well, but I knew that feeling even better when I was a teenager and of age to join the church by taking part in the confirmation class. While our confirmation class is during the Sunday School hour, in the church I grew up in, confirmation was on Sunday nights. My parents would drop me off and I would walk into the church, only to turn around, walk out the door and to a back alley where I would meet my friends. We’d spend the hour not doing much of anything, but whatever it was that we were doing, it made us feel a lot cooler than if we had gone on into the confirmation class like we were supposed to. My best friend Matt had no intention of going to confirmation class. He told me that he didn’t want to join the church either, as our church had special parking places for visitors that were right next to the front door, and when he got his driver’s license he didn’t want to become a member or he’d be ineligible to use them. On the other hand, I had a guilty conscience, which eventually led me to leave my friends behind. I went to the confirmation class, which was the right thing to do – but when the right thing is different from what your friends or your parents want you to do then doing the right thing can seem almost impossible. “They left the boat and their father, and followed him.” Do you know how hard that must have been? But don’t you know that it was exactly what they had to do. It’s true that sometimes if you want to make something more of yourself, you have to leave behind the people who think that you are just fine how you are. When they find out that you’re going off to college or back to graduate school, they’ll call you uppity, they’ll ask why you suddenly started acting like you’re too good for everybody, and the question that you’ll have to ask yourself may be a question of priorities: your friends or your dreams? Then there are aunts and uncles who need to be given ultimatums: either you get quit or you don’t see your nieces and nephews. There are brothers who can’t be invited over anymore. There are sisters whose words act like a wedge between husbands and wives. The question for you is easy enough to say but are you brave enough to give an answer? And I don’t think that it’s any coincidence that the sons of Zebedee have to walk away from their father. How often has just the idea of gaining or losing his approval shaped your thoughts and your actions? How many times have your turned back or pushed forward because you wanted him to think well of you? What have you given up on because you were afraid of what you might lose in his estimation? Know that for James and his brother John, just the sight of Jesus made it worth it. Know that for them there was no second thought and no turning back. Know that they walked away because when they heard his voice not even their father’s approval seemed to matter. And he is calling to you now. He’s calling you away from poisonous relationships. Maybe you stay because he’s better than no one at all, but I tell you to listen to the voice of Christ and know that you will never be left alone. He’s calling you away from friends who hold you back and he’s inviting you into a new life that brings joy deeper and purer than anything you’ve known before. And he’s calling you away from trying to gain some approval that you’ll never quite get. Whatever you've been trying to prove and whoever you’ve been trying to prove it to, know that to Christ you are already enough and all you need to do is follow. Walk away from the boat. Walk away – and know that if you are following him it’s not what you are walking away from but who you are walking towards, and if you are following him you are walking towards the lights of all creation. Amen.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Four o'clock

John 1: 29-42, NT page 92 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter). Sermon Losing track of time can be a wonderful thing. To lose track of time may be the sign of absolute concentration, to concentrate so completely on a task that you enjoy time ceases to matter and the minutes fly by, or to get lost in a conversation with a friend who understands you so completely that all at once the afternoon has passed without you even realizing it. And you compare moments such as these to other times in your day when time seems to stand still. Say you’re in church during a time of prayer, everyone’s head is bowed and silent, when your cell phone starts to ring. Using the newest BeyoncĂ© song for your ring tone seemed like a good idea when you picked it out at home, but it now sounds obnoxious and inappropriate. And worse, the cell phone seems to have buried itself in your purse, in some remote subterranean pocket that you’ve never used before. You unzip zippers and rattle around, feeling everyone’s eyes on you – and it feels like they are condemning you but they aren’t really judging you so much as they are giving thanks to God that it’s your cell phone ringing and not theirs. The whole thing lasts about 30 seconds, but it’s not a typical 30 seconds, it’s like 30 seconds of an earthquake and the stress of it has taken 3 years off your life. If you have a job that you hate time moves almost as slowly. Susie Baxter is our Director of Christian Education, and one of her first jobs was as an inspector for a blue jeans manufacturer called H.I.S. over in West Tennessee. They produced Chic jeans, which in those days was absolutely the brand of jeans to