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    Jan 06, 2019

    The Feast of the Epiphany 2

    Passage: Matthew 2:1-12

    Preacher: The Rev. Nathan M. Finnin

    Series: Year C: 2019-2020

    Category: Epiphany

    Detail:

    “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.” 

    Given the prominence of “the star” in our Gospel reading this morning, I would love to talk a little bit about astronomy and astrophysics this morning. The problem is, I don’t know anything about astronomy and astrophysics. I don’t own a single book on astronomy. And my only opening to the world of astrophysics is that I know who Neil deGrasse Tyson is. Barely.

    But I do know something about journeying. And my guess is you do too. So that’s what I’ll talk about instead. The journey. Because, really, that’s what Epiphany is about. The journey we all are on, to find the divine, and the ways in which that journey forever changes us. And tucked-in to this lovely story, which we read every year, of these wise men from the East making their way to pay homage to Jesus, are truths we need to be reminded of, time and time again.

     And one of the truths is this: We need to pay attention.  The whole journey of the Epiphany was made possible because the wise men observed this mysterious star, and decided to follow it. And none of that would have happened if they weren’t paying attention. It was made possible because they were paying attention. The problem is, it’s hard to pay attention. At least, it is for me…I know that’s shocking

    Perhaps a better way to phrase that is this. It’s hard to pay attention to the right things.

    It’s easy to pay attention to the phone in your hand.  To the emails, or text messages.  It’s easy to pay attention to other people’s social media posts, and your neighbor who just got back from an amazing vacation…and, is that a new car? It’s easy to pay attention to the stock market, as your portfolio does loop-to-loops with your retirement. It’s easy to pay attention to the people in your life whose approval you think you need. And, I’m not saying some of those things are not important….

    But those things won’t bring about the change I think we all really desire. Those things won’t give our lives meaning. Those things won’t transform us in the ways we wish to be transformed.  And so in order to begin that transformation what Richard Rohr calls transcendent connection with God, we have to pay attention to the other stuff. We have to pay attention to the stuff our body is telling us. We have to pay attention to the stuff the universe is telling us. We have to pay attention to the stuff God is telling us. The problem is we have all been conditioned not to pay attention to those things.

    Because those things will likely cause disruption. Just look at the wise men. The wise men payed attention, and they ended up on this crazy journey.  Perhaps that’s the second truth we must be reminded of in this story…That the risk of paying attention is that we might have to let go.

    That we might have to let go of the comfortable. That we might have to let go of the familiar. Ruth Haley Barton calls this “the choice point that is at the heart of all spiritual journeying ”the choice point that is at the heart of all spiritual journeying….where we must leave the familiar-“with all the trappings that keep us feeling confident, secure, and in control, for places that are unknown and require humility, letting go, and moving bravely in a new direction.”[1]And that is terrifying…I get it. Trust me, I get it. But folks, that’s our call.

    We have to become willing to get uncomfortable. To become willing, as Barton says, to step out in search of a deeper experience of spiritual reality, where we don’t just talk about our desire, but we walk toward it with great intention, making concrete choices along the way.[2]That is what the wise men teach us. To step out and walk, with great intention.  Notice, however, that walking with great intention does not require us to know where we are going. Let me say that again for the folks in the back…walking with great intention, does not require us to know where we are going!

    The wise men clearly didn’t know where they were going, and they seemed to be ok with that. They simply followed the star until they got to where they were going.

    The problem was… once they got to where they were going, Jerusalem, they realized that wasn’t actually where they were going.  And I love that. How many of us have reached those certain destinations, only to realize that wasn’t where the real “it” was. That wasn’t where the “more” was. Right? You’ve gotten the job that you knew was going to do it for you, only to realize it didn’t..

    You got enough zeroes in your bank account to finally make you secure, only to realize your insecurities continued…You got the guy, or the girl, or the child that you knew was going to complete you, only to realize that as wonderful as they are, they won’t be the thing that makes you complete. Or you followed the path you thought God had for you, only to realize that there was more path left. Only to realize that the way to continue that journey is to let go of what you think it should look like. My experience has been that when I let go…when I let go of all the things I thought I knew, when I let go of all the things I thought would give me what I wanted, when I let go of the illusion of control, when I let go of the idea that I know what the journey should look like…that is when the change happens.

    That’s the story of our journey.  That’s the story of Epiphany…Of wise men, who, as Barton writes, had to leave behind priorities and personal ambition in order to take such a strange journey. Who had to leave behind kings and councils clamoring for their services, claiming that they were indispensable in crafting plans and strategies…who had to leave behind complex and pressing issues, when the star that they had been watching rose in the Eastern Sky, indicating that it was time to follow.[3]

    So the first question to you is this: What might you have to leave behind in order to continue this journey? What illusions of control, or false sense of security, or personal ambition, might you have to leave behind, in order to take this new kind of journey..

    A journey led not by the head, or the ego, but by the heart. A journey led by that divine spark, call it a star if you’d like, that arises in each of us, if only we are willing to pay attention!  And second, what gifts might you bring with you on the journey?

    Notice that nowhere are we told the wisemen only had three gifts.

    We are told they brought multiple treasure chests…And I imagine those chests were full of things that served them well along the journey. I imagine those chests were full of very useful gifts, given and shared across their trek. With each other, and with strangers.

    And I imagine when they finally arrived. When they entered the house, and bowed down to pay homage to Jesus, they knew exactly which of their gifts to share…gifts they had with them the entire time.

    That’s part of the magic of the journey. You might have to step out of your comfort zone, but you don’t do so without an enormous amount to offer God, and God’s creation. Now, I am not telling you that this journey will give you power. I am not telling you this journey will make you famous.  I am not telling you that this journey will result in us singing hymns about you.  But I am telling you that it is worth it.

    From personal experience…it is worth it. Now, my star didn’t slowly rise, as much as it took the form of a comet and crashed into me…but I’ve been learning paying attention ever since.  And in my paying attention, I’ve learned just how little I know. I’ve learned that knowing the answers isn’t what gives me peace, it’s not needing to know..

    Albert Einstein said “the most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.”

    And it is that mystery, that wonder, that capacity to dream that we celebrate through the story of the wise men.[4] A story about engaging in the mystery, and wonder, and divine dream, that will change you. And that’s the third truth from our Gospel this morning. Once you have payed attention, and learned that there is wisdom our minds know nothing of…one you have begun your journey, and learned that growth and transformation do not happen in the grand places we expect, but in the simple and humble places we find ourselves along the way… once you have had that encounter with the divine…you will be a different person. Like the wise men at the end of the story, you will be changed.

    You will see the world differently than you ever have.  You may realize that you now answer to something higher. And because of that, because of that change you may not be able to go back home the same way, even if you wanted to.

    Amen.

     

     

    [1] https://transformingcenter.org/2017/01/epiphany-2016-celebration-journey/

    [2] Ibid.

    [3] paraphrase of Barton’s description of what the wise men sacrificed to make the journey

    [4] http://day1.org/918-another_way_home