All posts for the month January, 2013


January 6, 2013 at Saint Mark Church in Norman, OK

Isaiah 60, 1-6 + Psalm 72 + Ephesians 3, 2-6 + Matthew 2, 1-12

I wonder sometimes if those people in this story really found what they were looking for. Of course remembering that Gospels are not History but rather Theology we have to sit with this story awhile, and begin to wonder what is the inspired Matthew revealing to us, and what was the context in which he was writing.

Syrian Antioch is the place and community. Second generation Christians are the first to receive this story. They began as a strongly Jewish Christian Church, but times have changed and so has the face of that church. Gentiles are a growing majority, and to the old timers, nothing is like it used to be. There is growing identity crises, and they are beginning to see themselves as a universal church embracing all these strangers in God’s all-inclusive Kingdom. When we look at ourselves, understanding what Matthew is revealing is not too difficult nor complicated. Perhaps even more than that ancient Church of Antioch, we need to hear the challenge of this inspired story that is more about us than some characters Matthew uses to excite our imaginations with his message.

The Narrative of Christ’s birth proposes to us the very mission and vision of Jesus Christ, that gathering unto God the Father all of creation. From Shepherds to Kings, from Tax Collectors and Sinners to Fishermen and Pharisees, from the dead like Lazarus and the son of widow to the daughter of a Roman Soldier. Everyone has a place. Everyone has a call. Everyone is welcome.

But look at where we are today. Think how far we have gone from what Jesus came to accomplish. It’s almost seems worse now than before he came. Everywhere we look there is separation and alienation. Instead of making peace we make war. Walls go up instead of bridges. Instead of reaching out, “stranger danger” is the way we look at others. We keep our distance. We live in neighborhoods where everyone is like us; thinks like us, votes like us, and looks like us. We only listen to news casts that reinforce our ideologies, and thanks to 24 instant news, we wouldn’t know the difference between an opinion and a fact if it hit us in the face! Instead of conversation we have arguments. We accuse. We gossip and ridicule.  We demonize people who don’t think, act, and look like us. Polarization is the life-style of this age, and the saddest thing of all is that we are growing to accept it. We need to hear this Gospel now more than ever because it is not a cute little story of three odd wise men with their camels and their strange gifts tripping along through the desert with an unexpected stop-over in Jerusalem. This Gospel is a statement of what God expects of us in the new order that has been initiated with the birth of His only in the flesh.

The spirit of Epiphany is a celebration of our diversity all seeking God. It invites us to recognize that we are all born with a call that we must answer, a vision to follow. It means we must be willing to set out on the journey with all its risks, obstacles, detours and a few dead ends. Along the way there will be others, and we all bring our gifts, and we all follow a star. The hard part of this is picking the right star to follow. Some chase after the star of popularity, pleasure, or comfort. Some chase the star of wealth and security, good jobs, big homes, and fast cars. Others may choose a star that leads to simplicity and peace, to patience and joy, service and sacrifice.

We are going to have to decide which star leads us to Christ, and what it is we are looking for. Using a little imagination with Matthew’s story, I wonder if they might have thought there had been some mistake when that star led them to Bethlehem: little, useless, poor old Bethlehem. A no-place inhabited by poor people among whom was a couple from some other no-place in Galilee. No wonder they stopped in Jerusalem. It was a place of power and riches, a place of palaces and the Temple. Why in the world would they be led to that miserable village? But, that’s the story, and that’s the message of the Gospel: a big message to a little church finding it hard to change, embrace different kinds of people with different kinds of customs and language. It’s a big message to those in power that killing children will never make you safe and keep you in power. Poor Herod, so threatened and insecure by a baby. What a paradox this is, and yet what a truth it speaks after all these ages and generations.This story from Matthew’s Gospel only makes sense when we make it our story.; and then it comes to life not as some child’s pageant, but as a way of understanding who we are. We have followed the star of faith to this place, and we shall soon bow down in worship. We bring our gifts, and offer them to the Christ who himself is God’s gift to us. In a few minutes we shall complete the last scene of the story and go home. Hopefully, by a different way, because the journey has made us different somehow and given us some love to share, some joy to bring, and some peace to build. It may not be what we expected, but it is what we find in Christ.

January 1, 2013 at The Cathedral of Our Lady in Oklahoma City, OK

Numbers 6, 22-27 + Psalm 67 + Galatians 4, 4-7 + Luke 2, 16-21

When I was in about the 7th or 8th grade, we lived in a parish on the north side of Indianapolis with a tough old Irish pastor. I was a regular altar server not much different from these young people here. I never paid much attention to the sermons, probably much like these young people here. I think I was usually busy looking around to see where my friends were sitting and trying to get their attention or hoping they were not looking if I messed up something.

Father “Mac” as he was called thought it was cool and thought he was giving a gift to the parish by never preaching on this holy day. And the end of the Gospel, he would just look up, smile, and say: “Happy New Year”! and off we’d go to the Creed and Collection.

I’m thinking of him today and tempted to follow his example, but not quite all the way. I am working on four talks I will give later this month at a Seminary in Missouri, so there are some very specific things in my mind right now as I prepare that I thought I would simply share with you by way of a pastor’s wish for you as we begin a new year.

Mary speaks four times in the Gospels: three times in Luke’s Gospel and one time in John. Her words recorded for us and all faithful Christian people are the wonderful advise of a mother God chose for us all, and the mother God chose to form, shape, and nurture the human nature of God’s only Son.

In Luke she speaks two times to an angel. She says:How can this be? Let it be done according to your word. Then she speak during her visit to Elizabeth and says: My soul magnifies the Lord. My Spirit rejoices in God my Savior. Finally, in John’s Gospel she says to her Son. “They have no wine.”  Then turning to the wedding servants she says: “Do whatever he tells you.” Today I simply want to remind you of those words and of the wisdom they contain. Perhaps because she speaks so simply and rarely, what she says can stick with us and become for us in this new year a great source of peace.

When something goes wrong or not as planned; it is just fine to repeat her wisdom and wonder, “How can this be?”  Not suspecting that God is picking on you or punishing you; but because somehow in that change of plans God’s plan for you might be revealed. When you discover that will of God in the mess of your plans, I would suggest you remember her second and wise says: “Let it be done according to your will.” and then get on with it. When you run out of steam, get tired, or all the joy seems to be slipping out of your life, look to her, and remember that she is the first to notice when the wine runs out. Then without any hesitation, follow her sage and wise motherly counsel:  “Do whatever he tells you.”I suggest to you that if you can remember those four times and four spoken phrases, you are certainly going to have a Happy New Year everyone.