Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Indispensable Toe



I Corinthians 12:12-31
January 24, 2015

            I suspect that one of the worst days of my brother’s life was in the late spring of 1975. He was home for the summer after his first year in college. Late spring in Nashville is like late spring in Shawnee. If the weather is nice, lawns need to be mowed. So my brother Brad decided to do a nice thing for my parents and mow the lawn as a surprise.
            If I’m marking time correctly, I would have been 9 that spring and Brad would have been 19. He was not reckless. He was not careless. He had mowed the lawn plenty of times before. It’s also important to note that he was not mowing the lawn barefoot or in flip flops or sandals. He was wearing tennis shoes. But as he was mowing, Brad hit one wet spot in the lawn and his foot slipped. It slid under the mower. He pulled his foot back quickly, but not quickly enough. It cut off his big toe.
            What started as a normal, sunny spring day degenerated into the realm of awful. That’s why I suspect it still ranks as one of the worst days of Brad’s life. Maybe you’re thinking, “That was awful, but it’s just a toe.” Guess what happens when you lose a toe, especially a big one? You lose your sense of balance. You have to learn how to walk again. My brother is tough. He recovered. His life was not ruined. In fact he has led quite a full life up to this point and I suspect that will continue. Brad also has a wicked sense of humor. When he was finally ready to go barefoot or wear sandals, if someone asked him about his missing toe he would tell them that he lost it to a shark while swimming in the ocean off the Florida coast.
Seeing the effects of Brad losing a toe made me realize how important a big toe really is. I say that knowing there are people who survive and thrive after much greater, more dramatic, more traumatic injuries and after losing whole limbs. Therefore with that perspective in mind, losing a big toe or any toe is not a complete disaster. The toe is not as indispensable as I’m making it seem. Yet, our big toes help our bodies function. Even though we can live without them, in an ideal world every toe is indispensable.
Of all the metaphors that Paul employs, his image of the body as a way to see and understand the church is one of the most profound.
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.”
Paul was writing to a church divided. The church in Corinth was struggling with many issues of contention. One that was especially divisive was the idea of superior and inferior members. If you remember the first 11 verses of this chapter that were read last week, Paul addressed the Corinthians on their understanding of spiritual gifts. “Now there are varieties of gifts. But the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord.”
When I read these words, I can’t help but picture the Corinthians pointing fingers at one another and saying, “My gifts are better than your gifts.” They seemed to think that there was a hierarchy when it came to spiritual gifts. Perhaps preaching and teaching were at the top. Or maybe they believed that the gift of healing outranked the gift of encouragement. Either way, Paul debunked their understanding. All spiritual gifts, whatever they may be, were given by the same God. The Corinthians were using their gifts against one another. But Paul told them, emphatically, that their gifts – all their gifts – were given to them to be used for the common good.
Paul pressed this point with his use of the body metaphor. Bodies are made up of many different members. But all of these different members make up the whole body. Then, to make sure he got their attention, he added the words, “so it is with Christ.”
We are all baptized into one body. Whatever our differences of race, ethnicity or status, we are baptized into one body through the same Spirit. Because of this, we need each other. Again, using the image of the body, Paul wrote,
“Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body.’”
To emphasize this, Paul stretched the analogy into the ridiculous, painting an image of a body made up of all ears or all eyes. Every part of the body, even those parts that seem to be weaker are needed and necessary. The parts of the body that seem lacking in honor are clothed with greater honor. The parts of the body that seem lacking in respect are given greater respect. If one member of the body suffers, all members of the body suffer. I used to get strep throat a lot as a kid, and believe me, when my throat hurt my whole body hurt. In the same way if one member of the body rejoices, all members rejoice. Every part of the body is needed. Every part of the body is necessary. This is not a competition. In Paul’s metaphor, there is no such thing as a dispensable toe.
This is one heck of a powerful metaphor. I go round and round with Paul on many things, but this metaphor is brilliant. But let’s remember that Paul was not merely encouraging a group of disparate people to get along. He was reminding them and powerfully so that they were the church – the body of Christ.
I have preached on this passage several times over the past 20 years. I have read it even more. It is frequently used in other aspects of church life to address the issue that the church is supposed to be in unity. We are not called to uniformity, but we are called to unity. Paul’s metaphor is about living in community with one another; working together for the common good.
Yes, this is all true. The church needs all of us and all of our gifts. But here is something I hadn’t really considered much before. Paul called the church the body of Christ. That’s one of those statements that is so well-known and familiar to us that I think we forget its meaning. We are part of the body of Christ in the world. In other words we are part of the incarnation. Jesus was the incarnation of God into the world. It stands to reason then, that we as Christ’s body continue the incarnation. In this season of Epiphany, the church as the body of Christ should serve as revelation of God’s glory to the world.
But do we? What do we reveal to the world? Do we reveal unity? Do we reveal love? Do we reveal compassion and wisdom and kindness? There are times when the answer to these questions is, “Yes.” But there are also times when the answer to these same questions is a resounding, “No!” In this country, and around the world, many people look at Christians – Christ’s body in the world – and see nothing but enmity, injustice, intolerance, crippling pride, and cruelty rather than compassion. I think so many of us in the church talk about ourselves as Christ’s body but we forget that a body is embodied. We are the visible sign of Christ in the world. We are part of the incarnation.
Yikes! That is tough to hear, because I know how often I fail in my call to be a part of that revelation and incarnation. I know I am not alone in this. The truth is the church has always been made up of a motley crew of sinners. Jesus entrusted his gospel and good news to a band of followers who never really got it right while he lived. When the Holy Spirit came upon them, they found their voice and they found their courage. But even then they were still a motley crew of outsiders and odd ducks. So it continues to this day. We are a motley crew. We are a group of sinners who come together to be the church, not because we get it right, but because God is gracious. It is God’s grace that makes us the church. It is God’s grace that works through us in spite of ourselves. It is God’s grace that makes us the church. No matter how bad we can be at being the church, we are still needed and necessary to the ongoing incarnation of God’s love in the world. No matter how badly we fail at this, at being the church, God’s grace does not.
We are the body of Christ. And we are all necessary to the body of Christ. Let’s take that a little closer to home. Let’s look at how the body of Christ is manifested and made visible in Shawnee, Oklahoma. It would seem that with all the hundred plus churches in Shawnee, there are a lot of hands and eyes and ears. There are a lot of big, important members of the body around here. But at the risk of offending some, I think perhaps we are the big toe. We’re small. We’re struggling. We are trying to discern what comes next. I know that many of us would like to work up to being a hand or an eye or an ear. Even a forearm would be nice. Let’s face it big toes are not glamorous. Unlike hair, no one comments on the long and flowing big toe. Unlike the neck, no one remarks about the graceful line of the big toe. No, the big toe is far from glamorous. But without the big toe, the rest of the body loses its balance. Without the big toe, the rest of the body limps. Perhaps we are the big toe of Shawnee. But that does not make us any less necessary. We are needed. We are members of the body, and I wonder if our call right now is not to become another body part but to celebrate our big toeness and to do what only a big toe can do. What are our gifts? How do we keep this community balanced and walking? We may be the big toe, but believe me, every toe is an indispensable toe.
Let all of God’s children (and toes) say “Alleluia!”
Amen.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

