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Luke 6:27-38 The Beatitudes by Luke

By The Rev.Eugene N. Wright  Deacon  

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. Please be seated.

Most of us here today are familiar with the Beatitudes…….. a part of the great sermon on the mount as narrated by Matthew in chapters 5-7. The account by Matthew is set on a mountain, in a spiritual nature and is asking us to explore our relationship with God. In Luke’s gospel which we just heard, the sermon is preached on the plains on level ground. Here we are being asked or challenged to honestly look at the relationship and values we place on living in relationship with one another, here on earth. Luke’s gospel wants us to realize that when we come into God’s presence and experience God’s gift of grace that we receive in our relationship with Jesus that it is not simply a restoration of our spiritual relationship with God. Luke wants us to realize that through our baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection, we have already become members of God’s kingdom, here on earth. As a result, Jesus comes down from the mountain, to the plain, the level place, where everyday concerns of people living in our world might be addressed. Jesus preaches the grace of God and he expresses it in ways that lets us know that God cares for us. Jesus does what He can to bring the kingdom of God into our midst, with loving compassion for those who are poor and who are hungry in this life. Jesus wants us to not only be concerned about our spiritual relationship with God, but to know that through Christ’s death and resurrection we have the assurance of God’s promise of life eternal in his kingdom. He also wants us to realize that in God’s kingdom, the things that we value as we live in the various societies on earth, may not be the values that will govern God’s kingdom. In fact, Jesus indicates in this sermon, that in God’s kingdom, the things that we value on earth may be the opposite of what God would have us aspire to. Jesus is saying that God cares for the poor, for the hungry, for those who are sad and mourning, for all those persons whom society, especially ours, tend to neglect and forget in pursuit of success. Jesus is saying that in God’s kingdom, what we value in society will be turned upside down. For God has concern for each  and every one whom he has created, especially those in need. In this passage we are being called to live today, as members of God’s kingdom. We are being called to pattern our lives after Jesus, who not only spent time discerning the relationship with God, and following in His Fathers will, but also cared and ministered to people in need, especially those whom we often ignore. This passage from Luke, the list of woes that Jesus proclaims, is not meant to be a list of things that we as Christians need to avoid in order to gain access to God’s kingdom. He is not asking us to be poor and hungry in order to merit a life in God’s kingdom. Rather, Jesus is saying that those whom our society regards as being successful, those who have made the grade, and have achieved success according to our society, may have a hard time realizing that in God’s kingdom, their earthly status is of no avail. They will no longer enjoy the prestige of their earthly wealth or position, for they will be on an even basis with the poor, the hungry, and those whom they have long ignored. Where do we experience God’s presence the most in the world? It is not in the good times, the easy times, or the times when we are blind to the pain within and around us. Rather, the best chance to experience God’s presence is in those moments of personal brokenness when somebody reaches out and touches us and says, “God is with you. God understands. Jesus has been where we are. He has had doubts, uncertainties and fear. He had no home to call his own and no friends he could really count on. He wept and cried and got angry too and God the Father was with him all those times, strengthening him and giving him the victory – and God will do the same thing in you and me by grace through faith.”  The truth is, we have all fallen short of what it means to belong to the kingdom of God, but that through Christ’s death and resurrection, we can know God’s forgiveness.  My friends, God can work with us. God can accomplish something for us, and in us, and through us, when we are open to him in our need. What God cannot deal with because we do not let God deal with it is our plastic smiles, our blithe ignorance, our self-righteousness and our couldn’t care less attitudes toward those who are in need around us.

Happiness — or Blessedness as in this passage, is not found in wealth, in three square meals a day, in mindless laughter, or in the good opinions that others may have of us. Blessedness is found in surrender. It is found in letting go. It is found in knowing that God really cares about us and that God is really present with us to meet our needs. It is found in knowing that God will vindicate all those who cling to Him. In the midst of those needs — cling to God and not to the god of material success, or the god of self –reliance or the god of blind happiness. Blessedness is found in trusting in God and in doing the works of God, the works of loving, caring, healing, sharing and forgiving.

Blessed are those who are rooted in faith and who share what they have, materially and spiritually with others.  Blessed are those who know their need, and who trust in God and follow in God’s way, for they are like trees planted by streams of water. Their leaves do not wither and in all they do they prosper.