wear, and while Susie liked Chic jeans she did not like the part of her job which she actually got paid for. She’d walk into the factory, and this part is easy to believe if you know Susie, she would stop and talk to every person she walked by, but when she finally got to her station and got down to the business of inspecting jeans, time seemed to slow down. She would be paid extra for any jeans inspected beyond her quota, but because she couldn’t stand to inspect the jeans and spent so much of her time catching up with the people she worked with, no extra income was ever attained. That’s how it is with a job that you hate. But if you have a job that you love – then you find yourself late in the afternoon looking at your watch and saying, “What happened to the day?” You find that it’s time to be home, hours having slipped right by, so you rush out and storm into the house, proclaiming to your family, “I’m so sorry that I’m late, but I’ve been working on the most exciting project,” and maybe your spouse is excited or maybe all your spouse can say is, “And it looks like you forgot to pick up the milk.” It was a new day and there were two disciples of John the Baptist, who at his announcement of: “Look, here is the Lamb of God,” followed Jesus who invited them to “Come and see.” They went and they saw and next thing they knew it was four o’clock in the afternoon. And here’s the difficult part – you can imagine that they went home proclaiming, “We have found the Messiah,” but when they finally got home, the whole day having slipped right by, their children were wishing they had something besides that announcement to show for a day’s work; maybe something to eat instead of something to announce that they couldn’t really understand. Sometimes doing the right thing will cost you, and in the case of the first disciples of Jesus, it cost them a full day. One full day it cost them, and you can imagine what all was left undone. If they were fisherman, no fish were caught. If they were tax collectors as some disciples were, they went to their supervisor empty handed. If they were husbands, you can imagine what their wives had to say when they walked in the door with nothing to show for their day but a smile on their face while she had been chasing children and doing laundry and making sure that what had to be done got done. It’s a hard truth, that following your dream, fulfilling your destiny, and finding the Messiah are not activities that can be scheduled and the reality is that if you want to know salvation something must be left undone. It’s true. You know the story of the Samaritan man who walked down that dangerous road from Jerusalem to Jericho. He was probably wanting to make good time on his trip and we know he had business to accomplish as there was no other reason to make this trip down such a dangerous road unless your business interest demanded it. But this Samaritan man noticed another, lying on the side of the road who had been robbed and beaten. He stopped, “moved with pity,” and “went to him and bandaged his wounds having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him, and when I come back I will repay you whatever more you spend.”” How often have you said, “I’d stop, if only I weren’t in such a hurry,” but consider what the first disciples of Jesus would have missed had they been more concerned with what they had to do than with being a witness to the work of God? It was about four o’clock in the afternoon when the disciples finally looked at a sundial or something, and do you know what I am usually doing at four o’clock in the afternoon? Without fail I am rushing around, firing off emails, making a few more phone calls, all in the hopes of accomplishing something on my list of things to do so that I can go home feeling as though I’ve made something of my day. But do you know what I should be doing? I should be reflecting back on a day filled with miracles. A morning that began with food in the pantry for breakfast and children in their PJs to eat it. A walk across the street to deliver them to the school that they love, a lunch in a downtown that gets better every day, a conversation where some truth is spoken and some healing is found, a difference made, a corner turned, Christ made real as grace is discovered if for the very first time. You see – when the day slips by it is because you have been living, and while the world will tell you that when the day slips by it is because you are failing remember that the world will draw you ever closer to death and only the Lord will bring you to life. You must be willing to push your routine aside to make room for what truly matters. The sound of a ringing phone can feel like an annoying distraction even when it’s a friend calling, but a word from a friend is a distraction from what exactly? Dinner can be late, so sit down with your daughter if she needs to talk. Every game will end this way: one team will win and another will lose, so turn the TV off and talk to your wife before she quits trying. It’s true that President James K. Polk never left his desk until all the work to be done was finished, refusing to leave to tomorrow what could be finished today, but it’s also true that he died just three months after completing the term of his presidency when he was 53 years old, and maybe that was a full life back in those days but in the end, how many days at his desk would he have traded for just one afternoon with his wife? Tomorrow is a whole new day with another chance to do what needs to be done, but Christ may only walk through town this one time and if you won’t follow him now when will you? Amen.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

