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An Epiphany: God Meets You Where You Are. Right Now.

Matthew 2:1-12

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6 “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’ ” 7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”

9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

I think I’ve been unfair to the magi on Epiphany. I’ve often referred to them as tea-leaf reading, chicken-bone shaking, fortune tellers from the Psychic Hotline.

That may not be true.

Matthew is likely actually describing priests of the ancient religion of Zoroastrianism, which was the official religion of the Persian Empire before Islam. One of the key components of this faith was using watching, plotting, and paying attention to the movement of the stars. It was, in fact, the most advanced science of the time.

Think about what that would mean. In Matthew’s gospel, there is no manger and no shepherds. The first people to acknowledge the newborn king of Israel are these magi—non-Jews following a foreign religion. And the birth of Jesus was revealed to them through science quite apart from faith or scripture. These are the ones who go and worship the Christ-child. Not Herod, who was the ruler of all Israel. Not the chief priests and scribes who through scripture advised Herod of the place of Jesus’ birth, but missed the relevance of this newborn king.

No, the only ones who show up are these Zoroastrian scientists. Hardly what one would expect! There was a newborn king of Israel, yet no one in religious or political authority in all Israel knew anything about it! Matthew’s point is that the birth of Jesus is truly good news for ALL people!

Now, I’m the first to encourage everyone to be serious about spiritual growth. There are lots of ways to do it and we should. But it’s not like there’s some mystic secret to enlightenment or a particular path to God. GOD finds a way to connect with you. If God could find Zoroastrian priests in Persia through their science and stars, then God can certainly find you.

The magi were passionate about the science of stars. So that’s where God found them. What are you passionate about? That’s likely where God will find you. Is it books, movies, sports, bicycling, writing, nature, or even science? Matthew is making the clear point that God comes to you where you are. It’s like an Epiphany!

One fault of the institutional church is that we’ve convinced the world that God only works in the ways that the church can control: Prayers(especially old ones other people wrote); the Bible (especially when interpreted in a way the church says is correct); Sunday worship(especially when it has the right music); or social justice (especially when it benefits causes endorsed by the church).

There are a couple of problems with the church controlling the ways God can come to people. If God only comes to us in pre-approved ways,

  1. It limits people outside the church from recognizing God present and calling them.
  2. It limits the church from recognizing God present and calling us.

Don’t get me wrong. The church has good reason to recognize God’s presence and invitation through prayer, scripture, worship, and justice. Because God is present and inviting through these things! We know it, we’ve witnessed it, we can testify to it. But Matthew’s magi would seem to indicate it’s wrong to think that God is limited somehow to these.

Take a minute and think about what you love to do most. What excites you, that you’d stay up all night talking about? What are you passionate about? What matters to you? . . .

That’s where God is likely to reveal God’s self. That’s often where the invitation will come. Follow that star, whatever it is.

I want to add here, that if that’s true for us individually, it’s also true for us congregationally. If you were to summarize LCM’s passion as a community, you’d probably come up with something about care or compassion. We excel at that. Why wouldn’t God, then, be present with us there? Why wouldn’t that be an important way where God invites us to come and see Jesus?

This matters, because whether it’s affected you individually or not, this congregation has really gone through a very difficult year. We’ve grieved more in the last 12 months than we ever have in our history. But I’ve also watched more compassion shown in the last 12 months than I’ve ever witnessed before.

Matthew writes that God comes to us where we are with what we know and what matters in our lives. The science of stars for Persian priests, and compassionate care for this congregation.

Make no mistake, God has come to us in our compassion for one another. God invites us to meet the Christ-child in the care we express together.

Christ has come. God is present. With the magi, today we experience this as good news for all people. God comes to us where we are. It’s like an Epiphany!

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2019 in Sermon

 

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“God Has Found a Way to You” (January 7, 2018)

Matthew 2:1-12

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6 “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’ ” 7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”
9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

God finds a way. The coming of Christ is so important to all people that God finds a way to reveal it.

The Magi were foreign, were pagan, and knew nothing whatsoever about Jewish law or the Jewish God. They got information from the stars not from prophecy or scripture or Sunday School. In their culture they looked at stars.

That’s not how God has ever revealed anything to anyone.

Yet, here they are. Right at the house where the Christ child is living. Because they followed a star.

