Thursday, January 18, 2018

Prayer, day 1818: love and grace entwined


Almighty God, the day is upon us,
and we rise to give You thanks
for your blessing and care
in each moment of our lives. 

Holy One, you perfectly love us,
even in our imperfections and our weaknesses:
forgive and restore us, we pray.
May we seek a renewal of our spirits,
and let go of old anger and hurts,
that we not inflict them ourselves upon others.
May we remember
the overwhelming grace and mercy of God
freely given to us
in forgiving those who have wronged us. 

May we welcome the living Savior into our hearts,
that we may be filled
with wisdom, gentleness, and love.
May we walk mindfully along the pilgrim path,
compassionately serving each other and our God.
Lord Jesus,
help us to serve you in peace and goodwill;
bless and comfort all whose hope is in you.

Amen.
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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

God calling: Speaking to the Soul, January 17, 2018


One of my favorite “comfort movies” is a sweet little gem from 2000 starring Edward Norton (who also directed), Ben Stiller, and Jenna Elfman called Keeping the Faith.

The basic outline of the film is the friendship between Brian, a Roman Catholic priest, and Jake, an Orthodox rabbi, whose lives are turned upside down when their childhood friend Anna, a hotshot corporate executive on the rise, comes back into their lives after moving away when they were all in middle school. Immediately, a love triangle ensues, yet through all the emotional and romantic turbulence, we also get a surprising meditation on the persistence of call, and of the importance both of friendship and also of religious faith among a generation whose religious commitments are often (wrongly, in my opinion) denigrated as being shallow-to-nonexistent. For both Brian and Jake, their love for Anna causes them to question their call. Obviously, for Brian, his (unrequited) feelings for Anna are out of the question, and cause him to question his calling as a priest. Yet Jake, also, faces problems in his Orthodox congregation (and in his family) at his potential relationship with a non-Jewish woman. Each of them ends up re-examining their sense of call and vocation, Anna included.

In Year B, we have been given several stories about call during this season after Epiphany. Last Sunday, the second after Epiphany, is also known as "Call Sunday," since the readings include multiple stories of God calling individuals out by name and setting before them special tasks such as prophecy and discipleship. Even last Sunday’s responsorial psalm, 139, marvels at how intimately God calls us and makes us partners in the reconciliation of creation. The boy Samuel is called by God; the disciples are continuing to be called to follow Jesus.

This Sunday we will hear more stories about discipleship and call. We will hear Jonah finally giving in and traveling to Nineveh, the main city of the Assyrian Empire in what is now northern Iraq, to preach God’s call to repentance to the people there, even though Nineveh had been one of the traditional enemies of Israel. The story in Mark of God calling Simon and Andrew away from their nets as fishermen, promising instead to make them “fishers of people.”

Jesus’s call to Simon and Andrew seems to come out of the blue, startling and beautiful and enticing, much like the throbbingly purple winter iris I spotted while walking with my friend John this last week—a true Epiphany for this refugee from the Midwestern winter, a burst of intense beauty in what is usually a sere, severe time of the year, in my experience. That iris also kept faith with its call to testify to God’s beauty, choosing to bloom despite all that might call it to slumber instead.

How about you? Are you called?

Do you even want to admit it, if you are?

Let's face it: as the movie makes clear, start talking about God talking to you in this day and age, especially in 21st century America, and people start shaking the wrinkles out of the straitjacket. I imagine it's even worse in Europe, the former seat of Christendom. Just admitting to being a person of religious faith is at times a risk, socially and culturally.

For many of us, we walk a delicate line as we seek to take seriously the call of God in our lives. For years, I sought to answer the call I felt, but not so much that it would turn my life upside down either. In other words, I kept saying, "Here am I, LORD. Please don't ask me for too much." Until finally, that just didn’t work anymore.

God’s call can cause us to abandon our nets and our befuddled father, like Andrew and Simon did, and set out on a completely different life. Yet it can also cause us to seek to be a witness to God’s blessings in our lives in other, more subtle ways, calling us to minister to each other in our secular vocations, which in many ways is a more delicate balancing act than just throwing it all away and renouncing everything we have ever known. Call also involves recognizing and pointing to the presence of God among us each day, a task every bit as risky and daring as the dropping of one’s nets along the shores of Sea of Galilee and wandering off in at the word of the local holy man.