For it is proper

Matthew 3: 13-17, NT page 3 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented it saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Sermon It is Sunday morning, and I am willing to bet that each one of you could think of something else that you might be doing rather than being here, dressed, and in church. Because you are here there are unread newspapers sitting on kitchen tables, 2nd cups of coffee growing cold because there wasn’t enough time to drink them, there is wrapping paper still not put away, clean clothes that sit unfolded, leaves unraked – all because you chose to give your Sunday morning to God rather than whatever chore that will now have to be done later. But not only does getting here take a restructuring of priorities, there are obstacles to getting here as well. I heard a mother say that Satan works the hardest on Sunday mornings, and I can believe it, as there is some power who hides that other shoe, who keeps socks from sliding on, and who puts tangles in little girls’ hair so that getting here at 10:30 is nearly impossible and getting here at 9:00 for Sunday School completely unattainable. But you are here, and simply in showing up I believe that you have done something significant. However, it has been said that a person showing up in a church doesn’t make him a Christian any more than a person showing up in a garage makes him a car, so it not only matters that you are here, to some degree or another it also matters why you are here. There is an old story about a Christian Educator, a good and talented one like our Susie Baxter, who led her group of children into the sanctuary to teach them about reverence in holy places. She said to her group, “it’s important to be quiet in the sanctuary, do you know why?” A smart little girl raised her hand and said, “So we don’t wake up all the people who are sleeping?” You not only have to show up, you also have to stay awake. You have to try to sing hymns that you’ve never heard before. You have to participate fully, because it’s not as though I am the presenter and you are the audience – we are all the worshippers and God is the audience. It is good for you to be here – it is right for you to be here – and – it is proper for you to be here too. Jesus showed up to be baptized by John in the river for the same reason. Our second scripture lesson from the Gospel of Matthew says tells us that, “Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented it saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” It is proper for you to be here. It is what good Christian women and men are supposed to be doing on Sunday morning, and I am proud of the way you make this time a priority week after week. I believe that it is when people like you make it a priority to be present in a place such as this and at a time such as now, that the Lord works to change your heart and fill you with the Spirit. It is proper for you to be here, just as it was proper for Jesus to be baptized by John, but that word, “proper,” can mean a lot of things. Some would say it is proper to get married in a church – but that doesn’t mean that every bride and groom who have been married in this place ever set foot in this sanctuary again after the ceremony was over. It is proper for young men and women to be confirmed, and to join this church as full participating members by their own choice and will, but just because it is proper that you be confirmed here, confirmation is the beginning of your life in Christ and not the fulfillment of your Christian obligation. Proper, you see, can mean a lot of things, but saying that it is proper to be baptized – know that it is proper, just as it was proper that Jesus be baptized in the Jordan by John, but by no means was Jesus baptized to satisfy his grandmother or to prove to everyone in town that he was a good a decent person. His baptism, while it was done properly, it wasn’t about looking pretty on a special day, though that’s what being proper can turn into. Doing what is proper – this is a sticky and complicated business, as you probably know. You want to follow the proper procedure, abide by the rules of upstanding society, you want to show the people you care about that you and your family are good enough to be taken seriously and have done all the proper things to hold your head up high when you walk through the grocery store or into the Benefit Ball. As the eyes look you over, you want to be able to say to yourself, “I have done the things that I am supposed to do – I have done what is proper and right.” Married in the right church. Baby’s been baptized. Kids are enrolled in the right school, they have a good group of friends, and they wear the right clothes. The list goes on, and it never gets any shorter because most people don’t know when they’ve done enough, even though while the list gets longer it also gets more expensive. Parents of small children, sooner or later your little girl will need the iPhone that everyone else has, and do you have any idea how mean kids can be about that kind of stuff? Of course you do, and so do I. I am sure it still feels true, that if a rumor goes out in middle school that your mother buys your clothes at Walmart, you may as