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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

February 24, 2013

Gospel: Luke 13:31-35
1st Reading: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18,
Psalm 27
2nd Reading: Philippians 3:17-4:1

In today’s Gospel, Jesus expresses his disappointment in his religion that has failed him. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem!” he laments. Jerusalem, whose name means “city of peace,” is the place where God intervened to keep Abraham from sacrificing his son Isaac, the place where the temple is built, the place where heaven and earth come together—where God and humans can talk to each other. Jerusalem is meant to be the place that is closest to God’s heart, where God’s Kingdom is made a reality on earth, where the orphans and widows are cared for, where forgiveness is the rule rather than the exception, where people put their neighbor first, where the poor are clothed and fed. In this morning’s Gospel, Jerusalem has not only failed Jesus, who is headed there now to be killed. It has failed countless prophets before him, who tried to make the religious and political leaders in Jerusalem see the truth and change their ways and were killed for speaking up. It has failed the poor, women, lepers, and children—all the people it was developed to protect. It has failed itself. The holy city of peace has become the city of destruction.

How could something that started out so beautiful, get so twisted and ugly? We get, this morning in the Old Testament reading, the beginning of Jerusalem—the beginning of the promise to Abram of a place to worship, a family to belong to, a nation to father. We have Abram, so anxious and alone. We have God coming to him in a vision and promising him that he won’t be alone, God will be with him and so will more descendents than he can count. We have God calling to Abram to lift up his eyes. God excites his imagination, as asks Abram to look out on so many little lights in the sky. And Abram finds within him a little bit of hope. Abram begins to believe and God counts it in his favor, reckons it to him as righteousness, as good behavior, as godliness.

So what happened between God’s promise that Abram and his family would be a blessing to others as God had been to them and this brutal, selfish, death-dealing society and religion that Jesus encounters? Well, 6000 years for one thing. Some of it is recorded in the Bible. Some of it is recorded in history. And I think we can imagine how when you start adding people to a religion and family that number the stars, how some of them might get off track. And it is inevitable that when religion becomes established, it becomes something to defend and loses its main purpose of drawing people to God.

Martin Luther was asking this question, too. How did his religion fall so far from the ideals of Jesus? How did Christianity go from something so beautiful where all kinds of people came together to study and worship and experience God’s love, where people gave their lives for their faith, where people gave up everything they had in the world to be in community with each other—how did the church become what it had in Martin Luther’s day? How did it get to the point where the poor were being robbed of what little they had by the lure of indulgences—pieces of paper purchased to get their loved ones out of purgatory and into heaven, food taken from the mouths of hungry children, the money actually going to fund larger and more extravagant churches? How did it get to the point where the free gift of God’s grace had been twisted into so many relics you had paid to go see, how many times you’d whipped yourself, and how much money you’d paid to rich, spoiled, power-hungry old men who happened to be priests?

And many of us today, if you ask a young person why they don’t go to church, or even someone older, you might get this same sense of disappointment. How far the church has fallen from its ideals! We held the church up as a safe place to bring children, and look at the child abuse scandals of the Roman Catholic Church—and the Lutheran Church is not immune to this. Maybe you’ve been reading about our neighbor in Lake Oswego, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, and how a youth worker there has been accused of abuse 20 years ago and they as well as the ELCA have a lawsuit against them. We heard the church teaching that Jesus asks us to love our neighbor as ourselves, and how he talked to prostitutes, tax collectors, illegal aliens, and other discounted people, and our children are tired of witnessing churches show everything but love to outsiders. Young people that I talk to often see church as irrelevant to them and don’t want to be a part of something seen as closed-minded, hateful, angry, and fearful. How far the church has come from the ideals of the reformation, from the ideals of Jesus!

Now we can say, “That’s not us.” But the truth is, we’ve had our own scandals in these church walls that have likely driven people from church once and for all. We’ve had discussions about sexuality where people felt safe to say what was on their minds, but it might not have felt safe to have to hear it. We’ve followed rigid worship outlines rather than sought an experience of deeper connection. We’ve said one thing and done another. We’ve had heated discussions about toilet paper and coffee instead of focusing on feeding the poor and what provisions we’ve put aside for them. These things don’t make us bad people. Certainly we are sinners on a path, working to become closer to Jesus and trying to walk the path of faithfulness. Yet, it might look to an outsider like we’ve got our priorities out of whack, at times.

Because of all these things people have left the church in droves. The church was actually getting in the way of their faith. The vast majority are still living their faith. They are good people. They volunteer to help the poor. They give their money to charity. They are friends of discounted people. Like Jesus, they have a job to do and not even the religious authorities are going to get in their way. He says, “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow.” He won’t be distracted by petty arguments. He’s got a job to do on behalf of others. In the same way many young people who have flocked away from churches see very clearly that just because religion has gotten off track is not going to stop them from being godly people. They are going to continue on their path of faith and the church is not going to get in the way of that.

We are part of the broken institution and we’re a part of the body of Christ. We’re stuck in the middle. We are from a generation that believed you measured faith by how often you went to church. We love our church and want to make it better. We love our family members who don’t go anymore. We want everyone to be gathered together under God’s wings. Why can’t we just get along?? Our church is still working for us enough that we show up at least once in a while. Yet, we can see where others are coming from. Many of us have a sense of disappointment with the church, things that don’t work for us, that cause us to consider throwing in the towel now and then.

The good news is that Jesus has a plan for gathering us all together. Jesus says, “Listen!” It is up to us to listen to these people who have been hurt by the church—not to see them as our enemies or people who are deficient in some way that we need to get back here. Instead we can see them as pioneers trying to live their faith in an authentic way. We can be curious about their journey of faith and what gets them through hard times as well as how they celebrate good times. We can find out how they balance work and rest, how they find their Sabbath. We can discover the amazing gifts they have that they use to help other people—where they connect with others to use their gifts. We can let them teach us what a life of faith can look like when you don’t have pews and a bulletin and ushers, when you don’t have a building to maintain and pastor to pay, but can instead devote all of your offerings to the poor, when you don’t have your prayers all written out in front of you, but life becomes a prayer.

Maybe it isn’t a matter of one or the other being right, but different paths to a deeper connection to God, God’s creation, and God’s people. We’ve got a lot of good things going on here at King of Kings. We’re uniquely equipped for important work, like feeding the hungry, and welcoming the stranger. But I also think we can learn from Jesus’ critique, and the critique of those who see with the eyes of Jesus and tell the truth like he did. Maybe we each have a piece of the puzzle and if we listen and work together we might learn from others what Jesus is reforming the church to become and how lives of faith are being lived outside of these church walls and how we can be a part of that.