When the standard of the world guide us, we will have great woe. But when we let God determine who we are, we will be greatly blessed. When we let our looks, our poverty, our hunger, our sadness, or our lack of popularity be the final word about the meaning and significance of our lives, we will be in hopelessness and despair. But when we let the kingdom of God have the final word about the meaning and significance of our lives, we will have true joy and know without a doubt that we are blessed by God.

In this passage from Luke, God turns everything upside down. You know when God turns something upside down, God is really making it right side up. What does this list of blessings and woes say about what God is about?  It says that what is considered important for many people in the world; wealth, having plenty of food, being happy and looking good and being liked is dismissed by God as unimportant. In fact, Jesus indicates that if these are your goals in life, if this is what is important to you, then you are living a dangerous life. A life that could very well affect your salvation. What many people consider unimportant and unworthy, God considers special and important. When Jesus began to teach the crowd about the kingdom of heaven, it wasn’t necessary to look very far to discover the needs of their lives. They did not have to imagine what it was to be poor, and to hunger and thirst. These were very present realities. They knew the difference between needs and wants, between necessities and luxuries. So, when Jesus linked together hunger and thirst with righteousness, he was telling the people that righteousness is not a luxury, it is a necessity. In the same way that our physical life depends upon food and water; our spiritual life depends upon righteousness. Scripture tells us that what is true of our body is also true of our soul.  So, let me ask you this morning. “what are the hungers in your life?” “What are the longings that you yearn to have satisfied?” If those desires are outside of the will of God for your life, then to try to satisfy them   by oneself, will only bring disappointment and pain. But if they are part of the will of God, then to satisfy them will bring joy, growth, and fulfillment. Jesus not only tells us about our hunger and thirst, but he also tells us how we can be satisfied. He tells us that the way to be filled is to hunger and thirst after righteousness. It is a hunger for holiness that fills the soul and satisfies our spiritual needs. So, what is righteousness? To the Pharisees, righteousness meant a strict conformity to a long list of rules; actually,613 of them!! But Matthew 5:20 tells us….” That unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” External piety, born out of pride, which seeks the praise of others, isn’t holiness, its hypocrisy. True righteousness is a matter of the heart. To be righteous means to be right with God, right with self, and right with others. We have to  Train ourselves to be Godly and it will bring a remarkable change in our lives, and We can achieve this remarkable change through Christ. I believe that God is a God of love and that the church is God’s agency where this love is available. Isn’t it interesting that when people are in trouble or in need that the first place they turn to is the church, Why? How do you react when you see someone asking for help? Or when someone asks you for help? Remember the people who cross your path are the people God has put in your life so they can experience His love through you. So as disciples of Jesus Christ, we should not be concerned about peoples motives for coming to Jesus or the church. Why does God bless the poor, hungry, the weeping  and people who are hated or spoken ill of, and says woe to those who are rich, satisfied, laughing and are well liked and spoken well of? Because God’s love and blessing are clearer when we need to rely on him more. When we fill our lives with our own importance with what we have and can achieve then its all too easy to push God aside and out of the picture and trick ourselves into believing how good we are. However, our values and way of life formed by Jesus will at times conflict with the values and way of life that the world attempts to form us into adopting. So when you see someone who is poor, hungry, crying or having their name drag through the mud, then get beside them. Show them God’s love. Be God’s light in their life because this is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.  In the faith of Christ Jesus, be blessed. Christ be with you always.

Amen

 

Luke 4-16-30 The Good News and Tough Medicine

 

By Rev. Nancy S. Hildebrand

About ten years ago, my middle daughter shared an anecdote with me about a conversation between her two kids, mine and Peter’s grandchildren.  This anecdote has survived the intervening years, because it startled me so. The story goes like this:  Emily says, “Leo just told Beatrice that one day she would be a teenager just like their neighbor”. Emily says, “instead of clapping her hands with glee, she reacted vehemently with the words, “No, my name is Beatrice Oona and I am only one person”.  That was the end of that discussion.   Obviously, the two-year old mind is not ready to envision much of a life beyond the present; it is all they know.  However, her words, “I am only one person” meant to me that she was developing a strong sense of herself.  I am sure that sense was influenced by her warm, loving upbringing.  Of course, it was, but that was not what she was saying. She could not envision being a teenager because she was two, but her words indicated self- knowledge that was more substantial than not being to conceive of being a teenager. I believe that what she knew about herself then was some sense of the ineffable intuition about her deepest self that I see manifesting in her today in her twelfth year.  She not only has this same centeredness but an adolescent vocabulary to express it. To this day she carries that same serenity, reflectiveness, assurance and determination.  This Beatrice story reminds me that our biblical account of Jesus’ youth reveals that he, too, had this inner self-knowledge as well at a young age.  The story about Jesus being found at the Temple in Jerusalem shows him to be not only self-aware, but a prodigy.  He already had a strong intuition about his deepest self, his substance and understood his gifts. He was a natural.   Yet, as we know, that as he was a child like no other, we must remember that he was a child like all others, too.  His similarities, his essence and his life experiences, so close to ours, are keys to why we feel so close to him in his divine essence. The two aspects of his nature