well pack up your desk now and get ready to change schools. And if your daughters get their shoes and their pants wet on a hike like ours did yesterday, but you decide to take them into the Baskin Robins anyway because you made a promise, and nothing is more serious to little girls than a promise that involves ice cream, so you take them in there, both of them barefoot and one of them pants-less, and you worry if your status in the community will still be intact by the time they finish their ice cream cones. Have you done everything that a proper parent should? Do you have everything that a proper teenager is supposed to have? Have you done all that is proper to “fulfill all righteousness?” It feels good if you have, but what if you know you haven’t? If you look yourself over and are left with the distinct impression that everything is not quite right, if you look deep inside and become convinced that more can be done, or, if you don’t feel proper at all, and in fact, you’re just about ready to give up trying to be – if that’s where you are than you know the reason Christ was born and you can come to understand why he went to the river to be baptized by John. He went to be baptized by John, not because he was supposed to or because it was what good people were doing at the time – Jesus goes to the river to be baptized by John because even though he’s God, that doesn’t mean he can do everything by himself. And so often the pressure is on you to do more and be more – but Jesus goes to the river to be baptized by John and he gives thanks for ministry that not he, but someone else, is already doing. Picture him there baptized by John and know that doing what is proper is not always about you, but giving thanks for the work of those around you, asking for their help, and learning from their example. He went to John to be baptized, not because he had lived a proper life, in fact we know that he hadn’t. His mother was pregnant before the wedding day, his father wasn’t really his father, he was from the wrong side of town in the wrong kind of city – but baptism has little to do with living up to the standards of proper society – baptism is about being made proper by the hand of God. So picture him there, not much in the eyes of the world, and know that no matter what you think they are saying about you, in the eyes of God you are not just proper – you are beloved. He went to be baptized in the river by John, not because he needed to cross all the t’s and dot all the I’s, not because he wanted to look like he had it all together and was doing everything just right – Jesus goes to the water, and it was for him just as it is for you – he goes to the water to give thanks for a strength and a love beyond himself. Picture him coming up out of the water and know that when he’s baptized by John it’s a voice that is not his own that he hears and it is a power beyond his own that he feels just as coming here should have little to do with what you have done or have failed to do but has everything to do with what God has done and is doing. It is good that you are here, it is right and good and proper, for this place is not about how proper you feel as though you are – this place is about God and who God will be to you if you are willing to believe in a redeeming power beyond yourself. If you are tiered of trying to prove it to yourself and everyone else, let God make you proper, let God make you well, for God created you and called you good, God redeemed you and called you Beloved. Amen.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

They offered him gifts

Matthew 2: 1-12, NT page 2 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. Sermon One of the most interesting parts of our local paper is Sound-Off. If you don’t subscribe know that this re-occurring section alone makes the Daily Herald worth your time and money, as Sound-Off is just the publication of calls to the paper concerning whatever the caller wanted to call in about. Someone called in to Sound-Off last week or the week before and said, “I sure do hope that the Christmas Star stops over Congress because we sure could use some wise men there.” Always Sound-Off is entertaining, but rarely is it so theologically brilliant. The wise men from the East follow a star to Jerusalem, just as this caller hopes that some wise men will follow a star to Washington DC to replace the ones who seem to the caller to not be very wise, and assuming that everyone in Jerusalem has also been following this same star these wise men just ask around about the star, as though they assumed everyone in Jerusalem were watching excitedly for it as well. They were not however. That’s the way it is sometimes – something big happens somewhere and the people who live there are the last ones to appreciate it. It’s like Mule Day, when people drive into Columbia from across the country, from far and wide; but half of you will leaving for the beach. But it’s not just that Jerusalem doesn’t know about this star that the wise men are so excited about, this thing that has happened that they have journeyed many miles just to see, it’s not just that the citizens of Jerusalem don’t know anything about it, at least one person in Jerusalem doesn’t want it to be happening at all. Not only does King Herod not know anything about the star, while he inquires of the wise men and tells them that he would like to go to the child to pay him homage as well, his intentions are sinister. In