Sermon: January 4, 2015 – “Called to Change Course”

Text: Matthew 2: 1-12 Visit of the Magi

There are a lot of directions one could take from this text and there are a lot of things we could talk about. This is an interesting story and it is full of intrigue and a fair amount of controversy as well. As I have mentioned before, we tend to group the visit of the magi into the rest of the Christmas celebration even though most scholars agree that it was a separate event in a different place than where Jesus was born. The best guess, as far as I am concerned, is that the magi visited Jesus sometime when he was around two years old; we don’t know for sure there were three of them, only that three types of gifts were presented and we are not certain what country they were from. We are told in the scripture they had traveled a great distance, came from the east and followed a star, which isn’t surprising because they were astrologers, after all-probably not kings as the tradition teaches.

Not withstanding all of this misinformation and misconceptions about the magi there is still one thing that seems to ring true about the visit. For some reason, perhaps in a dream as the story goes, or perhaps it was a culmination of events, but for some reason-perhaps a number of reasons, the magi became suspicious of Herod and consequently became aware of the importance of this child. This series of circumstances is why we call the entire event epiphany; the magi had an experience where the Divine had been manifest in their lives. They encountered God and were transformed. They met the Christ child and were called to change course and take another road home.

The experience of encountering the Divine, being transformed by that encounter, and then recognizing the need to do things differently is the process of epiphany. In the case of the magi, taking another road home fits into the story literally, because they wanted to throw Herod a curve ball, but it also works metaphorically. Taking a different road home is metaphor for the transformation that occurs when epiphany happens or when we encounter the Divine.

This can happen to us all the time, if we watch for it. We can encounter the Divine on a daily basis, but most of us are too busy to notice or too busy to take the time to allow the transformation to really sink in. But that doesn’t mean that God isn’t there, it simply means we failed to pay attention. There have been a few times in my life when the experience has been so overpowering that I could not help but pay attention, and when I did, the transformation began and I took another road home.

One of those experiences I remember took place for me while Heidi and I were on vacation. We were on a European tour with my sister Sharon and part of that tour was the city of Amsterdam. In that particular city is Anne Frank’s house-the setting for the now famous Diary of Anne Frank, which tells the tale of hiding Jews and the influence of Nazi Germany as they moved methodically through Amsterdam and most of Europe. While in Amsterdam, we toured Anne Frank’s house.

The house itself is small and narrow and full of steps. As you tour, the energy of the place begins to take its toll. There is an overwhelming sadness, an emotionally charged atmosphere, which while you breathe becomes a part of you. Not everyone experiences this exactly the same way that I did; there are certain sensitivities that I have learned that I have to energy and environment that others seem to miss. However, the energy in Anne Frank’s house is so thick, most people-even those who are not all that sensitive, come away with some level of transformation. For me, by the end of the tour I was physically weak; the steps became a chore and I simply could not spend any more time there. And I definitely was not the same person as when the tour began; I took another road home.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit Nashville as part of a fairly elite group of community leaders that had gathered together to learn more about climate change. This event was called the Climate Project and it was hosted by former vice-president Al Gore. It doesn’t matter to me what you think of Mr. Gore politically, because this is not a political issue involving just our country. This is a moral issue enveloping the entire planet.

Over the course of an entire week, I heard and learned from scientists and researchers from all over the world. I was witness to the changes that had been measured over time and the consequences of those changes. I began to understand the vast and well organized and well financed mis-information campaign that exists around this issue and the economic reasons for it. Even though this took place over 7 years ago, the memories and the experiences are fresh in my mind. The impact of this experience cannot be overstated, the importance of this message cannot be overstressed and the damage we have inflicted on our planet cannot be over emphasized. Over all the Climate Project was a transformative experience where I encountered the Divine and certainly took a different road home.

A little over a year ago I was invited to speak at a global conference for Habitat for Humanity held in Atlanta, Georgia. The level of energy and spirit of cooperation present at that conference was inspiring. We heard stories from families and individuals that had been utterly transformed because of their involvement with Habitat. Some of the transformation came as a result of receiving affordable housing from Habitat and some of the transformation came as a result of giving through Habitat. The need for adequate housing on a global scale is simply overwhelming; there are billions of people living in sub-standard and inadequate housing and this appears to be a situation beyond our control. In spite of the numbers, there is a spirit of hope, there is a spirit of accomplishment and there is certainly a spirit of harmony as hundreds of thousands of volunteers come together and work on behalf of others all over the entire planet. It is remarkable. And it is Divine. And after the conference, I took a different road home, because I was no longer the same.

There are many other epiphanies I could tell you about; some took place in National Parks or places of exquisite beauty, others took place in the presence of the sick, the aging or the dying, still others involve family members or friends and loved ones. The point is that you don’t have to travel a great distance or attend some special event to encounter the Divine. Epiphany can happen in your back yard, or while driving to work or around the kitchen table. God is everywhere and our opportunity to encounter God exists continually. As a matter of fact, epiphany should be the norm rather than the exception-but it doesn’t seem to work that way.

So what can we do to encounter God more frequently? How can we have our own epiphanies on a more regular basis? How can we be transformed to the point where we are called to change course and take another road home?

My answer to these questions may sound over simplified, but I believe it to be true. Just pay attention. Be observant of what is around you. Be open to the leading of the Spirit and make an effort to read the energy that is present. Sometimes it is helpful to keep a few thoughts or mantras in your mind. A couple examples are things like “what you do to the least of these, you do to me” or with regard to our planet, “the earth is the Lord’s” or about how we are to be in the world, “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace” and of course one of the most basic and instructive of all is simply “love one another as I have loved you”.

We can encounter the Divine anywhere and at any time and experience our own epiphany. Here is just one more thing to think about; your epiphany experience is out there waiting for you, but it is not up to God to be present, it is up to you to be present with God. Go and find the Divine in your everyday experience, go and find God in the extraordinary as well. To find God you must be present with God and when you are present with God, you will be transformed and when you are transformed, you will no longer be the same and when you are no longer the same, you will take a different road home.

Go in peace, go with God and seek your epiphany.

Amen.