John 2:1-11
January 17, 2016

It's always better to have too much than too little. 

Phoebe had a birthday party this year. Something she hasn't had in a while. We threw it in November rather than in December around her actual birthday because December was just so crazy -- at school and in general. We started planning a few weeks ahead, and while Phoebe focused on the guest list, I figured out what kind of spread to serve. 

It was a teenager's birthday party, so I wasn't too concerned about coming up with hors  d'oeuvres or canap├ęs. Chips, dip, maybe some cookies, and soda are the necessities. I also added in a large pot of apple cider which simmered on the stove. It wasn't hard to make the decisions about what to serve, but I was worried about how much food and drink would be enough. I bought chips. Then I bought some more. I bought soda. Then when I bought more chips, I also bought a few more bottles. I bought cookies, but when I went back to buy the additional chips and soda, I also bought a few big bags of different kinds of M&M's. At the last minute, I decided to bake some pizzas. I cut them up into little appetizer pieces and served those too.

As I said, I wasn't worried about what to serve the gaggle of teenagers descending on my home. But this was this first party we had hosted in a while. It was the first time many of Phoebe's and Zach's friends had come to our house. So I wanted the party to be a success. I didn't want the food to run out. I didn't want it getting around that if you go to Phoebe and Zach's house, there won't be enough to eat. I followed the first rule of entertaining -- it's better to have too much than too little.

