Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Follow by Email

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Feast of St. Timothy, 2017

St. Timothy, 2017
Isaiah 42:5-9
Acts 15:22-26, 30-33, 16:1-5
John 10:1-10
Psalm 112:1-9

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

When I was a child, there was this particular book my friend and I would read to each other all the time.  It was called “Tikki Tikki Tembo,” and was kind of based on nothing but the creativity of the writers, but presented as an explanation for why people in a particular culture have shorter names these days.   The basic plot goes like this.  In a society that honored elder sons, the first child gets a name with a dozen or so difficult words in it, while a little brother might have  a name like, Joey.  So, this one older boy has a ridiculously long name starting with Tikki Tikki Tembo, and one day he falls into a well.

The little brother runs to get help, but by the time he gets to his mom, he’s so out of breath that he can’t say the entire name, and the mom won’t listen until he says it properly, out of respect for his elder brother.  This pattern repeats with other characters until eventually, the man with the ladder (who keeps falling asleep while the younger boy tries to say the name) comes and rescues the older brother, whose name then gets shortened so that things like this don’t happen again.

I was reminded of this book when thinking about this morning’s Gospel reading.  Jesus begins with a multilevel metaphor: "Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers." And then we hear, “Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.”

And I picture Jesus just looking at them and hearing the sound of crickets.  So, Jesus lops off a few sentences.  “So again Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture'.”  A little shorter and simpler.  But do they get it?  We can’t really tell.

Just to be sure, at that point, I think Jesus would’ve done well to just point at himself and say, “GATE.  That’s me.  The Gate.”

We often get distracted by lofty words and carefully constructed metaphors, and the Gospel of John certainly gives us those.  But sometimes, it’s best to cut through all the poetry and just make the point you want to make.  GATE.  Jesus is the Gate.  Don’t be distracted by all the words that surround the main point.  Jesus is the gate.

But we also get distracted by the distortions, the strangers' voices.  Jesus comes to us today, saying, “All who came before me are thieves and bandits.”  Like the sheep in his analogy, there are all sorts of other voices coming at us, voices other than the voice of Jesus.  Voices that offer theological, social, and political twisting of the main message.  But, as Jesus said, his sheep “will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.”  I know that we cannot help but look at shiny objects, or to turn our heads toward the loudest voice in the room, or be distracted by the threat of someone climbing over the wall into our pen.  At which point, we need for Jesus to point at himself and say to us, “GATE.  I am the Gate.”

And notice what Jesus says about the gate.  The gatekeeper opens the gate.  He doesn’t say anything about closing the gate.  And this is important.  In fact, this is the most crucial thing about this text: Jesus is the Gate that gets opened.  This metaphor only really takes off when you consider what a gate does.  A wall keeps you out; a gate lets you in.  A fence keeps us separate; a gate brings us together.  A barricade makes us enemies; a gate allows for friendship. 

Walls and fences and barricades are all meant to keep us separate, to keep us isolated, to keep us from reconciling our differences.  Jesus is not a wall.  Jesus is not a fence.  Jesus is not a barricade.  Because Jesus is the Gate.

The gate is the exception in the wall.  The gate is the solution to the fence.  The gate is the joy in the barricade.  Jesus is the Gate.  And the gate has this first purpose:  TO LET YOU IN!  The gate is not part of the wall, because the wall and the gate stand opposed to each other.  They serve completely antagonistic purposes. 

And, sometimes, this word gate is translated as door.  And we get the same idea when we consider a building.  All around us in this room there are majestic stone walls, and beautiful windows.  And they look great and all, but you cannot enter God’s sanctuary through the stones and windows.  You need the door.  The whole point of the doors is to let us in.  We tend to think of doors as the thing we lock to keep people out.  But that is not the purpose of doors.  Those beautiful red doors out front stand as a reminder that this is how you get in.  This is where you find Jesus.

Throughout history, doors were painted red for different reasons.  Of course, there is the connection to God’s chosen people putting lamb’s blood on the doors so that the angel of death would pass over them.  But since the time Christians began building churches, the doors have been painted red to signify a place of sanctuary: no harm would come to one who was inside these sacred walls.  And there is also a tradition, in Scotland, of painting your house door red after your mortgage has been paid off.  When you think about it, all of these apply to us, gathered in St. Timothy’s Church on this day.  We come into God’s sanctuary, knowing that the debt of sin has been paid; we have been claimed as God’s own children; we have been redeemed by the blood of the lamb.