To a God-fearing Jew that is ridiculous. To anyone who has any sense of who God is and how God works, that is ludicrous. Can’t happen.

Yet, here they are. Because God found a way.

And here you are. Who knows what has happened in your life to bring you to this moment in the presence of Christ.

But here you are. Raised by Lutheran parents? Invited by a friend? Felt a need for some deeper meaning in your life? Brought here kicking and screaming by a spouse/significant other/grandma? It doesn’t matter what the “star” is that you’ve followed.

It doesn’t matter. God has found a way. You are here. The Christ child is here. God has found a way to you. That’s what God does.

It is so important to God that you know that love has come into the world. Love has come to all of us. To everyone. To you.

You are important enough to God that God has found a way to let you know. Here you are. You are loved. God has found a way to you.

 
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Posted by on January 7, 2018 in Sermon

 

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An Ungodly God (Epiphany–Matthew 2:1-12)

starMatthew 2:1-12

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6 “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’ ” 7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

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.

 

Today we celebrate Epiphany! The time of “aha,” of new insights, of revelation as to who Jesus is and of God’s presence in the world! And the gospel text for this important day is one most people are pretty familiar with—the coming of the magi. What do you do with a story most people already know? In celebrating the Epiphany, hopefully you do something new, insightful, revealing. An epiphany about Epiphany.

Magi in Jesus’ day had no business visiting the Jewish Messiah. These people would not normally have been welcomed. The shepherds were bad enough: smelly, rude, rejected outcasts who spent their time not with other people but with animals. But at least they know who God is. At least they have some sense of worship and God’s ways.

But these magi were about as far from pious Jews as you could get. Magi were not “wise men”. They weren’t kings. They were everything that a God-fearing person tried to avoid. They were pagan, chicken-bone reading, star-gazing magicians. Their faith was not in the God of Israel, it was in tea leaves or chicken gizzards. They knew nothing of God, nothing of the promised Messiah, nothing of worship.

So they come all this way in order to offer gifts to the young King of the Jews because they saw a star. That wouldn’t make sense to good Jewish folk, because every good Jew knows that God doesn’t work that way. We know how God works. Through the law of Moses, through righteousness, through obedience.

But God reached out to these magi in a way that worked for them, made sense to them. They weren’t Jews, so God didn’t call them in a way Jews would understand. Instead, God led them in a way that would make pious Jews squirm. It was different because it was for these foreign pagans, so they could experience the presence of God. That’s how far God is willing to go. That’s how radically inclusive this God is.

How many of us have arguments with other Christians about where God stands on some issue (even other Lutherans. Even other ELCA Lutherans. Even other members of LCM!)?

I work hard to try and align myself with God about hot topics like Syrian refugees, presidential politics, immigration, or same sex marriage. But then I have a discussion with another person who has also aligned themselves with God on those issues. And we completely disagree.

Like most people, I simply assume I’m right. I’ve studied and paid attention to God on these issues. If you disagree with me, you simply have to be wrong about God! You couldn’t know God’s ways as well as I do. Because God could never work the way you are saying. And I know that because I know how God works. Right? Right?

Which is exactly what all Jerusalem was saying when these magi came looking for the new king. They don’t know God like we Jews do. God would never reveal God’s own Messiah through a star. That’s ungodly!

Yet God did. And God does.

Whenever God does things in ways that are outside our experiences of God, or outside of Lutheran thinking, or outside our sense of righteousness, or–let’s face it–outside of what we believe to be godly, it can be a bit unnerving or uncomfortable. Too often our response is to just deny God’s activity. But God is about calling all people, loving all people, revealing grace to all people, forgiving all people.

Even people who hear things differently.

Even people who need different signs of God’s presence.

Even people who aren’t the least bit interested in being part of a Lutheran congregation.

Even people who aren’t Christian, or who don’t believe in God at all.

God shines a star for them; reveals God’s loving, gracious presence for them. God can do it in ways that may not make sense to Lutherans.

The magi, led by God through a star to the newborn Messiah, make it hard to judge people who have different theologies or different perspectives on God, the Divine, Allah, Spiritual things. Because God does things for others that wouldn’t make sense to me. And God does things that I may disagree with or think are godly. Sometimes we have an ungodly God.