God says to Abram, “Do not be afraid.” We can look at these circumstances in which congregations are shrinking and religion has a bad name and our kids and grandkids don’t go to church, and we have a choice how to respond. We can respond with fear—what will happen to our church, our loved ones, our pet project at church?

God says do not fear. God is with us on our path. Although it might be new territory, God has always been on this journey with us. And God is also on the spiritual journey of those we love who don’t go to church and have a critique to offer like Jesus’ critique. Instead, we can respond with hope. We can listen to emerging ideas of how God can be found in community, how we can join together in lives of service, how we can find an authentic experience of the Divine, and how we can be vessels through which God brings in the Kingdom of justice and love.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

February 17, 2013

Gospel: Luke 4:1-13
1st Reading: Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
2nd Reading: Romans 10:8b-13

This reading from Luke is a kind of introduction to Jesus, as an adult. Earlier in Luke, we get the birth story, a little teenager story, part of the family story, and Jesus’ baptism. But now we get a picture of what to expect from his ministry. Today’s Gospel is telling us what kind of guy he is and by association, what kind of God he is the Son of. Which then reminds us who God is for us and who we are, as children of God.

Now remember that Jesus was just baptized by John, and now he is driven into the wilderness to go through these temptations. The first thing he does is fast. He gives up food for some time. It says here 40 days—it means a long time, like the 40 years the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, and 40 days and 40 nights that it rained in the Noah story. After 40 of anything like this, you start to lose track. The days all run together and pretty soon, you just know it has been a long time. Jesus fasted and it was for a long time.

We’ve lost the practice of fasting in our tradition—giving up food for any length of time. I have known 2-3 people who have majorly fasted for lent. One went on an all-juice diet. This isn’t something that you attempt without knowing what you are doing because you can seriously compromise your health. I’m in awe of my friend Muhammed who fasts during the day for the whole month of Ramadan. Many of us are willing to give up something small for lent, but not to eat for even a day is unthinkable. I get pretty weak and shaky and very grumpy if I don’t eat. I have a hard enough time saying no to food when I have just eaten!

So much of our life is spent in the pursuit of food, to give it up, even for a day would be pretty major. Think what that would free you up for, if you could concentrate on anything besides your grumbling stomach.

Then here comes someone dangling a loaf of bread in front of your face. Temptation. We can admire Jesus and his ability to resist temptation. We know that we often crumble in the face of temptation. But pay attention here to what Jesus’ answer says about him and God and us as God’s children. “One does not live by bread alone.” We are confused about what gives us life. Life isn’t just what we eat. Luke leaves us hanging without giving the answer. If we don’t live by bread alone, what do we live by? Perhaps it is up to us to figure it out. Remember in the parallel story in Matthew, it says, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Rather than it being our food and ability to obtain it that defines us, it is God’s word. And what does God’s word say about us, it says we are God’s beloved children, as we heard at Jesus’ baptism and at our own.

What this says about Jesus’ ministry is that it isn’t going to be about self-preservation. It isn’t going to be that the one with the most bread wins. Instead Jesus is all about giving away that bread, and that’s what we are to be about as children of God. Anyone can gather and hoard bread, but it is something unusual to have the power to have as much bread as you want and not to take it.

This way, you know that you are a child of God, even if you don’t have enough to eat, maybe even especially when you don’t have enough to eat. Our God is God of the hungry.

The second temptation is one of glory and power. If it isn’t food that gives life, maybe it is power, things, kingdoms, and riches, the devil tempts. We sure act like it sometimes. We spend so much time in pursuit of those things. Yet again, Jesus shows this isn’t his priority and it won’t work out if it is ours, either. Our attention to these temporary things isn’t worthwhile—it doesn’t last. God doesn’t care about these things and neither does Jesus, God’s son. There are other priorities—things that last, a relationship with God, devotion to God.

Do we worship God because God can give us things and power? If so, Jesus shows us we’re barking up the wrong tree. We worship God who asks us to give up things, to give up power. God asks us give these things up for our own good. When we give up things, it takes away their power to control us. When we give up things and power, we share them with others who don’t have what they need to live. Our God is God of the powerless. He gave up power, even his very life, to show us that power isn’t what it is all about.

Now to the third temptation: The Devil tells Jesus to jump from the top of the temple. We know that later Jesus will hang from the cross and he will be mocked by those who say if he is the Son of God, he should save himself and climb down from the cross. Instead he dies there in pain and shame. I have a feeling if Jesus had thrown himself down, God would not have sent angels to rescue him. Of course, Jesus proves he is the Son of God by not doing so. He doesn’t need to try to get a reaction from God. He is secure in who he is.

What does this temptation say about God? It shows that God keeps us responsible for the consequences of our actions. If we jump, we bear the consequences. And it isn’t just on an individual level. If we dump pollutants in the air and water, jump from that cliff, we bear the consequences collectively. Of course, God loves and forgives us, and nothing can separate us from the love of God. But the things we do matter and can and often do separate us from one another, trash God’s beautiful creation, and hurt those we love.

We can also react individually and collectively to try to learn from our mistakes, clean up our messes, and prevent suffering as much as possible. Although God might seem cold and distant and uncaring in God’s refusal to react, that is not necessarily true. Instead, God made us to learn and react. We are God’s reaction, intervening on behalf of one another, especially the most vulnerable.

This story reminds us of who God is and who we are. Do we worship and love God for feeding us, giving us power and things, and because of the reactions we get from God? Of course not. We are not defined by what we have, how full our bellies are, or even whether we live or die. Since we have one God, there is one Lord of all, the hungry and the full, the powerful and powerless, and those who survive accidents and those who don’t make it. Our temporary circumstances do not indicate God’s favor or disfavor. Instead we can see our temporary circumstances as a gift to help us focus on what does matter, loving God and loving our neighbor. We can let them remind us who we are—God’s beloved children, where we came from—a wandering people, lost without God, and where we’re going—toward a more just world which will only come about if we take action and live a godly life where we don’t rely on our bread to save us, and instead share it, where we don’t need to hoard power and glory, but share them, and where we don’t need to be in the spotlight, but can share it, until God’s love is written on our hearts, until there truly is no distinction, but all of God’s creation is valued and cared for and saved, and where it is an opportune time for love to flourish.

