yearC epiphany

This Week's Sermons:

    Matthew 2:1-12  -  The True Story of The Magi
John 1:1-5,9-14  -   We Interrupt This Service   
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Matthew Epiphany Sermon - There is a beautiful old tradition about the star in the East. The story says that when the star had finished its task of directing the wise men to the baby, it fell from the sky and dropped down into the city well of Bethlehem. According to some legend, that star is there to this day, and can sometimes still be seen by those whose hearts are pure and clean. It's a pretty story. It kind of makes you feel warm inside.


There are other legends about this story of the wise men from the east. For instance, how many wise men were there? In the old days in the east, they believed that there were 12 men who made the journey, but now most everyone agrees there were three. One old legend even tells us the names of the three. Melchior was the oldest of the group, with a full beard. He gave the baby the gift of gold. Balthasar also had a beard, but was not as old as Melchior. He presented the gift of myrrh. The youngest of the three was Casper, who had no beard yet, but did present the gift of frankincense to the baby. Yet another legend goes on to tell us that after seeing the baby, the three continued traveling as far as Spain, telling the world the good news about what they had seen. These stories bring the wise men a little more to life, and add some color to the meaning of Christmas. They can also get in the way.


The problem with legends is that sometimes they add color to stories that don't need any additional color. In fact, sometimes legends are so colorful, they are unbelievable, and can end up making the entire story unbelievable as well. Kind of like that star falling in the well. It makes you warm inside. It also makes you wonder.


I am not out to ban legends, but I do think it might be worthwhile to hear the story one more time, the way it was told the first time. I need to hear it anyway, and you are welcome to listen along if you like.


It all started sometime after Jesus was born. It might have been a few weeks, or even a few years. You remember that when Herod tried to kill the baby, later he murdered every child under the age of two years. Apparently, he wasn't sure how long it had been either.


One thing we do know about the time is that it was explosive. Every nation in that part of the world was on edge. In historical writings from all over the Orient, we read that nations shared the belief that it was fated that a tremendous new king was about to arrive, one that would rule the entire world. From throughout the Roman Empire, into Armenia, as far away as Persia, the people waited for the king's arrival....


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Sermon on John 1 - It was question and answer time at the worship workshop. Pastor and Author Thomas Long had been speaking on the theme of worship all morning to a group of people gathered in a church fellowship hall in a suburban neighborhood in Indiana. Dressed in sweatshirts and jeans, they had given up a Saturday of golf and gardening to sip coffee and listen politely as he rambled through discussions of Vatican II, Calvin's view of the Lord's Supper, the pros and cons of children's sermons, the development of the lectionary, the meanings of baptism, and other assorted topics about worship. Now, the lecturing done, he gulped down a little coffee and asked if there were any questions.

A hand shot into the air. It belonged to a fiftyish man with plump cheeks and rimless glasses who was, judging by the way his hand waved and bobbed, eager to speak. "There's one thing about our worship service here which really gripes me," he complained. "To me it's like fingernails being scraped across a blackboard."

"What's that?" he cautiously asked, fully expecting him to say something about gender inclusive language, newfangled hymns, politics in the pulpit, or sermons on tithing. But it was not one of these issues which caused his aggravation.

"The announcements," he declared. "I just hate it when the minister spoils the mood of worship with all those dull announcements." Heads bobbed in vigorous agreement all around the room. The announcements were out of favor in that corner of Indiana, no question about it.

Thomas Long said he knew what the man meant. You're soaring above the pews on Sunday, your wings catching the strong breeze of the Spirit carrying you upward from "Joy to the World" toward the choir's lofty "For Unto Us a Child is Born," and then, thud ... the Christian Education Committee will meet in the library on Thursday at 7:30 .... " Like Icarus striving for the sun, you find your wax wings suddenly melting, and you plummet back to the world of flesh, dust, and committee meetings.

The announcements do seem like a bag of peanuts at the opera, an ungainly moment of mundanity wedging its way into an hour of inspiration. What he tried to say to the questioner was that he understood how he felt and that, yes, the announcements were often rattled off without care or passion, and, yes, they did sometimes seem to be somewhat uninspiring, but that, after all, the details of the church's institutional life were important, and five minutes of them couldn't hurt, and so on ....

But after the meeting Rev. Long realized he blew it. He didn’t give the right answer. What he should have said is that, properly understood, the announcements are one of those places where the rubber of the church's theology hits the road. Indeed, it just may be that by moving seamlessly from "Holy, Holy, Holy" to "the telephone crisis counseling ministry is in need of additional volunteers," by punctuating its soaring praise with the commas of the earthy details of its common life, the church is expressing in its worship one of its most basic convictions about the character of God: "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.....


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What Is Unique About Christianity?


The story of Jesus sitting and debating the Law with rabbis reminds me of another debate that took place in a comparative religions conference, the wise and the scholarly were in a spirited debate about what is unique about Christianity. Someone suggested what set Christianity apart from other religions was the concept of incarnation, the idea that God became incarnate in human form. But someone quickly said, “Well, actually, other faiths believe that God appears in human form.” Another suggestion was offered: what about resurrection? The belief that death is not the final word. That the tomb was found empty. Someone slowly shook his head. Other religions have accounts of people returning from the dead.


Then, as the story is told, C.S. Lewis walked into the room, tweed jacket, pipe, armful of papers, a little early for his presentation. He sat down and took in the conversation, which had by now evolved into a fierce debate. Finally during a lull, he spoke saying, “what's all this rumpus about?” Everyone turned in his direction. Trying to explain themselves they said, “We're debating what's unique about Christianity.” “Oh, that's easy,” answered Lewis, “it's....


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