inspires us to introspection about not only our own humanity but the divine spark within us endowed since our creation and lifts us to our own potential of Christ-likeness. Two millennia

of theological scholarship has not seriously cracked the mystery of the equation of divine presence and human potential. Rationality has never conquered the idea. We take it by faith as we that it is the germ and goad and gift lifting all humanity ever since Christ manifested it.

 

When Jesus came home to Nazareth, he brought this dilemma squarely to their attention.  He was going home to people who knew him as a precocious child and teenager and as a spiritually and physically productive member of the village.  When he returned to the Village after his baptism, temptation in the wilderness and the beginning ministry of healing in Capernaum, he was welcomed to the honor seat of the synagogue.  It is reasonable to assume that he had been in the reader’s seat before.  His learning had to be celebrated locally after his encounter in the Temple in Jerusalem at twelve.

 

Like a loving grandmother who cannot keep a delightful two-year old child at two years old forever, neither can a Galilean village, or any hometown expect that their special child all grown up will always be the same or, even, always be with them.  It is, however, reasonable to think that his hometown family and friends would think that they had a special claim on him and might even be entitled to a little extra attention. We are familiar with this feeling with our returning children.

 

He did return to “just be” with the villagers on the Sabbath, but he also came to honor them with his announcement about his anointed role as the appearance of the One who would bring to them “The Year of the Lord’s Favor.” The villagers were prepared for Jesus as their own prodigy and hoped for some of the healings that he made at Capernaum.

 

Jesus’ visit seemed ordinary at the beginning and the villagers were in awe, but perplexed. Something different was in the air and Jesus said, “no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town”, they were doubtless on edge. Was he a prophet?  Jesus said it, himself, “no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown”.  Jesus came home because everyone must in some way, somehow, but he came home to make an announcement not made yet to anyone else or by anyone else ever. It was good news and hard news.  Doubtless, they would as Jesus said they would, tell him, “Physician heal thyself”.   The Good news of Jesus as the manifestation of “the Lord’s favor” was, in effect, his revelation to his family and friends that he was the Messiah and his announcement that the exclusivity of God’s favor was not now nor ever in effect. He honored them with this good news knowing it would be hard to understand, and he gave them tough medicine of God’s universal love that they would understand and reject.  

 

The Villagers might have adjusted a little more easily to the good news part if he had not delivered it with the tough medicine, that God loved all people inclusively.  The year of the “Lord’s favor” had long been expected but is always hard to believe or accept when it finally arrives.  It disrupts the status quo and certainly, the tough medicine that the favor of God that was expected just for them had to be shared with others was received by them as blasphemy.  It was as if Jesus had put a grenade down on the floor of synagogue. To point out that two the greatest prophets of all Jewish history, Elijah and Elisha, healed gentiles during times when none in Israel were healed, just could not be allowed to stand. They didn’t take any time to ponder this statement before they, filled with rage, chased him to the cliff on the edge of the village to be killed.  This event foreshadowed Christ’s death and resurrection. It has also foreshadowed the death of tyranny and the resurrection of humanity in many ways ever since.

 

Jesus got the message across, clearly, to the villagers, but I do not think it mattered much to them what he said about “prophets and hometowns”. There was not any latitude within this prophet’s home to be accepted unless he acted as he always had and performed some miracles.  They probably did not think that the prophets they embraced were not popular in their time and probably did not actually notice that Elijah and Elisha said and did things that these villagers would ram them off a cliff as well. The people of Nazareth promptly proved Jesus right.

 

We have examples of this in our own not too distant past, World War I and II heroes who happened to be black returned home knowing that they were heroes and expected a different reception than the one they got. In WWI, they came home not expecting total change but still expected improvement. They also came home less willing to take the harassment that was normal when they left and when they returned home. There was no appreciation at home for these black soldiers.  They had fought and risked their lives for freedom and for their country, now they wanted it at home. 

