Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sermon for the Feast of the Epiphany

Three Gifts

I have a surprise for you today.
But it means you are going to have to come forward
and sit a little closer to one another.
I want to pass something around and it just isn’t going to work
if you each stay in your own personal pew.
So take a minute and move.
We’re Epsicopalians!
We know how to do this--
we get up and down and move all around during worship.

Thank you for doing that.

In celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany
we are going to have incense.
Now, no need to go fleeing out the back door,
it’s not the smoking kind.
(At least not today for this service!)

But I want you to actually see one of the gifts the wise men gave.
I’m afraid I don’t have a box of gold to pass around,
Plus we have all seen gold if only in a piece of jewelry.
But I do want us to take a close look at frankincense.
And I want us to talk about myrhh.
Three gifts—gold, frankincense and myrrh.

The gifts the wise men brought are each significant—
as gifts often are.

Remember—we are celebrating the feast of the Epiphany.
And epiphany means to show, to reveal, to become aware—
And there was indeed an awareness for the magi
of whom this baby is.

Not just any baby—but the manifestation of God.
Emmanuel—God with us—right here.

Matthew’s gospel tells us
they entered the house and opened their treasure chests
and offered the baby their gifts.
Extravagant gifts.
Gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

The gift of gold makes absolute sense.
In the first century or the twenty-first century
gold is an extravagant gift of great value.
Gold is a gift fit for a king.
Gold is the type of gift that a king would bring to another king.

The people are expecting a king.
A king who will come in great glory and splendor.
The wise men
When they left on their journey following a star
They had no idea what the end of the journey would reveal.
But it is doubtful that they thought
it would reveal a baby of such humble beginnings.
But that is what they found.

Frankincense was a gift that recognized
the priestly qualities of the Christ child.
Frankincense was widely used in religious rites of the time.
We still use it as incense in the church today.

I want to pass around this frankincense.
It does not look much different
than what would have been brought by the wise men.

The gift of frankincense makes absolute sense.
Frankincense was the incense used by the temple priests.
This gift symbolizes that this child is a gift from God.

Both frankincense and myrrh come from a bush or small tree.
It is the sap of these trees that is this chunky resin we use.
But in some ways myrrh is a strange gift to bring a newborn.
Now myrrh was very expensive, definitely an extravagant gift.
But myrrh was the incense burned at funerals.

Myrrh was made into an embalming ointment,
used to anoint the bodies of the dead.

It is through the gift of myrrh that the writer of Matthew’s gospel
Reveals the symbolism behind these gifts
and who this baby really is.
Alpha and Omega.
Beginning and end.
Birth and death.

Gold to symbolize the baby’s royalty.
Frankincense to symbolize the baby’s divinity.
And myrrh, to reference his future death.

Matthew wants his readers to understand
that God came into the world in human form
and everything was transformed
but everything was not easy.

The symbolism behind those three gifts was a way of saying:
Buckle your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

The wise men fell to their knees
and offered their gifts.
Nothing was withheld.

What will we offer?
What will we give to God?
How extravagant are we willing to be?

This congregation is amazing.
Unlike many other churches
our stewardship drive is complete.

You HAVE been generous and open=hearted in pledging and giving
to financially support the ministries of this parish.
Whether we like it or not
how we choose to spend our money
is a powerful reflection of our spiritual lives.
The gifts we give and how we give what others give to us
are very symbolic
of how we perceive the world, our selves and others.
Epiphany is a wonderful season to take a closer look.

We are also called—repeatedly—to give our time.
A wise person recently said to me,
“My money and my time—
those are the two things I have that I can give away.”
The joy with which he made that statement
absolutely stunned me.

Most of us are very busy people.
We never have enough time.
But we can all give something.
We can all volunteer somewhere,
do something to make this parish, this community, this world
a little bit more like the kingdom of God.

We are a small church but we are a mighty church.
And it is each of us offering our gifts
that makes us strong and alive
and joyful.
We all have many gifts—often more than we imagine.
Epiphany calls us to offer something new.
To step outside our box, the roads we know.

(Story of Jody at camp—step outside your box)

Epiphany calls us to dream dreams and to see visions—
to follow a star to unknown places.

Epiphany is a wonderful season
to reflect upon the gifts we have received in our life.
Epiphany is a wonderful season
to reflect upon what we might give to others—
to our family, to our friends, to our church, to our community, to God.

Being an extravagant giver is not always easy.
It can be a very bumpy ride.
But oh what a marvelous journey!

When we give a gift,
We let down our guard.
We offer a part of ourselves—
in thanksgiving, in celebration, in hope.

When we receive a gift,
we are called into relationship.
we are called to remember
the one whose arms are always held wide open to us.

When we try something new, when we travel a new path,
we place ourselves in God’s hands.
We trust.

May this holy season of Epiphany be for each of us
a time of moving beyond what is reasonable—
a time of living in God’s extravagance--
a time of following a star of wonder.

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