Sermons That Work

Embracing the Mission, Feast of the Epiphany – 2010

January 06, 2010

The plot is familiar. It could well be a contemporary tale. We meet a grasping dictator, determined to hang on to power at all costs, paranoid and bloodthirsty.

We meet determined seekers after truth, who although without “power” in the normal sense, are possessed with faith and adventure to seek and to find.

We meet innocent, humble people caught up in events they cannot control, their lives and futures imperiled by politics and ambition.

In the midst of a story, which could have come to us on CNN today, we meet God, not in power and might, but in vulnerability and peril. Perhaps this is the image that gives us the most problem.

If we are to pass on a message, get enthused by that message to the point that we break out of our Episcopalian reserve, we want that message to be powerful. We are a “get things done” culture. We just can’t stand weakness. We worship success. Even our sermons must work!

The wise men followed a star, braving Herod’s wrath, to find the coming King. What we don’t know is what they said about Jesus when, avoiding Herod, they went home. The end of their search was a young mother, with a young helpless child. How inappropriate their gifts to the child must have seemed, offered not as they must have assumed to a King’s son, or a High Priest’s child, but to someone who seemed very ordinary in a time when rank and class were definitive.

And so it is with us so often. When our faith seems to fail, when our expectations of Jesus or his Church are disappointed, we go our way, silent about the king/priest/savior – or grumbling at his lack of power.

Herod killed the young babies in his murderous paranoia. Why didn’t God use his power to stop that massacre? Daring not only to seek, but to find and to proclaim a vulnerable Savior, a vulnerable God, whose life gifts, the riches of gold, the sweet savor of incense are defined in the deadly ointment of myrrh, is indeed a step of courage.

Yet if Epiphany is a season of evangelism, of Good News telling, it is all about daring to have faith in a vulnerable Jesus who shares our grief, our torment, our sufferings, and redeems life not by power or magical intervention, but by bearing our lot even through death.

The Early Church defied the Roman Emperor, asserting that his claim to universal power was bogus. Jesus is Lord! By the odd power of word and deed, they overcame all the power and might of the greatest empire the world had known. “See these are they who turn the world upside down,” it was said of the first Christians, few of whom came from privileged or powerful backgrounds.

The Christ child defies tyrants, bullies, those who use wealth, prestige, class, national chauvinism, with the eternal power of his gentle love. We too are to brave and defy worldly power as we seek Jesus, following our stars. When we find him, we are called with great joy to “Go tell” the Good News that God is King, and in his good time, His will is to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

May we today consecrate ourselves anew to the work of the church, the church in this place. God’s plan for the world, and God’s plan for each one of us challenges the sort of power boasted of by “rulers and authorities.” It is our task to issue the challenge. We can do no better than embrace the mission described by St. Paul when he wrote:

“Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given to me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”

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Christopher Sikkema


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