 

Black veterans were persecuted on a criminal scale after both wars.  After WWII, black veterans, like Hosea Williams, Medgar Evers, Charles Sims and Ernest Thomas were heroically determined to make the democratic freedoms for which they fought, relevant to the democratic liberation of black people at home.  Well, home towns can be punishing, but they are also the launching pads for heroes and prophets.  At the Memphis’ sanitation workers strike on February 1st, 1968. The streets were filled with men carrying signs, “I AM A MAN”.   The black soldiers were not carrying those signs, but those words were emblazoned on their faces and their hearts.

 

The “year of the Lord’s favor” has a rich and complicated history, throughout the prophets, especially in Isaiah and also in Leviticus where the cycle of the Jubilee year is described five times in four verses.  Jubilee, the divine requirement of redemption of the slaves and the debtors was found in the person of Jesus.  Jubilee is an emblem for the Kingdom of God which has come near in the person of Jesus. What Jesus left out from his Messianic/Jubilee announcement in Luke is the older texts prediction of the vengeance of the Lord.  Jesus is the living embodiment of God’s will that God’s favor is for liberty of the captives, for good news to the poor, the recovery of sight to the blind and to let the oppressed go free. The good news is here. Jesus blessed the Nazarenes with the Good News and he survived their violent reaction and then left them to digest his announcement and to make their decision to follow him or not.

 

Many of us who are acquainted illness know that that the prescriptions for acute illness are often unpleasant.   We have to endure the distractions from our lives that illness insists upon.  We have to endure medical regimes which are sometimes expensive and painful.  Worse, we do not know if any of it will do any good.  We may have to deal with a fearful sense that God is not with us. Yet, in our deepest suffering, God regularly appears to revive our spirits, to give us the experience of divine love and to bring us hope for all possible healing. The prescriptions for an ailing world also require some tough medicine.   We need to develop a desire and plan for the well-being of the world, not just our own personal health.  We need to look honestly at our personal misery and at our role in the misery of the world at large.  Our health is more than our physical health; it is our mental and spiritual health. How we are, the substance of whom we are, has a big impact on the people who are close to us and whom are far away.

 

Let us see if we can touch the child within us who knew something important at a very young age about being.  Let’s look closely at ourselves and make honest self-assessments; let’s also make honest assessments about how we are doing nationally as a world leader with has gargantuan impacts on planetary health.  We are not miracle workers, but God has given us the ability to yearn for the year of God’s favor, to reach out to the gift offered and then which allows us to receive it. Somehow, by God’s grace, miracles occur.  Let us not be the villagers in any case, small or large in our lives, let us follow Jesus path towards the Jubilee, towards the Kingdom of God.

 

 Christ proclaimed the year of God’s favor and he set it in motion.  We are his instruments with his help to complete it. As we acknowledge in The Lord’s Prayer, “thy will be done”, let us say. Amen. Amen.

(Luke 3:15-17, 21-22) “In the Quiet places, God Appears”.

Epiphany is the time of revelation of the incarnation of Christ.  It was inaugurated by the presence and gifts of the magi, and, now, decades later, it is manifested by Jesus’ baptism by John in the river Jordan.  It was preceded by the announcement of the coming of the Holy One of God through Mary, in the birth of Jesus in the manger.  That night, under that one startling and super bright star and the caress of the starry night, the Son of God arrived among us in the quiet of a stable. Surrounding all of it was the deep quiet of cosmic and earthly beauty accompanied by the heraldry and the orchestras of heaven. That night, so blissful that we hear no talk of cold or the smells of the odors of animal

dung or feel the terrors of the murderous Herod. We see only the glory of that sweet fortifying and sanctifying night.

A lot of time has passed from Jesus’ birth to his baptism and whatever that interval may have included, there must have been ordinary family meals, playing with friends, working very hard all punctuating the routines of the mundane life of Jesus’ family in the Palestinian village.  At the baptism by John, all Jesus’ life has come to a vortex on that special day in his 30th year while standing in line with many who were waiting for John’s baptizing and preaching on the banks of the thin stream of the Jordan River framed by the flaming, Jericho desert.

John and Jesus’ destined prophetic roles have been transforming them and those around them from the moment of their mother’s meeting in celebration to this day.   How John and Jesus’ decided to be in this particular place at this particular time is not known to us, but we can assume a few things…it was close to Jerusalem; it was at the sacred river; it was where religious sects retreated; it was somewhat away from watchful eyes. A few have surmised that Jesus and John may have been associated with the hermetic society of the Essenes embracing self-abnegation and preparing for the risks of being prophetic preachers for the coming Kingdom of God.  These harsh disciplines were a means to concentrate energy for their vocations to save God’s people. 