Ash Wednesday 2013

Gospel: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
1st Reading: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
2nd Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

I like to listen to the oldies radio station. A few weeks ago this song by the band Kansas came on the radio, “All we are is dust in the wind. Just a drop of water in an endless sea. All we do, crumbles to the ground, though we refuse to see. It slips away, and all your money won’t another minute buy.” This is a good song for any mood.

This is a great song for when you’re feeling depressed and want a song to let you know you’re not alone. It expresses all those depressed feelings. Nothing lasts. Nothing matters. All that we strive for is meaningless. Just give up!

Ash Wednesday can also confirm the winter blues. We’re all dying. Nothing we do matters. People only do things to be seen and recognized and get the credit. The things people do behind scenes never get recognized and they do the most good. Why don’t we ever hear anything about that?

On this day we hear the words, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” These are some pretty hopeless words. You are dust. You are nothing. Once someone swept the dust that became you, and threw it in the trash, and will do so again. You are insignificant. You are dirt. You are dying.

Yet those words that are so hopeless can also be so hopeful. “You are dust.” You are of the same particles as the rest of the universe. You are made of stardust. Maybe Jesus breathed the same molecule as you do now. “To dust you shall return.” Someday you will be at peace. The things you regret today will be forgotten. Your mistakes will crumble to dust. All this misplaced energy and motivation to gather things is temporary. It won’t last. It won’t have the final word. All this matter goes away and goes on to become something else, to be alive again in a new way, in a new person, or animal or plant. Our dust lives on in a new way. A song that can sound so hopeless can also be hopeful. A time when we remember our failures can also be one where we find hope.

There is also something positive about being honest with ourselves, that someday we will die. Knowing you have a deadline, that this will end at some point, creates an urgency of the moment. I know we hardly visited any of the sights in San Francisco while we lived there until we were pretty sure we’d soon be moving within a year. Then, it seemed like every weekend we were out enjoying what had been there all along, only we thought we had forever to see it. The same is true of the end of life. I kind of thought bucket lists were silly until the last year or so, when I’ve realized I am approaching approximate middle age. I have half my life left to do some things I’d like to do. Time to get busy! And if I happen to live to the age of Muriel or Jackie, I’ve got about 15 years left. There is no time like the present to do the things we’ve dreamed of doing!

Knowing that there will be an end to this life, helps us to stop and appreciate this moment. It is one more moment, one more gift we’ve been giving. It is one more chance to experience the blessings that this life has to offer and to share them.

The Gospel for today reminds us of what really makes for a meaningful life. Recognition feels good in the moment, but that’s all it lasts. Then as soon as someone more wealthy or more articulate comes along, you’ll be forgotten. The Gospel reminds us not to play those games where you try to please other people. It is a waste of time. As quickly as they build you up, they will tear you down. As you try to please others, you won’t be being true to yourself. Instead focus on something that will last, that feeds your spirit, that makes the world better for someone else. In that way, even when you die, you will have left a piece of you with those that remain and you will live on-death and resurrection all over again.

Death and resurrection is what it is all about. Dying to live. Dying and rising again. Letting go and returning. Releasing what doesn’t matter and clinging to what does. Letting what doesn’t serve die, and seeing what will be born in its place. Clearing space in your life for God and God’s people.

Death and resurrection is embodied in our Lenten discipline. Whether you are planning to give up something for Lent that isn’t good for you, like Chocolate or smoking or road rage, whether you are taking on something for Lent, like reading the Bible, or serving people in a particular ministry, or eating your vegetables, or sitting in quiet listening, those things can be a kind of death, a letting go. And something else will arise in their place, in your heart—at least that is the hope.

Death and resurrection is embodied in these ashes. They were literally once the palms that you waved in the church parking lot when you sang “Hosannah!” and “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” Those palms of glory and celebration quickly disintegrated as I burned them, just like those shouts of praise as Jesus entered Jerusalem quickly disintegrated into cries for his blood to be spilled on the cross when they cried, “Crucify him!” It was not a lasting celebration. We, who once celebrated, also made it necessary for him to die. The palms died and now are reborn as ashes. We wear the symbols of death and repentance on our brow. We mark our faces to show our sadness, our regret.

Yet we were not made to stay in regret forever. After a threatening first paragraph, the first reading for today goes on, “Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart…rend your hearts… Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” We are made for repentance, for returning to God, for joyful reunions and celebrating.

We follow this death and resurrection pattern. We were made my God and are loved by God--alive. We go our own way and forget that--dead. God calls us back with encouragement and maybe a few threats. Eventually we seem to come running back—alive again.

The song doesn’t get it quite right. Our bodies may be dust, but we are actually dust and spirit. We have something of us that is permanent and lasting—our spirit. Today we remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return, with all the gloomy implications and all there is to celebrate about that. Today and each day, we die and rise, sin and repent, transgress and are forgiven as we live, people of ashes and of hope, a mishmash of life bearing witness to who God is for us, the one who can make something of this dust.

Sermon for February 10, 2013

Gospel: Luke 9:28-43a
1st Reading: Exodus 34:29-35
Psalm 99
2nd Reading: 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2

I don’t know if you’ve ever watched “The Kids In the Hall.” They are one of my favorite sketch comedy troupes. About fifteen years ago they made a movie called “Brain Candy” about a pharmaceutical company that is going bankrupt, so prematurely releases a antidepressant that causes people to go back to their happiest memory and relive that feeling.

Perhaps if Peter had taken Gleemonex, as the drug in the movie was called, this Gospel story would have been the memory he went back to. There he was, tired from climbing a mountain, falling asleep while his friend Jesus prayed, and out of nowhere his greatest heroes Moses and Elijah appeared. Jesus started glowing. They heard God’s voice. It must have been amazing!

Those mountaintop experiences are so much fun. Sometimes I like to revel in mine like the patients in brain candy did. I once had a religious experience, like Peter did. I don’t think that was the happiest day of my life, but a huge weight was lifted off of my shoulders that day. I like to relive the day of my high school graduation. I was salutatorian and I got to give a speech to the graduating class. I got a really good response. People were laughing at all the right parts. I felt accepted and understood which had not been my high school experience up till then. We all have those moments—that hole in one, that first time you held your child, that time you were able to help someone in need.

Those moments may have been beautiful. By remembering them, we can recall the feelings we had. But you can’t hold your child for the first time more than once. I’m never going to graduate from high school again, and if I did, I’m sure they wouldn’t let me give a speech. To get a hole-in-one is a once in a lifetime experience.

