04 January 2009

The Sunday of the Epiphany Sermon

Below is the posting of this morning's sermon.

Two notes. 1. The poem quoted is The Journey of the Magi by T.S. Eliot. The sermon the poem was based off is the Christmas Day sermon preached by Lancelot Andrews. Please click for proper hyperlinked information.

The Power and the Glory
text: “members of the household of God.” (Eph. 2:19)
Sunday of the Epiphany

Mom and Dad knew; from the look of the strangers, they too knew. The strangers did not speak with their mouths – what good would it have done them, no one would have understood them – they spoke instead with their actions when they knelt down and opened their chests full of treasure: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

The firmament told them about the child. Peculiar they were the only ones to notice when creation rejoiced and birthed a new star.

Let us pray:
O God, who by the leading of a star didst manifest thy only-
begotten Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know 
thee now by faith, to thy presence, where we may behold thy 
glory face to face; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(The following paragraph is a rough estimation of what I said this morning for an introduction to the sermon.)
We live our lives as humans east of Eden, expelled from the garden and searching for the way back home, back to perfection. We are like St. Augstine said creatures whose hearts are restless until we find rest in Thee, O Lord. This morning may we take up the journey, the pilgrimage back to the heart of God.

We say and even sing three wise men, but just like the parable that never calls the Samartian contain good, the bible never quantifies how many magi there were. The magi, the wise men, the priests from the Orient took a chance and sojourned East from Persia (modern day Iran). They were not the first to make the journey and the would not be the last the trade route and way were known – nevertheless they (the strangers, the foreigners) went at all is the significance of this day: The Epiphany, the day of Revealings.

The 20th century poet T.S. Eliot, writing shortly after his conversion to Christianity and during one his self described happiest times of his life composed The Journey of the Magi in 1927. He began by reworking a 1622 Christmas Day sermon preached by Lancelot Andrews before King James on the story of the magi:

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year.
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter

Eliot took the story of the ancient journey of the magi and wove it into the tapestry of his own life’s journey. You and I may not write a masterpiece like Thomas Sterns Eliot but we are asked to imitate him as he imitated the magi – that is we too are asked to take a journey, a journey also to Jerusalem, a pilgrimage to the heart of God.

In medieval Europe the idea of pilgrimage became central to the life of the Christian. The stories of the faith were told in painted window glass, the year was observed by a series of fasts and feasts, and pilgrims took journeys to the city of God, not literal journeys to Jerusalem over land and sea but metaphorical journeys over patterned floors by circular, meditative, and intentional walking on a labyrinth.

Walking the labyrinth provided an imaginative portal for a pilgrimage to the Holy City, to the heart of God. (We could easily construct a labyrinth to be incorporated to the outdoor chapel) But for this morning let us hold steady on the idea of pilgrimage, more specifically the one taking the pilgrimage: the pilgrim. For this year I invite you to take up a new/old inscription: I want us to be known as 21st century pilgrims. I do not want to retreat back to medieval Europe, Reformation England, or 1st century Persia. I want us to be real pilgrims right here, right now – people on a journey, people honestly seeking God, people not stopping and never satisfied till we find what we are looking for.

I do not know about you, but I am uncomfortable around know it alls, especially religious know it alls – you know folk so confident of their convictions that they exhale smitteness. However, I am at ease around pilgrims – folk who do not have all the answers but folk who are looking and seeking. You see you can talk to a pilgrim, you are heard by a pilgrim, you are lifted up by a pilgrim because you are twined by the journey. And surely we all can agree that what we and the world needs right now are not more know it alls but more pilgrims.

The magi saw the star and assumed the King of the Jews would be found in Jerusalem, the logical abode of a king. The folk, however, in Jerusalem knew nothing. King Herod quickly called a cabinet meeting of the best minds and inquired: where was the king of the Jews to be born. While the cabinet researched the magi/the surprised pilgrims diligently searched for the child. You and I are like the magi, we believe in God – we have all in someway been touched by the wonders of his love. You and I are like the magi, we assume where to find God. But remember we are pilgrims, not know it alls. Pilgrims leave open the possibility to be surprised. For us, as for the magi, is not is God? that we know. The open question is where is God? The answer is to be found on our journey, on our pilgrimage. For when we are pilgrims we can be and are surprised by God, even perplexed and confused.

When we are pilgrims we may just be a lawyer in Bristol, England one day and the next a Reformed preacher crossing the Seekonk River with a bounty on our head for properly developing the principle of religious liberty. We may just be America’s “spiritual” founding father.

When we are pilgrims we may just be a preacher seeking to escape from our daddy’s shadow by working on our PhD dissertation in a sleepy Alabama town one day and the next leading the Montgomery Bus Boycott, leading the Civil Rights Movement, being America’s prophet of the 21st century.

When we are pilgrims we may just pack up our treasure and follow a star. We may just endure the snickers, stares, and sarcasm as we journey. We journey hoping to be one among millions but when we arrive at our destination we only find a young scared mother, a scared father, animals and a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes. We took the journey because we had to. We didn’t know we would be the symbol, the opening up of the gifts of God to the Gentile world. We didn’t know our journey would be the known and celebrated as The Epiphany.

On this first Sunday of the year you may have big plans for 2009 – but I challenge you to have only one resolution: to be a pilgrim – to be a pilgrim on the inward journey – to be a pilgrim surprised by God.

Let us pray:

Revealing God,
who calls us on a journey,
over mountains, across rivers,
of the world and of the soul
Call us once again for just a closer walk with Thee
that we may know you dearer
that we may experience your healing hand and loving arms
not only for our mending but for the healing of your creation
In the precious name of Jesus
we pilgrims pray
to thine be the glory, and the power forever and ever

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