On this particular day, Luke tells us that John had already been arrested and on his release was back at the baptizing vocation. Clearly, this not for the fun of self-sacrifice or risk, it was all for God. He wanted to save them all, even Herod and Herodias, even if it meant arrest and beheading, which it eventually did.  His call to repentance and baptism had the people all stirred up, had the people wondering if he was the Messiah, and had the royals wondering if he was a threat to their luxuries and power.  

The people gathering at the Jordan to hear John’s preaching and to be baptized in repentance wanted to know if John was the Messiah.  However, John steadfastly insisted that he came baptizing with water, but the One who comes after me will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  The One sent to bring in the Kingdom of God will have his winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.  With more passionate words, he exhorted the people to prepare for the One to come.  We call it the Good News, but I have always thought everyone was being honest that the good news would evoke a lot of fear in a lot of people.  His fire and zeal for righteousness led him to criticize Herod for marrying his brother’s wife.  It even frightened Herod and certainly threatened Herodias, who rewarded him with imprisonment, and late, with beheading.  There was no lack of courage from John, and, his fearlessness along with his preaching must have inspired more than a few.  His fearlessness and his certainty about another one to come who was the charism of God had to have really set the people’s hearts beating when John preached about the One to come baptizing with the Holy Spirit and fire.

There were, however, many expectations and many different views on the change that John said was coming.  To some, it was the best of times, and to most, it was the worst of times.  For the likes of Herod, his court and the apparatchaks of the religious establishment who curried favor with Herod, it was the most fearful of times.  They had a lot to lose if they embraced righteousness.  John said they had more to lose if they did not choose righteousness.  Being of limited imagination, they could not imagine anything worse than not having what they had.

There were many Hebrews who expected that the One to come would be a military hero in the mold of King David who would rout out the Romans the puppets of Herod’s royal establishment. There were others who saw God coming and bringing in the Kingdom of God in a larger cosmic tumult resulting in a judgment that would rid the world of sin. Hence, many saw the messenger as necessarily the One. Very few, would have guessed that the “One” would come among them for baptism and be the carpenter, Joseph’s son, from Nazareth.  In Jesus, they saw no winnowing hook; they saw no holy water or fire, they just saw this man, this quiet man who waited last in line.  They saw him kneeling in prayer.  They might have seen the heavens open, but does not happen all the time?  They might have seen “something like a dove”, but aren’t they everywhere, even in the desert? The deserts around Jericho are, after-all, major avian migration routes from Africa to the north.

That fateful day of baptisms at the Jordan when Jesus came with the others to be baptized was not unusual in any way but the usual highly unusual presence of John.  Luke does not directly speak to anyone actually witnessing hearing God’s blessing of approval and love upon Jesus as other evangelists do.  So, we have to assume that John and the crowds did not here God’s approving blessing on Jesus. What we do know is that Jesus heard and received confirmation that he was God’s Son, and was the Servant of the Lord, and the Messiah prophesied in Isaiah 42.   There, that day, at thirty years old, in prayer, Jesus began his ministry.  Until the cross, every important event of his ministry was covered in the quiet of prayer.  What was going to matter from now one, was not what everyone else thought about whom the Messiah was, it was whom Jesus knew he was and how he a man in divine light walked quietly and powerfully and completely tuned into the Spirit of God and into the spirit of the humans he came to save. What was going to happen, would surprise everyone, but the One who was baptized by John and the One who prayed at the river.

Every Gospel account introduces Jesus’ need for retreat, quiet and prayer, but Luke is particularly focused on Jesus and prayer.   From his baptism, to his selection of his disciples, to his healings, to the prayer of revelation on the Mt. of Transfiguration, to his prayers for Simon, for his crucifiers, Jesus was in prayer.  In prayer, God’s voice was heard on the mountain by Peter, James and John.  Love ruled the day, splashing like everlasting water all over that hot desert and would henceforth everywhere Jesus was present in bodily form or in the spirit of prayer.

The One who came this day with Spirit and with Fire was the One who came for us to make us new; not only to console us but to strengthen us for the journey, to redeem us for Heavenly life and to prepare us for the Holy One to call us by name. In every baptism since Christ’s, we are named and marked as Christ’s own forever.