For Peter, too, it was over. Peter stuck his foot in his mouth—interrupted the conversation, opened his big mouth, talked out of turn. Then he and his friends found themselves powerless to heal a boy who had seizures. And Jesus scolded all of them.

Peter wanted to hang on to that moment before it all went sour. “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us make three dwellings.” He wanted to build a tent and make it an experience he could go and visit all the time. He wanted to make a box for it and put it there where he could access it any time. He wanted to take this mountaintop experience and put it in a form that he could easily reach—like a pill he could take whenever he wanted it.

That’s what happens in the movie I was telling you about. People started getting stuck in their happiest memory and fell into a kind of coma. They stopped living their lives, and became obsessed with the past. They were unresponsive in the present, unable to make new memories, unable to experience new highs and lows, unable to listen and pay attention to the new learnings that are available today.

Do we ever get stuck in our memories so that we forget that God is with us this moment? What boxes do we try to put God in so that we can have access on demand, on our terms? We certainly try to put God in churches—limit where we see God, where we look for God, where we listen for God. That doesn’t limit God, who is everywhere and always. Instead it limits us. We’re just not open to God in all the places God can be found.

We often think of God, consciously or unconsciously, being in success. If we do well, we thank God. If we don’t, or if we get sick or something bad happens to us, we wonder why we’ve been abandoned. God tries to break down our ideas of where God can and can’t be found by reminding us to look in those unexpected places, like in the poor, the prisoner, and the child and in ordinary life, in the seasons of the year, in plants and animals and in song.

We also place God in the past or future, rather than now. For Peter, he was thrilled that Moses and Elijah—big wigs from the past—had come to give their stamp of approval on Jesus. It was like the glory days all over again. If things could be just like they were in the 50s or 60s when everyone went to church and no one would dare have soccer games on the Lord’s Day. Or we put God in the future in a far away heaven that we will go to after we die.

Because we are looking behind us and in front of us, we sometimes miss God with us now. God is in this breath we are taking in this moment. God is in the person next to me right now. This may not be a mountaintop moment, but it is a holy moment, a precious gift to be treasured and to thank God for.

We are like the disciples—we are drowsy and weighed down with sleep. We’re the ones with veils on—we’ve put them on ourselves and we don’t see very clearly through them. We’re like it said in the readings last week, seeing in a mirror dimly. Or like Sterling this week, whose big experiment has been to look at the world through squinty eyes, and we’re going to run into door jams and fall on the floor more than once because we’re not seeing clearly.

And yet, here is the good news: God is willing to work with us, as blind as we are, as limited as we are. Some of God’s glory rubs off on us. We shine a little bit, having been in God’s presence. We look at things a little differently. We are changed bit by bit, from one degree of glory to another. We don’t have to be afraid when God’s glory shines in our midst. We don’t have to hide from it.

Jesus came to redeem the lost and to give sight to the blind. That’s us! The Spirit frees us from all our veils. The Holy Spirit changes our lives.
I always think of Peter, whose name means “Rock,” and he’s about as smart as one sometimes. If God was willing to put up with Peter and all his faults and bumblings, then God can work with us and will eventually make something out of us. God will get through to us! There is hope.

For all us bumblers, there is something we can do to open ourselves to the Spirit in our midst, and to notice God more often. I may be biased because I am an introvert and I love quiet. In the scripture for today it says, that Jesus went up to the mountain to pray. God says, “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him!” And, finally it says, “They kept silent.” I am not asking you to take a vow of silence. But I do invite you to set some time aside each die for quiet reflection and listening. I invite you to pray by sitting quietly for 5 minutes each day. Maybe it means turning off the radio in the car on the way to or from work or an errand. Maybe it means locking the bathroom door for 5 minutes. Maybe it means going and sitting in the yard, or even going to the library. I invite you to pray, not by listing all your requests. Pray by setting aside 5 minutes as holy, for you to listen to God during the season of Lent. Feel free to write down what you hear or draw it. In your listening, if you’d like, I encourage you during this season to read the book of Luke in the Bible. That is the one we will be concentrating on at church. You only get bits and pieces here. If you sit down and read it, you will get a much more flowing, coherent picture of what Luke is trying to say. Take notes if you choose. Whatever it takes to pray, listen, and keep silence—to keep a holy moment open for God to speak a holy word.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

sermon for February 3, 2013

Gospel: Luke 4:21-30
1st Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71:1-6
2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

How many weddings have you been to where this reading from 1 Corinthians was read? How many of you had it read at your wedding? I would say probably at least 50% of church weddings include this reading. It is a very beautiful statement of what is essential in life. For some of us, it may ring a bell after 15-20-40 years of marriage—certainly there are times when our spouse sounds like a noisy gong or clanging cymbal. Yet whatever else happens, we always hope that love never ends and that faith, hope, and love abide.

This reading really isn’t about marriage. It is about agape love, self-giving love in community. It is about the love that Jesus has for us. We see it as the love we want to have for each other in marriage. It is hard enough to have this kind of love for one other person, but to have it for a whole community? Or like Jesus, to have it for the entirety of the cosmos?

At weddings, when I hear this reading, I do find several parts of it especially appropriate. To speak of love at a wedding, at the beginning of a lifelong commitment, is appropriate. Love should be the foundation—it is the very most basic need, the bottom line motivation in any relationship, whether it be in marriage, family, congregation, neighborhood, or even globally.

The second reason I find it appropriate is because of the part about seeing through a mirror dimly. Love is so beautiful and fresh and new at a wedding. Sometimes reality is dim and distorted. Of course as the years go by, we have to grow up and our views of what makes for love change. We get a lot more realistic as time goes by. Love goes from a somewhat naïve attraction, to something much deeper and profound. Whatever else changes, we hope that love abides in all its different forms.

Jesus has a very clear sense of it means to love. He goes into his community and reads the scripture about what love is—setting the captives free, practicing debt forgiveness, sharing all that we have. His congregation would tell you that they received him with love. They encouraged him. They complimented him. They said nice things about him.

But Jesus sees clearly. He doesn’t let flattery distort reality. He knows that their compliments are not out of love. They flatter him because they want something from him. They want to take credit for his knowledge and powers. They want him to do things for them. And probably some of them were just waiting for him to mess up so they could say, “I told you so.” He knows what is in their hearts, and it all comes out when he insults them with the truth. If they really loved him, would they have turned around 10 minutes later and tried to throw him off a cliff?