Most of us aren’t led to abandon everything in order to follow Jesus and let our lives testify to his impact in our lives. God is calling all of us as God’s beloved children to bear witness to God’s beauty out into a world that desperately needs that light. Do we dare answer, "Here am I, LORD, Your servant is listening?" Even if it comes out more like, "Here am I, LORD. I give in," that’s still such a leap of faith in any time and place, a flash of beauty and joy in our lives, God’s love of us breaking in to help us keep the faith in spite of ourselves.

This was first published at the Episcopal Cafe's Speaking to the Soul on January 17, 2018.

Prayer 1817: Inviting God into Our Brokenness


Almighty God,
who sends your Spirit to shade and shield us,
we praise you for watching over us through the night.
Fill our hands and hearts with your strength today.
Rich in counsel,
abundant in grace,
O Holy Trinity:
draw us into your dance of love
and sing your joy into our souls.

We repent, O Lord, of our failures of heart;
for our neglect of walking in charity and faith with each other;
for our acquiescence in the face of exploitation.
Wrap us within the folds of your mercy, Blessed Savior,
and strengthen our will to love,
that we may walk in kindness and empathy with each other.

We ask you, Beloved Jesus,
to enter our brokenness
and make our own wounds
a source of compassion, welcome, and mercy for others.
Let us dedicate ourselves
to be healers and companions of truth;
restorers of beauty, contentment, and comfort
to all who suffer any distress.

We pray especially this day
for these concerns we lift before You, Lord:
in your mercy,
press the kiss of your blessing upon your beloveds.

Amen.

Photo: The labyrinth at the Church of St. Martin, Davis, CA.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Prayer 1816: the Door of Compassion


Most Merciful One,
we offer You our hearts
overflowing with praise for your goodness.

We give You thanks for the gift of this day,
O Beloved Creator,
for our times are in your hand,
and your abundant love fills us with wonder.

Help us to find the door within us
to our hope, our compassion, and our love
which you, O Lord, knit into our souls at our birth.

May we drink deep
from the wellspring of holiness
that we may be extremists for love, truth, and justice
and witnesses to your glory, Lord Christ.

Gather into your embrace
all who suffer in body, mind or spirit,
give rest to all who are weary,
and restore the health of all who are ill.

Spread your mantle over us
as we seek to serve You, O God,
and extend your blessing over those we now name.

Amen.

Photo: Meditation garden, Church of St. Martin, Davis, CA.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Prayer 1815: On the Martin Luther King holiday


Almighty God,
You created us in freedom,
and called us to live in truth:
may all that we do bring glory to your Name.

You send us martyrs and prophets,
such as the Rev. Dr. King,
to call us again
to live in covenant and mutuality with each other.

Prosper the work of those
who seek to heal the divides among us,
and forgive us for when we have failed to honor each other.

May we never forget
that to love each other is to love You,
and join hands and hearts
in kinship and unity with all your children.

Let us remember that the kingdom of God is our neighborhood,
and build our foundations on justice and equality.

Let us sit together at the table of fellowship,
and share each other's joys and hardships.

Bind the hearts of those who sorrow,
and build the strength of those who are bowed down, O Holy One.

Look with favor upon those who call upon You,
especially those we now name.

Amen.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Known, Loved, and Called: Sermon for the Second Sunday After Epiphany B


One of the things I liked to do when I was a kid was to make models. When I saved up my money from babysitting or mowing lawns, if I could be dissuaded from buying a book, I would sometimes buy a model kit to build. Being a complete history buff and science fiction nerd, the completed models I made are somewhat eclectic: a 1940s era Willys drag racer straight out of American Graffiti; a P- 51 Mustang airplane; a bi-plane; the Space Shuttle Enterprise with jet airplane to carry it; a Star Trek USS Enterprise; an X-wing and a TIE fighter from Star Wars. And one thing I learned about making these models: putting them together, piece by piece, made you much more intimately acquainted with these machines than simply looking at them or reading about them, even through a simple plastic model kit.

Yet the knowledge I gained from building a model of those machines is really scant knowledge, indeed. I really only learned about the outward appearance of those models—what was on the inside, what made them work, was still a mystery to me. To really know those machines, one would have to make a complete, working version—even better would be making one from scratch. Our psalm expands upon the idea we’ve heard throughout Epiphany of being known intimately by God who is our Mother, Father, and Creator. Psalm 139 reminds us that God’s knowledge of us is complete. However, that love and intimate knowledge of us presents us with also our greatest challenge.