We baptize new members of the church because John and Jesus baptized.  Every baptism we celebrate in our church is an occasion for an epiphany, a revelation of our union with the Trinitarian God.  We pray and we make promises to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The sponsors and infants, the children and the adults come into our midst to receive our prayers, promises and to receive the holy water of baptism administered by the Holy Spirit. Through the laying on of hands, the sprinkling of water, through promises, we are buried with Christ in his death and rise to new life by the Holy Spirit.  We share in Christ’s resurrection and are reborn by the Holy Spirit and a new instrument of God’s peace comes into our community and into the world to answer and fulfill God’s call to the favor of God.

Every time we baptize a baby, a child, a middle schooler or an adult, let us align ourselves with the candidate when we renew our vows to relinquish our attachments to that which is not God. Let us renew ourselves in prayer and in the reminders of our baptisms in the sharing of the Holy waters of baptism.  Let us bless and approve of the baptismal candidate as God did for his Son, so that, we too, can anoint the candidate with our love and approval, so that they will know that not only is God pleased with them, but that we are also well pleased with them.   Let us take our baptismal candidates under our wings so that they may know the love among us in the covenant community that assures us of God’s eternal grace. Through the witnessing of baptism and through the prayerful renewal of our vows, let us pray for the implantation of the spirit within us and among us to renounce private and system sin as we announce the power of love of Christ in the world. Amen.

 

(Matthew 2:1-12) “God Manifests in our Lives also”

Happy Epiphany Day.  The feast of illumination – where we announce God’s light as revealed and radiated throughout all of creation. During this celebration, we remember three important moments of Jesus’ life. The visit of the wise men, the baptism of Jesus and the Wedding at Cana in Galilee.

In today’s Gospel, we heard about the wise men. I wonder what they saw in the sky that first night. What was it that got them thinking? What was it that motivated them to pack and begin a journey to who knew where? Something had been revealed to them. But what was it? Was it in the sky, in their mind, in their heart?

We don’t have much historical information about these wise men and their journey. St. Matthew says they came from the East. Some have speculated they were from Persia. We like to think that there were three of them, but St. Matthew doesn’t say that, and the number has changed throughout the church’s history; 2, 3, 4, 8, even 12. We call them Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar but those names didn’t come about until the seventh century. And what about “the star?” It has been viewed as a supernatural phenomenon, just a regular star, a comet, or sometimes as a conjunction or grouping of planets.

Once again, the magicians were off following this light in the sky, desperately trying to keep their eye on it to not lose track.  And then suddenly, the star stops.  And joy moves across their body like goosebumps, for they know the child is near.  Upon entering the house to which this divine light points, they find the child, swaddled up in his mother’s arms and immediately they kneel before him and offered him gifts for royalty.  Gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, for they knew they were in the presence of their new king.  That evening one of them had a dream, telling of Herod’s plot to kill all infants in the town of Bethlehem in order to prevent this rumored newborn king from taking his throne.  In the morning, they took a different path back to their country; they could not return to King Herod and his leadership.

Two paths. One of darkness and death; one of light and life.  The Kingdom of Herod and the Kingdom of God.   Two kings, one light -this divine star which points to God’s universal desire for the best possible future for God’s people. Where does this star lead these magicians, these non-Jewish spiritual leaders of a different faith?  It does not lead to the kingdom of Herod.  No, that is the kingdom of darkness and death.  Herod, like Pharoah, is a tyrant.  Lord of oppression and bondage.  So hungry for power and wealth, so self-serving that he takes to play from Pharaoh’s handbook, and orders the murder of all infants in Bethlehem.  No, this is not God’s intention for the world.  Instead, this light of God moves throughout the sky and stops over the house of Mary and Joseph, shining a light upon baby Jesus, as if to say, “Over here.  This is the way.  Let him be youy knew king.  Follow him and you will see God’s desire for this world.”

This anonymity and lack of historical information is a reminder that this story, this Epiphany journey, is not just the wise men’s journey; it is everyone’s journey. The truth of sacred scripture is never limited to or contained only in the past.

I don’t know what they saw in the sky, that first night. I don’t know what was in their minds. I don’t know what was in their hearts; what they felt, dreamed, or longed for. But I know that there have been times when we each have experienced Epiphany; times when our night sky has been lit brightly, times when our minds have been illumined, times when our hearts have been enlightened. Those times have revealed to us a life and world larger than before. They have been moments that gave us the courage to travel beyond the borders and boundaries that usually circumscribe our lives. Epiphanies are those times when something calls us, moves us, to a new place and we see the face of God in a new way; so human that it almost seems ordinary, maybe too ordinary to believe.

