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Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service.
January 02, 2022
Grace to you and peace from God, our Creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
There’s a fairly common misconception that says the longer you’ve believed in God and that Jesus is God’s son, the fewer questions you ask and have about God, and about faith in general. Because as you mature in your faith, somehow, over time you’ve picked up all the answers along the way and that all the answers are found in the Bible, no matter how random the question might be.
So it’s interesting to take that together with the fact that some of the first people to visit Jesus as a child were probably Arabic and didn’t know much, if anything at all, about Jewish prophecy. But the Magi did know how to read the stars.
For all intents and purposes, they were astrologers; their practice predated Moses, and had been handed down from the ancient Sumerians from as early as 3500BCE. They were experts in their field, and they knew something important had happened on the night Jesus was born because of the bright star that suddenly appeared.
They trusted their knowledge, but they balanced it with humility because they didn’t know exactly what the star meant, so they set out toward it to find the answers they were looking for.
Did you catch that? Before they even left home, they recognized that they didn’t know everything, and they sought guidance and direction both coming and going. They didn’t have Google maps to guide them so, like any other practice, their practice of reading the stars was a process of trial and error…
…of adjusting and readjusting – recalculating, if you will – and being willing to go in a different direction when they ended up in Jerusalem at first instead of Bethlehem – and then being willing to go home by another way altogether.
They were willing to trust and listen and be directed and led in a new direction even when they didn’t know where it would take them or what they might find.
Epiphany, the 12th Day of Christmas, is officially on Thursday but we’re celebrating it today. It’s the season where we shift from celebrating Christ’s birth, to celebrating the fact that Jesus came for everyone – that God’s promise of salvation is for all people, including those who are outside the Jewish faith tradition. And in the case of the Magi, for people from other countries and cultures altogether.
As people of faith today, we take this revelation – or epiphany – for granted because we’ve always been included in this promise. But even though it goes all the way back to Abraham and God’s promise to bless him so that he might be a blessing for others…
…this promise was a challenge for people in the Jewish faith who first heard that this was so, and it was even a challenge for some of the Gentiles who first received it.
Both the Jews and Gentiles in Jesus’ time and in the early church were pushed and prodded into new ways of thinking about God’s realm. Jesus set things in motion during his life and ministry by eating with people who were outcasts, touching people who were sick, and even forgiving sinners and pronouncing them to be clean.
And so by the time the early church continued Christ’s teachings and ministry, it was clear that in God’s realm there were no longer “insiders” and “outsiders” – and that all are included in God’s promise of salvation. But the pushing and prodding into new ways of being continued because that promise wasn’t always well-received by everyone.
Because whether you’re called to set out on a journey to an unknown culture, or whether you’re called to stay put and keep doing what you’re doing, living into this promise – being willing to be pushed and prodded and led by God takes dedication and patience and trust.
That’s part of the life of faith. And in the process of living it, questions come up, differences are encountered and explored, sometimes mistakes are made, lives are changed, and new perspectives are gained.
But what we discover in all of this is that, as people of faith, Jesus is our common ground.
When I served in Costa Rica, my primary job was to coordinate short-term mission trips for ELCA congregations that wanted to work with the communities of the Costa Rican Lutheran Church. And the best part of my job was that I got to accompany most of the groups to those communities.
When they first arrived, the groups all had tons of questions mostly about communication. Most of the people in the ELCA groups didn’t speak Spanish, and none of the people in the Costa Rican communities spoke English.
I always assured them, “Don’t worry, you’ll find a way.” And as time when on and I worked with more groups, I figured out that they were less worried about whether they’d be able to communicate and more worried about whether they’d have something in common to talk about.
There was one group in particular that was anxious about communicating, but they figured it out. And one evening, during their devotional time, one woman – Cheryl – shared that she’d had a wonderful conversation with Ligia, a woman from the community.
And I asked, “How’d you do that? You told me that you don’t speak Spanish and I know that Ligia doesn’t speak English.” And she said, “We found a way.”
What I later learned is that they’d found common ground. Among other things, they talked about their faith – the similarities and the differences in their experiences. That was more than fifteen years ago, and Cheryl still talks about how transformational that experience was for her – how it expanded her understanding of God and Jesus and what that meant for how she would live into her faith going forward.
When we live into the promise that Jesus is our common ground, that relationship of trust, it changes us. It leads us to places we never imagined we’d go and opens our hearts to interact with people we might otherwise shy away from.
It does away with “us” and “them,” and “insiders” and “outsiders,” and makes space for questions and cultural differences and language differences and other differences. Living into this promise, we discover that Jesus is our common ground across any differences that we might have.
And that’s exciting, that’s good news!
Does it challenge us? You bet. Is it scary? Yeah, sometimes it is. Living into this promise opens our hearts to experience and understand God beyond what we can imagine or define. It opens us up to listen to the wisdom of our neighbors – people who have different traditions and piety and theology and ways of attending to others.
And all of that can be intimidating because it shapes who we are and who we become in our daily lives. Ultimately, it changes us. But as God is leading and pushing and prodding and guiding us through all of this, what doesn’t change is that Jesus is our common ground. That never changes.
As we begin this new calendar year – filled with challenges and possibilities that are yet to be known – may we all remember that whatever differences we may encounter or whatever changes may come, that Jesus is our common ground. Thanks be to God! Amen.