If you look all through scripture you will see two interesting, competing stories emerge: we want to know God and we are terrified to know God. We want God to love us, and yet we resist the change that that love entails. And so we try to hold God at arm’s length. Yet, the second we think we can hide from God, we are lying to ourselves. God is with us always—not just in good times, and certainly not just in bad times. And God is not only with us, but God KNOWS us. In fact some form of the word “know” is used four times in the first five verses. Again and again we are reminded that God knows us intimately—and the knowledge of that simply boggles the mind of the psalmist.

God knows us and loves us even when we think such bitter thoughts that, in the wonderful turn of phrase of Anne Lamott, would "make Jesus want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish.”

Because God loves us. Even when we are wallowing in all our pettiness—God loves us enough to call us out of that, too. Some of the omitted verses of our psalm today make that point, so I want to include them here:

6 Where can I go then from your Spirit?
          Where can I flee from your presence?
7 If I climb up to heaven, you were there;
          If I make the grave my bed, you were there also.
8 If I take the wings of the morning
          And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
9 Even there your hand will lead me
          And your right hand hold me fast.
10 If I say, “Surely the darkness will cover me,
          And the lights around the turn to night,”
11 Darkness is not dark to you;
          The night is as bright as the day;
          Darkness and light to you are both alike.

These omitted verses make a valuable point about human nature. We want to believe that we can bury our flaws and our faults, our sins and trespasses, so deep they can never be found. When we find out how deeply we are known by the One who loves us, our response may be to flee.

It’s often that way. We feel the blessing of God’s presence with us, and know that God is “our portion and our cup.” We radiate with that blessing. And if we are really honest, we realize that that blessing also contains a challenge: the challenge of saying yes to God’s love, and the power of that love to turn our hearts inside out, and our lives upside down.

God knows us, God loves us, God knows what makes us tick—and still God calls to us to share in God’s work. We heard stories this morning of God calling to Eli to bear God’s message of repentance to a people who have wandered from God’s dream for their lives. We see God’s love in Jesus calling Philip and Nathanael to follow him, and to help carry his message of healing and reconciliation to those on the very margins of empire, to those who are oppressed in both body and spirit by the weight of poverty and injustice.

In the gospel today, Nathanael at first fails to understand who Jesus is, just as the boy Samuel misunderstood who was calling him and speaking to him. Just as in our psalm, we have Jesus as the Son of God claiming to know a person intimately, even though he and Nathanael had never met. Once again, we see God through Jesus reaching out to us and seeking us, knowing us even better than we know ourselves. God calls to us, but we can choose to respond or not.

God knows us, and since most of us can be honest with ourselves, that also means that God knows all of our flaws. If you look back at the story of Adam and Eve, you may remember that once they really knew THEMSELVES to be naked, their first impulse was to hide from God, although the assumption is that they had been walking around talking to God in their altogether all the while before their disobedience. Yet it was not their disobedience that made them want to hide—they had already justified that to themselves. It was their nakedness before God that made them dive into the bushes when they heard God coming.

Even in our most flawed and fragile moments, the miracle that hovers over us is that God loves and treasures us as God’s most beloved children, even when part of what makes us who we are includes our anger, our spite, our recklessness, and the very real damage we inflict upon others. There are times when even we in the Church surrender to the economy of scarcity that is the foundation of so much of our world today, and some seek to lock others out, or draw bright lines separating “us” from “them.”

Yet once we acknowledge the woundedness within ourselves and within our relationships with each other and with creation, we can then mindfully and joyfully embody the economy of abundance that is the foundation of God’s knowledge of and love for us. God knows and loves us so much that God gives us an example in Jesus to emulate. “Follow me,” Jesus calls. How far are we willing to go to do that?

God’s knowledge of us, God’s love for us, and God’s call to us extends to everyone—no matter what. God’s love calls us to unity, to common cause in the quest for justice and abundance of life for all. We worship a risen, living Savior, one who is present for us right now, and in this season of Epiphany we are called to both follow his light, and embody it into the world—a world that all too often works in shadow and revels in division—in other words, a world that needs that light more than ever.

