Do You Remember The Time Jesus Said No To Helping A Bunch of Drunks? (Sort of) John 2:1-11

What’s the one commonality between most (if not all) superheroes?  They can’t say no.  If someone is in danger, the superhero doesn’t have a choice about responding.  It’s part of the “superhero code.”  Let’s take Superman, for instance.  When Superman sees a plane full of people about to crash, with its engines on fire, spiraling toward the ground; he doesn’t look skyward and debate the ethics of saving each individual life.  Superman doesn’t do a cost-benefit analysis weighing the economic risks to the airline, the families impacted by the loss of a primary breadwinner and possible property damage on the ground.  No, he does none of those things.  If Superman did do them, they would be done so fast that none of us would notice.  Remember, he’s Superman.  Superman doesn’t do risk assessments.  When he sees a need, what does he do?  Clark Kent finds a phone booth (or other suitable location) and changes from his mild-mannered alter-ego into Superman.  This usually happens in the blink of an eye.  He doesn’t ask questions about who is on the plane, are they behind on their taxes, is the airline good to the employees, or is on time record into Chicago on par with Delta or American?  Clark, or should I say, Superman, doesn’t care.   In our hypothetical Superman scenario, the plane and everyone onboard is saved.  To Superman, it doesn’t matter who they are but “that” they are.  That they were human beings, people, and lives in peril and unable to save themselves; this is what mattered most.

The critical thing to remember is this:  Superman always says yes.  There is nothing too mundane or ordinary for a superhero.

This is what bothers me about the story of Jesus and his disciples attending the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee. I’ve been thinking about this all week.  It is a wedding reception.  It’s nothing to write home about.  We’ve all been to receptions.  Some are fancy some are on a budget. No matter how much money you spend on a wedding reception, it’s still a wedding reception.  As civilization goes, they are ordinary affairs.   Yet, Jesus, the superhero of our story, refuses to get involved.  Do you realize how rare it is for Jesus to turn down getting involved in anything, mundane or not?  It never happens.  It would be like Superman walking away from a kitten stuck in a tree.

We know Jesus eventually comes around and decides to get involved.  Nonetheless, his reluctance and the reasoning behind it run through the entirety of this story.  Why was Jesus so reluctant to save a wedding?  Doesn’t it seem like a wedding he didn’t really want to attend in the first place? I picture their conversation in the run-up to the wedding went something like this:

Mary:  You know she’s getting married next week.

Jesus:  I haven’t seen her since middle school.

Mary:  Her husband is really nice.  He has a boat on the Sea of Galilee.

Jesus: Who doesn’t have a boat?  Simon Peter has a skiff.

Mary:  Peter. Is he your new little friend?  You can bring him and the others.

Jesus:  Mom, he prefers to be called Simon.

John is the only one who tells this story.  So it’s unique.  His mother is there, probably helping with the wedding.  There might be other family members there.  John tells us Jesus was invited.  He is not a wedding crashing, a moocher, or any form of an uninvited guest.  The disciples are also present.  Their invitation seems to be included under Jesus’.  I think this is important and we’ll come back to it in a moment.  They are not caterers.  They are official guests of the wedding party.

The action moves very quickly.  As with the crisis in a comic book or graphic novel, something has gone wrong.  The wine “gave out.”  Wine drinkers “give out.”  Wine goes dry because the drinkers pour it out.  I never cease to be amazed by the vagaries of translation.  Whatever will we do?  Will Jesus rip off his glasses and duck into a phone booth?  No, he most certainly will not.  The wine drinking mooches need to be taught a lesson.  Jesus refuses to help.

This was his first response.   Two people do not say no, Jesus and Superman.  Its part of the deal, when you wear the sandals or the long red cape, you say “yes.”  I think this bothers me so much because I know some of the other situations Jesus said “yes” too.  There was a woman, caught in adultery, who was about to be stoned to death.  He said, “Yes” to this very messy and awkward situation.  He’s healed every blind man between here and Jericho.  Yet the overindulgence of wedding guests and empty wine vats is not something worth Jesus’ time.  It bothers me.