But that would be my problem, not theirs. And certainly not God’s.

This is the celebration of Epiphany! The time of “aha,” of new insights, of revelation as to who Jesus is and of God’s presence in the world. This is the celebration of Epiphany, and God is revealing something new in the world. It doesn’t have to seem godly to us. It just has to be God doing it. Happy Epiphany.

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2016 in Sermon

 

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Epiphany: God’s Surprise (Matthew 2:1-12)

The gospel text for Epiphany is always the story of the Magi in Matthew 2. They saw the light, an unusual star, and followed it to Palestine, where, naturally, they went to Jerusalem. Where else would a king be born? They go to the king to inquire where the new king was to be found. King Herod consults the priests and elders, then sends magi to Bethlehem and they find the baby Jesus, and offer him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Familiar story, right? It usually gets lumped into the Christmas story with the shepherds and the manger. All of our Nativity Scenes have Mary & Joseph, Jesus in a manger, shepherds, and three kings, right?

There are lots of myths and stories about these Magi, very little of which is actually known to be true. Magi were NOT kings, NOT wise men. Instead, they were pagan, dream-interpreting, fortune-telling, psychic hot-line, Tarot card readers. They represent to Mary and Joseph and other good religious people of the day idolatry and religious hocus-pocus, those who told the future using chicken gizzards and tea leaves. They were not royal, respected, or educated. They were everything the people of God were not.

Yet in Matthew’s gospel, they are the first to come and worship the Christ child. God called them—of all people—God revealed to them the newborn king, the Savior of the world.

God didn’t come to the magi because of the purity of their doctrine, the morality of their lives, or the correctness of their faith! God came to them, called them, gave them an epiphany because God’s love includes everyone. Jesus has come for the sake of everyone.

God came to them in a different way, but a way they could recognize—through a star. God entered their lives and called them from within their own lives and their own experience. Like God does for all of us, God enters our world, our lives, our particularities and reveals God’s own self in ways we can recognize.

That’s first: are we paying attention as God comes into our lives with epiphanies, working in ways we don’t expect? When was the last time God surprised you?

Let me tell one. I volunteer as a big brother with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado. In December they held a holiday party for the 25 or so Bigs and Littles that are part of our local program. The sponsor for this party is a financial company that buys past-due loans and muscles people into paying them. A long time ago I was on the wrong end of a company like this, and it wasn’t a good experience.

But for this party, this company provided a full meal for all these Bigs and Littles plus their families. They gave all the kids an opportunity to earn Monopoly money and use it to go into a room and buy presents for their families that this company had provided. They then gave each of the 25 Littles a personal gift based on their individual interests. And finally, they gave each Little, 25 of them, a new laptop computer. The generosity shown these families that are enduring some hardships blew me away. And it made me angry. What business did these people have being part of God’s generosity? That is reserved for us, the godly people! It was God’s own generosity, coming from a company that I didn’t want it to come from. An epiphany. A surprise.

Pay attention for God’s epiphanies. They’ll surprise you. And they change you.

We recognize in a new way God’s forgiveness, then we are drawn more deeply to forgive.

We recognize in a new way God’s generosity, then we are drawn more deeply to be generous.

We recognize in a new way God’s mercy, then we are drawn more deeply into mercy.

Is your capacity for forgiveness increasing? Are you becoming more generous? Are you showing more mercy? Pay attention, because the good news is that God is doing these things in you and around you every day.

Pay attention. Be ready. The star of Bethlehem is even now shining in our lives. God is revealing God’s self—an epiphany. Watch for the star, God’s presence in your life, be surprised where you discover forgiveness, generosity, compassion. Then watch for God to allow you to have the ability to offer forgiveness, generosity, compassion. God’s love includes everyone. Even you. Jesus has come for the sake of everyone. Even you.

 
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Posted by on January 12, 2015 in Sermon

 

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Continuing the Epiphany Story (at Well of Hope, ELCA, Castle Pines, CO) 1/6/13

The Epiphany of Our Lord – C

Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12

 Greetings from the Office of the Bishop, Rocky Mountain Synod, ELCA. I need, first of all, to express appreciation for the partnership we share, not only with the other 164 congregations of the RMS and the other 10,000 congregations of the ELCA, but additionally for the special witness you bring, that of using imagination in sharing the gospel. I hope you can teach the rest of the church how to think in new ways and walk on new ground, as you are being led by the Holy Spirit.