But, of course, that gate and door stuff is all just a metaphor.  And a powerful one at that.  Still, we know Jesus isn’t really just a gate or door, letting people in, and then getting locked at night after we’ve all left.  The metaphor gets left at the door . . . as it were.  Once we’re gathered together, Jesus meets us somewhere else.  The place where he has promised he would be.  This is my body.  This is my blood.  In the bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ, Jesus joins us in this place.

But you know what else doors do?  Doors and gates let us out as well.  As we heard in this Gospel text, “the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.”  The gate allows us entry into the sanctuary, where we are fed and nourished in Word and Sacrament.  And the gate also allows us to go back out into the world, following the voice of Jesus.

St. Timothy’s Church has been here for over 180 years, as a place of refuge, a place of hope, and a launching pad for God’s people to go out into the world proclaiming the good news of salvation to all who will listen.  May God give us the ears to hear and the wisdom to recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd as we enter into our next 180 years.

Amen.

Friday, January 27, 2017

for Stephen G. Smith

Steve Smith
Wisdom 3:1-5, 9
Revelation 21:2-7
John 14:1-6

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

In my Father's house there are many dwelling places.

We often use that quote from Jesus to console people who are grieving someone whose faith journey we’re not sure about.  To offer the reassurance that there is room in heaven for one whose faith is known to God alone.

But Steve Smith’s faith was not known only to God alone.  Far from it.  As a priest, I often find myself visiting people in the hospital.  These visits mostly involve listening, hearing what someone wants to say to a person wearing a collar.  Whenever I visited Steve . . . well, yes, I heard stories, believe me!  But he also always asked me to pray with him.  He always wanted to take communion when I visited.  I could tell that his faith was interwoven into who he was, and the stories he told me.

Steve was a solid churchman, serving on committees, fixing things, passing on his knowledge, singing in the choir.  And he told me stories about all that.  But he also told me stories about his years in the army, negotiating the bureaucracy to ensure that the families in his care got what they needed, when they needed it.  And he told me stories of his years as a union leader, standing up for workers’ rights, while also talking people out of making hotheaded decisions.  Steve Smith was what most of us would call, “a good man.”  One who does what he can, wherever he can, to make the world a little better than he found it.  But I have a hunch that Steve’s goodness flowed out of his faith in God, and Steve’s life lived in the church.  He naturally wanted to help people when he could.

When I went to visit Steve at home one morning after Christmas, he asked Carol to go get a couple bottles for us.  She came back with the last beer and a bottle of hard cider.  He let me choose, and since I hate hard cider, I drank the last beer.  (As I told my wife later that day, when a parishioner in hospice asks you to have a beer with him before noon on a workday, you drink that beer.)  It was small celebration that I will never forget, sitting with him that day.  And of course, he asked, and I prayed with him before I left.

In my Father's house there are many dwelling places.  Today I find myself more focused on that promise for you and me, than for Steve.  Because his faith was so obvious to so many of us, and his faith in God compelled him to do all sorts of things for other people.  Steve’s faith led him to work for those in his care, to stand up for those he represented, to be an exemplary husband and father, and to give his last beer to a priest on a snowy winter morning.

We can be confident that Steve has been welcomed into the arms of Jesus, where there is no suffering, where there are no tears, where there is no pain.  May God grant us the grace to know and trust that we too will one day join him in that place.

Amen.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

YEAR A 2017 epiphany 3

Year A, 2017
Epiphany 3
Isaiah 9:1-4
1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Matthew 4:12-23
Psalm 27:1, 5-13

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

I don’t know if you’ve seen or heard of the movie, “Moneyball,” so I’ll give you a brief idea of the main point of the movie.  In 2002, a young Yale grad named Peter Brand develops a new method of assessing baseball players based on their On-Base-Percentage.  It’s not all that radical, when you think about it: if a player can get on a base, there’s a chance he can score.  If a player does not get on base, he cannot possibly score.  And, it goes without saying, the team that scores the most, wins the game.

What is radical about his approach is that it flies in the face of assessing players based on their natural talent and occasional dramatic plays.  One walk-off grand slam in a year is what coaches and fans remember, as opposed to a consistent record of reaching first base.  Or, before Brand’s method changed all the rules, anyway.  Now everyone accepts this idea that On-Base-Percentage is what matters . . . Though, of course, some teams will still pay ridiculous amounts for a third baseman who sometimes has a streak of dramatic home runs, whether or not he produces in the post season, but that’s a cross Yankees fans must bear.