That’s what happened to the wise men. They began to see and hear the stories of their lives. Something moved within them and they began to wonder, that their lives were part of a much larger story. Could it be that the one who created life, who hung the stars in the sky, noticed them, knew them, lived within them, and was calling them? Could it be that the light they saw in the sky was a reflection of the divine light that burned within them, that burns within each one of us?

To consider these questions is to begin the journey. That journey took the wise men to the house where they found the answer to their questions in the arms of his mother, Mary. We may travel a different route than the wise men did but the answer is the same.

Yes, Yes, Yes. God notices us, knows us, lives within us, and calls us. God is continually revealing himself in and through humanity, in the flesh.

Maybe it was the day you bathed your first grandchild and saw the beauty of creation and the love of the Creator. Or that day you said, “I love you” and knew that it was about more than just romance or physical attraction. Perhaps it was the moment you really believed your life was sacred, holy, and acceptable to God. Maybe it was the time you kept vigil at the beside of one who was dying, and you experienced the joy that death is not the end.

These are the stories of our lives, epiphanies that forever change who we are, how we live, and the road we travel. They are moments of ordinary everyday life in which divinity is revealed in humanity and we see God’s glory face to face.

(John 6:24-35) It’s the Message, Not the Meal, that Counts

“do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life…”

“i am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”   

What powerful messages!

I believe that we are all born into this world with a hunger, a yearning: 

To be fed

To be comforted, held in the arms of one who loves us

I think we also long to be connected, to be one, with each other and with our source.and if we’re aware of our yearning, we spend the rest of our lives trying to find the nourishment, the comforting, and the oneness that lasts and distinguish it from things that may be a temporary “fix,” but aren’t lasting.

That’s not an easy task!

 one of my earliest opportunities to learn that lesson happened when i was 3 years old.

I was in my parents’ bedroom when i saw it, the most beautiful purple container—a deep purple with a curved shape. I dragged a chair over and climbed up to the dresser to get closer.  I saw the purple bottle, picked it up,

And took a deep drink of my mother’s evening in paris perfume.

 trust me, it did not fill me in the way i thought it would.

In fact, i’m still trying to figure out how something that looked and smelled so good could taste so bad!

The gospel passage we just heard speaks to our yearning, to our  hunger and thirst.

It also gives us some clues on how to find the nourishment that doesn’t end.  

The story deepens if we scroll back in the book of john and add a couple of things that happened the day before the part we just read.

On that day, jesus had taken a small amount of fish and bread and fed 5,000 people.

Later that night, he went to join his disciples who were in a boat caught up in stormy weather, and he walks on the water to reach them and reassures them that they are safe. 

In short, jesus has been pretty busy.

And now some of the people who had shared in the fish and bread have been searching for him.  Jesus is aware that they are basically looking for another meal, and he calls them on it. 

He says, you didn’t notice the signs i gave you.

Basically, they missed his message.

 and it’s the message, not the meal, that matters.

Javier, in his own message in the bulletin last sunday, and elizabeth, who preached that day, both suggested that part of what took place in feeding all those people might have been this:  when a boy in the crowd offered up the food he had brought for himself to be shared, then others began to do the same thing.

So, jesus’ message might have been this: 

There is “enough” for all of us, even when we are afraid that things are scarce.  But it only works if we are willing to share enough of what we have with those who have none.  “share what you have.”

And the story about jesus walking on water: i am not a scripture scholar by any means, but what strikes me about that event isn’t how jesus joined his disciples, through a miracle on the water.  It’s what he did—namely, he showed up at a frightening time and said, “i am.  Do not be afraid.”  Do not be afraid. He used that phrase so many times, that i have to think it’s one of his most important messages has for us.

I don’t know about you, but i have to admit that i identify with the folks who were trailing after jesus, those who didn’t take in his  message.

 so often i get my shoe laces tangled up chasing after something that i think will fill me or satisfy me, when i’m actually running in the wrong direction! 

I suspect that i’m not the only one here who struggles with that.

There are lots of things that can derail us, throw us off track so that we miss the things that matter most, things that are lasting.  Those derailers are unique to each of us. 

Believe me, i have many!

Like letting my “to do list” dictate how i should spend my time,   telling me that getting the dishes done beats out taking a walk to look at the sky and appreciate the flowers.  (the fact is that there probably won’t be headlines in the washington post announcing “messy kitchen at barb and kathy’s house”!)

Sometimes i miss what matters because i’m in too much of a hurry to take time to listen to someone.