Through the promises made at our baptism, when we see the face of Christ at all, we see it not just in our families and loved ones, not just in the persons sitting next to you right now, but in the prisoner, the refugee, and the stranger. As Christians, whether living in the first or the 21st century, we face every day a hundred interior negotiations between what we say we commit to as disciples of Jesus Christ, and what we commit to as people living in—and to a large extent being called by Christ’s values to resist-- a post-modern society.

As Christians, and particularly as the people of God gathered here at the Church of St. Martin, we are together celebrating and giving thanks right now, and that’s a radical act too: to give thanks in this time and place, gathering around this common table together to celebrate Jesus’s call to follow him, to accept his invitation to take up the beautiful work of love. Being known and beloved by God calls us to renewal and reconciliation for the life of the world. We are called to remember that following Jesus means turning our orientation not inward, but outward, opening our hearts to God AND to those who exist on the margins, where Jesus devoted his earthly life.

By the power of God’s love for us and all of creation, God’s Spirit is constantly moving over us, calling us to reconciliation and renewal. In Psalm 51, the psalmist prays, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” And I am convinced that anyone who really thinks about it knows that this is a brave prayer indeed.

We want God to love us, but real love shakes you up and spins you around, and we aren’t too sure we want that. We often like to think we can manage relationships. The miracle is that God’s love is not manageable. It’s not reasonable. And yet love is the signal marker of the way spent walking in the footsteps of Jesus. Love that binds us together, both here around this rail at the Eucharist, and as we are then strengthened and sent out into the world as beloved disciples of Jesus.

The love of God doesn’t just settle over us, but calls us to action—God calls us to partnership, not passivity; God calls us to be fertile ground for God’s ongoing work in the world. Through God’s love, we are called to be healers, reconcilers, restorers, witnesses. In short: disciples. God knows us—and calls us to be partners in the restoration of creation. That’s a miracle, too.

It’s also a challenge. Every day we get met with a new crisis, a new outrage, a new attempt to separate and divide, and we all know that the object of division is to conquer, and let the spreading gloom steal away our hope. Yet it is in that moment that the real work can begin. It is when we fear we have lost our path that the need for a new one can guide us home. In the words of the poet Wendell Berry:

It may be that when we no longer know what to do,
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.

God knows us, and calls us to be the very best versions of ourselves we can be, because God has faith in us to share in building up God’s kingdom. Healed, restored, renewed, brought together as one here at God’s altar, we hear God’s call to us as God’s beloveds is a call to engage with the ongoing creation God is working within us and around us. The journey awaits, and we get to do it together: known, loved, and called to partnership by Love Incarnate.

Amen.


Preached at the Church of St. Martin, Davis, CA, on January 14, 2018.

Readings:
1 Samuel 3:1-10
Psalm 139: 1-5, 12-17
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
John 1:43-51

Citations:
(1) Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith (1999), pp. 130-131; (2)Wendell Berry (1934- ), from the essay "Poetry and Marriage" in Standing By Words (1983)

Photos:
The calling of the boy Samuel; The calling of Philip and Nathanael; Adam and Eve hiding from God in the Garden of Eden; the altar party at the 7:45 service at the Church of St. Martin, Davis.

Prayer 1814: The Second Sunday After Epiphany


Almighty One,
You have searched us out and known us,
and nonetheless loved us as your very own,
and the miracle of your love leaves us breathless.

We marvel at your mercy and grace, Lord,
at your love which knit us together at our birth:
our spirits are restless until they abide in You.

With joy we gather at your altar today
answering your call, O Savior, and seeking your truth
that we may live into your dream for us,
united as your beloved children.

Help us to see your face, Lord Christ,
in each and every person,
your beauty in every blade of grass,
your voice in the wind stirring the winter fields.

Make us people of light and bearers of joy, O Holy One,
offering our gifts and our hope to the world in your Name,
singing your praises in tune with all creation.

Fill us with a discerning spirit, Beloved Jesus,
that we may be strengthened in faith,
and led by your wisdom and reconciliation
to the path of redemption and justice.

God of Abundance,
Prince of Peace,
Spirit of Compassion,
encompass us within your embrace,
and give your angels charge, we pray,
over those we remember before You.

Amen.

Photo: Skylight and cross above the altar at the Church of St. Martin, Davis, California.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Prayer 1813: Embodying the Light

Almighty God,
the curtain of sleep parts from our eyes,
and the veil of night is lifting:
shine forth your glory upon us
and enlighten our minds to seek your ways.