Jesus has a reason.  While this may look and sound arbitrary, it’s not.  Jesus tells his mother, “Woman, what concern is this to you and me?  My hour has not yet come.”  He comes right out and says.  Is this really any of our business?  We didn’t drink the wine dry.  It’s not our party.  Then the second half of verse four takes his reason up a notch.  “My hour has not yet come,” says Jesus.  What does that mean?

Is he saying, “I don’t officially go on the clock as Jesus until next Tuesday, so I can’t do any miracles until then.”?  No.  Jesus doesn’t have an on/off switch.  There is never a time when Jesus is not Jesus.  The word “hour” is a little bit of a clue.  That’s the same word Jesus uses when he’s praying in the garden of Gethsemane.

I hear in Jesus’ reluctance a bit of what Jesus says on the night before his crucifixion.  Jesus says, “May this cup pass from me.”  In other words, “Does this have to be my time?” Here Jesus looks at the emptied vats and says, “Is this really my time?” In both moments, Jesus is overwhelmed.  I know what that feels like.  We all do.  It’s comforting to me to know that Jesus feels swamped and sometimes even he doesn’t seem to know where to start.

How does Jesus move beyond this impasse?  What changes his mind?  Is it the guilty looks from his mother?  I think he realizes something we see time and time again in the text:  miracles do not happen in isolation.  It takes a community to make a miracle a reality.  Whether you’re feeding 5000 people or turning water into wine, it’s never a one person job.  We need a community to make miracles come to life.  We do not build the kingdom of God by ourselves.  Superman works alone.  Jesus always reaches out to others.  Look at how the rest of the story unfolds.

The people who he grabs, those who are in his line of sight, become part of the miracle.  There is his mother, a coterie of servants, the chief steward, the groom, and I’m confident the disciples were involved.  Probably 20 people and that’s a rough estimate, helped make this miracle happen.  Here’s the point I want you to remember:  the body of Christ is intimately involved in the miracles that Jesus performs.   This is true in the 1st century, and it’s true today.

What we need to ensure that we’re keeping the path clear and doing everything we can to facilitate miracles both big and small.  As this story shows, it is always a good time to be involved with a miracle.  There is some way for us to plug into the larger plan which Jesus is doing.  We must heed Mary’s words, “Do whatever he tells you.”  Jesus will give us something to do.  We get to be the miracle.  We help make the miracles.  To me, that’s more amazing than turning water into wine.

Richard Lowell Bryant

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Best Friends

Lela comes to Sunday School most weeks. She tells me that she likes Sunday School. We talk, there are snacks, we read, sometimes there are movies, plenty of stories, and occasionally coloring. While first grade has its advantages, Sunday School is different. She “likes how we’re kind of school but with more singing.” That’s good enough for me.

Last week we were talking about some of the miracles of Jesus, especially those he performed early in his ministry. Jesus, we decided, was much like a doctor, going from village to village to help people who were sick. We were looking at a picture of Jesus healing Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. Some of the things in the picture didn’t belong. Our job was to find the alarm clock, the sneakers, and headphone; all items that weren’t authentic to Jesus’ satchel. One by one we clicked the off. Lela has a good eye.

As Lela was coloring her sheet, she started to tell me something she learned in class (at regular school) earlier in the week. “I learned about a King who lived a long time ago who probably knew Jesus,” she said. This piqued my interest.

“What was his name?” I asked.

“I can’t say his name. It was King something,” she repeated while trying to sound out what she remembered of the name.

I thought I would try and help out. “Was it King Arthur, King George, King John?”

“No it wasn’t any of them,” I could tell she had it on the tip of her tongue. She was getting frustrated.

After a brief pause, she took a breath and said,

“It was King Luther.”

