Sunday, January 4, 2015

Our Constellation of Faith - Epiphany Sermon

The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade
United in Christ Lutheran Church
Jan. 4, 2015

Watch the video of this sermon here:
Last month we embarked on a sermon series about finding and experiencing God in darkness.  Today, as we draw to the close of the Christmas season and approach the day of Epiphany, we take this time to note the tiny lights in the sky that can only be seen when the sun goes down – stars!  For many years I lived in the Philadelphia area where the light pollution is so strong, the light of the stars is barely visible.  It’s like trying to hear the music of piccolos but the trumpets keep blaring away.  The little lights in the distant sky get drowned out when the street lamps and headlights and spotlights keep blaring away.  Living in the city, I wished I could just shush the noisiness of the lights so I could enjoy the peace and quiet of the stars. 
Living in this part of central Pennsylvania, however, where the Susquehanna River and fields and hills stretch on for miles with minimal artificial lighting has given me the hush of nighttime I longed for.  I have come to love gazing at the starry sky above our house on the edge of farmland where only the occasional lights of porches and garages compete with my view of the constellations.  In fact, I am actually learning to identify some of those constellations.  With the help of the handy dandy Google Sky Map application on my phone, I can hold my screen up to the sky and know the names of the stars and constellations I am seeing. 

I’ll bet the Wise Men, or Magi (as they are sometimes called) wished they had an app to help them navigate their way to Jesus. I’ve often wondered how it was that they were able to “follow” the star to the place where Jesus was.  I know they were learned men, well-versed in the movements of the stars in the heavens.  The Magi consulted the accumulated wisdom of many generations of women and men who gazed at the heavens and noticed the patterns in those dots of light, how they moved over time.  And when they saw the unusual phenomenon of two stars aligning in the sky to form one doubly bright light, they knew that something amazing had happened and sought to find out what it was. 

In our crèche scenes and Christmas cards, the Wise Men are shown on the opposite side of the shepherds at the manger, implying that they arrived the same night.  But most likely it took those Magi weeks, even months to find the Holy Family.  Who knows how long they traveled from their own separate countries until they met and discovered their shared quest.  They may have been following those two separate stars for years, anticipating their joining, and intent on making their way to where the giant star pointed.  However they found their way, we can be sure that, like their counterparts on the sea who guide their ships by the stars they see at night, the Magi learned to observe the constellations and track their own movements accordingly.  

The Wise Men from the East were the first of the Gentiles to be drawn to the light of the Christ child, which for them was first seen in a star.  Matthew includes this story because it is important for him, as a Gospel writer telling the story to a specific audience, that the message of Jesus’ universal significance be conveyed.  Like the light of a star, the love of God revealed through the person of Jesus is meant to be seen by all, whether they’re standing right next door, or many miles away. 
I wonder . . . who do you know who is seeking the light of God?  Are they many miles away?  Are they right next door?
Friends - you are one of those stars pointing the way to Jesus.  Because you have been baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection, you are one of those lights in the dark sky that can help guide people to the love of God in Jesus Christ. 

Think of how many men and women and children have found their way to this church, followed the Christ star, in a sense, to find Jesus welcoming them in this place.  Three years ago we made a commitment as a congregation to begin inviting our friends, neighbors and family to our church, so that they could encounter the love of Jesus through us.  Did you know that since that time we have welcomed 30 new faces through baptisms, new members, and renewed members who returned after years away from the congregation?  When many churches are seeing their numbers dwindle, you have bucked the trend.  You believe in this church, and you believe in what Christ has to offer to others through this church. 
Not only that, but think of all the other people who have found joy, music, fellowship and hope through our ministries and special events.  Our OAKs Monthly Senior Center regularly welcomes about 20 people, many of whom are not members here.  Our new Young Adults group has included friends of our members who have expressed great appreciation for this new ministry.  And our youth are some of our brightest stars!  We have our Small Stars Sunday School class that just started this fall for toddlers and their caregivers.  And our All Stars older youth invite their friends to this church on a regular basis.  Just last week we had 27 young people here for our pre-New Year’s lock-in.  A third of them were friends of our youth.  You know your church is cool if the kids are inviting their friends!  

This congregation has been a light in the darkness for so many individuals who are wandering, seeking a congregation of friends who will take them in and help them take the next steps on their faith journey.  We already know Jesus is here.  We experience his presence every week in the hugs and handshakes, in the songs we sing together, in the breaking of the bread and sharing of the cup at communion.  But how will the Wise Men and Women out there find where Christ is without the stars to guide them? 
An incredible gift has been given to you, to us, as a community of Christ.  We, as a congregation, pass that gift on to others, just as the Wise Men did for Jesus and his parents.  Our benevolence to the synod, the food we have collected, the children in need we have helped, the guests we have welcomed, the homeless we have helped through Habitat for Humanity, the gifts and songs we gave to the residents at Country Comfort, the children in Liberia whom many of you have helped to educate through your financial support – these are the gifts we give to the community, to the world, to announce that the light of Christ has come into the world.   

We may be a small congregation – but the light we shine in the darkness is just what someone out there needs see to help them find their way.  In your bulletin there is an insert called “Letting My Light Shine.”  On the inside there are two identical flaps for your to write down the names of people you would like to pray for in the coming year, that they will come to know the love of Christ through your light.  I would like you to write down their names on one side that you will tear off and put into the offering plate.  On the other side, write those same names and keep them with you.  Post them on your dresser mirror, or your refrigerator, or in a place you look at often, so that you can remember to pray for them.  And we will create a prayer list call the “shining stars” – first names only – of those names you turn into us.  Throughout the coming year, we’ll revisit the list to see how we’re doing.  Maybe we’ll even see some of these wise men and women sitting in the pew next to you one Sunday. 
I mentioned earlier that we had a big group of young people here at the church for the lock-in and many of them were guests.  One of them was a boy who had never been in our church before. In fact, he had never been in any church before.  I found out because I asked him, and he said this was his first time in a church.  I was glad this was his first experience.  Because we played games and made craft bags that Vivian showed them how to do.  We grazed on hot dogs and veggies and chips and fruit throughout the long night.  We played hide and seek and watched movies.  And just before midnight we gathered in the darkened sanctuary carrying the little candles we used from Christmas Eve.  Ellen and Devon led us in song on their guitars.  We read from the Bible, and we shared prayers for our hopes in the coming year.  And then we sang “Silent Night” as the candles made our faces glow.  This little boy could not sing along because he did not know the words.  But I heard him humming softly, looking around, taking it all in.  On that night he found himself in a constellation of beautiful glowing stars right here in our church.

These people on your list – I can just imagine how they might feel being part of our constellation here at United in Christ.  Pray for them.  Let your light shine for them.  And keep watching for the appearance of those new stars!  Amen.


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