So today is the Day of Epiphany! The day of “aha,” of new insights, of revelation as to who Jesus is and what his purpose is in the world! And the gospel text for this important day is one most people are pretty familiar with—the coming of the magi. What do you do with a story most people already know? On the Day of Epiphany, hopefully you do something new, insightful, revealing.

Magi in Jesus’ day had no business visiting God’s Messiah. The shepherds were bad enough: smelly, rude, rejected outcasts who spent their time not with other people but with animals. But at least they know who God is. At least they have some sense of worship and God’s ways.

But these magi were about as far from pious Jews as you could get. Magi were not “wise men”. They were everything that a God-fearing person tried to avoid. They were pagan, chicken-bone reading, star-gazing magicians. Their faith was not in the God of Israel, it was in tea leaves or chicken gizzards. They knew nothing of God, nothing of the promised Messiah, nothing of worship.

So they come all this way in order to offer gifts to the young King of the Jews because God brought them by a star. That wouldn’t make sense to good Jewish folk; it might have even been abhorrent. But God reached out to these magi in a way that worked for them, made sense to them. God didn’t call them in a way Jews would respond. God didn’t reveal what God was doing through signs God-fearing people would understand. God didn’t even lead them in any way God had ever used before, in a way that would make pious Jews squirm, like a psychic hotline. It was new, it was different, it was for these foreign pagans, so they could experience the presence of God. That’s how far God is willing to go. That’s how radically inclusive this God is.

So that makes me wonder: is God still calling radically diverse people? Is God still reaching out to people in ways the traditionally religious wouldn’t get? Is God using new ways to reach new people with the good news of love, forgiveness, and grace in Jesus?

I believe that’s where you come in. There are hundreds of congregations in this part of the world that see God calling people in more traditional ways. Lots of churches that use evangelism programs, food banks, and social justice issues to reveal God at work in the world. And good! Those are necessary and wonderful!

But you are new. You are unique. You have ways to share the gospel news with people in this neighborhood that no one else can do. You can discover who the magi in Castle Pines are and be God’s sign to them.

Think about that. In the few years this ministry has been in existence, you’ve not really done anything the “normal,” “traditional” way. Your existence here is a living witness to a God who is willing to lead you in new ways. Doesn’t it make sense, then, that God would lead you to reach new people? If this story of the magi tells us anything, it’s that God is quite willing to do things differently, to break new ground in order to reveal the Christ to all people. You are God’s continuation of that.

And one of the most wonderful things about all this is that God has called a pastor to be among you who isn’t afraid of that. Pastor Michelle, you may have noticed, appreciates trying new things and doing things in different ways. Isn’t that what God seems to be about in this gospel story too?

Sometimes that isn’t easy, and sometimes it may be a bit frightening. This text says “all Jerusalem” was frightened by these strange, foreign pagans who came to pay homage to the king of the Jews. Whenever God does things in ways that are outside the experiences of traditional Christian people like me, it can be a bit unnerving or uncomfortable. But God is about calling all people, loving all people, revealing Christ to all people, forgiving all people. Even people who need to hear things differently. Even people who need different signs of God’s presence. Even people who aren’t the least bit interested in being part of what we would call a “normal Lutheran experience.” And God has called you to be the shining star for them; to be the sign of God’s loving, gracious presence for them. Probably in new ways. Because if the previous ways worked, they’d probably already be part of a Lutheran church, right?

So here’s what I encourage you to do:

  • Recognize God’s amazing presence in your own life and ministry.
  • Grow in your understanding of new ways God is at work around you.
  • Study scripture, paying special attention to ways God works and people God calls that are new or unusual.
  • Discover who the magi are in this neighborhood—the people God is calling but who aren’t likely to hear that call through normal church means.
  • Recognize your call as a star rising to lead them to Jesus.

This is the Day of Epiphany! The day of “aha,” of new insights, of revelation as to who Jesus is and what Jesus is about in the world. This is the Day of Epiphany, and God is revealing something new in the world. And you, here in Castle Pines, are called to be that sign in this community.

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2013 in Sermon

 

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