For Epiphany Sunday at Park Lake Pres, Orlando Matthew 2:1-12
That, my friends, is a road trip. Not a day trip. Not a week-long break. But a serious 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 don’t really know much about them. But 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.
Their mission? To find him and to worship him. That’s pretty straightforward. And it’s a mission we can get behind, isn’t it? In fact, it’s the same mission we’re on today, the same reason we climbed out of bed and into our cars then journeyed here on mostly-empty streets.
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…
To humble ourselves before Christ, promising to give all of our lives in his service.
To love God’s incarnate self whole-heartedly.
Of course, we know Jesus as the King of Kings. And we know that the Christ child the magi worshiped is the same risen Christ we celebrate every Lord’s Day. But 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 him, they worshipped him, 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.
Now, if you remember that Herod was not a man known for patience with others, much less sharing power with others, you get the feeling that this news – news about a great King in the area – might just keep him awake at night.
But our scripture tells us that 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 caught in one of those moments that come in “too-early” part of the morning—
Not awake really, but not fully asleep… When dreams mingle easily with nightmares… And suddenly the alarm announces the arrival of the day, but too soon…
Too soon to face the possibility of even more troubles… Their dreams of the promised Messiah mingle with the nightmare of dashed hopes and disappointment, of renewed troubles and oppression
You can almost hear them hit the emotional snooze button,
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. And he never really stopped…
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 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 us those laws,
Jesus plucked grains to eat on the Sabbath; he cleared the money changers out of the temple
and he forgave people’s sins.
And then, 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. For the love of 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 to his own power.
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
For the love of people who have heard and believed in the centuries after his coming and for the people who would believe, but have not yet heard.
We celebrate the Lord’s Supper today, a sacrament that reminds us of the last supper, the last Passover meal Jesus shared with his dearest friends.
We will remind each other of the body of Christ broken for us, the blood of Christ, poured out for the remission of our sins. Broken and spilled on a day filled with sorrow and pain…
The day we call Good Friday.
Because we know that our King of Kings is the Giver of Life
Because Death didn’t have Jesus for keeps.
Oh, no. Jesus was just getting started He was about to really 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 met with the disciples again,
Jesus had a plan. A simple plan.
Jesus told them to go.
Go and make disciples, teaching them everything – “all that I have commanded”.
And while the signs and wonders and lessons the disciples saw would fill the books of most any library, Jesus made “All that I have commanded” simple, too.
- Love the lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength.
- And love your neighbor as yourself.
Do that and all the rest will fall into place
That plan has been stirring up trouble for generations.
Peter and Paul were just the first in a long line of rabble-rousers.
And there were the other disciples, and early church leaders, many of them martyred.
Then came those who looked out for those with the least –from Saint Francis to Mother Teresa.
Missionaries like Lottie Moon and evangelists like Bill Bright made sure that millions of people around the world 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 today is this:
Are we seeing enough trouble around here?
Are we living in the twilight or are we awake to the wonderful chaos of transformation?
We are a praising people. In beautiful diversity, we have gathered to lift our voices to God. Singing hymns old and new, playing the organ and the piano, and responding to a call to share from our abundance.
We are a praying people. We have come together to confess and give thanks, to intercede and lament. We pray one another through crises of faith and of health. We will continue to pray through tears and laughter, and to sit in silence when the words just will 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… But even old Calvin stirred up enough trouble to merit a comic strip namesake…
Now that we’ve sung from the 12 Lords a Leaping right back down to the partridge in her tree, the radio stations have returned to regular programming, the lights and greens and inflatables are getting packed away…
Epiphany feels like the start of a sort of liturgical limbo. We’re sending 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. After all, 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.
Like when boxes of cans and other food are gathered here then taken to food pantries for families and individuals in need… But even more-so when the hungry can walk in here on a Sunday morning for warmth and feel warmly welcomed.
Or when we lovingly recount the story of Christ’s coming as a tiny child visited by angels, shepherds and wise men. But even more-so when we live as though we believe the story… assuring that our children, our friends and our neighbors hear and experience God’s grace and love.
You see, the magi only 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.
We have found him too. More importantly, he found us. Became one of us.
God is with us.
It starts with E and that rhymes with T, which is nothing but Trouble.
Let’s see what we can stir up….