First off I need to put out this disclaimer. Technically, I am no longer a layperson writing sermons and delivering them in substitution of a full-time pastor or reverend. Though I cannot be called a reverend because I am not ordained and likely won’t make it there, though it can be a goal, I can be called Pastor now. It is official. I have received notification that I am under a temporary license to work at St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Eureka as the Pastor. In our denomination we consider every member to be minister’s so that is why we say Pastor. Today was my first ever communion service and it went off without dropping anything or spilling anything. I will need more feedback to do some tweaking. Paulina has already mention what she found to be missing, so that is good. I hope others are willing to speak up also. As for my part in the experience, it has been incredible. I don’t know what I was waiting for in holding back. I just hope the Lord stays close to do some serious guiding in this matter.
I will now leave you with what the people in the pews heard from me today. I guess as long as I am posting these, I realize that someone might end up using them. I am fine with that on the condition that I own the copyright to the material, and if you need to use it, share that you found it on a blog by a lowly woman from South Dakota. And if you like, drop me a line about how it went. Thanks for stopping.
The following scripture was used on Jan. 12, 2014. It was supposed to be on Jan. 5, but we called off church due to the weather. Scriptures used were Matt. 2: 1-12, Ephesians 3: 1-12 and Isaiah 60: 1-6. The sermon was titled: “Following the Light” which was for the Epiphany.
One of the things about living here in the rural wide open spaces of either of the Dakotas is the fact that we can see stars. Last August there was a meteor shower and James, Paulina and I took some time to pull out some reclining lawn chairs and look at the sky. I remembered doing that one summer when I was a teenager. It was better that time when I was younger because the back yard was bigger, and there was less light to interfere. Now the house we live in sits right on the spot where we should be looking at the stars. If we could have crawled up onto the roof, we might have had the perfect view, but I don’t feel quite that spry anymore. This August, we ended up behind the house so we didn’t see the street light or the neighbor’s light, and eventually we realized that we had to turn off the security light on the shop, and finally it was dark enough that we noticed some of the shower.
We could never watch meteor showers or stars when we lived in Jamestown, even in our acreage out-of-town. The glow from the city was too bright because of all the water vapor in the air. There are two major reservoirs around Jamestown, and so there are always clouds and a glow, and very rarely do you see stars there.
Apparently the Wise Men didn’t have the problem of outside light sources or water vapor in the air or even clouds covering the star because if we do the math from the scriptures around this section we read for today, it seems that they have been following this star for right around two years. I guess we would call these guys pretty persistent. I am not sure about you, but speaking for myself, I am thinking that if I haven’t found what I am looking for in that amount of time, I am wondering if I would still keep going, or if maybe I would have tried something different by this time. These Wise Men, these Magi must not have had anything better to do, or they else were pretty sure of what they were looking for.
We only find this story about the Wise Men in Matthew. Luke doesn’t mention it in his story about the birth of Jesus, and neither of the gospels of Mark or John deal with the story of Jesus’ birth. Perhaps if it wouldn’t be for Matthew, we wouldn’t even know about the Magi or the star. Yet the gospel attributed to Matthew, the tax collector, gives us an entire chapter dealing with the Wise Men and all the issues surrounding their visit.
When you think about what would interest a tax collector or a financial person this make quite a bit of sense. Besides the issue of the expensive gifts, and we will get to that here soon, we have the political stories. Matthew tells us about Herod and what sort of a leader he was. Now it seems to me that someone in Matthew’s position would have a pretty good idea of what sort of leader Herod was. Matthew also has the story about the children killed by Herod in and around Bethlehem in order to eliminate the baby Messiah. I believe that someone who works for the government would have some information about what really happened in that regard. I believe that Matthew knew these things, and also that he felt it important to record these events in the gospel he wrote.
As for the gifts, you tell me what tax collector or even assessor wouldn’t know the value of a treasure of any kind. The scripture says that the gifts were: gold, frankincense and myrrh. One of the sources I consulted has this to say about these gifts: “The three gifts remind us of who [Jesus] is. Gold is the king of metals, and a gift for a king—a king who rules from a cross. Frankincense is a gift for a priest—for use as sweet perfume in the temple sacrifices. Myrrh is a gift for one who is to die—for use in embalming the body of the dead” (Cox 1999).
