January 10, 2016
Anthem: Go Tell It on the MountainSenior Choir
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
By now we know the story. Magi, astrologers, pagan scribes from the East, following stars and finding not Jesus, but Herod, because they go asking directions from the wrong people. And Herod, fearing the rising of a new rebellion, plans evil and violence, and carries it through upon innocent children a few verses later.
But the magi, these wise men, are guided by a star, and are led to go home by another way by a dream. This is not how the church normally operates. We like the budget numbers in front of us, we do a cost/benefit analysis, a risk assessment, we wonder what the neighbors will say, and then we do some fraction of whatever it was we initially planned.
And I get it. I do the same. I have been on scene enough at car crashes to know that physics does not accept excuses. Gravity and momentum do not just stop when it is convenient.
While that is true, it is also good to remember what our own Pham Nguyen said a few years ago up here in a sermon. He reminded us that we can see millions and millions of colors with our eyes. But of the whole electromagnetic spectrum, those millions of colors only account for .000001% (or less depending on how you want to measure it) of the whole spectrum. So we can be as sure as possible within the range of our ability to see and hear and think and feel, and still only have a tiny, tiny fraction of what is really going on within our range of experiencing and understanding. As Paul says, “Now we see as if in a mirror dimly.” For this and other reasons, seeking certainty is not a road so much as a cul de sac.
Waiting on the Holy Spirit, asking for God to reveal to us what we need, what we are called to do, is difficult. It is like following stars and listening to dreams. Recently, talking to some church members, they were somewhat depressed about the giving in our church. And I understand that. We have run deficit budgets for years, and nothing drastic has happened because the church had the foresight years ago in the flush years to put a lot into savings. But we have run out of savings, yet we are still trying to live as though nothing drastic will happen.
In such a time, it is easy to get depressed. Not just as members, but as boards and committees. Well, we have cut all our expenses as far as we can, and if we can just be faithful in doing whatever it is that we have always done, we can keep doing what we have always done.
Looking at the budget, it is easy to translate those numbers into “don’t risk, don’t try, don’t innovate, because then we could really be in trouble.”
But the church is not in the no-risk, non-innovative, non-trying business. We are in the loaves of bread business. We are in the gather them in business. We are in the love your neighbor business. We are in the changing lives business, the singing praise business, the lamenting and praying business, the glory of God business, the following Jesus business.
Ultimately we are in the faith and hope and love business. We are not in the look at the budget and shut down business. We are in the live the Good News and God will provide through you and me business. But this is hard. This is like following stars and listening to dreams when it is easier to go check in with the certainty and business-as-usual world of Herod.
Emily C. Heath, a wonderful pastor at First Congregational UCC in Exeter, New Hampshire, has a new book coming out soon called “Glorify.” One passage says it better than I can:
“Hope is messy business. It’s messy because here is what hope does: it makes you change your plans. Hope makes you go from someone who is walking to the tomb of their friend to perform one of the saddest final acts of love imaginable to someone who is running from the graveyard believing that maybe, just maybe, what that man in white said is true. Maybe Resurrection is real. You go from accepting as inevitable the worst case scenario to believing in the possibility of new life. You also go from the comfort of complacency, to the affliction of knowing there is something better waiting. Resurrection is joyful. Eventually.”
Physics accepts no excuses. If the church runs out of money, God does not drop by the ATM and put more in.
The Holy Spirit is at work in this place, and the glory of the Lord has shined upon us.
So we can worry ourselves into a pit of despair, or we can be about discipleship. Or as Jesus puts it:
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:25-33)
Thanks be to God. Amen.