And, you know, deep down, we don’t want for Brand’s method to be true.  We want our teams to pick players based on drama, and showmanship, and clutch plays.  We want to see walk-off grand slams, even if it means the team never makes the playoffs.  The honest truth is, we’d take three losses for one memorable game-winning home run.  We want to see the drama, the heart-stopping come-from-behind victory.  That’s what we remember, not the long slow steady drip of games won by 1 or 2 runs.  Brand’s method may get you into the post season, sure, but who can remember any of those daily tiny wins along the way?

We have this tendency in everything, when you think about it.  We want our political candidate to win by a landslide, rather than just getting enough votes.  We remember the story of the firefighters who dramatically rescue the family from their burning house, but somebody changing the batteries in their smoke detector isn’t exactly front-page news.  We remember the big splashy meals at Thanksgiving or Anniversaries out, but it is the daily meals of pasta and grilled cheese that sustain us the other 363 days of the year.  What we remember is not the steady drip of sustenance; what we remember are the giant supposedly life-changing moments that are a flash in the pan.

We.  Love.  Drama.  I know, we all say that we prefer a steady stable world where things happen in small predictable ways, but come on.  Nobody really enjoys life-insurance actuary tables.  Not even someone who studies actuary tables.  We need stability and predictability in order to have peace in our lives, it’s true.  But we also need a little splashy drama to keep life interesting.  All of which leads us to today’s Gospel reading, from the book of Matthew.

As you may recall, Matthew’s Gospel opens with the genealogy of Jesus’ birth.  A big long list of names.  But then we get an angel appearing to Joseph, the birth of Jesus, the Wise men coming from the east, and the despotic Herod killing all the young boys.  Then we skip ahead about 30 years, and Jesus gets baptized, is pushed off into the desert, and is now suddenly walking by the Sea of Galilee calling his first disciples, as we heard in today’s reading.  We’re just four chapters in, and we’ve already had angels, a virgin birth, attempted genocide, mysterious international visitors, that scary John the Baptist eating locusts, Jesus’ being tempted by Satan, and calling four of his 12 disciples, who walk away from their jobs to follow him.  LOTS going on here!  Matthew has a flair for the dramatic, that’s for sure.  And that makes for a good story.  A memorable story.  A walk-off grand slam kind of story.

But let’s stop for a moment to consider things from the disciples’ perspective here.  Simon, Andrew, James, and John are all fishermen.  Though we like to imagine them as entrepreneurs, out there catching fish and selling them for what the market will bear, it didn’t work that way in those days.  First off, the Emperor owned the lake, and if you wanted to get fish out of it, you had to sign a lease, which meant agreeing to give the majority of what you caught to the syndicate who would then pass it up the chain in the form of taxes.  A fisherman in Jesus’ time was more like a peasant farmer than like a tuna-boat operator.  So, the first thing to remember is, these guys are peasants, not businessmen.

Secondly, these four have no idea who Jesus is.  You and I know the story, and we read back into it wearing our Resurrection Goggles.  But these fishermen are working along, catching fish and mending nets, and this stranger walks by and says “follow me,” and they follow him.  I hate to sound cynical, but this is ridiculous!  Again, we tend to imagine the disciples carefully considering whether or not they should follow God in the flesh, and then reasonably conclude that they should give up their business and follow the Savior of the world. 

But, we need to remember, they have no idea how the story ends.  They have not seen one miracle, one healing, one anything.  And, yet, BAM!  They drop their nets and follow him.  They walk away from the predictable drudgery of their lives to follow someone they just met.  They leave their families behind and start following a stranger passing along the shore.

And.  We.  Love.  This!  We love it so much that we want to have a story like this for ourselves.  We want to hear the testimony of friends who have big dramatic conversions.  We want to hear stories from people who once were lost, but now are found, were blind but now they see.

And, I imagine, many preachers this morning will be using this text to make people uncertain whether their conversion to Jesus was dramatic enough.  How can you know you are saved if you haven’t given up everything to follow Jesus?  How can you know you’re truly following Jesus if you haven’t stopped mending your net and walked away from your friends and family to begin a new life following Jesus?  If you don’t have a dramatic story to tell, how can you be sure?  . . . Which leads us back to baseball.

We remember the big dramatic grand slam that wins the game.  But what wins the season is the slow steady drip of getting on base, one inning at a time.  We remember the big splashy once-a-year meals by candlelight or in fancy restaurants, but what sustains us are the regular, predictable nightly meals of home-made soups and boring casseroles.  We remember the exciting stories of firefighters saving families from near-death disasters, but what keeps us safe is changing the batteries in our smoke detectors.  And, though we love to hear a story about some former drug-addict criminal who is now a missionary in Tonga, what keeps the gospel alive is the steady day-to-day conviction of people who believe just a little bit more than they disbelieve. 