Or when i keep feeding my anxiety about how something is going to turn out.  You know, i suspect that my family invented the concept of useless, unnecessary worrying.  As if we thought that by worrying hard enough over something, we could keep bad things from happening. 

So, i ask you, and i ask myself: 

What are the things that distract you from “food that lasts?”

What are the things that really matter to you?

What experiences, what people have brought you nourishment that has really stayed with you?

What fills you with light

With awe

With love

With a sense of peace

Wouldn’t it be good if we worked at choosing to be with those things?

 i re-learned 2 things in this past year, that i think we all know.       Kathy and i took many of the things we owned and gave some to family members, but mostly donated them as we got ready to move to a smaller place, a rental apartment.

First, i learned that our “stuff,” much as we may love it, really isn’t that important.  We knew that, but, once we started letting go of it, we realized how attached we can become to some things. 

The second is that what does matter is relationship, not just with family and people we know, but with total strangers.  A part of us hungers for being connected with other people.  Again, i knew that, but i never realized how many opportunities we have to do that with people we don’t know. 

We are living in an apartment building that has wonderful diversity.  And kathy and i have had a lot of special moments of what i would call “elevator connections.”

You never know who you’re going to find in an elevator, or who might get on with you at the next floor.

For instance, there was the “flower guy”

He was holding a huge bouquet of flowers, when we joined him on the elevator, and when we asked him, “who is the lucky person?” 

He said, “my wife,”

We asked “is it a special occasion?”

“no, it’s just that she didn’t feel good at all this morning.”

“boy are you ever good medicine!” We said. 

Weeks later, we got on the elevator, and i heard a male voice say, “i’m the guy with the flowers, and this is my wife.”  We had a conversation about how lucky each of them felt to have the other.  You know, you can get a lot done in an elevator, even if you’re together for just 3 floors!

Young couple

On another occasion, a young couple got on the elevator with us, and kathy (my beloved extrovert) said to the tall young man, “you look like my grandson.” (the grandson is 6’ 3”).   The woman standing next to him turned to kathy and said, “i was on the elevator with you once, and you said i looked like your granddaughter.” We all laughed, including kathy, and i told them, “she carries 9 grandchildren with her in her heart all the time, so she’s seeing people she loves in you!” And you know, i think that’s true!

And every time we have seen that couple, well,  it just feels good. 

The asian woman

Sometimes, you don’t even have to talk:  i was out walking one morning and saw an asian woman doing a walking tai chi with gentle, graceful movements.   She smiled at my frantic anglo power walk and imitated me.   And i followed suit with a fairly pitiful attempt at tai chi.  Neither of us could speak the other’s language, but there was a lot of smiling and laughing.   

Two days later, i saw her again, and, you know, we were both really delighted.   She waved me over, and the next thing i knew, she pulled out her iphone and we were taking selfies!

All of this without a word.  That moment held such a sense of surprising connectedness, that it made my day. 

I haven’t seen her since.  There’s a hampton inn nearby, so maybe she was a tourist here on a brief stay who wanted to get a picture of a crazy american.  But i don’t think so.

I prefer my version of the story, and i’m stickin’ with it, because

I think i have learned that if we really pay attention, we will recognize and appreciate the oneness that we already are with each other.

 

There is another part today’s gospel that really strikes me.

I have to confess here that, when it comes to the confusing idea of the trinity, i have always been a “holy spirit” kind of gal. 

I have had to struggle to “get jesus.”  In fact, when the people in the methodist church i grew up in asked me if i “got” jesus, i wanted to run as fast as i could in the opposite direction!

So, i was purplexed by part of this passage we heard today:

When the people in the crowd ask him:  how do we do god’s work,

Jesus says “believe in the one he sent” what does that mean?

What does it take to believe in him?

And what does it mean when he says “i am the bread of life.  Come to me, and i will give life to you.”

How do we “come” to him?

I think it means that we don’t only imitate him, by trying to live our lives the way he lived his.

But we take in his message.  We take him in.

To take in his message and absorb it in such a deep way that it becomes more than just words.

Hear some of his messages now:

Share what you have

Love and take care of one another

Don’t be afraid

Know that you are deeply loved

We “consume him” somehow—not literaly, but as a metaphor,

And it changes us.  It becomes part of us.

So, let us feast on his simple, but powerful message,

And we will feel fed, comforted and loved, and connected to each other, to our loving source, and to the rest of creation.

Because i think that’s how jesus gives us life.

Amen