Jesus’ friends and neighbors compliment him because they want to be first in line when he’s dividing the plunder they are expecting or doing mass healings or whatever it is he’s got of value to them. Jesus tells them flat out, they won’t get any special treatment, just because they know him. In fact, knowing him might get in the way, because they’ve got all these preconceived notions about him. “Is not this Joseph’s son?” they all asked. They have all these expectations of him because of who he was as a boy and what family he came from and what he was like growing up. Jesus is telling them that they are missing part of the story because they are too close to it. It is like standing too close to a painting, you miss the bigger picture because your vision doesn’t encompass the whole thing. All they can see is the boy they once knew. They are having a hard time accepting that he has any power. Jesus says, it is going to be those who have no ideas of what the messiah will be or who Jesus is, who will be able to believe and appreciate and receive the fullness of the good news and liberation that Jesus is bringing.

Now this is bad news for me and you. We are the insiders, the churchgoers with preconceived notions of what church and God can and must be. We are standing so close to Jesus we think we’ve got it made, and we’re missing the point. We can’t see the possibilities because we’re comfortable right where we are. We can’t see it from the perspective of those who struggle everyday. We can’t see what Jesus must look like to those in our community who don’t look for love and hope in a church. Because of our perspective as insiders, we don’t have the imagination open to all that Jesus can and will be. Our imaginations are limited by our expectations and we unknowingly try to place those limits on Christ.

Our lack of imagination extends to ourselves, too. We put limits on ourselves and what we can imagine contributing in our faith. In matters of faith we are immature—we’re like little children. We are in the child mode and think we’re stuck there so we don’t fully live out our faith because we just can’t imagine ourselves having the wherewithal, the power, the ability to do God’s work justice. We can’t even begin to imagine what that would look like.

We put limits on ourselves. We get stuck in what we can’t do. I know I feel that way about climate change. It is such a big problem, I wonder what I can do—just one person. When I think about homelessness, I feel the same way. Even when I think of leading this congregation, I am not at all certain of my abilities to do so. My imagination falls short. Sometimes, all I can see are my shortcomings. I know you feel the same way sometimes. We all doubt ourselves—I’m too young, too old, too afraid, too tired, I don’t know enough about it, I’m not well spoken—we can think of a million excuses. You feel overwhelmed by the commitments you already have. Lack of time, money, and ability keep all of us from being able to imagine the kind of world that God wants for us, the kind of world that God says is possible and is coming—is imminent.

Our fears and doubts make us forget that it isn’t dependent on our abilities alone. God is working through us. It is God’s power that will give us the imagination and courage to take steps to heal God’s creation, our planet. It is God’s love moving through us that will reach out a hand in compassion to do something about the root causes of hunger. It is God’s way of relationship and partnership that will help us join together with others in our neighborhood to address the concerns that we face. It is God’s dream moving through us that will help us see the tasks ahead in a new way.

The apostle Paul gives us a hint of what to do when we feel overwhelmed. He says to start with love. We are all of us capable of love. Love yourself—listen to yourself, care for yourself, appreciate yourself. Love your neighbor—listen to your neighbor, care for your neighbor, appreciate your neighbor. Love your enemy—listen to your enemy, care for your enemy, appreciate your enemy. There are always next steps to take in love. Love gives us a new perspective on our problems. It gives us a different perspective on our abilities. It is the foundation of all relationships. And it never ends.

Love is the story of our faith—the truest statement of who we are and what God calls us to be. In love the universe was created—for love and relationship. In and for love is why humankind was created. Everything that God has ever done was out of love. Jesus came to teach us how to love one another and he came to die to show us the just how much he loves us. We are people of love—we were created for loving and to be loved. Once we realize the depth of God’s love for us, we find ourselves overwhelmed with love in return. It overflows. And God remind us that we do have enough love to go around to make sure that everyone is fed and valued and cared for because that love originated from God and goes out through us to make sure it is distributed amongst those who the world says are unlovable. The greatest of these is love because out of love comes hope and faith. And because love never ends, even when we die, love goes on into eternal life as well as in a rich life, a better, more just life, our legacy that we leave behind for all those who come after us.

January 27, 2013

Gospel: Luke 4:14-21
Psalm 19
1st Reading: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

This week I met a woman involved in Phoenix Rising, an organization that helps give people support who are coming out of prison. She told me that since coming to the area 8 years ago, she’s been lazy. Maybe because she’s an introvert, she hasn’t done her church shopping. She’s found a place to practice her spirituality—an Ashram where she can meditate and place a flower at the foot of a picture of Jesus. Her community invited her on a pilgrimage to India and she went in December. And in this unfamiliar place, surrounded by strangers and a foreign religion, she felt she was starting to understand what it was about her own religion that worked for her. On Christmas Eve, as her community joined in Christmas Carols, she found herself in tears, longing for Holy Communion and the familiar feeling of Christmas celebrated in a Christian church.

For those of us who worship regularly (whether that be weekly, or monthly) we may start to take for granted all the comforts and familiarity of our traditions and friends and songs known by heart and sights, smells, and sounds that we are used to. Certainly there is nothing wrong with being in weekly worship! And yet sometimes we forget why we come. It is simply habit. When someone asks us why we go to church, we may find ourselves at a loss. “It has always been this way.”

For the Isrealites in the Old Testament Reading for today, they have been away from their temple for 40 years, having been taken to captivity in Babylon. This is the first worship service since they returned. (Notice that many of them wrote their names in the friendship registry) While they were away, they longed for old days. They realized what they had been missing. They missed worshiping God and sacrificing. And they realized that they had been forgetting that worship wasn’t just about going to the temple, but about how they lived their everyday lives. They realized that they had forgotten to care for the orphan and the widow. They had forgotten about God’s proclaiming Jubilee—the year of the Lord’s favor that Jesus reads about in the Gospel lesson. They had been following what was convenient about God’s law and not following what didn’t profit them.

Now they start this worship service. You can imagine the mixed feelings. They feel regret that they missed out on so many years worshiping here. They are missing those who have passed away before they got back to Jerusalem and never got to see this day. They are overwhelmed with the work that has to be done reconstructing the temple and repopulating the area. Maybe some were even angry with God for taking them away for so long. What would they find when they went back to their homes? How would they get everything back to livable conditions? Why hadn’t they just followed the laws to begin with and done what God wanted?

They feel joy that they are finally gathered together again. While they were away, they could put their exact finger on why it was that they went to worship. They knew exactly what they missed most, what they were there for now. They were rejoicing that what they had longed for so deeply was finally coming to pass. They were finally together again, worshiping in Jerusalem and hearing God’s word again, God’s promise. And they were filled with hope.

