Friday, December 29, 2017

What Are We Seeking? Reflections on Matthew 2.1-12 (Celebration of the Epiphany on 31 December 2017)

What Are We Seeking?
Reflections on Matthew 2.1-12

The Feast of the Epiphany
31 December 2017

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

Matthew 2.1-12

            2.1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 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.”  3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.  5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

            6 ‘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.’”

            7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared.  8 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.”  9 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.  10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.  11 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.  12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

What are we seeking?
         When I first encountered the world of Harry Potter, it was, of course, through my children.  Each volume was read with vigour and then passed on to the next reader in the household.  Earlier this year I even re-read all six novels during a summer reading spree.

         If you know the novels, then you will remember that the wizarding sport is Quidditch.  Harry is quickly identified as a born ‘seeker’ whose task during the game is to keep an eye out for the ‘golden snitch’, a small golden ball that has wings and flies as fast as a fury.  If the seeker catches the snitch, then the game is over with the seeker’s team gaining 150 points and usually the victory.

         I find in Harry a parable of what it means to be a ‘seeker’.  To be a seeker is to know that there is something one wants to find and to keep one’s sense open to the presence of what is sought.  Once the sought-after object is sighted, the true seeker commits body and soul to gaining the desired goal.

         As we gather on this day to remember the magi and their search for the Christ-child, we are brought into the drama of their search.  We seek the same Holy One who is often as elusive as a golden snitch and as difficult to catch.  So let’s begin the search.  

But let’s put first things first.
         In Christianity after Religion:  The End of the Church and the Beginning of a New Spiritual Awakening the American sociologist of religion, Diana Butler Bass, reflects on the future of Christianity as the role of the church as a powerful institution within culture diminishes.  Despite the title, it is actually an optimistic take on our current situation.  When she speaks of ‘the end of the church’, she means a re-awakening to what it means to be a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth and a re-evaluation of what we need to nurture and support our lives as disciples.

         She describes the older way of being Church as focussing on believing, behaving and belonging.  We belong to the church because we first believed and then learned how to behave.  She encourages contemporary Christians to reverse this way of understanding.  We first belong to a community of faith where we learn how to live the faith so that we can believe in the good news of God in Christ.

         How that would work at St. Faith’s is a re-ordering of our familiar description of ourselves as ‘a place of help, hope and home’.  What might be the consequences of saying we are ‘a place of home, help and hope’?  How might this lead seekers to cross our threshold?

What are we seeking?  Home.
         One of the things that I have learned is that my children are constantly amused by the songs that frequently spring forth from my lips.  Most of the songs come from the years before my children were born, such as this one:

Making your way in the world today
takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries,
sure would help a lot.
Wouldn’t you like to get away?

Sometimes you want to go
where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see
our troubles are all the same.
You wanna be where everyone knows,
you wanna to go where people know,
people are all the same. [1]

It’s an interesting group of people who gather in a basement bar in Boston.  People stay as long as they can because they’re not sure they want to go ‘home’.  They’re seeking ‘home’ and the only place they find it is around the bar with people whose lives only connect in this one place.

         We know from various contemporary sources and studies that the people who live in our neighbourhoods are seeking ‘home’, a place where everyone knows each other’s name, a place where everyone is glad to see each other, a place where considerable restraint is placed on judgement and the need to be someone other than who each one of us is, a place where the only expectation is that we are seeking each other’s true good.  Why?  Because they aren’t finding home where they live.

         When I read the stories of Jesus in the gospels, I see a man who made every place he visited a home, who made every person he met feel at home, who felt sorrow when someone he invited to become more truly the person God created them to be turned away.

         I believe that this place, this Parish of St. Faith’s, is the kind of home that many people are seeking.  They just don’t know how to find it.  But God has set stars in the sky to guide people here.  You and I are those stars, the lights leading people home.

What are we seeking?  Help.
         When we think of help, we tend to think of the various commitments we have made to reach out to people beyond our doors, such as the Pastoral Resource Centre or the many organizations we support with the funds we raise each year for outreach or the various volunteer commitments that many of us have made, whether these activities are within the church or within community groups in the wider world.  These are good and proper expressions of our help that we should continue to offer.  But our help cannot be limited to these.

         I am speaking of the help we all need to become more fully the persons God intends us to become.  For some of us the help we need is help in facing the reality of aging.  Aging brings with it not only the practical matters of where shall we live and how shall we arrange our personal affairs.  Aging also brings spiritual questions about who we are and what our future is.  We begin to ask what might be called ‘legacy’ questions.  And here, in this home, is a place to ask these questions.

         We are right to be concerned about the young people who are, in many and various ways connected to this parish, some near, some far.  Whether we are speaking about young parents or their children, we know the challenges of living in a society that tends to see us many as consumers of goods rather than producers of the common good.  Grandparents, aunts and uncles, older adult friends of younger adults and children, all need help in learning how to offer wisdom and to share our religious faith, so that the Light that has shone in our hearts might shine in others.

What are we seeking?  Hope.
         If there is one thing I have learned from the political events of the past year it is this:  Too many people have lost hope and, having lost hope, will grasp onto an anchor chain thinking that it is a life-line.

         We seek a better world, not just in some unknown future, but in the here and now of our own lives and the lives of every human being.  In Jesus of Nazareth we believe we see what this better world looks like when lived in human community.  In a world where some grow more and more suspicious of strangers, our hope lies in a world that welcomes strangers as if they were Christ himself.  In a world where some grow more and more eager to build walls to shut out the ‘other’, whoever the ‘other’ might be, our hope lies in a world that makes straight the crooked paths and makes smooth the rocky plains so that all may draw near to God.  In a world where some grow more and more wealthy at the expense of others, our hope lies in a world that embodies God’s generosity to all, rich and poor, young and old, righteous and not-so-righteous.

         Our hope is not simply a warm feeling that occasionally diverts our attention from the scenes of need that we see in the media.  Our hope takes shape in the choices we make each day to provide home and help to the seeker.  Within this home and with this help their hope might be sparked into flame, a light so bright that many will come and see the glory of God made known in human beings fully alive in Christ and through the Spirit.

         Like the magi we have found what we seek in this Child born in Bethlehem.  Unlike the magi we will stay to share this news with those who are still seeking for home, help and hope.  For here, in this place, the Lord has arisen upon us and Christ’s glory appears over us, so that all God’s sons and daughters might find what they seek.

No comments: