Windsor Community United Methodist Church
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Mike Turgeon Momentum for Life: “Surprise” 1/8/12
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. Matthew 2:1-12
Momentum for Life: “Surprise”
May I present--the 3 Wise Women!
Had they been searching for Jesus the Messiah, they would have brought with them a box of diapers, they would have cleaned the stable, and they would have made a casserole for dinner.
Surprise! Now you know...the rest of the story.
Epiphany = discovery, surprise
This is Epiphany Sunday. Epiphany is one of those five dollar words that means discovery, sudden awareness, surprise, take your pick. I’ve always thought of this Sunday as the real Sunday after Christmas. Culturally, the New Year’s weekend extends the Christmas season. In that week after Christmas you’ll find fewer cars on the freeway, more crowded coffee shops, more people calling in sick...or exhausted.
The day after Christmas this year was one of those days for my wife and I. With Christmas falling on a Sunday, it made Monday seem more ordinary than usual. A day of recovery was just the thing Chris and I were looking for, a chance to stare into space, to catch our breath from a hustle and bustle Christmas. So we went down to the neighborhood Chinese restaurant to have won ton soup for dinner. Not many customers that night so they were going to close early. And in my fortune cookie I found this:
“Wise men learn more from fools than fools from the wise.”
Ever wonder where sermon research comes from? Wherever the Spirit leads.
“The wise learn more from fools than fools from the wise.”
The foolish Herod certainly makes the case, doesn’t he? Herod is more than a fool, he is a mad man, cut-throat and ruthless. His world was dominated by fear to the point of being unbalanced.
"When King Herod heard of this new king, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him...”
It’s the way of tyrants. When an oppressive ruler is fearful, everybody better be feeling it. It didn’t take much to set King Herod off, this was one bad, twisted dude. He trusted no one, especially his family, so he murdered most of them. He perceived everybody as a threat. He was a perfect ‘stooge’ for the Romans; they looked to install local rulers they could control by fear. The foolish Herod is an open book from which we all can learn the pitfalls of living in fear.
Also in this Epiphany passage the tone from Christmas has changed, hasn’t it? Preacher Fred Craddock puts it this way – “The mood has shifted since Christmas day: exit lowly shepherds, enter learned wise men; exit humble stables, enter palaces of intrigue; exit crushing poverty, enter staggering wealth; exit angels, enter dreams.” (Thanks to Rev. John Auer from a sermon on 12/30,07)
The background scenery has changed because a spiritual breakthrough has taken place. With the arrival of Jesus on earth, the glorious reign of heaven is now with us--Emmanuel. The rigid legalism of the old law has been put on notice; shortly it will be completed in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The new law of self-sacrificing love means that we will be strong in our weakness, no longer condemned to mere power trips. The love of Christ changes our hearts, does it not? His love perfects us in our imperfection. We call it Christ’s great reversal and if we let it, this perfecting love builds spiritual momentum like nothing else:
“There is no fear in love...perfect love casts out fear...” 1 John 4:18a
Do you believe this? I believe this. You think back in history, even someone like Franklin Roosevelt probably had bible in hand when he said: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”
The power of Christ’s love is surprising and revolutionary because I must sacrifice myself for you. Who does that? I mean especially now?
When you are living your life for and on behalf of others, you will be unstoppable. But the power brokers of the old order to this day still laugh in the face of Christ’s new law of love--not because it isn’t real but because it is rarely used.
The real epiphany here--the surprise of all surprises--is that you and I must deliver this message of hope and love in the midst of despair and fear. And we don’t do this by telling people to shape up and get their act together because Jesus is watching them like a cop. That was one of Herod’s tricks.
No. We do it by how we live our lives. For most people, you are the only Jesus that people are going to meet. And know this, people don’t care what you know about Jesus, people are only concerned whether you care about them. That is how they will receive the love of Jesus.
You and I, we the church, are now the mangers in the post-Christmas period. What is being born in you? God conditions every one of us through baptism to serve God’s purpose with our gifts and our passions, that’s how Gods grace works. If you have devoted your passion to all things material in your life, you have been misled. What you decide to do with your gift and your passion on behalf of others is the delivery system for the love of Jesus Christ.
The wise men make a decision for Christ by going out Herod’s back door. We don’t have that luxury, we must face down fear with the love of Christ through the front door.
Perfect love casts out fear
ILLUSTRATION: Angus McGillivray died in a prisoner of war camp in Japan during World War II. The camp held prisoners from Australia, Britain and the U.S. These were the men who built the Bridge Over The River Kwai.
The camp had become an ugly situation, dog-eat-dog with the men stealing from each other, cheating each other over anything, scraps of food, anything to survive. It was the law of the jungle...until the news of McGillivray's death spread throughout the camp. Angus had been one of the strong ones, shocking that he would succumb. But the real shock wasn’t the fact that he died, but the reason he died.
Angus was Scottish and the Scots took their buddy system quite seriously. Your buddy was your "mucker," and each one literally believed it was up to him personally to make sure their "mucker" survived. Angus's ‘mucker’ was dying, everyone had given up on him, everyone but Angus.
Someone had stolen his buddy’s blanket, so Angus gave him his own: he told his mucker he had "just come across an extra one." Every mealtime, Angus would get his rations and give them to his friend, saying he was able to get "extra food." But as Angus's mucker began to recover, Angus collapsed, slumped over, and died. The doctors discovered that he had died of starvation complicated by exhaustion. He had been giving up his own food and shelter. He had given...everything.
As the word got around how he died, the feel of the camp began to change. Suddenly, men began to focus on their mates, they began to pool their talents -- one was a violin maker, another an orchestra leader, another a cabinet maker, another a professor. Soon the camp had an orchestra full of homemade instruments and a church called the "Church Without Walls" that was so powerful, so compelling, that even the Japanese guards attended.
The men began a university, a hospital, and a library system. The place had been transformed; love of one’s fellow man did not flicker out but was revived, all because one man named Angus gave all he had for his friend. (Thanks to Tim Hansel, from Holy Sweat, 1987, Word Books Publisher, pp. 146-147.)
Momentum for Life
Most of Christianity is not following Jesus. We live in a world of stunted faith development. I’m not sure you’re aware of this but every week in America they close 50 churches. And I don’t mean only Methodist churches but churches of all stripe and flavor. Now, we know you don’t have to worship God in a church, but it is a sign.
Football stadiums are full, I’m sure you know that, but most churches are not. Close to 70 percent of Americans say they believe in Jesus Christ but their motions are not matching their mouths. Believing in Jesus and following him are not the same.
Jesus didn’t just say believe in me, he also said ‘take up your cross and follow me.’ If you are going to follow him, you’re gonna’ have to be in motion. We are the only bank account that God has to serve the broken and the lost. There are many who would try to convince you that the broken and the lost deserve to be that way because they make bad choices. Jesus is not calling us to judge others, he is calling us to sacrifice for others.
Jesus would have you look into your own life, your own heart, to find the places where you are broken and lost. It is in these places where true power lives, in weakness, in humility, in our willingness to follow God’s purpose in Jesus’ upside-down world.
“...for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’
By the time we encounter them, the wise men have been in motion for a long time. When they left behind the dark palace of Herod they regained God’s vision in the line of sight of that star.
I’ve got to hand it to them. Sometimes when we look up in the stars, we still don’t see the light.
Take up your place in his sheep-fold. This new-born king rules as the Good Shepherd,
guiding us into the light.