Give us the will to follow You, Lord Jesus,
putting our hands and hearts to the wheel of justice,
that we may ever walk in light and grace.

Blessed Savior, may we re-member
and carry forth our gratitude
for your compassion and tenderness toward us,
and embody your light and love in the world.

Spirit of the Living God,
may the light of the knowledge of your truth
shine forth from us in all we do,
and may we dedicate our gifts and energies
to the glory of your Name.

Holy One, You are ever with us,
and your love is a canopy and shelter:
gather us within your healing embrace,
and grant your peace to those we now name.

Amen.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Prayer 1812: rejoicing in the fellowship of friends



Most Merciful God,
You are are home and our refuge:
we gather in peace to worship and praise You.
Before You, O God, we bow our hearts,
and center ourselves in your goodness and grace;
accept our prayers and praises, in your mercy.

For the gift of companions of the heart,
and loving embraces at journey's end,
we give thanks to You, O God.
Strengthen all who seek to serve You, Blessed Savior,
and prosper their labors to the glory of your kingdom, we humbly pray.
Pour out your wisdom upon us, O Holy Spirit,
that we may be united in seeking the common good,
and stand alongside all who suffer want or any other injustice.
Make us loving, compassionate guardians of your creation,
that we may be filled with wonder
at the imprint of your beauty all around us, O Creator.

Hold us within the hollow of your hand, Lord Jesus,
and gather us within your healing embrace.
Hear our prayers, O Holy One,
and shelter all who call upon your Name.

Amen.


Photo: Toiyabe National Forest in Jarales, NM, from the air as I fkew to visit my dear friend Pamela.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Prayer, day 1811: God, our Root and Sky


Almighty God,
accept our offered thanksgiving for your mercies,
renewed every moment.
Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised,
the One who upholds all creation
and stands alongside us in love and compassion! 

Lord Jesus, you encompass us in your wisdom and tenderness:
we worship you with all our hearts. 
Holy God, Lover of Souls,
we abide in your everlasting mercy;
we seek and we are found. 
Help us to be transformed
in loving and by being loved,
anchored within your life-giving Spirit. 
May we let love heal us,
strengthen us,
free us,
enflame us,
remake us as we are called to be. 
You, O God, are our root and our sky:
may we be like green olive trees in the house of God. 

Comfort the afflicted and embrace the sorrowful, O Holy One,
and place your mantle of protection over those we now name, we pray.

Amen.
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Photo: Sunrise from the air, January 11, 2018, headed my favorite direction: west.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Prayer 1810


We lift our hearts with the gathering light,
and offer our prayers with the rising mist.
Happy are we who rest in your embrace, O Lord,
who seek to do your will with gratitude.

Savior, like a shepherd lead us,
and strengthen us in goodness and faith.
Give us strength and insight
to carry your banner of justice and love,
and testify to your goodness in all we do, O God.

May we cleanse our paths and make them blameless,
walking humbly and mercifully
with You and each other, Lord Christ.
May we ever remember your compassion and grace
poured upon us,
reconciling us,
forgiving us,
and offer our hand to those we meet.

Spirit of the Living God,
take us by the hand
and lead us in wisdom and holiness.
Press the kiss of your blessing upon us,
Most Merciful One,
and gather into your care those for whom we pray.

Amen.

Photo: Mary and Christ child, Sainte Chappelle, Paris.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Prayer 1809: renewed by mercy


With gratitude we embrace this day,
Most Merciful Creator,
and together we offer You our praise and thanksgiving.

Envelop us in your love and care, Lord Jesus,
and awaken our hearts to seek your ways.
Blessed Savior,
give us the will to follow you and serve you,
for you laid down the path of righteousness and justice
to teach us to live in contentment, joy, and peace.
Make us seekers of wisdom,
protectors of the vulnerable,
and true disciples of your Word, O God.

Strengthen the hearts of all
who are in danger, turmoil, sorrow, or pain,
and give them rest within your embrace,
O Shepherd of Our Souls.
Renewed by your everlasting love and mercy,
we lift our hopes and prayers to You,
Almighty God,
our Rock and our Redeemer.
Pour out your blessing over all who seek You,
and grant your peace to those we now name.

Amen.

