1-7-18 Scripture: Matthew 2:1-12
Theme: No matter what occurs, there will always be a dichotomy of forces working upon it, either pulling towards God, or pushing against God (moving us towards or away). The challenge of the faithful is to determine – with God’s help – which is which, and place our allegiance thusly.
A teenager lost a contact lens while playing basketball in his driveway. After a fruitless search, he told his mother the lens was nowhere to be found. Undaunted, she went outside and in a few minutes returned with the lens in her hand. “I really looked hard for that, Mom,” said the youth. “How’d you manage to find it?”
“We weren’t looking for the same thing,” she replied. “You were looking for a small piece of plastic. I was looking for $150.”
Have you ever lost something valuable? All of us have. From keys to jewelry, contact lenses to coins, we’ve all had the experience of losing something valuable. As soon as we realize that something’s lost, the search begins – sofa cushions get tossed, steps get retraced, and likely suspects get interrogated. But so very much depends upon the motivation for our search, whether it is to address an inconvenience, or something much more essential.
I remember one time when I lost something quite essential, at least in my mind. I was at that time in my life when I felt I had finally reached maturity (and, no, this wasn’t last week!). I had just received my driver’s license; my parents had given me a birthday present of a gas credit card; I had my own debit card for my bank account; and I had signed up and received a recreation center swimming pass. Yes, I had reached that milestone in life where I became a regular, red-blooded, American male who carried a wallet.
About six months after I had reached that particular milestone in life, I reached another – I became a regular, red-blooded, American male who lost a wallet. Gone. Nowhere to be found. I retraced my steps, and discovered that I could have lost it in many locations. I also realized it could have been stolen – in those days, I regularly attended those places known as bastions of virtue and the nurture of morality and good skill development, otherwise called video arcades. Someone could have easily picked my pocket.
In all of this I felt crushed. My first big responsibility, my first real measure of maturity – gone. I searched for three days, and finally admitted defeat. My parents told me I had better cancel all of my cards, and sign up for a new driver’s license, which I did. I called the bank, and canceled my debit card. I went over to the recreation center, canceled my old pass, filled out the paperwork for a new one, and received it. With every phone call, every form filled out, every conversation with a bank teller or representative, I felt more and more embarrassed.
I remember walking in the door after I had completed the last transaction. As I walked in, I was met by our dog Mindy, coming down the stairs, who held the missing wallet in her mouth. It seems she had hidden it somewhere upstairs under a bed. I was stunned. I stared at her in disbelief. Her timing was uncanny (and I’m not making this up!) – and as she stood there with my wallet in her mouth, wagging her tail, pleased to present me with that present, I didn’t know whether to ship her off to China, or embrace her for her gift. Laugh or cry? I chose to laugh.
Sometimes this is how it is – all our furious efforts to make it all come out right are met by unexpected grace. Dogs with wallets aside, I believe this is the message realized by the Magi. The wise men had to have a sense of a God who would express himself in some way, not to be predicted too narrowly in human terms. They were open to the signs of God, and let those signs determine their course. And it was through their openness that they came face to face with God.
I wonder about the wise men in today’s scripture lesson. All too often we call them Kings, but the scripture doesn’t call them that, and I think that’s important. But it also describes the precious gifts that they brought – gold, frankincense, and myrrh – which would seem to imply that they had financial clout. They were called wise, which can mean many things – knowledgeable, peaceful, conscientious, full of common sense, perhaps even powerful in their influence over others. We don’t know that much about them, really, except some very important details. First of all, they were very interested in the divine. Their pursuit of wisdom had led them to the conclusion that truth is not limited to the physical world nor to what can be known by the finite mind. THEY WANTED TO KNOW GOD. Second, they turned their interest into action; they scanned the skies, explored their world, searched for signs. THEY MOVED TOWARD GOD.
But thirdly, and perhaps most significantly for us, they were open to how God chose to reveal himself; they would LET GOD DETERMINE HOW GOD WAS TO BE MADE KNOWN. I can’t help but think that they knew this was the only way it could be. God would not necessarily obey the rules of logic, experience, history, or knowledge assumed by creation as we know it; if God was truly the creator of all, he would stand both inside and outside of that creation, not necessarily bound by its parameters. It would be natural to expect the unexpected when dealing with God. It would be necessary for God to make himself be known to those who are searching – and to help those who are searching with openness and humility to discover who God truly is.
