Creekside Church
Sermon of January 3, 2021

"Do You See What I See?"
Matthew 2:1-12

Pastor
Rosanna McFadden

 

Good morning! This is the Sunday which we will observe Epiphany: thanks to Tim for sharing this text from Mathew about the wise men who had a revelation that a great king had been born king of the Jews, and they followed his star at its rising. Two weeks ago, on the Sunday before Christmas, I shared about the planetary phenomena which was going on just before Christmas: the Great Conjunction. As an illustration of Jesus Christ as God With Us, the conjunction of human and divine, I thought it was a pretty good; as a planetary event -- at least here in overcast Indiana -- it was kind of a bust.

Jupiter and Saturn were as close together when viewed from earth as they have been in the last 400 years: some of you were kind enough to send me photos from around the world and links to some amazing images on line -- which was fortunate, because despite our shiny new spotting scope, the McFaddens were unable to do more than just catch a glimpse of the two planets just after sunset and before a bank of clouds rolled over the southwestern sky. Family members of mine who live in happier climates were able to see the Great Conjunction several nights in a row, just by stepping out their back door and looking up. All of this makes me realize that navigating by the stars is tricky business. I know that humans have been navigating by the stars for thousands of years -- especially on the open ocean where there are no landmarks, and nothing solid blocking the horizon. Still, as impressive as that is, I have to believe that a lot of people got lost: they either misread the stars, couldn’t see because of bad weather, got swamped by storms, or all three. Give me a strong wireless connection and a GPS any day.

But I hope you’d agree with me that finding our direction from the Bible -- even the teaching of Jesus -- is more like watching the stars than it is getting directions from a GPS. Maybe you are different than I am, but I rarely, if ever, hear a still small voice saying “Turn right in 500 feet to arrive at your ministry destination.” And even when I think I know where I am supposed to go, my outlook can be clouded by other people’s stuff, my own stuff, or some combination of those things. It is amazing that the wise men reached Bethlehem at all, and perhaps even more amazing that they got out alive, given Herod’s paranoia about losing his power. I think this story has something to teach us about faith, risk, and what we see -- or think we see.

Hebrews chapter 11 tells us, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Which raises an interesting question for me: Why were the wise men following this star in the first place? It could not have been so visually compelling that it was obvious: Herod hadn’t noticed it, his advisors hadn’t told him about it, no one else in the nativity narrative -- including Mary or Joseph -- sees this thing blazing in the night sky above them. The wise men believe that this star signals the birth of a king -- but it isn’t their king; they aren’t Jewish; they don’t even live in Judah. Why go take expensive presents to somebody else’s king? And above all, why risk making that journey with only a star as your guide?

I believe that faith always involves some kind of risk. If we are going to act on the basis of something we can’t see, or can’t see very clearly, we are going to risk being misled or getting lost. Why risk that? Because we are looking for Jesus, that’s why. Our Lord and Savior, the unique conjunction of human and divine. And Jesus is worth the risk -- even if we get lost along the way. Even when we get lost along the way. Christians for millennia--since there have been Christians -- have had to step out in faith in order to follow Christ. They haven’t done that perfectly, but we are here in part because of the persistence and their willingness to take risks . What we 21st century Americans risk--our time, our money, our status with co-workers or relationships with family--is pretty modest when you stack it up against Christians in Nigeria who risk their property, their livelihoods, their families, and their lives. That kind of risk is inspiring, but also humbling. I don’t know if I would have that kind of courage; I certainly have not been shaped by that kind of adversity.

What will we risk in order to gain what is most important to us? I’ve heard some inspiring stories about folks in the pandemic over the past few months. One of my favorite stories of someone finding a way to her goal is from one of the owners of the restaurant where my son Joel works. Vicki’s mother is in a nursing home, and Vicki was not allowed to visit in-person. Furthermore, the nursing home is in Iowa, which is a long way to drive just to wave through the window. Vicki came up with a unique solution: she took a leave of absence from her work at the restaurant, rented an apartment in Iowa, and got hired to work at the nursing home where her mother is. Now Vicki sees her mom before or after every shift.

I know other families have made other sacrifices: many of us have spent a lot of energy this year avoiding health risk for ourselves and others and not spending time with our families or loved ones. For some of you, this has meant not being with your church family in person. I know people who have not been worshipping with us because they need to be available to vulnerable family members, patients, or students. Of course it is a principled thing to minimize your own risk and that of others during a public health crisis. But I wonder what the long-term effect of that thinking will be on us personally, as a country, and as the church. Is avoiding each other going to be the new normal? I was talking to a Creekside member who stopped by the church last month, someone whom I had not seen for a while. I’m pretty sure I was at least 6 feet away, but when I stepped forward to show them something, they flinched as if I was going to hit them. I immediately stepped back, but it grieves me to think we are being conditioned to be fearful of each other. I am certain that with patience, perseverance, and public health measures, we will prevail against this pandemic. I wonder what Creekside’s ministries are going to look like when that happens, though. Will we be so worried about ourselves that we will have forgotten that reaching out with the gospel of Jesus Christ always carries some kind of risk? That leaving home always means some uncertainty about reaching our destination? Stars can guide us, but they don’t protect us.

I have been in conversation with Church Board chair Larry Ford over the past week or so. If you read the Connection newsletter which was published last week, you know that the Board is meeting for a retreat next Sunday, January 10. The purpose of that retreat is to set goals for 2021 and make plans for how we will realize those goals. I’m confident that after that retreat is over, you will hear more about those goals -- in the Connection, from the pulpit, wherever. Maybe you’ll even be asked to participate in helping those goals become a reality at Creekside. Even if you don’t participate personally, your financial gifts will certainly be needed to help with the work of ministry in 2021. I think it is mark of courageous leadership for this congregation to be considering goals and making resources available for new ministries in the midst of a pandemic. Of course we have to be careful of our own health and the health of others, but this pandemic is not going to be with us forever: the kingdom of Christ will be here forever, so we need to figure out how, with God’s help, how we’re going to keep working for the King and that kingdom. We have managed to do some great ministries, and we have met some great people in the past six months who are excited about what we’re doing and want to be a part of it. Praise God for those blessings! This is not the time to stop looking up to see where God is leading us, even if the skies aren’t completely clear.

I think what wise men (and women) can teach us is that star-gazing and following God’s leading does not depend on us all seeing exactly the same thing, or even traveling the exact same route as our brothers and sisters. But we do need to be looking in the same direction, and we do need to be travelling toward the same goal: finding Jesus Christ so we can offer the best we have and worship and adore him. We all begin from different places, and what we risk will be different for each of us, but if finding and worshipping Jesus is our goal, we’ll need God’s help and the support of fellow-travelers along the way. I hope that we can be that support and encouragement for each other as we step into a new year. God bless you, and travel boldly. Amen

 

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