St. Matthew’s Sermon 01-06-2019


St. Matthew’s Sermon 01-06-2019

Relevant: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Isaiah 60:1-6, Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14, Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

There is a lot of background to the story of the visit of the Magi that we seldom pay much attention to; other writings in the bible that can enhance our understanding and I would like to get into some of it today.

Going way back, after Israel was established, following the exodus, God was the “king”, the ruler of the people; things were fairly quiet for quite some time. There were occasional conflicts with their neighbors; lost battles when the people didn’t follow God and victories when they did. But then the people decided they wanted an earthly king; one to lead them in battle; as if that was a better choice. God warned them about the greed, corruption of power, and cost in terms of money and young men’s lives that would come with an earthly king but they wouldn’t listen.

They got their king, Saul was the first. He managed to somewhat united the tribes into a single nation, at least a single fighting force, but it seems the more powerful he became the more war was demanded. Long story short, Saul died in battle by his own sword.

His only surviving heir, Ish-bosheth, and David challenge each other for succession of leadership and things get really messy as factions within the nation fight each other and eventually, as we all know, David wins.

But David gets a bit too comfortable as King; sending his Generals out to do the fighting instead of leading the troops himself; he has an illicit affair, uses his authority to have the woman’s husband killed… you know that story also. Yet David does, for the first time, establish Israel as a unified nation.

After David his son Solomon takes control but, like his father, has some problems keeping himself aligned with God. He married foreign women, lived lavishly, and turned to idolatry.

 The unity of the nation was short lived. As soon as Solomon died his heirs began to fight for the right of succession. This time the nation is split in two with Israel in the north and Judah to the south. Without unity, both are weakened and easily conquered by outside forces. Israel falls to the Assyrians, Judah to the Babylonians, and later come under Persian rule, and, again as we all know, Rome takes over shortly before the time of Christ.

And now we come to today’s reading.

The magi, these “wise men”, come to Herod; another incompetent, insecure, overspending king: They come from the “east” which is the land of Israel and Judah’s previous conquerors and their sworn enemies. And they’re following a heavenly sign and asking where to find the child born to become the “king of the Jews”.

Herod perceives a triple threat here; there are wealthy, powerful men from enemy territory; there’s a sign from heaven to back them up; and there’s a child out there somewhere that will grow up to challenge the right to rule Judah.

The Magi do find the child; in contrast to Herod’s reaction of fear, they’re thrilled; they leave king-worthy gifts! And, with a warning from God that protects Jesus and them sneak out of the territory and return to their own land.

But the threat of Herod is still there and with another warning God prompts Joseph to take the Holy family and find refuge in Egypt; which, by-the-way, is another former enemy of Israel, yet the treacherous journey into a potentially hostile land is a better option than remaining in Bethlehem where Jesus would have been murdered along with the other children at the command of a heartless, vicious, self-serving king.

 

Looking at this thread of information we might sense something familiar; some things that almost sound as if they could be stories from a more recent history, or even from yesterday’s newspaper. Like the perpetual cycle of war; the immoral depths some will go to in order to gain wealth and power; the corrupting influence of wealth and power on those who started out right minded; the notion that wealth and power puts the holder above the law and moral obligation; the willingness to go to any lengths, to sink to the lowest of lows to maintain wealth and power with no regard for how it affects others or even their own souls; and the need for families to leave friends and relatives behind, and flee into uncertainty, potential hostility, because it’s a better choice than remaining where they are.

Does any of this sound familiar to you?

History repeats itself, or so it is said. I prefer another version of that saying, one I think is more accurate, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” And this is what makes our faith, and the history of our faith as recorded in the bible relevant today.

The bible isn’t only the revelation of God to humanity; it’s not just the revelation of God’s will for the earth; it’s also an accounting of how God’s way is so much better than humanity left to run amuck; and how things fall apart when mankind decides to ignore the holy wisdom given them.

This accounting is done in various ways. Among them, some is the recording of actual history, some is in the form of parables: not necessarily factual accounts of historical events but stories bearing truth nonetheless; and still others are a combination of those and other genres. Yet all of it is a valuable recourse for learning from the past; learning from the trials and errors; the failures and successes of our predecessors.

These lessons have great value to us even in this modern age where many people claim otherwise. From these we can learn to not make the bad choices of our predecessors; we can learn to make the right choices; we can see the results of contemplated actions without the risk of personal trial and error; and we can stop the insanity of doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result.

 

Maybe I’m preaching to the choir, maybe you, as active people of faith, already understand all this. But beyond these walls are a lot of people who do not understand. So, there’s one more thing to be said about the importance of our history as recorded in the bible; one more thing we can gain from our study and understanding. That is; we can learn how to articulate its importance to others. Through the narratives of its content we can learn how to teach others, those outside the faith (or marginally within), not only the lessons that can be learned, but also the relevance of the stories and the relevance of God in a world that is fast losing its way.

When we do that, with the help of God, we can stop the nonsense and make our faith even more relevant for generations to come.

Amen

 

Isaiah 60:1-6
60:1 Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
60:2 For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.
60:3 Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
60:4 Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.
60:5 Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
60:6 A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD.

Ephesians 3:1-12
3:1 This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles–
3:2 for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given me for you,
3:3 and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words,
3:4 a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ.
3:5 In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit:
3:6 that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
3:7 Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power.
3:8 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,
3:9 and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things;
3:10 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.
3:11 This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord,
3:12 in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.

I elected to add vss. 13-18 to today’s prescribed reading;
Matthew 2:1-18
2:1 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.”
 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph a got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”