Paul knew why he went to worship. He was missing it while he was away starting other churches and while he was imprisoned. He went to worship because in worship we practice unity. Although we all have different gifts, monetarily, and in ability, we need each other to survive, to serve the poor, to share the good news of God’s love, to experience the healing of forgiveness (which is always necessary in community), and to transform society into one that is more just.

In this morning’s readings, even Jesus goes to church—well synagogue, anyway. He goes to read God’s word. Do you remember the verse from the gospel of John, “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.” John is speaking of Jesus. Jesus is the word. So here we have the word, reading the word. We have the promised one who was there at the beginning. In Genesis, God spoke the word over the chaos, “Let there be light.” And there was light. When God speaks, the words take shape and become. So here is Jesus, God in the flesh. God spoke and “the word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” Jesus is reading from the book of Isaiah. He is reminding the people of Nazareth why they worship (and us why we worship). We worship because we are God’s words coming to life. God has spoken a word of healing, of justice, of release, and of freedom. Jesus is the fulfillment of this reading, this word spoken by God. And so are we.

Paul has explained in his letter to the Corinthians that we are one body. We are one body with each other, and with Jesus, who is the head. We need him. We can’t say to Jesus, “I have no need of you.” The same way, Jesus doesn’t say to us, “I have no need of you.” Jesus does need us to be his hands, his feet, his cuticles, his teeth, his iris, his kneecaps carrying out this word that God is speaking into existence. God has chosen us to bring about this plan of good news for all people.

Today is Reconciling in Christ Sunday where we remind ourselves what it means to be the body of Christ, welcoming to all members of the body regardless of differences. We welcome the tattooed and pierced, the bald and hairy, those in suits and those with their pants falling down, crying babes and mothers with dementia, the polite and the grumpy. All are welcome. We don’t say to some parts of the body, you are welcome and leave others out in the cold. We are all one and we celebrate that today. More and more I am convinced that it isn’t about who we welcome here in church, but who we are welcoming of out in the community. Most parts of the body are not going to set foot in these doors. Yet they are still a vital part of the body and of us. It is up to us to live this welcome, not just at church, not just on Sundays, but everyday, out there, daily.

We are all one body. Jesus has the power of the spirit, so do we. Jesus was anointed and set apart—so are we. Jesus was given the power for healing—so are we. Jesus came to set people free—so do we. Jesus came to die to give life to others—so do we.

Maybe this gives us mixed feelings. We thought we were going to sing a few hymns, pray, have some communion, maybe coffee and treats. And we find ourselves part of the body of Christ. We find God speaking a word of hope to those who are sick and troubled and left out. We find God asking us to die, so that someone else can have life, to give up what is precious to us so that someone else can have hope, too. We find ourselves filled with power that we are asked to give away.

And yet, look at us. We’re not getting any younger. Some of our actual bodies are feeling our age. At times, our congregation is feeling its age—the lack of financial security, the same volunteers doing most of the work, the fear of the future. And our church is feeling its age. Everywhere you look, mainline denomination congregations are in decline. People aren’t going to church like they used to.

We have mixed feelings about this. We feel shame. We ask ourselves, “What didn’t we do right?” At the same time, we feel tired. We ask ourselves, “Do I have the energy to think differently, to worship differently, to see God and my neighbor differently, to see the church differently?”

“Today the Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” This isn’t a prescription for what we need to do. This is a description of what God is doing, now, what God is fulfilling. God is making us his body to bring freedom and good news. And God is bringing freedom and good news to us who are struggling in our own way. This is good news for a body that is getting tired and weak. This is good news for a congregation that is teetering a bit. This is good news for a denomination that is slipping. We know the bad news. Our shortcomings are all too apparent. We gather here to worship and give thanks to God for the good news that we are one, that we are free, that we are gifted, and that God is bringing another reality to this world that we can participate in, where everyone else can know and live that good news, too.

sermon for Maisie's baptism January 13, 2013

Gospel: Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
1st Reading: Isaiah 43:1-7
Psalm 29
2nd Reading: Acts 8:14-17

The people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts who Maisie was becoming as she grew from an infant into a child. Would she be short tempered or even tempered? Would she be opinionated or laid back? Would she thrive in the company of others or spend long afternoons by herself? Would she see situations in terms of a glass half full or half empty? Would she be a daddy’s girl or want to do everything with mom? Would she be a tom-boy or love to wear frilly dresses?

They wondered what she would be when she grew up, what her life would be like. No matter what else happened, her family wanted her to be baptized. They wanted to begin her life with a blessing. It was a blessing that had been important to them. It had meant a life as part of a community of faith. It meant life seen in the context of a loving God. It meant passing on spiritual practices that might be helpful, such as prayer and singing and volunteering and reflecting.

When the scriptures speak of the threshing floor and the winnowing fork, that’s about Jesus mixing things up. He is giving us a changed life. We want Maisie to have a blessed life—a different life than she would otherwise have. We want to give her an alternative to the messages that the world gives. We know she’s got spirit. We want to let her know there is something special about her. We want her to know that she’s set apart. We want her to consider God’s plans for her. A changed life, doesn’t mean an easy life. We want her to have a meaningful life, a life where she can give of herself, where her gifts will be recognized and used, where she can make life better for someone else.

The scripture says that many were baptized along with Jesus. Maisie enters the community of the baptized. Jesus was baptized. The people in this community have been baptized. Her community at Redeemer Lutheran in Portland will share with her what it has meant to them to be baptized. She is a part of something bigger than herself. What does it mean to be baptized? Yes, it means to be blessed. We aren’t just blessed to go on with business as usual. And it means to be a blessing to others. To those whom much is given, much is expected. As Maisie grows, she will take on responsibilities. Her sponsors and family pledge to give her many of the tools she will need to grow in faith and love such as teaching her the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments, placing in her hands the Holy Scriptures, etc.

Finally, she starts her journey of faith with encouragement. It is a message from God, “You are my precious child, Maisie. With you I am well pleased.” Before Maisie has ever done anything, her life of faith begins with this profound message. And the community echoes these words. “Maisie, you are precious. We care about you. You are a part of us. We are part of you. You are of value.”

I hope all of us remember those words as we go about our lives. It is so easy to forget that we are loved from the very beginning, because the world sends us messages that we aren’t good enough. We make mistakes and do things we regret. But we have a forgiving God. And we are called to be forgiving, both forgiving of others and of ourselves.

