Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” 16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: 18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” 19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20 “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” 21 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23 There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
My bifocals were becoming less and less helpful. I don’t know what happens to eyeglasses, but they seem to become weaker with time. Maybe they just wear out. Could be…
So this last week I went to eye doctor for an exam. While there, I was talking to the tech who was doing all the preliminary tests and measurements. In the course of the conversation, somehow it came up that she used to go to church, but no longer does. I asked her why, what had happened? She told me that her pastor had physically thrown her across a room, shouting that she was the spawn of Satan because of something she had done.
She later tried a different church, but found it very judgmental and condemning. So she hasn’t been back. For her, God isn’t found in the community of church. God is experienced only in private. “I believe in God,” she told me, “but shouldn’t the church be less hateful and more supportive? You know, more like God?” I invited her here hoping she could experience church—therefore God—differently.
Her perception and experience of God is different than mine.
A couple of months ago, I made an appointment with the Imam at the Rocky Mountain Islamic Center here in Lakewood. Though a very proud U.S. citizen, he was born in Syria and has a deep sadness from his experiences of the civil war going on there. We sat down and talked about God, religion, politics, and more for about an hour and a half. His experience of God is that God has pretty high expecations. Forgiving, yes, God is absolutely forgiving. But that doesn’t let anyone off the hook for living a life defined by devotion, service, peace, and justice. The pillars of Islam aren’t to be trifled with.
His perception and experience of God is different than mine.
In conversations with my Black friends and my LGBTQ friends and my Spanish-speaking friends, they all have perspectives and experiences of God that are different than mine.
Our high school and middle school students in this congregation think about God differently than I do. My own children believe in God differently than I do. My wife’s experiences with God are different than mine.
In fact, with everyone I have any kind of a conversation with at all, I discover their perception and experience of God is in some ways different than mine.
I guess there are at least two ways to deal with that: 1) my perception and experience of God is the correct one, so all the rest of you are wrong. 2) Another thought might be that other people’s perceptions and experiences of God are just as valid as mine, and maybe I don’t know everything about God after all.
I’ll admit that if everyone believed what I believe and thought the way I think, life would be a lot easier. But our understanding of God and how God is active in the world would be pathetically narrow. We’d all miss so much of the depth and vastness of God’s love and how that love changes people’s lives in different ways. We’d miss out on so many chances to recognize God’s love present and the opportunities to share it in ways that matter.
I’m mindful of this today as we hear about Jesus and his parents being forced to flee Israel and become refugees in Egypt. I wonder how much their understanding and experience of God was changed by living in a foreign country and getting to know people whose perspective of God was way different than their own. They had already had their view of God pretty much blown out of the water what with angels and Mary’s pregnancy and visits from Magi and such as Matthew records.
Could their belief in God, as expanded as it had now become, keep pace with the way God was working among the Egyptian people? Or would their perception and experience of God need to expand yet again? Could they stlll believe—and follow—a God who was bigger than their experience? Could they actually continue to trust in a God who always seemed to be working outside of their understanding?
Thank goodness they could! Their trust and following God wasn’t dependent on their perceptions of God, but of a recognition that God exists beyond their perceptions. Beyond their experiences.
We here at LCM are primarily white, middle class Americans. There are some differences in our God-experiences, but beneath those subtle differences are some pretty common perceptions. That’s doesn’t make us bad or wrong, just less able to recognize God at work in ways outside of our white, middle class perspective. When our experiences of God are limited, we are the ones who get shortchanged.
Which is why one of our council goals for 2017 is to become more inclusive and diverse, reaching out to and strengthening relationships with people who aren’t white, aren’t middle class, aren’t straight, aren’t Lutheran, or aren’t even church-going. “Provide for and initiate opportunities to foster inclusivity and continue LCM’s outreach efforts with more diverse communities, e.g., racial diversity, LGBTQ, and beyond.”
Jesus and his family returned from Egypt with a fuller awareness of how God works in the world. I imagine that being told not to return to Bethlehem, but rather go to Nazareth in Galilee was, at this point, no longer a big deal. Sure Galilee is Gentile territory, and Nazareth was a nowhere village lost in what most Jews considered to be godless Galilee.
But Jesus and family had come to know better, I think. A Messiah could just as easily come from a remote pagan village as from Jerusalem, the center of all that is holy. Because God, they now knew, was bigger than that.
Imagine how much better we could be part of God’s work if our recognition of God was larger! Imagine how much more confidently we could follow Christ if we experienced God outside of our current understanding!
I hope my vision technician from my eye doctor’s office last week shows up here some day. Not just so she can experience God differently, but so that through her, we can too.