I wonder if the party planners for this wedding in Cana used that same rule of thumb; only something went terribly wrong because the wine ran out. Maybe some unexpected guests arrived; the ones that show up without returning their RSVP. Maybe the stewards and planners were off on their estimations of how much wine people would actually drink. Maybe they miscounted how much wine they had on hand from the beginning. After all, they were planning for a banquet that would go on for not just hours but days. Whatever the reason, on the third day the wine ran out. 

To us this probably doesn't seem like that big of a deal. Perhaps it was embarrassing, but the wine would have to run out eventually. I must admit that if this were my party I would be grateful that we'd finally reached the bottom of the wine barrel. 

"Look people, it's been three days. Go home!"

Yet in the context of this story, this was not just an embarrassing social oops. This was a disaster. The wine was the drink of the party, true, but even more it was a symbol of harvest and good fortune. To run out of wine was to run out of blessing. It would have cast a shadow on the bride and groom and their future life together. It's not hard to imagine the panic that must have ensued when the steward realized that the wine was all gone. 

But in stepped Jesus' mother. We see Jesus' mother only twice in John's gospel: in this story of Jesus' first act of his public ministry and as she stood by his cross. When the wine was gone, she stated this to her son. Although it wasn't posed as a question, her expectation of her son's ability to do something is implicit. "They have no wine. What are you going to do about it?"

No matter how we may try to soften Jesus' response to her, it still comes across as rude, disrespectful and unloving. "Woman, what concern is that to you and me? My hour has to yet come."

However, Jesus' mother was not put off by his response. Maybe she knew better than he did what needed to happen in that particular hour. She turned to the servants and told them, "Do whatever he tells you." Jesus does not argue any further. Six stone water jars were there for the rites of purification. Jesus told the servants to fill the jars with water. The servants "filled them to the brim." Then he told them to take some of it to the chief steward. Not knowing where it had come from, the steward tasted the water now wine and was astonished and amazed. He went to the bridegroom and commended him. "Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now."

John ends this story by writing that "Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him."

Now it isn't that this incredible act by Jesus wasn't cool. Turning water into wine is quite nifty, actually. But why is changing water into wine considered a miracle and why did this act reveal Jesus' glory to his disciples? 

I think it all comes back to firsts. In Mark's gospel, Jesus' first public act of ministry was to exorcise a demon. In Matthew he healed. In Luke he taught. These firsts set the tone for each gospel. While to us changing water into wine may not seem to be of the same caliber of first as the other gospels, it is completely in line with everything else that happens in John. And as always in John, there is much more going on in this story than what we read on the surface. 

At a party where wine signified blessing, Jesus not only restocked the wine, he added to it. That's an understatement. Jesus didn't just add more wine, he gave an abundance of wine. Those six stone jars filled to the brim would have meant hundreds of gallons of exquisite wine. It was an abundance of wine. It was an extravagant offering. It was overflowing. It was grace upon grace. 

This happened on the third day of the banquet. What else happens on the third day? Jesus is raised from the dead. Jesus not only receives new life, we are given new life. Life in abundance. Life overflowing. We are given grace upon grace upon grace upon grace. 

You may be wondering about the title of my sermon. You may remember that there is a movie by the same name, and I admit that I was thinking about that movie when I went with that title. Set in the late 1960's it tells the story of a young couple who fall in love and want to get married. The woman brings her love home to meet her family and the plot thickens. Sounds like every love story ever made, except the man is black and the woman is white. This kind of relationship still gives many people trouble today. I can only imagine the outrage it would have caused when it was first made. I was thinking about this movie, not only because it is brilliant and ahead of its time in subject matter, but also because tomorrow we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Each year at this time, I re-watch his "I Have A Dream" speech -- another exercise in brilliance -- and in it he speaks of "the table of brotherhood." 

While it is good and important  to reflect on the message of King's speech, and to consider how far we have progressed and regressed when it comes to race relations in this country, this day has also become a call to service. Don't just use the day to shop sales and sleep in. Do something for someone else. Help to set that table of brotherhood. 

A few months ago I read a story about young newlyweds in Turkey. Refugees fleeing the war and terror in Syria have flocked to Turkey, Greece and other countries. On their wedding day, this young couple decided to take the feast that would have been their reception for family and guests, and instead offer that abundance of food and drink to refugees. Not only did the newlyweds invite refugees to the table, they served them. Most likely they stood for hours and served person after person; they gave every morsel of food, everything that they had. I would have liked to see the looks on the faces of their families when they told them, "Guess who's coming to dinner?" 