“The heaven was opened,” it says. At Maisie’s birth the heaven was opened and this angel came to bless our lives and lives of her family and this world. At her baptism, just like that of Jesus, “The heaven was opened,” and God speaks a word claiming her. At different times in her life, it will seem that door is closed. She will experience illness. She will have troubles. People will bring pain and heartache to her and she will bring them to others. There will be times when she gets discouraged. It will seem the heavens are closed. Into her life, God speaks, “You are my precious child. The heavens are always open to you.” When the world says there is no god or make money or power your god, it may seem like the heavens are closed, but God is still there saying from the open heavens, “You are my precious child.”

The heavens are open and always have been. God walked among the first humans. It was humankind who tried to shut the doors between heaven and earth, when they hid from God in the garden after disobeying God. God opened the heavens and spoke to Abraham, promising him family, community, place. God blessed him so that he would be a blessing to others. God opened the heavens to the Israelites, leading them out of slavery and giving them the commandments to live by so that doors could be open between them, so that they could be a blessing to one another. God showed the people an open door between heaven and earth in the temple, where people could sacrifice and worship and come together in devotion and have access to God.

But people kept trying to close God off and to have a monopoly on God. They tried to say you had to have money or a priest or follow a complicated set of rules or know the right people. So finally, the heavens were opened and God came as a human being to open the doors of heaven, permanently. The heavens were opened and God’s birth in Jesus was marked by the appearance of a star in the heavens. The heavens were opened to reveal the plan that God had in mind where people cared for one another and everyone had what they needed to have abundant life. Jesus showed what it meant to live a godly life, caring for the poor, being a blessing to others. The heavens were opened in Jesus’ baptism and God’s voice proclaimed God’s blessing and favor. In the transfiguration, the heavens are shown to be open as God makes another appearance and proclaims in a story that bookends this one, that Jesus is God’s son and that God is pleased. Finally, on the cross the heavens are opened and the temple curtain is torn from top to bottom to show there is no barrier between heaven and earth. God has entered our lives and the heaves are open. We have access to God. God is not in any church or temple, but within and between us in every generous and loving act.

The heavens are opened, this morning as Maisie is baptized. May she experience them as open as she goes about her life. May she experience God as close by. And may we have that same experience. May we live a life that reflects the open heavens, the availability and nearness of God and God’s Kingdom until everyone recognizes that heaven is right here and right now, and that we are all part of the Holy, a family with one another, empowered to make this world just and loving. May we hear God’s word of approval claiming us this day and everyday and go forward with hope and joy and boldness. And may we communicate with each person we meet that they are God’s precious child, with whom God is pleased.

sermon for Christmas Eve 2012

This time last year, I was just coming back from maternity leave and Christmas Eve was the first time I preached since becoming a mother. I think of Mary this night starting on that same journey of sleeplessness and balancing priorities and the wonder and love she felt every time she looked at her baby and the questions in her mind about whether she was doing it right.

When you are expecting, everyone tells you that life will never be the same. My favorite was the guy at Eastport Plaza who took one look at me, 8 ½ months pregnant and said, “Good luck with that.” Everyone knows life will never be the same. I wonder how many times Mary heard that. She certainly would have been aware of that. She would have seen that in the lives of aunts and cousins. She would have experienced it in her body. She would have expected it since her pregnancy was so different from others, no husband, the looks, the ostracism, the questions, “You expect us to believe what?”

Life will never be the same! For a long time I heard that as a warning. No more going to the movies. No more sleeping in. No more time to read for your own pleasure. Instead you’ll be reading “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” over and over and you’ll wake up in the night with “Little Red Caboose” stuck in your head. No more time to curl your hair. Be glad if you can get out of the house without spit-up and snot on your clothes. Every outing will have to revolve around nap and feeding schedules. Life will never be the same.

Some people see the Christian life this way. Go to meetings. Get “A Mighty Fortress” stuck in your head. Be wracked with guilt over whether you did what Jesus would do or not. Be burdened by having to give an offering. Read a boring devotional book. Give up all the time you’d be having fun and spend it volunteering and hearing what a sinner you are. Become a Christian and your life will never be the same—you won’t have a life.

What I’ve found, becoming a mother, is that life isn’t the same in ways I didn’t really expect. I’ve found a depth of wonder and love that I didn’t know before. And it isn’t just about my amazing baby, but about everyone I meet and all the people of the world. I find myself imagining the people I know as infants, full of wonder, curious, toddling about, delighting in the most ordinary things. I imagine you all babbling and trying new sounds. I imagine you dumping everything off the coffee table. I imagine you falling and hitting your head and being rocked and comforted. It is just a complete switch of perspective. Because I see all of you this way, I see you as vulnerable and small. I see how you started out and what made you who you are, at least in my imagination. I like you even more than I did before. And I see myself small and exploring, testing my parents, trying out language and food. And I am more forgiving of myself, able to let go of my flaws and mistakes. I see us all as toddlers exploring this world and I find myself more ready and able to love.

I also find myself joined to mothers and to some extent fathers. Most mothers see with these eyes and know what I am coming to know, something that can’t be taught, but only experienced. I see myself in every mother I meet. I even feel connected to Rose-Tu, the new elephant mother at the zoo. I have some idea of what she sees when she looks at that baby of hers. I have some idea of the depth of love that she feels. I think mothers and fathers also know a hint of the love that God has for us as the one who gave us life.

I am learning that a child doesn’t just disrupt your life. A child enriches your life and deepens it and makes it more meaningful and full.

And isn’t the Christian life partly a matter of perspective, too. Yes, it isn’t convenient all the time, but little is that is really meaningful. Instead of seeing it as a long list of duties, those who know God’s love, the deep satisfaction of giving of yourself, and the help that a community can be when you really need it, won’t see it as a burden, but as a joy.

Jesus is being born a baby in our midst. It is a disruption. We might be grumpy this time of year when some come to church out of obligation. We might feel the burden of having to sit through a family meal with people we don’t necessarily like. We face the financial cost. We get things we’ll never use. People drive like maniacs. The music in the stores is apt to drive you nuts.

to get out of our rut and everyday way of doing things. We need to open our eyes and see the world the way a baby does with curiosity and wonder and hope. We need to sing a new song now and then. We need to light a candle and open ourselves up to God’s presence and let ourselves dream and hope for something truly good. When Christ is born in our lives, suddenly we are all being born and reborn in Bethlehem that night. God is bringing us to birth. God is looking down at this newborn and rejoicing and expectant and hopeful. God knows it will be many sleepless nights that he will be pacing the floor when we are sick or worried or stupid, but it is all worth it. God is our mother, our father. We see God in every mother and father.