I think my heart stopped.
“Did you say King Luther?”

“Yes, King Luther. We learned all about him in Ms. Mary’s class at school. He was all the time helping people be nice to each other. I’m sure he and Jesus know each other, and they’re probably best friends.”

Yes, they do. Yes, they are.

I know they are hanging out together now.

Amen

Richard Lowell Bryant

Shall We Gather At The River?

Shall we gather at the river? Baptism seems to be preceded by a voyage. I’m not only speaking about Jesus going “down to the Jordan” to be baptized by John. I am thinking about our hymns and history. “Shall we gather at the river,” the hymn asks. In that is implied, “Shall we leave the church, the organ, the pulpit, and the pews.” Baptism, it seems, is an outdoor activity. No small font will do. We need water as it was made; a river where “bright angel feet have trod with its crystal tide forever flowing by the throne of God.” This doesn’t sound like any ordinary river. I’m not certain the author has baptism in mind. This isn’t the gently flowing stream in the back yard or ocean waves at low tide. When the writer asks, “shall we gather at the river?” he means the river which divides the present from the future. Shall we go to the river at the end of time, where angels walk, and ultimately were we to follow its headwaters, we would be led directly to God. This is the shining river where we are told, we will lay our burdens down.

We will lay our burdens down by the river. Today, it seems our troubles begin along the river whether the Potomac or the Rio Grande. Along the Rio Grande River Valley, hundreds of property owners and ranchers have been in court since the second Bush administration fighting the government’s attempt to take their land via the process of eminent domain. Why? So the government can build more elaborate fences across the southwestern border. Those who live along the border tell of the difficulties of constructing barriers through mountains and across rivers. They know because they’ve lived there for decades. Rivers change a landscape. Water demands a route to the sea. Water isn’t easily containable by human barriers. Water is powerful in ways people rarely account for or imagine. Shall we gather at the river? Yes. Because the river flows where boundaries impede.

One of the President’s favorite fundamentalist preachers, Rev. Robert Jeffress went television this week to proclaim, “Heaven itself is going to have a wall. Not everybody is going to be allowed in.” I wonder how he knows this. Why does God need a wall? Who is God trying to exclude? God wants everybody, right?

I think Pastor Jeffress’ greatest fear is that more people will be there than he realizes. There will be no wall in heaven, and everybody is getting in. There Even Methodists so bent on keeping each other out of Methodism will be welcomed into the kingdom of God. You can quote me on that. If the river I’m singing about in “Shall We Gather at the River?” is flowing straight by the throne of God, there will be no wall. God’s river will find a way. Where there are rivers, there are no walls.

Richard Lowell Bryant

How Did Jesus Get Baptized if John Was Already In the Slammer? Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Unlike the presence of the Wise men or the other hair-splitting details surrounding the birth of Jesus, Christians can agree on one thing: Jesus had a baptismal experience. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all tell the story of Jesus going to down the Jordan River to encounter his cousin John. In fact, that’s where each book really begins because they share this singular point in common. But, there’s always a “but.” There are notable differences in the way each of the four gospel writers tells the story of Jesus’ baptism. Luke’s account is different from the others. The pieces are there, the words you know, but Luke puts them together like Picasso. When you step back and see what he’s created, it doesn’t look like the Baptism you were expecting to encounter. Oh, it’s a baptism alright, but something happened on the way to the water.

Why are we baptized? That seems like a simple question. Since we’re Methodist, it ought to be an even easier question to answer. When you were a baby, your parents (and extended) family took you to church, presented you to the preacher, a few pronouncements were said over your bald head, water was produced and poured over the head mentioned above, and you were baptized. If you’re like me, you have no memory of the event because it occurred when you were less than one year old. For example, I was nine months old, and the minister’s name was Earl Black. I know this is because my parents saved the bulletin.

