I'm going to post my sermons on here for a little while. I'm following the RCL for the most part (even those it's entirely patriarchal and heteronormative). We'll see how I do at keeping up with this posting idea. The sermons are quite particular for this congregation, and I frequently ad lib in the pulpit- moment. But enough with the caveats, right?
Sermon No. 1:
Preparing for Something New: Epiphany
Tomorrow, January 6th is the feast of Epiphany. The day that the famous wise men reach the new born baby Jesus to celebrate that he is the new king. Because it is when they offer their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, tomorrow is a day when many Christians around the world give gifts. Armenian Christians actually mark tomorrow as their actual Christmas celebration, not Dec. 25th.
But for us, Epiphany marks the end of the Christmas Season. It does not end, in fact on New Year’s Eve, like culture tries to dictate. This is a way that we act differently than the stores would have us act. Christmas, in fact, is not over yet!..not until tomorrow anyway.
Have you ever wondered why this moment is called “Epiphany?” Wouldn’t it make more sense to call it “Three Kings Day” or “Visit New Baby Day?” Or perhaps you have a better title?
To make sense of this day and to understand why we celebrate it, I think first we need to understand what an epiphany is. Is this language that you use often? For some of us it is. I bet many of you have had an epiphany or two. So what is it?
An epiphany is an event or person that shows us the deeper meaning of life. We might hear God speak to us in an epiphany through a friend or a dream. We might be carrying in a bag of groceries from the car when something inspires a new understanding about that problem at work. When I am working on a sermon I don’t feel like it has completely come together like I want until I have that “epiphany” moment. For those of us who are intuitive and pay attention to the nuances of the world, the idea of epiphany might make more sense than it does to those of you who are hard-wired for the facts.
This is where our Biblical story today can really speak to all of our different personality types. The wise men in the East were mystical characters. They were astronomers looking for meaning in the night sky stars. They paid attention to the patterns of healing and miracle. They valued a good spiritual epiphany. So we can imagine that when they saw this super nova of a star in the Western sky they wanted to travel and see why it was there. However, even they were mystified by its presence. Here is this magnificent GPS star-light system guiding them to the new born baby... but first the wise men followed it to Jerusalem. Jesus is not in Jerusalem is he? Where is he? Bethlehem.
But who is in Jerusalem? Herod. Who is Herod? ...(Did you know you were going to get a quiz today?) The Israelite King. He would have known well the Hebrew prophecies about a baby who will be born in Bethlehem, the land of Judah. The prophecies that foretell the birth of a new shepherd to the Israelite people. So when these wandering wise men, who were not Jewish, who were not from Israel, but far East, these men who were pagans, when these mystics met Herod because they were following a Star in the night sky, and when the pagan, wandering, Eastern wise men asked Herod, “Where is this child born king of the Jews?” Herod’s hackles popped out on his neck. Don’t you think?
Herod thought, “I’m the king!” And he was. In his fear, Herod assembled the religious leaders to help him understand what the wise men were after. They wanted to see the Messiah. The anointed one. The one who will save the people. Herod wonders if it could really be true? Is this the baby of whom the Scriptures speak?
As the scribes and priests pointed out to Herod in the Scriptures, the wise men had not misspoken after all. There really was a new king. And the star marked the place of his birth.
Whether or not we are mystics, monks or nuns who live in an abbey of prayer, and whether or not we are busy with work and running errands and paying the bills, God understands that we need help experiencing our own epiphanies. That’s why God gave the wise men and the shepherds a star to follow.
The star lighted the path to Jesus. So what’s our star? Where do we look when we need more light on our path?
When the wise men finally arrive and see Mary holding the infant, the text tells us they were overwhelmed with joy! They immediately worshipped him, forgetting about their gifts for a moment, all they could do was worship. It’s not the star that is the epiphany, but the child. When they see Jesus everything changes. The light shines brighter. What was once an external star transforms to an internal light. When the wise men met Jesus they discovered that internal power of revelation. It is the same power that we know because we follow Jesus.
When their visit with the royal family concluded, the pagan wise men were warned in a dream not to return to Herod who was waiting on them. So they went home by another road. Yet they returned home a changed people. They had seen the light of Jesus. No longer needing the light to shine from the stars in the sky, their epiphany let them see the light inside them that was salvation from a new born baby. This is the zinger.