But what was that meal? It was a feeding of desperate peoples' stomachs. But it was also a feeding of their souls, their spirits. It was grace upon grace. It was abundance. It was love overflowing. And from his beginning to his end to his beginning again, Jesus offered love in extravagant, overflowing abundance. He gave grace upon grace. That grace continues. It is heaped upon us. It surrounds us. It embraces us. Surrounded by so much abundance, how can we be afraid to step out in faith, to give abundantly out of all that we have, to heap grace upon grace upon others? The abundance of life and love and grace that Jesus ushered into the world continues. Jesus brought love and grace and abundance to that banquet. He offers it to us as well, everyday, at every meal, at every moment. He invites us to come to the table, join the feast, and set a place for others as well. Who will we invite to the table? 

Guess who's coming to dinner? 

Let all of God's children say, "Alleluia!" Amen.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

God's Interruption -- Baptism of the Lord

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
January 10, 2016

That water was so cold it almost hurt. It rained down, drenching me. It was as if someone had poured a bucket of ice water over my head. Which is, in fact, what happened. Two summers ago people around the world were having buckets of ice water dumped on them -- voluntarily. It was a fundraiser for ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease. Because this is the age of social media, videos of this unique phenomena were posted online. Celebrities and regular folks alike recorded their challenge to friends and family to do the same as them; take the ice bucket challenge, donate to ALS, and then actually get soaked with ice water.

One of my friends challenged me, and while it was hilarious to watch her get freezing water dumped over her head, I wasn't so sure I wanted to do the same. But never let it be said that I don't rise to a challenge. The day I decided to do this was a brutally hot day in August. I had just come home from helping serve the meal at the Salvation Army -- where it was also brutally hot. I was sweaty and sticky, and the idea of having cold water poured over me sounded appealing. I went home and told the kids what we were about to do. They EAGERLY filled up a large pot with cold water and ice. We went to the little patio area in our backyard. Zach recorded. Phoebe held the bucket, I gave my little spiel about taking the challenge and challenged others. Then Phoebe dumped that freezing cold water.
Knowing it was coming did not mitigate the shock of that frigid water raining down on me.

It. Was. Cold. I screamed. We all laughed. I immediately grabbed towels to dry off, then changed out of my wet clothes seeking warmth once again. But in that moment when that ice water hit me, I was completely and fully alive to that moment. All of my senses were on red alert. Any sluggishness from the heat or physical exhaustion was gone. I was fully alive, awake and aware. Even though it was brief, that bucket of ice water interrupted and disrupted my usual, ordinary routine.

I know that some of you may be wondering -- and fearing -- where this story is leading. No, I am not about to suggest the ice bucket challenge as an alternative way to reaffirm our baptismal vows. But I do want us to consider how baptism -- with all of its other meanings and symbolism -- might also be a divine interruption in the midst of our usual and ordinary routines.

Matthew and Mark also share a version of Jesus' baptism, and while at first glance the three tellings seem similar, there are some notable differences. In our passage from Luke and in Mark's gospel, the voice from heaven speaks directly to Jesus.

"You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."

This implies that while other people may have been on the scene, this was a private and personal moment between God and Son. In Matthew the voice from heaven declares this news to all.

"This is my Son, the Beloved; with whom I am well pleased."

In both Matthew and Mark, Jesus sees the heavens opened and the Spirit descending like a dove to light on him. The heavens open in Luke too, but Luke adds an interesting detail. After Jesus was baptized, "the heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove."

This detail may not change our ultimate understanding of this text, but it seems to me that Luke wanted to emphasize that the Spirit was embodied. It was not some ephemeral, bodiless ghost that came down from heaven. The Holy Spirit took on flesh and form, sinew and shape. It was as real, physical, and present as you or I.

Whatever the version, this moment in Jesus' life is significant. Matthew, Mark, and Luke include the story; and in each gospel it marks the transition in Jesus' life from private to public. From this moment forward Jesus will fully and completely be the person he was born into the world to be: the Savior, the Christ, the Son of God. Even though many will misunderstand him -- many will fail to see his identity, and even more will fail to recognize what the coming of the Messiah actually meant -- at this moment there is clarity. At the moment of his baptism, we truly see that Jesus is the Word made flesh.