Whether the Wise Men realized exactly what their gifts meant, or if those items were just what they wanted to bring to this young child, the gifts of the Wise Men point to the life and death and exact purpose of Jesus on this earth.
First off they mention gold. We all know how important gold is in our world. In the middle of the 1800’s our own state experienced a gold rush and all of the good and bad that came with it. Gold is the standard by which our country bases its money. Gold is considered to be a precious metal for jewelry or even for covering highly expensive furnishings. Even today, gold is at the top of the list of items of great value.
Of the three gifts mentioned, Isaiah includes both gold and frankincense in the passage that we read today. Frankincense used by the priests to perfume the smell of the sacrifices in the temple. It would be a very pleasing aroma to send upwards during the burning of the flesh, to attract the attention of God, so the sacrifice would be regarded with favor. Jesus’ body was given in sacrifice for us. Near the conclusion of our service today, we will have communion and as we partake of the bread, we will remember that sacrifice. Though we don’t use any frankincense or any incense for that matter, we will have time to ponder the sacrifice Christ made for us.
And the final gift mentioned, not in the Isaiah passage, but listed as a gift of the Magi by Matthew, of all the gifts seems to point most directly to Jesus’ purpose on earth. The final gift was myrrh, which was a spice or ointment used for embalming bodies. It was likely the sort of ointment brought by the women the morning that they wanted to do right by the body of Jesus, but instead they found an empty tomb. Now who in their right mind would give an embalming fluid to a toddler?
I have to pause here and add a bit of levity. During the holiday season two of my sisters questioned a memory I had from childhood because they didn’t remember something the way I did. Time out here to tell you the story. We were going to Mobridge to the movie and we began talking about the farm-house that we lived in early on. I mentioned the toilet in the basement, and they said there wasn’t one. One sister even called our brother, who currently lives in that house to ask if there is a toilet in the basement, which there is not at this time, and they sort of asked what I was smoking to have that memory. I have since cleared up the fact that my memory is correct with my aunt and uncle who also knew that house when I did.
Anyway, all I could think of during this argument was the comment by Lucy in one of the Peanuts movies when she kept repeating, “I know when I have been insulted, I know when I have been insulted.” Perhaps that would have been an appropriate response from Mary when the Wise Men opened the third gift to young Jesus, and it was funeral ointment. She could have felt they were insulting her ability as a mother, yet Matthew gives us nothing about her reaction.
No, the gift of myrrh rather than being insulting is the gift that points us to the blood that Jesus shed for us when he died on the cross. Again as we partake of the cup during communion this morning, we can remember the blood, which was shed for us and the great sacrifice made by Jesus. Myrrh, a funeral ointment, tells us that Jesus, this little toddler in the Matthew story, will give the ultimate gift so that when our time comes, when we pass on, we will have the ability to enter the kingdom of heaven in the fullness of one of the children of God. Jesus could have kept that position for himself alone, he could have been the one and only son of God, but instead he made the sacrifice so that we could be joint heirs.
So here we are, not exactly the date to celebrate Epiphany, but we are celebrating none the less. We have read the story and pondered the meaning and now we have the question. What gifts do we offer? We may be two weeks past Christmas, but we still have time to think about this. What gifts do we have to leave for the baby Christ child? What gifts do we offer the world in his name?
What precious items do we have that are worthy of giving to the Messiah? What can we give someone, who has given us the ability to see eternity? The answer is simple: Absolutely nothing—except ourselves. We give our whole being and that means we perform our tasks, our occupations, our jobs with the sole thought of how we further the message of the Christ Child? I have said this before that I have a hard time, sharing my personal beliefs one on one about this Christ Child and about how we get to that status of heirs with Christ, but I promise I will be working on that, and I can tell you with absolute conviction that whatever we do, it is the only thing that matters, no matter what our occupation, we do what we do in the name of Jesus Christ our Messiah. Amen!