Photo: A bromeliad in the climatron at the Missouri Botanical Garden, Spring 2017.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Prayer, day 1808: I lift up my soul to Christ


Most precious Savior,
Brother Jesus, Love Incarnate:
guide me in paths of wonder and grace today.

To you I lift up my soul:
accept my poor offering,
open and renew it, I pray.
Center my scattered thoughts;
within your embrace may I rest and gain strength.
Let me take that strength
to serve as You served,
humbly and with great love and mercy.
Teach me and shape me
to walk gently upon this earth,
led by your wisdom and compassion.

Accept my prayers
as they rise to You with the sun,
and open the ear of my heart to hear your Word.
Comfort those who watch, or weep,
and relieve the distress of those who hurt,
especially those we remember before You.

Amen.
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Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Light, the Journey, the Gift: Sermon for the Feast of the Epiphany B


There are definitely a lot of things that are not true about the image we have in our heads of our gospel reading today.

Before we get going, I’m going to ask you to carefully look at what ISN’T here in today’s story, even though we put it there—at least in our heads, anyway. Although many of us assume it to be so, the Wise Men in our story today do not find Jesus in a manger—they find him in a “house.” No animals, no feeding trough. It also doesn’t say “three” Wise Men, nor does it name them—that comes from tradition, and in a 19th century poem by Longfellow.

It could be that this takes place months or even a couple of years after the birth, but probably not mere days. Go ahead—look! In the end, our understanding of the story ends up being a big mish-mash of all the details from all the versions plus from artwork that we have seen or songs that we have sung. So, yeah, parts of this story definitely have gotten scrambled in our heads as we’ve been singing carols by the dozen and arguing over when to put the tree up or take the tree down, and all kinds of stuff that makes us the glorious Episco-nerds that we are. The popular image doesn’t match up with the facts we just read. Next thing you know, we’ll be finding out that St. Nicholas was far more likely to punch heretics in the face as to leave presents for kids.

Oh, wait—that’s true too.

As Episcopal priest and preaching legend Barbara Brown Taylor has noted when preaching on this story of the Wise Men at Epiphany, “It’s not that the facts don’t matter. It’s just that they don’t matter as much as the stories do, and stories can be true whether they happen or not.” The stories we tell, and the way we tell them, shape our lives.

We have observed the full twelve days of Christmas. Now along come these unnamed and unnumbered Wise Men, coming from lands far away, having been guided by some kind of strange astronomical event to see a portent or prophecy in the heavens.


The story we hear today centers on three things: the light, the journey, and the gift.



The first is the light. Our Isaiah reading begins with a joyful command:
“Arise, shine! For your light has come,
And the glory of the Lord has risen upon you!”

The story we tell today starts with the power of light, and it’s no accident that it is told when cold and darkness have settled over us in the chill of winter. This too shall pass, we are reminded, as the Light of Christ dispels the darkness that dwells within us and around us, if we welcome it and open our hearts to it, as Christ calls us to find our true home as children of God.

In the gospel we just heard, the star is the light leading the Wise Men to the infant Jesus. From inside the wondrous light of that star those Wise Men heard the voice of God, whispering in their ears back in their home country, the voice of the prophet Isaiah, speaking of awakening and perception where previously there had been only darkness.

Those wise men set out on a journey, and they didn’t really know where it would take them. Oh, they had seen the signs, and interpreted the prophecies, and followed the stars. They stepped out in faith, though, led by that light in the heaven, and ended up beholding the light of Christ where they least expected it. And when they follow the light of the star to Bethlehem, they end up finding an even more incredible light, the Light of God shining like the wisdom of ages from the inquisitive brown eyes of an infant Jesus.

They see this light, and they know they have seen God. They experience an “epiphany,” a sudden in-breaking of understanding that completely changes you when you experience it. And so their journey of faith has just begun, and the cosmic significance of Jesus that we heard about in last week’s gospel from the Prologue to John, is brought not just to Judea, but to all the world, represented by these foreign scholars who travel so far.

Our sacred scripture is full of journeys: Abram uprooting himself and leaving everyone he knew in Ur to travel to some far-off land because God’s voice in his ear told him to, and along the way, Abram becomes Abraham and Sarai becomes Sarah and in the end there are babies, too.