The mark of faith is not how dramatic your conversion was.  The mark of faith is the slow steady drip of one day at a time, one prayer at a time, one daily choice to remember your baptism, and to know that Jesus has called you to follow him on the path that leads to life.  We are suckers for a big conversion story, sure.  But you do not need to have a big conversion of faith in order to know that you are loved. 

You simply need to reach out your hands and receive the one who gives us his body in blood, the slow steady drip of bread and wine, week by week, year by year.  True sustenance over the course of your life, and the reassurance that you are loved and accepted in the biggest, most dramatic way imaginable.  So I encourage you to keep on mending your nets, but to keep trusting the one who says, “follow me.”

Amen

Sunday, January 15, 2017

YEAR A 2017 epiphany 2

Year A, 2017
Epiphany II
Isaiah 49:1-7
Psalm 40:1-12
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
John 1:29-42

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

How do you respond if someone says, “I’m in love and I don’t care who knows it!!!”   Great.  Now just put down the flowers and the box of chocolates, while the rest of us back away from you slowly.
Now think back to high school—this may be harder for some of us than for others—how do you respond when someone says to you, “Hey, I know a secret: someone likes you, but they asked me not to say anything.”  Well, can you give me a hint?  And, by the way, can you tell me where I can buy some flowers and a box of chocolates around here?

In the first example, you have someone telling you about their personal experience.  I mean, sure, you’re in love.  That’s great . . . for you.   Now run along and tell someone else the good news, would you?  No no.  I mean, it’s great for you, but I don’t see how that makes any difference for me, except that you’re going to be annoying the paint off me until this thing blows over.

In the second example, from high school, it’s all about you.  Somebody is interested in you.  Somebody likes you.  Somebody just might be waiting for you to notice them.  Well, yeah.  Show me who it is!  Tell me more about this person.  Give me details . . . what are they like?  What do they do?  Who do they hang out with?  Why do they like me?  Tell me more!  Please?

In today’s gospel, John the Baptist says this about Jesus: “I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.”  Psst!  Hey Israel, somebody really likes you!  You see?  John does not come screaming about how Jesus was made known to John, embarrassing people with gushings of his personal experience with the Savior of the world.  No, instead John points to Jesus and says, “There he is!”  It’s not about John the Baptist; it’s about Jesus.  And by “it,” I mean . . . well, everything.

Because as John points, he declares something amazing. “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  That’s right: the world.  Not just the people who could hear John; not just the people who could read John’s words 2,000 years later.  Not the churchy people, or the good people . . . nope: the world.  And it’s even better in the original Greek, because John says, “Behold the Lamb of God, taking away the sin of the Cosmos.”  Now some people can’t help adding a little extra “s” on the end of the word “sin,” including in our own Prayer Book.  But it’s not there.  The word is sin: singular, all-inclusive, nothing left out.  We want it to be “sins” because then it’s about us, and our little misbehaviors.  We want it to be the actions we do, to ourselves and others.  But that’s not what the text says.  The Lamb of God, taking the sin of the cosmos.  All of it.

And now you’re thinking, well that can’t be.  We live in a broken world, where our heroes die too young, and babies starve to death every day.  There’s plenty of sin to go around, if you ask me.  Fair enough.  So let’s set that thought aside for a minute and see what else John says.

“This is he of whom I said, `After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me’.”  After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.  What does THAT mean?  It’s like a riddle:  What kind of man comes after me, but ranks ahead of me, because he was before me?  Give up?  The answer is, the Lamb of God.  Get it?  No, me neither.  But we can look at the start of John’s Gospel for a clue.  (And, for the record, the Gospel writer John is a different John from John the Baptist.)

At the very opening of the Gospel of John we read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”  And then it continues . . .

“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”

Jesus, the Word of God, the Light of God, the Lamb of God, coming into the world, and John the Baptist recognizes Him and points to him: Behold, the Lamb of God, taking away the sin of the Cosmos.  Shows up after John, ranks ahead of John, because he was in the beginning, before John.  Heavy stuff, I know.  And I swear to you, John the Gospel writer is just a little mystical, not crazy or—you know—on something. 