One scholar pointed out that there is a reason why the baptism of Jesus is placed within the season of epiphany. That reason is because it offers this moment of clarity. That's what an epiphany is. It is seeing clearly. It is understanding more fully. It is the lightbulb going off above your head. It is the aha moment. It is being hit with a bucket of ice water.

Maybe this moment served as an epiphany for Jesus as well. Perhaps he saw more clearly. But whether it was an epiphany for Jesus or not, it is an epiphany for us. Jesus was baptized. The heavens opened. The Holy Spirit descended like a dove and we say, "Aha! Jesus is God's son! Aha! Jesus is the one we've been waiting for!"

The good news about epiphanies is that they are not limited to single moments. They are not contained only within scripture. The epiphany of Jesus' baptism is not restricted to his baptism only. Perhaps epiphanies are part of the meaning and importance of baptism.

As I suggested earlier, baptism has a multitude of meanings and symbolism. Baptism is the symbolic rising and dying with Christ. A former seminary professor once commented that most Presbyterian churches do not have baptismal pools, we miss out on seeing the symbolism of dying and rising with Christ enacted. Baptism is a physical expression of our being adopted into the family of Christ and grafted onto the body of Christ. Baptism, especially of infants, represents our belief that God's grace works in our lives whether we recognize it or not. It is an act of obedience to Jesus' command that we go into the world and baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We don't baptize because we think it's magic. Or at least, I hope we don't. We also don't baptize because we believe if a person is not baptized, they won't be saved. That may sound a bit ridiculous, but I've spoken with plenty of parents who fear that if something happens to their child before baptism, that blessed little one will not be with God. Baptism is not magic, but we do believe that it is one way in which we open ourselves to the coming of the Holy Spirit. It reminds us that we make promises to God and to one another -- on our own behalf, or on the behalf of a child -- that we will strive to live what we believe, and that we trust that God's grace and love is fully present in our midst.

Along with these understandings of baptism, let's add one more. Our baptisms -- even when we can't consciously remember them -- are moments filled with epiphanies. Whether we are sprinkled or immersed, baptism opens our eyes, our minds, our hearts to seeing God more clearly. When we are able to see God more clearly, perhaps we can also see God's call more clearly.

Lately, I've been reconsidering what it means to seek out God's purpose for my life. It's not that I no longer believe that there is a purpose. I do. It's just that it is far too easy to get so caught up in the pondering of my potential purpose, that I forget that purpose is something you don't just think about. It seems to me that the epiphany of our baptisms is understanding that God is most clearly visible in our living of the good news.

Are we serving others with compassion? Are we seeking justice for the oppressed? Are we challenging unjust systems? Are we welcoming to the least of these? Are we willing to step out in faith, trusting that God will provide? Are we working for the kingdom?

Isn't kingdom work the ultimate purpose for our lives and for our congregation? I realize that kingdom work takes on many different shapes and forms. But as we remember our baptisms this morning, as we reaffirm the promises of our baptisms, let us also welcome the epiphany of baptism. May the heavens open, the Holy Spirit descend, and may we see God clearly so that we can more fully do the work of God's kingdom.
Let all God's children say, "Alleluia!" Amen.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Talking Stars -- Celebration of Epiphany