Other churches do Baptisms differently. Some Baptist churches have baptistery’s that resemble small swimming pools built into the chancel area of their churches. Other churches won’t baptize infants. Some dunk in swimming pools or the nearest body of open water. However, I haven’t answered the question. I’m only talking about the mechanics of Baptism. The engineering of the moment: getting dressed, finding the right clothes, bring the family to the front pew, filling up the font, and handing the baby to the preacher doesn’t answer the “why” question.

Why are we baptized? Do we need to be baptized? Is baptism some magic formula? As a preacher, I’m not waving a magic wand to make original sin disappear. That’s not what this is about. Baptism is a rite of initiation. That’s a big word that means less in today’s world because people don’t join things the way they did in years past. It’s a step Christians take to join the church formally. Whether we’re nine months old and someone makes the decision on our behalf, or we’re 19, and we decide “this is a group of people I want to join.” Baptism is a public pronouncement. In front of our friends and family, we acknowledge our desire and willingness to merge our story with God’s story. The water, a symbol of creation and life, is a reminder of how God permeates how lives and promises.

Just before Thanksgiving, an American missionary named John Chau was killed on a small island in the southern Indian Ocean. His tragic death highlighted some of the efforts that missionary groups make to evangelize unreached peoples. In an article published at the time, I wrote about his journals, notes which revealed theology expressing  concern for the salvation for the islanders he hoped to meet. If they could not be reached with the gospel and baptized, they would face eternal damnation. This is what John Chau believed. This belief cost John his life. John’s worldview had no space for God’s grace operating beyond his narrowly defined theology.  I believe Christ died for these islanders, whether they were baptized or if they’d never received communion. Grace isn’t conditional. That’s the problem with our world, too many people believe grace is hit and miss, applied only to those brought up to our Christian standards. We take God out of the equation. So do we need to be baptized? No. Are we condemned to hell if we’re not sprinkled, dunked, or poured with water? No. Baptism is something we’ve made more human than divine. Baptism is meaningful, but ultimately God grace can override the promises we keep or decide to ignore. The liturgical formalities of our baptisms bear little resemblance to the encounter of Jesus and John by the Jordan.  What does happen when Jesus meets John in Luke’s gospel?

John was always in his element. Preaching by the banks of the Jordan, calling for people to be ritually cleansed in the water, and sharing a prophetic message; this was John’s good news. John was probably never happier than he was at the time in his life. However, there was one glitch. People were confused. John was doing all the things, saying all the right words which they expected the Messiah to say. Their question was this, “Was John the Messiah?”

This is why Luke says it was a period of high expectation. I want you to imagine the expectations placed on two different people. John is well versed in the subtle art of meeting people’s expectations. Jesus is not so much and not yet. As we approach the time when Jesus is about to be revealed, the moment when expectations get higher; who do you think it is harder to be? Is it tougher to be the actual Messiah or someone everyone expects to be the Messiah? I vote for the latter. John is in between a rock and a hard place. He has to move all of his expectations on to Jesus whether Jesus is ready or not.

Here’s a common question in all of the Baptismal stories: How will the crowd know when their expectations are met? They want John to tell them how to identify the Messiah? John gives them what has become, by now, the standard answer, “I baptize you with water, but the one who is more powerful than me is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the strap of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and unquenchable fire.” Again, that bears no resemblance to any baptismal service I’ve conducted. But John is John. He is over the top with the self-effacing rhetoric, “I’m not worthy, and I’m not worthy.” He makes the transition from something harmless, cleansing, and purifying to something destructive; “Fire.” Instead of giving new birth through the water and the spirit, as our Baptismal service says, John makes it sound like Jesus’ baptism will be destructive.

It’s then John talks about the separating of the wheat from the chaff and burning the husks in a fire that cannot be put out. Very quickly, we’ve gone from enthusiasm to fire and destruction and all because people wanted to know how to spot Jesus.

Then it all goes horribly wrong. John gets arrested. John, preaching against Herod and his wife, is thrown into Jail. And it would appear from the text, just after Jesus was baptized. What a mess!