an effort to rid his kingdom of any threat to his power, in an effort to destroy anyone so important as to motivate wise men from the East to journey and pay him homage, Herod has every child in or around Bethlehem two years old or younger killed, because the birth of someone so important that the stars change their course to mark his birth is a threat to Herod’s sense of self-importance. Jesus slips through Herod’s fingertips, his father Joseph having been warned in a dream to escape to Egypt, but Herod here illustrates an important reality: on the one hand there are those whom the Bible calls wise who are in our 2nd lesson for this morning seeking to find the Christ child, and on the other hand there are those whom the Bible calls afraid who are in our 2nd lesson doing everything they can to preserve what they have. While the wise men are searching for someone whose importance has been proclaimed by the heavens, Herod is threatened, believing that the heavens should be proclaiming no one’s greatness but his own. While the wise men come searching for a savior, Herod thinks that the savior of the people has already come and he is it. And while the wise men carry precious things to give to a precious child, Herod grips his treasure and his power with cruel hands and lashes out in violence at any perceived threat. There are those who are like the wise men, who believe that they have something to gain – and so they go and search it out, but then there are those who are like Herod, who are consumed with thoughts of what they stand to lose – and they are so truly characterized by their fear. Herod’s fear reminds me of the fear of the church during the time of Galileo. Galileo of course was one of the first great astronomers, and staring out into the night sky as the wise men did so long ago, he became convinced that the earth was not in fact the center of the universe as he had been told, but that the earth was one of several bodies who orbited around the sun. The great learned minds of the established order at that time were all a part of the Church, and they had already decided, they already knew that the earth had to be the center of the universe, and just as Herod feared any threat to his power so the church feared Galileo and his theory that the earth orbited the sun. While Galileo sought out the truth, while he searched the stars for answers, the Church had no interest in ideas that challenged what they already believed, they had no interest in a truth who contradicted their truth. And the same is true today, just as it always has been. Today there are those who have nothing new to learn – they have already learned it. The ideas that they grew up with cannot be replaced, the structures of the established order must not be shaken, what is must be what will be, even if what is should be torn down and replaced. Like Herod they fight for stability over growth and old patterns of falsehood over the truth – but the wise on the other hand – they are not so interested in preserving what they already have, as they are in searching out what they stand to gain. In the days of the Civil Rights Era there were those who fought, who lashed out, at any movement that threatened the established patterns of an unjust society. It didn’t matter that racism was wrong, racism was, and the way things were needed to be the way things would always be. But there were others who dreamed dreams and who wouldn’t settle for the way things were, and instead they walked towards the way things might be. Jerusalem had a savior already, and Herod as the savior of Jerusalem would ensure that nothing ever changed, that things would be as they always had been – but the wise men from the east were convinced that just because it has always been does not mean that it should always be – that the injustice of the day might give way to a justice rolling down like waters – that the hopelessness of today might give way to the bright hope of tomorrow – that while today there is despair and cruelty and ignorance – today, unto you, a child has been born who can set things right. And the wise sought him out, while Herod tried to destroy him. The wise gave him gifts, while Herod only knew what he stood to lose. But there are others in our world who act the same way. The cruelty of their home is better than some potential safety that they cannot imagine, so they do not go searching out for stars, they settle for what they have already. There are also those who already know everything, who have nothing new to learn and who are afraid to accept any truth that threatens their perception of truth. And there are those who only stand to lose and who never stand to gain. They hold fast to the power and influence that they have even if it strangles those around them. Like Herod they would rather murder threats to their power than step aside in favor of something better – but you do not have to live like that. You are called to be wise – to kneel at the manger of the Christ child – to offer him gifts believing that what you have is nothing compared to what you stand to gain. You are called to give him gifts – for in offering yourself to this child you proclaim the truth – that all that you have and all that you have known – is like nothing compared to the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Do not concern yourself with what you stand to lose – do not be afraid – and if you have nothing else to give him, give him your heart. Amen.