Matthew 2:1-12
January 3, 2016

            According to my mother, I was always singing when I was a little girl. Legend has it that one of our neighbors told my mother that she always knew when Amy was around because she heard this little voice singing. I remember loving a wide variety of songs and music. I had a Doris Day children’s album and some of my favorites from that were “High Hopes” and “Que Sera Sera”. I loved Disney songs and pop songs. I was greatly influenced by my older sister and brother. So I knew James Taylor, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Simon & Garfunkel and The Beatles as well as I did the soundtrack from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. I once asked my mom what my favorite song was when I was a child. With all of these stories about my constant singing and my love of music, I thought perhaps she would reply “Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog” or “You’ve Got a Friend.” But no. My mother thought for a moment and said, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”
            It’s not that I was disappointed. Not really. I guess I envisioned that the song I loved as a child would be a slightly more complicated number than that little ditty about twinkling stars. Maybe my mother meant it was my first beloved song.  Either way, I do remember being very small and looking up into the night sky – which was very large – and belting out “Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are.” Perhaps I thought that if I sang loudly enough or long enough, the twinkling stars above me would respond.
            But if those twinkling stars ever sang back to me, I didn’t hear them. The stars I gazed at were not of the singing or the talking variety. The only talking star I’ve ever heard of was the one the magi saw and followed; the one that announced the coming of a new king.
            I realize it is a stretch to say that the natal star was a talking one. Matthew does not record that the star got the magis’ attention by shouting down, “Yo! Wise men! Up here!” No. In Luke the angels proclaimed to the shepherds through words and song that the savior had been born, but in Matthew this magnificent star just shone.
            In my imagination, and in every artistic rendering I’ve ever seen of Matthew’s nativity story, the star that led the wise men was bigger and brighter than any other star in the heavens. Maybe it was. Maybe it wasn’t. But the text does not read that way. It reads that a star appeared that proclaimed the birth of a king. The wise men from the East saw this star, recognized what it meant and followed.  So it could have been a huge star. I know that there are various scientific theories postulating what these Eastern men saw. But whether it was a magnificent and large star or a different star in some other way, the magi understood its message. It may not have literally been a talking star, but it proclaimed the birth of a new king to them. And they listened.
            What do we know about these wise men? Coming from the East they were most likely from Persia. Coming from that distance, they probably did not make the trip to Bethlehem on the same night Jesus was born. It could have taken up to two years for them to arrive. Herod’s evil and horrific decree to massacre children two years and under gives credence to that. We do not actually know the number of these magi. We assume there were three because there were three gifts, but the text does not offer any more detail about the size of their traveling party than that. I read this past week that the coming of the magi was also the first and last time men were invited to a baby shower because they brought the most impractical gifts anyone could ever imagine.
            Stereotypical jokes aside, it is probable that these wise men were astrologers. Let’s not assume that the word “astrologer” meant the same thing then as it does now. I doubt the wise men were writing horoscopes for the Persian Daily Sun. But they were readers of stars. They looked to the stars for guidance. They saw their world through the stars. Because they were readers of stars, they were attuned to meanings and nuances the stars might offer. When the natal sign appeared, they saw it. They recognized it. They understood it. They followed it.
            I do not say all of this as a way to debunk what happened in the heavens on the night Jesus was born. Nor do I offer it as a way to take the mystery and magnificence out of that precious moment. The older I get the more I appreciate mystery. I’m grateful I do not need to know everything. Yet what I do want to emphasize is that the magi did not need a literal talking star to get their attention. They were already looking.
            If God meets us where we are – which to me is the essence of the incarnation of God in Jesus – then would that not be true for these wise men, these Eastern astrologers? God met them where they were. God came to them in the way they could understand and recognize. It would stand to reason that God would meet us in the same way. I think what trips us up though is that we think the only signs God gives are through talking stars or burning bushes or angels showing up in our kitchen. When those things don’t happen, when we don’t see those kinds of signs, then we think that God just doesn’t offer many signs these days.
            But here’s the thing, I think God puts signs in front of us every day. Maybe they are more subtle than talking stars, but maybe they aren’t. We might not be attuned to the messages of the heavens, but what about falling ceiling tiles? The big church gave us plenty of signs that we had to make some hard decisions.
            My first inkling of a call to ministry came from a literal sign; a highway marker on Interstate 64 in Richmond, Virginia that said Union Theological Seminary and Presbyterian School of Christian Education was this way. My mother read those signs and speculated that maybe one day, I might attend those institutions. Her suggestion seemed completely and utterly ridiculous, but well, here I am.
            My point is that the Epiphany was a sign to Persian astrologers that a king was born. This king was like no other. These men were willing to travel far from their home to pay homage to this king. Maybe to others around them, their decision to follow a star was a bit nutty. But they trusted in that sign. When a warning came to them in a dream, they stuck by that sign as well and went home by another way.
            It isn’t that I don’t believe God still sends us messages through big, extraordinary signs. If a talking star is needed, then so be it. But if we believe that is the only way God gives us signs then we miss the smaller, subtler signs that are all around us. Sometimes I wish God spoke to me through talking stars. That would be easier. Then again if God did speak to me through that kind of sign, I might refuse to believe it. But God meets me, meets us, where we are. Signs, God’s epiphanies, are all around us. God speaks to us through crumbling buildings and empty coffee houses. God gets our attention through billboards and highway markers. God’s word comes to us through the unlikeliest of people in the most improbable of situations. God’s message of call and love and hope is all around us; in the heavens, on the earth, in the people sitting next to us, and perhaps even from the person in the pulpit. You never know.
            Let all of God’s children say, “Alleluia!” Amen.