These pagan, star-following, Eastern mystics were the first people to experience the saving grace of Jesus. From the beginning, even before he could do anything but sleep and cry, Jesus welcomed everyone into his royal family regardless of race or creed or color.
Imagine a giant axis, like a globe. Everything around the center of the axis is moving. In our story we see the wise men moving from the East to the West. We see King Herod manipulating things and people to secure his leadership. We see the star moving in the sky to highlight the right spot. Everything is moving forward constantly. In our own lives this movement might overwhelm us at times.
For me I see this movement most at about 5pm when my three children are hungry, the older two have homework, Tyler is tired from having taught classes all day, we need to fix dinner, complete our nighttime routine of baths and toothbrushing, clean-up the kitchen after dinner, and this doesn’t include an unexpected news like someone might need 30 cupcakes for a school project the next day. Everything orbits threatening to lose control. Perhaps you are thinking of your own lives orbiting. Do you know chaos right now?
And yet...right at the center of it all, both in our story and in our lives is this image of a small baby resting in his mother’s arms in an obscure Bethlehem village. Everything in motion, rotating around the axis, and the child is the one, unmovable, fixed point. The light of the child is the epiphany that saves all of us from the mayhem of life.
My most recent epiphany involves you as a congregation. I want you to know this. My life was moving on a really exciting journey. We had just moved here to Louisville from New York City for both Tyler and I to begin working at Louisville Seminary. All last year, I was the chapel coordinator helping students plan the weekly chapel services and it was great part-time work while Taft was an infant. Then last semester the Women’s Center on the Seminary campus was looking for a new part-time director. “This is great,” I thought. “I can direct the Women’s Center and coordinate the chapel while I finish my ordination requirements.” And this is exactly how the movement of life progressed.
I was meeting fantastic people in the broader Louisville community through the Women’s Center job. People who are running non-profit ministries to stop violence against women, to house shelters for families, and many other worthy missions that I highly value. But then I received a phone call from my pastor at St. Andrew United Church of Christ asking if I would ever be interested in offering pulpit supply around town. “Sure!” I said. I love to lead worship. After I joined you in September, and then gathered with the designated pastor search committee, and accepted this position to serve as your designated pastor, I had an epiphany!
Three kids + three jobs = one insane woman. Who needs a star to see that? Not me! The light of Jesus was going to go out faster than a match in a wind storm if I didn’t resign from one of my campus jobs. After just a few months at the Women’s Center, I decided to journey with God here to Lynnhurst. It was a deliberate decision when I considered my own calling to pastor. That inner revelation, the epiphany of my call and interests as I considered Jesus points here. And I am so thankful!
And so you see, the epiphany doesn’t need to be a lightening bolt, or a overwhelmingly bright star, or anything else jolting, but when you realize that the epiphany comes because you celebrate the birth of a new infant king, everything else changes. Everything moving around the axis of life might stop for minute while you worship and remember the point of life. And then it moves again, and you move forward with it trusting that Jesus is indeed the anointed one.
So where are you Lynnhurst Church on this road to epiphany? You have recently said good-bye to a well-loved pastor. You have been busy the last few months “stepping up to the plate” filling in the gaps with your strong lay-leadership. You have welcomed my family and me for the next six months. What is next?
There is no bright star in the sky anymore making clear the way. I imagine it kind of like driving down a country road when the GPS on the windshield doesn’t recognize the road. So it has your car image in the middle of a giant field, or a river. You have experienced this GPS confusion, right? You look lost on the GPS monitor. And while you wait on the satellite to catch up, you keep moving forward, trusting that you are still on the right road. It’s right there, under your moving car, but you cannot see where the road leads.
Let’s wait for your next epiphany together. I will do all that I can to help us together follow the light of Jesus. It is a light that will not blow out. Or lead you off the grid. Though, the inner revelation of this church might challenge and provoke us as we consider the new roads we must walk. Just as the kings returned by a different path, so too, might the path for Lynnhurst evolve to us in divine dreams to new places. Together we can prepare for something new. Something that when it comes, you will know that it is right. The world will stop moving for a moment so that we can bow down and honor the Holy One who guides us along the journey. How exciting to be traveling this road together. Amen.