Stirring Up Trouble

This sermon was written for my Foundations of Preaching Class. I was supposed to preach to my classmates on Friday, but time constraints got us and I was delayed to Monday. Oh well.

The text was Matthew 2:1-12 (in which the Magi come, via Jerusalem, to Bethlehem to worship the infant King of the Jews).

That, my friends, is a road trip.
Not a day trip. Not a week-long break. But a full-on road trip.

I don’t even want to think about how the magi explained to their wives what they were up to.
“Well, dear, we’re loading up the camels. Not sure how far we’re going.
Or how long we’ll be gone. But we’re headed west. Without a map.”

Maybe these wise men were adventurers in addition to star-gazers.
Maybe they were settling a bet over whose interpretation of the star’s appearance was correct. Maybe.

We do know this. The star that they had seen on its rising was enough to send them on a mission. Their first stop was in Jerusalem, to ask Herod where to find the “one who had been born king of the Jews.” So that they might worship him.

Their mission? To find him and to worship him.
That’s pretty straightforward. And it’s one we can get behind, isn’t it?

To find him and to worship him – to give him the honor and glory that a king deserves.
To find him and to worship him – to bring him gifts of great value
To find him and to worship him – to pay him homage…

Just like we have gathered to do here today.
The Christ child the magi worshipped is the same risen Christ we celebrate every Lord’s Day.
We humble ourselves before Christ, promising to give all of our selves in his service.

To love God’s incarnate self with all our heart and soul and mind.

The thing is- these road-tripping, camel-riding, mission-fulfilling magi had no idea
what they awakened when they made that stop in Jerusalem.

After all- they found,
they worshipped, and then
they went home by another road.


Meanwhile, Herod was disturbed. This whole episode had him troubled.
Those wise men from the East had been asking about the King of the Jews.
Talking about a star and hoping to find this child and worship him.
Yes, Herod was troubled.
Herod was not a man known for patience with others, much less sharing power.

I get the feeling that this might just keep him awake at night. And Herod wasn’t the only one troubled. All of Jerusalem was right there with him. And by all of Jerusalem, we can be pretty sure that Matthew means all the Jews in Jerusalem. All troubled.

Now, if the mission of the magi was straightforward, this part of the story is not.
The Jews had been waiting for the messiah for generations. They were under the rule of a tyrant. They were God’s chosen people. From my bleacher seat, it looks like the momentum would be shifting their direction. It should be time for celebration!

They ought to be lining up and selling tickets to go to Bethlehem with the magi.
And yet, they stay in Jerusalem. Troubled. Disturbed. Frightened.

Perhaps they are in that moment in the too-early morning—
Not awake really, but not fully asleep,
When dreams mingle with nightmares.
And suddenly the alarm announces the arrival of the day… too soon
Too soon to face the possibility of even more troubles…

You can almost hear it… Maybe if we don’t look too closely, if we keep studying, God will reveal something new. Something that will help us get things back to normal.

But God had other plans.
Plans that require more than a one-time show of diplomatic gift-giving.
Plans that require more than political ambition.
Plans that require more than comfortable rituals, more than knowledge.
Plans that will make normal seem like something very far away, indeed.

Oh, God has plans. And that means Trouble.
Yes Trouble. It starts with T, and that rhymes with E – for Emmanuel.

From the moment of his arrival on our planet, God with Us has been stirring up trouble.

In a culture that focused on power, wealth and status,
Jesus taught humility and simplicity
He ate with the poor and despised, and expected his followers to do the same

In a culture that marginalized rather than cared for those who were ill or unclean
Jesus walked among them, healing them, and restoring them
He healed the lepers, cast out demons, and raised the dead

In the presence of those more focused on laws than the Lord who gave those laws,
Jesus healed the sick and plucked grains to eat on the Sabbath
He cleared the money changers out of the temple
And he forgave people’s sins.

And to top it off, the son of God went willingly to the cross.
He endured the shame and pain of a dishonorable death.
The death of a despised criminal.
The death of a troublemaker.

All for the love of people. All people.

People like the magi- who saw a king as one worthy of respect and honor and loyalty.
People like Herod- who saw a king as a threat.
People like the Jews – who were unsure that he truly was their king.

For the love of people like the fishermen who dropped their nets to follow him
And the rich young man who wasn’t ready to leave it all behind

For the love of people like the Pharissee who prayed loudly about not being a sinner
And for the sinner who weeps quietly as she confesses

There’s a reason we call that sad day “Good Friday.” And sometimes, even when I try to be somber on Good Friday, I have to smile. Because I know that death didn’t have Jesus for keeps.

Oh, no. Jesus was just beginning stir things up.
When the angel rolled back that stone to reveal an empty grave,
When the women ran smack dab into the risen Jesus,
When he went met with the disciples again,
Jesus had a plan. A simple plan.

Jesus told them to go.
Go and make disciples, teaching them all that I have commanded you.

And while the signs and wonders and lessons that the disciples saw would fill a business plan bigger than any Fortune 500 Company, Jesus made “All that I have commanded” simple, too.

1) Love the lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength.
2) And love your neighbor as yourself.

That plan has been stirring up trouble for generations.
Peter and Paul were just the first in a long line of rabble-rousers.
There were the other disciples, and early church leaders, many of them martyred.
Some became the voice for those with the least – like Mother Teresa.
Missionaries like Jim Elliot and evangelists like Aimee Semple McPherson made sure that millions in large cities and village jungles had a chance to hear the good news.
And troublemakers like Martin Luther King, Jr., cry out to us across time-calling for freedom and justice.

The question for us is this: Are we seeing enough trouble around here? Are living in the twilight or are we awake to the wonderful chaos of transformation?

We are a praising people. In beautiful diversity, we gather and lift our voices to God. We sing hymns old and new, play the organ and the guitars, and have even been known to lift our hands above our waists from time to time…

We are a praying people. We come together at prayer vigils, at bedsides, in the parking lot, and in our Sunday services. We have prayed through crises of faith and of health. We have prayed through tears and laughter, and we have prayed in silence when the words just would not come.

We are people of the Book. We are people who care for one another.
We are a community of faith- Presbyterians, to be precise.
Which means we tend toward the decent and orderly…

Today, when it is no longer Christmas, but not yet Easter
It feels as though we are in some sort of liturgical limbo.
We’ve sent baby Jesus safely off to Egypt… or at least to the attic with the nativity scene.
And after a busy Advent and Christmas season, I’ll be the first to admit:

It is SOOO tempting to hit the snooze right through Lent.
A little beauty sleep can do a body good.

Unless we are talking about the Body of Christ. Our very lives are meant to be a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. Every waking hour of every day, when we love God and love our neighbors, we are worshipping the living God. Even more-so when we are loving loudly, making disciples and stirring up trouble.

When J____ and K_____ give away 300 bags of food on Tuesday. But even more-so when they agree to help a father who just lost his home learn how to pray.

When C____ and A____ welcome the kids from the neighborhood into the Youth Group. But even more-so when those young men volunteer to help teach at VBS.

When the praise band plays for the fall festival. But even more-so when M____ tells the kids-who-would-be drummers that hang around that he has turned down paying gigs so he can help lead worship.

The magi made it about halfway.

They found the king. They worshiped him. But they journeyed home another way…
Not the way of the cross. Not the way of the troublemaker.

But God is with us. Emmanuel. That starts with E and that rhymes with T, which is nothing but Trouble.


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