Back to our Gospel text.  The first half, John points at Jesus and says, “Behold, the Lamb of God, taking away the sin of the Cosmos.”  We don’t know who’s there or who is listening, or what happens after that.  But the next day, we get round two.  Here’s John the Baptist, standing with two of his own disciples, and he says, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”  And HIS two disciples turn, see Jesus, and follow him.  John’s disciples, see him pointing to Jesus, and they leave him to follow Jesus.  That seems strange, especially because John doesn’t seem to mind.

It’s like John is pointing, saying “I’m in love and I DO care who knows it!” But he is ALSO saying to his disciples, pssst!  Somebody is interested in you.  Somebody just might be waiting for you to notice them.  John’s disciples go up to Jesus, ask a couple interesting questions, and end up following him.  But they also go and tell someone else.  And that someone is Simon, whom Jesus renames Peter, whom we might rightly call the first Pope.  And Peter . . . well Peter certainly spread the word far and wide.

So, what’s the difference between a fool in love gushing about their beloved and a fool in love with Jesus?  The answer is community.

Telling someone about your own personal romance is really just what they call “over sharing,” or TMI.  I mean, we’re all happy that you’re in love, sure, but we’d honestly rather not hear much more beyond receiving the invitation to the wedding.  Romantic love is meant to be private.  You’re in love, and it’s all about you.  Romantic love is taking away the sadness of you.

The Lamb of God is taking away the sin of the world.  It’s not about you or me.  It’s about everybody.  The world.  The cosmos.  You might be the one to announce it, but you’re making an announcement for everyone.  Behold!  The Lamb of God, taking away the sin of the cosmos.

And that gets us back to that question I left hanging a few minutes ago.  Based on our day-to-day experience, the Lamb of God has not eradicated sin from our broken world.  People are still dying in horrific ways, and sometimes the people causing those deaths are people who call themselves Christians.  If the Lamb of God has taken away the sin of the world, then he definitely missed quite a bit.  Just look at your own life and you know that this is true.  There is plenty of sin and brokenness to go around. 

BUT, as you may have noticed, the statement from John does not say that Jesus has, or will take away the sin of the world.  What John the Baptist says is, “Behold, the Lamb of God, taking away the sin of the world.”  There is no timeline.  There is no statement that he will do this, or that he has done this.  The verb is present: “taking.”  John is pointing at Jesus and saying, “That Lamb right there, taking away the sin of the world . . . right here, right now.”  When did he start?  When will he finish?  "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. . . . What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

From the beginning of time, from before there even was time, the Lamb of God is taking away the sin of the world.  Bringing life out of death.  Turning pain into healing.  From the first fatal argument between Cain and Abel, to the senseless death happening somewhere at this very moment, and every dark and confused moment in between, where sin seems to be having the last word, the Lamb of God is there, taking away the sin of the world.  From the beginning to the end.

And, as this gathered community comes to this Altar this morning, the words we will hear are, “The Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven.”  But those words are really just another way of saying this:  Behold, the Lamb of God, taking away the sin of the world!
Amen.

   

Saturday, January 7, 2017

YEAR A 2017 epiphany

Year A, 2017
Epiphany

Isaiah 60:1-6
Ephesians 3:1-12
Psalm 72:1-7,10-14

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

We three kings of Orient are.  Nice hymn, isn’t it?  First verse sets the stage that the three kings are on a journey, followed by the clever plea for the star to guide them to the perfect light.  Then each king tells the significance of his gift, and the last verse wraps the whole thing up with a theological summary of who Jesus is.  In some ways, it’s the perfect hymn to read in place of a sermon today.  It kind of says it all.

But the problem is, what it says is all wrong . . . or, at least, it’s not what Matthew’s gospel is trying to get us to see.  Forgive me if the next few minutes are just review for you, but I want to clear away a little of the folk-religion baggage that these weary travelers from the East have been burdened with.  I mean, it’s a long journey, and it’s not fair to make them carry our baggage too!

So, as we heard today, “In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage’."  Nothing about kings in there, is there?  And these men seem to be ones who study the stars.  The wisdom is as astrologers (which might be like scientists in those days).  They are not religious scholars, and they are not kings, and I’ll explain why that’s important in a minute.  But, first, why did we just sing a song called “We Three Kings of Orient Are,” straight out of the hymnal, if these guys are not kings? 

Well, the short version is, somewhere along the way, they got connected with some different scriptures where we read that kings will bow before the Messiah.  That’s the short version.  And, why three?  That’s simply because there are three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  Three gifts, three presenters.  But all Matthew tells us is that “wise men” came to visit.  Could be two of them, could be 200 of them.  So, we don’t know how many, but we do know they’re not kings.