God is also our brother, born that day, one of us, to face all we face and experience everything we experience, to allow his heart to be broken, to be one of us, small, poor, exhausted, and also joyful. In everyone we meet we see a brother, we see Jesus. It changes everything.

Christmas is inconvenient. Living a Christian life is inconvenient. Think how inconvenient it was for God: The creator of the universe, born to a teen mom and unwed parents, born naked and howling in a barn—no nursery with a bassinette and changing table, learning to walk and talk and play with the other children, growing up in a world that thought of him as weird, being mocked, rejected, and killed. And yet he never complained, never gave up on his goal which was to reach us with love and to teach us to love.

Christ is born this night. You and I are being born this night. We have a second chance to see this world in a new way. We are reborn sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers, children of God, bearers of light. We are made to perceive light and love in one another, to share light and love with each other. We are here, mere toddlers, in awe of the sights and sounds around us, staring into the faces of family and friends to understand how we fit in, trying new words, new steps to express the depth of all our emotions. God is trying to teach us to walk and talk and share. We are reborn parents, seeing again for the first time, and loving this baby Jesus who does change our life, who allowed himself to be inconvenienced so that we would know that our convenience is not what it is all about, but light and love.

Something new is being born this night. Life will never be the same. Let this birth change your life into one of thankfulness and praise.

sermon for January 6, 2013

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

It must have been about ten years ago that I first remember hearing the commercials on the radio for the International Star Registry. “Name a star in honor of your loved one.” I remember thinking that it seemed kind of silly to me. Basically you were paying for a piece of paper. What a rip off!

Looking at the website for the International Star Registry, you find many levels of gifts you can give, ranging from $54 to $489. You can choose the constellation that you’d like the star to be in—basically the zodiac sign. You can choose the kind of letter you’d like to include with your gift with a “congratulations!” theme or “memorial” theme. Basically the more expensive the gift, the fancier the frame that holds your certificate and your star chart showing the location of your star. You also have the option of getting a wallet card with the name of your star and the coordinates.

This kind of gift seems kind of silly, kind of romantic, kind of luxurious to me—and not in a good way. What use is it? Yet people have looked up at the stars for as long as we could remember. We’ve looked for direction. We’ve looked for meaning. We’ve dreamed about the future. We’ve reflected on the past. We’ve shared our dreams with each other as we looked up at the stars. We’ve thought up amazing stories while looking up at the stars. We’ve felt small and insignificant next to the size of the universe. We’ve felt large and powerful, part of something bigger than us as we’ve looked up at the stars.

Abraham looked up at the stars and imagined his offspring numbering as the stars, even before he had ever fathered a child and thought it might be too late for him. In the Old Testament, the wise were compared to stars. Throughout the Bible, people looked up at the stars and wondered how God who created the stars, also created us and knows us deeply. The shining stars indicate God’s favor and blessing.

Then today we come to the star that led the Magi to the Christ child in Bethlehem. Here are scholars who watched the stars for information. We don’t know whether it was a comet or a supernova or the alignment of planets that tipped off the magi about an unusual birth. It might seem impossible or romantic that the star would directly lead them to the place where the baby Jesus was. The magi see in the stars an indication to start traveling and what direction. Then they do stop and speak to King Herod, get futher directions and then pick up following the star again when they get to Bethlehem.

Whether or not the star appeared exactly like Matthew tells it, we can learn a few things from this story. That the heavens would produce a sign marking the birth of someone, let us know that this birth was unusual. This birth had an effect on the entire universe and was being celebrated by the entire universe. We learn that this birth is not just for the Jewish people. This is a Messiah for the universe. And in case we’re not sure what that means, it is noticed by a group of powerful magicians and astronomers, foreigners who come to recognize him and pay their respects as this child goes unnoticed among his own people.

This child will be for us, too. This savior will be for all of us. He will be the savior of the poor and the rich, local people and those from distant lands, those of all races and languages, those of all religions. Magi were of the Zoroastrian religion, but that didn’t keep them from recognizing and worshiping the Messiah. Even though our translation says “wise men,” magi could also mean male or female. The newborn messiah brings all these different kinds of people together.

Also think of the path these magi took. They left everything behind to follow a star to an unknown place. They didn’t know for sure how far they had to go. They wouldn’t have spoken the language or been familiar with the customs and food of the country they were entering. They didn’t know if they would be welcomed. They couldn’t exactly call first. They saw something that told them something unusual was happening. They decided this wasn’t to be missed. They wanted to be there in person. They packed up and departed on their journey. On the way, we know they talked to a King. Certainly Herod would know where a newborn king would have been born. But the power structures in place were so useless and clueless and oblivious. They had no idea that God had snuck in right under their noses. But they did know to be afraid.

Back to the magi—they bring gifts fit for a king. What would a baby in a manger do with gold and frankincense? I guess you don’t bring the newborn king Messiah a pair of booties and a hat! And what did they know, that no one else knew, that they brought myrrh? Myrrh was a bitter, waxy perfume used in embalming. The brought the best of the gifts they had to offer to the Christ Child. Gifts cement us together in relationship. They say here is something of myself that I am giving up to you. They also say, “I honor and respect you.” They are giving thanks to the creator for making the stars and the universe. They are giving thanks for the gift that Jesus will eventually give, both his teachings which show us how to love and also his life to give us life.

There are several things we can learn from the magi. First is to watch the stars. Watching the stars reduces tunnel vision. It gets us focusing on the bigger picture. It excites the imagination. The problem is that when you look up and around and start using your imagination, pretty soon you want to get up and do something about it. That’s another thing we can learn from the magi—do something! It doesn’t always mean going on a big trip. Sometimes our journey can happen right where we are. Sometimes it isn’t the landscape that changes, but it is within us and between us and other people. But it does mean taking risks and going outside our comfort zone. Use your gifts—the best of what you have to offer. Share them with people around you. Look for love and light in unexpected places and people. You never know when you might run right into God and have a chance to stand in the presence of the one who created the stars and gave you life.

Given the chance to name a star, I don’t know that it is necessary to name one after yourself. We are all of the same substance as the stars, our elements and molecules developed in the stars, now come together to form us for the moment. God has named a star, and that’s you. Each of us is a star that shines with God’s love and light. So that’s the final thing we can learn from the magi, let your light shine.