Moses leading his people on a journey that’s more of a panic-driven flight as the chariots of Pharaoh pursue them. Paul traveling from one town to another all along the Mediterranean to bring the gospel to anyone, even gentiles, who was willing to listen. And Jesus himself, in each of the gospels, travels from place to place, preaching, teaching, and healing.

The story of the Wise Men teaches us that the ways we find God are always not as we expect—God’s presence often sneaks up on us in the most unlikely ways. Yesterday, the twitter account attributed to Pope Francis tweeted this: “Like the Magi, believers are led by faith to seek God in the most hidden places, knowing that the Lord waits for them there.”  Right now, the people of St. Martin’s find themselves on a journey different from the one we anticipated even a few weeks ago. Yet the new path we are taking will lead us to learn things about ourselves and each other that we didn’t know before—and yes, I believe it will leave us stronger.

One of the gifts of journeys such as these is to lead us to see Christ where we least expect him—which is sometimes right next to us, in the face of each other. Even though we KNOW that, we can forget it in the everyday hubbub that sometimes makes us forget to look for and pay attention to that light in each other. Yet we can find, like the Wise Men, that when we step out in hope and faith, that God was right in the midst of our story all along, especially where we least expect it.

Poet and artist Jan Richardson has written a beautiful poem entitled “For Those Who Have Far to Travel: An Epiphany Blessing,” which ironically Emily included in the 505 last night, and it was all I could do not to laugh out loud when I saw it in the bulletin, since I had been meditating on it all this week. I’d like to share it with you:

If you could see
the journey whole
you might never
undertake it;
might never dare
the first step
that propels you
from the place
you have known
toward the place
you know not.

Call it
one of the mercies
of the road:
that we see it
only by stages
as it opens
before us,
as it comes into
our keeping
step by single step.

There is nothing
for it
but to go
and by our going
take the vows
the pilgrim takes:

to be faithful to
the next step;
to rely on more
than the map;
to heed the signposts
of intuition and dream;
to follow the star
that only you
will recognize;

to keep an open eye
for the wonders that
attend the path;
to press on
beyond distractions
beyond fatigue
beyond what would
tempt you
from the way.

There are vows
that only you
will know;
the secret promises
for your particular path
and the new ones
you will need to make
when the road
is revealed
by turns
you could not
have foreseen.

Keep them, break them,
make them again:
each promise becomes
part of the path;
each choice creates
the road that will take you
to the place
where at last
you will kneel

to offer the gift
most needed—
the gift that only you
can give—
before turning to go
home by
another way.

As the Magi presented their gifts to the Holy Family, they worshipped this child, and recognized in him something of that same light that had led them there. They eventually stumbled back out into the night, and the night had been changed forever. Their dazzled eyes now swam with the radiance and glory that they had seen in that tiny child, in that humble dwelling. And on their way home, they found that the light from that star that had led them so far was no longer there in the sky to guide them. They didn’t need it. When they returned home, they were instead led by the light of Christ, which had moved inside of them.

This brings us to the gift. When the Wise Men saw the infant Jesus in his Mother Mary’s arms, they suddenly saw not just a newborn King of the Jews, but the Prince of Peace. And they responded by offering their gifts to Jesus. And, through the sheer joy of welcoming Christ’s love and light into our hearts and our dazzled eyes, we are called to do the same.

That holy light still breaks into our lives in the most unexpected ways, and calls us to follow, and be transformed. The gift of God’s grace, healing, and love comes to us in times of both joy and anxiety, and we too are dazzled, amazed, changed. What gifts can we offer in return? Perhaps we can renew our commitment to walk this journey of faith together, to offer God and each other the best we have to offer of ourselves.

The life of discipleship, of following Jesus, leads us like the Wise Men, those Magi, leads us on a different journey than we would have had had we just closed our eyes to that light, that crazy light. It changes us, shapes us, reconciles us. The life of discipleship also calls us to bring forth our gifts and lay them at the feet of Christ, so that we can then embody his light ourselves and reflect it into the world that so desperately needs it. We just need to be ready and willing to follow that light wherever it leads us.

Arise, shine!

For your light has come,
and it lingers over our hearts,
leading us to the Holy One,
into whom has been poured all the wisdom and light,
and beauty and glory of God,
come to dwell among us
and within us.

Arise, shine!
For your light has come!


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

---Preached at St. Martin's Episcopal Church, Ellisville, MO on January 7, 2018.