What was John doing? John was making plans on behalf of Jesus. He’s telling people what he wants Jesus to do. The problem is Jesus never says any of this stuff. Other people try to put these fiery words into his mouth, but it never works. Jesus never has and will never say such nonsense. John places expectations on Jesus that Jesus never wanted.

It’s amazing how quickly the Baptism becomes an afterthought. (In fact, Luke has John in jail before he mentions Jesus’ baptism occurring. Kind of, “Oh yeah, that happened!”) We pick up our story in Luke 3:20, “added to them all by shutting up John in prison. Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you, I am well pleased.”

John’s has been jailed, and his public ministry is over. Jesus was baptized and is praying. Luke doesn’t tell us when or where he was praying. Jesus isn’t immediately coming up out of the water, and the dove isn’t descending from heaven. This is a different kind of baptismal story. This could be a day, week, hour, or month later. Jesus has been baptized, John is in jail, and at some point afterward, Jesus is praying. Baptism brought him to prayer. Scripture doesn’t say anything about onlookers, crowds, or water. This moment, where God confirms that Jesus is the beloved son, seems incredibly private. This story is about a personal encounter between Jesus and God.

This is what I learn from the story of Jesus’ baptism in Luke’s Gospel: It all comes down to being acknowledged. We are part of something bigger than John’s expectations. The script is not yet written. No matter what the expectations are, one can expect to be loved, just as you are, by the God who calls us by name.

Richard Lowell Bryant

How Did We End Up Here?

How did we end up here? What brought Methodism to the point of possible schism? Everyone has an opinion. Some believe we do not take our Bible’s seriously enough. They say we need more Jonathan Edwards and less Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Others believe we are too strict in our doctrine.

On the other hand, there are events of greater significance which led United Methodism to this point in history. These moments are the wrong turns that have brought us to the edge of schism. Where do we begin?

1. The Battle of Milvian Bridge – On October 28th, 312 CE, Emperor Constantine defeated his chief rival for the Roman throne, Maxentius. Maxentius’ defeat led to the end of the tetrarchy (power divided between four emperors) and Constantine’s consolidation of power as the sole emperor. Christian writers such as Eusebius would later attribute Constantine’s victory to Jesus and mark the battle as the beginning of Constantine’s conversion to Christianity. When the state became wrapped up with the church, everything went downhill. All of us are still suffering the effects of Constantine’s conversion.

2. The Council of Chalcedon – 451 Almost five hundred years after the death of Christ, a different Emperor decided it would be a good idea to tell everyone what they had to believe. What one believed about the nature of Christ became more critical than understanding who Jesus was, what he said, and what he did. It became easy to focus on minutiae.

3. Henry VIII – When the King of England decided to divorce his Catholic wife (Catherine of Aragon) the Church of England was essentially born. Anglicanism, the mother church of all Wesleyan denominations can claim no holier a beginning than a king who wanted a divorce to marry another woman. When we characterize ourselves as firmly within the apostolic tradition, we’re not. We’re the result of Henry’s impulses and the purest Constantinian ideal of the church and state together.

4. John Wesley – Methodists were founded by a man who held little love for maintaining official denominational connections. No matter how one examines the history, justifies the timing, or his language about being an Anglican; Wesley undermined his religious tradition in order to start a new religious movement. Schism is in our blood. If Wesley were not schismatic, we would all be Anglicans.

We boarded this train in the fourth century. If the passengers look further back, past the cars which attached in 1968 (or even 1781), who knows what might happen?

Richard Lowell Bryant

Tim Keller, Love, Hate, and Sin

In scrolling through some early morning Tweets, I came across a re-tweet from Good News magazine. It was from noted evangelical author and reformed pastor Tim Keller. Good news endorsed the tweet with the hashtag “truth.”

To what sins is Keller referring? Does he mean adultery, racism, speeding so that lives are at risk or drug addiction? What sinners are the Good News readers and writers eager to love and whose sins can they not wait to hate?