I remember reading about a program that tagged migratory birds for research. The birds were tagged by the Department of the Interior with metal strips reading “Wash. Biol. Surv.” (up on screen) –for Washington Biological Survey. The code was changed, so the story goes, after a gentleman from Arkansas wrote to the department. His letter read as follows: “Dear Sirs, I shot one of your crows, My wife followed the cooking instructions attached–she washed it, boiled it and served it. It was the worst thing we ever ate.”
Perhaps this is the greatest lesson we can take from the story of the wise men visiting the baby Jesus in Bethlehem – for the follower of God, for the pursuer of truth, for the searcher for the divine, we must keep in mind our limitations of understanding AND be ready for the unexpected, the inexplicable, the unlikely appearances God tends to employ. WE MUST PRACTICE A SOBERING OPENNESS TO GOD, one which WILL challenge us to move beyond where we have been or where we are in faith. If God can use a steady star, dirt-poor parents, smelly barn, and innocent child to reveal his greatest glory on earth, then God can use anything – or anyone – to further his expression. And we must be ready to receive that revelation in whatever form it presents itself, if we truly desire relationship with the divine.
A baptist minister named Calvin Miller said something that made me think. He said, “Many Christians are only “Christaholics” and not disciples at all. Disciples are cross-bearers; they seek Christ. Christaholics seek happiness. Disciples dare to discipline themselves, and the demands they place on themselves leave them enjoying the happiness of their growth. Christaholics are escapists looking for a shortcut to nirvana. Like drug addicts, they are trying to “bomb out” of their depressing world.
But there is no automatic joy. Christ is not a happiness capsule; he is the way to God. But the way to God is not a carnival ride in which we sit and do nothing while we are whisked through various spiritual sensations. It means not just waiting for the signs of God’s presence but actively searching for those signs, and, when found, allowing them the privilege of being followed, wherever they may lead.”
This brings up to my mind some questions that are essential to our search for God, whether it is successful or not. Here they are:
Do we seek Christ, because it will give us happiness?
Do we seek God, so we can avoid hell?
Do we seek the divine, because we want to be on the winning side?
Do we seek the Lord, because we want our prayers answered the way we want them answered?
Do we trust in God, because he blesses those who follow him?
Do we search for signs, knowing what to look for ahead of time?
Do we look for evidence that our faithful deeds are rewarded?
Do we love our neighbor as ourselves, expecting him or her to do the same?
Do we pray to God, in the belief that it makes us holy?
Do we worship Christ, because it’s our ticket to heaven?
OR DO WE SEEK GOD, BECAUSE GOD IS GOD?
DO WE JOURNEY OUT IN FAITH, BECAUSE IT’S THE ONLY PATH TOWARD HOPE?
DO WE LOVE OUR NEIGHBOR AS OURSELVES BECAUSE GOD EXPECTS THIS OF FOLLOWERS OF JESUS?
DO WE VENTURE OUT IN FAITH, STRIVING TO LET GOD SPEAK TO US, PRAYING THAT WE HAVE THE EARS TO HEAR, THE MIND TO UNDERSTAND, AND THE HEART TO RECEIVE WHAT GOD WANTS US TO RECEIVE, BE IT GUIDANCE, CHALLENGE, GROWTH, OR PAIN?
ARE WE READY TO HAVE GOD SPEAK TO US THROUGH UNLIKELY THINGS, WHETHER THEY BE A STAR, A FRIEND, AN ENEMY, A VAGRANT, A SUNRISE, A SINNER, AN ILLNESS, A BLESSING, A BURDEN, A WEAKNESS, A STRENGTH, A CHILD?
God has used all of these things to speak to his people; are we willing to listen? Are we ready to hear?
BONUS Reading from Communion by unknown author
This body knows what it is like to have a nice house and a good job
It knows what it is like to feel uneasy about being wealthy
And it knows what it is like to be lonely, a stranger
It knows what it is like to live under a bush in a city park
It knows what it is like to try to sleep in a rain-soaked sleeping bag
This body knows what it is like to sit politely in meetings
And it knows how to howl in protest at injustice
It knows what it is like to eat right and exercise often
And it knows what it is like to wake up the morning after drinking a fifth of vodka
This body knows what it is like to do a triple flip on the bars of a jungle gym
And what it is like to lie paralyzed in a hospital bed for five years
This body knows what it is like to make love
And to make war
This body knows what it is like to be shunned because of the way it looks
And to be wanted because of the way it looks
This body knows what it is like to be afraid even of being afraid
And it knows what it is like to delight in taking crazy chances
This body knows what it is like to be treated like an any body instead of like a some body.
“This is my body.”