And the reason it’s bad to make them into kings is because we already have two kings in this story.  One king is named Herod, and the other king is a baby lying in a manger . . . or, a child in a house perhaps.  One king has been put in place by the Romans and has been going crazy over time, and the other king was put in Bethlehem by God, and is the ruler over time.  The kings in this story are Herod and Jesus.  King Herod is terrified of the child King.  And the wise men from the East have come to pay homage to this baby King.  Though, “baby” may be the wrong word, since it’s quite possible Jesus is a toddler at this point.  Again, we don’t know.  The text says, “On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage.”  These men have come from the east to pay homage (or, to worship) the child who has been born king of the Jews. 

We don’t know why they have come, other than that.  For instance, is their deeper motive to form political alliances?  Or to discuss terms of some arranged marriage? Maybe they’re just curious.  Or maybe they’re testing out their prophetic chops, to see if they can still read the stars and tell when a new king has been born.  Or maybe it’s just as they say, to pay him homage . . . you know, to give him his due.  And, of course, we don’t know.

Plus, “from the East” is hardly descriptive of where they live.  Does that mean Jordan?  Russia?  China?  We don’t know.  The common thought seems to be Persia, which is like Iran to you and me.  And although all the Bibles in English call these travelers “wise men,” the word in the original language is “magoi,” which as a name only comes up in Matthew.  It does not mean “wise men.”  Elsewhere in the New Testament, you can find related words translated as sorcerer, wizard, magician, and things like that.  Again, these are not religious scholars coming to visit Jesus.  They’re pagans from Persia.  And though “Pagans from Persia” would be a great name for a band, We Three Pagans from Persia doesn’t really work as a song lyric. 

So, let’s review . . . the three kings from Orient are . . . 
Not kings. Not wise men.  Probably not three.  Likely not from the Orient. We don’t know who they are, where they came from, what their motives are, who sent them, how many they are . . . nothing.
BUT, in Matthew’s gospel, we will see a very important trend in the months ahead.  Things get flipped on their head in Matthew’s gospel.  The people who do NOT understand Jesus are the wise ones.  The people who are afraid of Jesus are the kings and people of power.  In Matthew’s gospel, it is the childish, the weak, and the outcasts who find Jesus.  These visitors from the east fit into THAT pattern.  They are not wise and powerful.  They’re pagans from Persia.  No power, no special knowledge as far as Herod and the Romans are concerned.  But they ARE just nobodies from the east . . . EXACTLY the kind of people who recognize Jesus in Matthew’s gospel!  The perfect ones to have seek him and find him.

I’ll give you some examples from other places in Matthew that help us see this . . .
Matthew 18:2-5: Jesus called a child, whom he put among them,  and said, "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”

And from the chapter after that: Matthew 19:13-15 Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them;  but Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs."  And he laid his hands on them and went on his way.
Jesus prays in Matthew 11:25 "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants.”

Throughout Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus refers to his disciples as “little faith ones.”  We always hear that as a judgment, especially when it gets translated “Ye of little faith,” but it’s not a judgment.  In Matthew, Jesus calls the disciples “little faith ones.”  And it means what it sounds like.  It is protective, endearing, mothering.  The little faith ones are welcome in the arms of Jesus.  Remember?  Let the children come to me?  Jesus in Matthew seems to ignore the wise and powerful.  His heart is directed toward the simple and weak ones.  The ones who are doing the best they can with what they’ve got.  The ones who don’t know why they follow Jesus, except that they are drawn to his radiance; they have seen his star. 

Pagans from Persia have NO standing in the land of Herod and the Romans.  They are not kings.  They are nobodies.  And they are the first ones to recognize the light of Jesus.  Isn’t that interesting?  Absolute nobodies are the first visitors to the new king.  And that is the lesson for you and me on this Epiphany Sunday.

God welcomes all who see the light.  Especially the nobodies, since they aren’t all caught up in their learning and positions of power.  The pagans from Persia saw the star because they were looking for it.  And Jesus welcomed them, however many they were, and wherever it was they were from, and for whatever reason they came.  God welcomes all who see the light.  No one is turned away.  No one’s gift is rejected.  Those who see the star of Jesus will go to the end of the earth to pay him homage, because we cannot help but be drawn to his light, wherever we’re from, and how many we are, and why ever we come. 

The point is that the little faith ones have come to worship Jesus, and that is why we know their story.  And everyone is welcome, everyone of little faith, including you and me.  Jesus invites us to come, and will never turn us away.  So, come, let us adore him.

Amen