Hate is a strong word when applied to others or ourselves. Acknowledging hate does not make one realistic, it sows the seeds of greater hate. We teach ourselves to hate the best parts of ourselves. We give ourselves license to hate others. It seems justifiable because we couch our hate as a reaction to sin. The problem is we are not fighting sin or sinners. We are trying to embrace people whom Jesus made. We are working with flawed understandings of original sin that owe more to Milton and Dante than they do to anything in the Bible. There is too much hate in our Christianity. Anything which confuses love with a willing embrace of hate as part of Christian theology is wrong. Keller is incorrect. So are the those who shared the retweet at Good News magazine. “Love the sinner and hate the sin” is not the truth. It is a lie that makes our presuppositions and prejudices feel holy and righteous.

This well-worn cliché has been recycled by the evangelical community to justify any number of actions towards those whom they deem unworthy of full membership in the body of Christ. Words of love are mouthed, but no one believes in the love they profess. We do not have to accept everyone in the most Christ-like way possible. The cliché represents “magical thinking.” We pretend we are like Christ, but ultimately we exclude those whose sins we deem to be worse than our own.

It would be different if the cliché were Biblical. The words are not in scripture. What is found in the Bible is the liberal use of love. We are taught to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. There’s nothing, Tim, in the greatest commandment about hating our own or our neighbor’s sinfulness. Humanity is not or will never be the solution to the problem of sin. Jesus is the sole measure of what sin is, will be, or not be. Leave sin to Jesus. What business do we have hating anything when the world is crying out for love?

Richard Lowell Bryant

Fan Fiction: Matthew Loves Zoroastrian Astrologers (Matthew 2:1-12)

 

Let me give you the Readers Digest version of the wise men, the three kings, or the magi (as they are sometimes known): You are Mary and Joseph. Christmas is over. It’s time to pack up and return home to Nazareth. You’re approaching the 3 am checkout time. It is now when the donkey is ready and Jesus is in his camel seat that three well-dressed foreigners with unpronounceable names arrive at the door of the manger.

Their story is as ridiculous as their clothing. These men may or may not be Persian astrologers who have followed a star across deserts, over here and yon to pay homage to the newborn king of the Jews. To a nervous mother, they’re strangers. On top of everything else, they have no idea what forces they’ve unleashed. By stopping at King Herod’s on their way to Bethlehem, they made a deadly mistake. The “Magi” didn’t understand Herod’s untoward intentions. Mary’s baby might be the “Messiah” (so everyone says) but he’s still a baby. Herod has an army. The three strangers haven’t brought an army; only strange perfumes purchased at the duty-free counter when they changed camels in Dubai.

Guided only by dreams, which you know are only open to interpretation and interpreting dreams is a dangerously subjective business at best; the well-dressed foreigners leave their gifts and go home by another way.  That’s the story in a nutshell. However, none of it is history. It probably didn’t happen that way at all.

The best and most reliable stories about Jesus, the ones that resonate most clearly over two thousand years, are not one-offs, or single occurrences. In the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) how many tell the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection? From Mark’s gospel written around 60-65 CE until John’s written between 90-95 CE, each tells the story of the crucifixion and resurrection. How many share the story of the wise men? One, it is 12 verses, found in Matthew’s second chapter. Why would Matthew be the only writer of the four to tell this fantastic story? Did the others think it was unimportant? How could a story of a young baby being visited by astrologers from an unnamed mystical eastern land which sets off a madman tyrant kind not be worth remembering? Of course not! If this happened, it would be in all of the gospels. Why is this one story hidden in Matthew?

Dreams are all over Matthew’s first two chapters. Some nights I remember all of them down to the craziest last detail. I dream of strange reenactments of my day, my fears, and memories from decades ago. Maybe Matthew had a dream about Mary, Joseph, Bethlehem, and three wise men from the east. Given all the dreaming going on in the first and second chapters of his book, the more I read verses 1-12, the more it sounds like a dream. Matthew’s vision of fancy, foreign people, coming to the little town of Bethlehem sounds like a dream, perhaps the highest aspiration of all. The whole incident is a reference to Psalm 72.

Verses 10 and 11 say, “Let the kings of Tarshish and the island bring tribute; let the kings of Sheba and Seba present gifts. Let all the kings bow down before him; let all the nations serve him.”

I can imagine Matthew going to sleep with a scroll of Psalm 72 on his chest and dreaming of Kings coming to Bethlehem to meet Joseph, Mary, and Jesus.

Perhaps, Matthew wanted to make Psalm 72 a reality. By writing it down, his dream might come true. Maybe, for him, the simplicity of the manger wasn’t enough. This first aspect of Jesus’ life meant less to Matthew than it did to Mark, John, or even Paul. For Matthew, he wanted the world to see that worldly people knew who Jesus was long before Jesus understood who he was. The kings filled that role. They saw something the overwhelmed parents and a newborn couldn’t grasp.

So what do we do with these 12 verses? Is this just Matthew’s attempt at fan fiction? Is there something to be learned as Matthew places Psalm 72 into the manger? Do these fictitious “astrologers” help us understand something about our reality? Yes, there is truth to be gleaned.

The first thing I notice is this: the gift givers from the east do not change the world. The world in which the newborn entered is still the same violent, oppressed place dominated by Herod. Their gifts, while wildly opulent do not magically make the bad stuff disappear. As we know, their presence makes Herod’s tyranny worse. Gifts and visitors, even if they are the Psalm 72 kind aren’t a panacea to the newborn’s problems. The newborn (and all he represents) is still the primary change agent.

The second thing which hits me is: none of us are on the scene. We all approach from a distance. There is some ground between where we are and where Jesus is. When it comes to meeting Jesus for the first time, we are all visitors. Some of us have gifts, others have traveled a great distance, and a few might have only turned the corner. The critical point to remember is, as Matthew reminds us: no one inherits season tickets to Christianity. We walk on; walk up, as we are with whatever or nothing.

Because we are always moving, our perspective is changing. The star requires us to stay focused on the on our goal – the child. Why are we here? To whom are we listening? From whom are we seeking advice? The star can either confuse, push us into an endless cycle of asking, “is this it?” or focus on a single point of light, hope, and purpose.

It’s easy to give in to the distractions that dwell at the center and around the periphery of this story. However, if we remember Jesus is the center; the astrologers, the star,  King Herod, the cloak and dagger politics (backroom meetings with priests and teachers of the law) all seems less intimidating. The child is at the heart of everything, not Herod’s fear, Jerusalem’s fear, or the superstitions caused by the appearance of a star.

Go home another way. Change the road your life is on. An encounter with Christ, no matter how large or small, how short or long, should lead us to somewhere we didn’t expect to go. We should be different after seeing Jesus. Our course, path, and life journey ought to alter when we’ve been in God’s presence. There is a new onus on our lives to travel a different life path.

The last lesson I draw from Matthew’s vision of Zoroastrians worshipping a baby in a stable is this: no matter how awkward the situation, we have a responsibility to be welcoming to those who want to see Jesus. We’re all on a journey. At some point, we made our way here. Now others will follow us through those doors and ask to see Jesus. It’s our responsibility to make them feel welcome and give them the opportunity to see Jesus and to have the same experience we’ve had. We can’t take that away from anyone else who shows up and asks the $64,000 magi question, “Where is Jesus?”

Jesus is here, in our community, through the presence of the Holy Spirit, in the lives of all who are gathered here today. Jesus is beyond our walls, among those who journey on new roads and different paths. We pray for them and will welcome them when they arrive. We pray that our journeys will be changed for the better because we have been in this place, seen what we have seen, and shared the gifts we bring.

Richard Lowell Bryant