PALM SATURDAY

See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death.”

Mark 10:33

At The Lutheran Church of the Covenant, we call this Palm Saturday. Though this is not the day’s official title, we use it as an opportunity for outreach to the youngsters in the neighborhood and surrounding community.

We invite them to do the usual secular Easter things such as create crafts, dye eggs, and, of course, we have an Easter Egg hunt.

clip_image002_thumb.jpgBut the highlight of the day is the time when we take them into the sanctuary and explain to them the reasons for Holy Week and why we celebrate Easter. We reenact the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, waving palm branches and shouting, Hosanna!”

We explain the last supper, Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. We experience the silence of an empty tomb and the joy of the resurrection that follows.

Robert Drummond as Jesus

Robert Drummond as Jesus

It never ceases to amaze me that in each of the four years we have celebrated this day, at least one youngster is hearing the story for the very first time.

The story of Easter is at the heart of our Christian faith. If there were no Resurrection, we would not have eternal life. The importance of this message is too valuable not too share with everyone and anyone, regardless of their age. One is never too young to know.

Posted in Evangelism, Faith, Holy Week, Lent, Outreach, Religion, Uncategorized, Witness | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

A HUNGER FOR HOSPITALITY

“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

Matthew 26:35

We had a wonderful meeting on Thursday, March 20. Ten faithful from The Lutheran Church of the Covenant and Hope United Methodist Church in neighboring Bedford gathered around a table in the Parish Hall overflow room to plan our first combined community meal.

The meal had been a ministry of Maple Heights United Methodist Church, next door to Covenant, for a few months before the congregation merged with two others to form Hope. Although they no longer worshipped there, they continued to do the meal ministry out of the building even though the facility was for sale.

The expected sale cast a shadow of uncertainty on the future of the people’s ability to continue the ministry in the Maple Heights area.  That prompted some of their members to approach some of our parishioners back in January to ask if we would be willing to host the meal, which is offered on the last Thursday of each month. My response was a resounding YES! However, I wanted it to be a full partnership, not just open our doors and let someone else do the work.

We are blessed with a beautiful facility, which is well-maintained and cared for, and which I fervently feel needs to be a blessing shared with the surrounding neighborhood. One of my goals since I arrived at Covenant nearly five years ago is to have to congregation develop an outward focus – to see and act upon opportunities for service in and around the community. The meal ministry fit perfectly with that vision.

Joint Palm Sunday Procession 2012

Joint Palm Sunday Procession 2012

Collaborative ministry across denominational lines is nothing new to the people of Covenant and Maple Heights UMC. Just before they closed, we held a joint worship to celebrate our years together. I had the privilege of preaching at that service. I recalled in my sermon of that day, May 26, 2013:

We from The Lutheran Church of the Covenant give thanks to God for the many years that we have shared as neighbors, sharing many things in many ways over that time – Bible studies, special festival celebrations [I remember specifically the festive Pentecost celebration we experienced just three years ago], our United Hand Bell choir, our common driveway. We have been wonderful neighbors to each other. 

Norm Braun

Norm Braun

This latest ecumenical venture also calls to mind a meeting I had back in December with Norm Braun just four days before he died. Norm was a wonderfully fascinating and passionate 95-year old pillar of our parish, who had been faithfully active in social ministry most of his life. At that luncheon meeting at his home, we discussed two issues that he felt our Board of Evangelism should take on in the coming year – hunger and immigration reform. To the end, Norm focused on the last, the lost and the least of God’s children. Little did he know then (or perhaps he did!) how soon his wish would become reality.

So next Thursday, when we open the doors to feed the hungry in our community, I will think of my dear friend Norm, as I often do. But this time it will be a much more vivid and tangible memory.

I will also recall the joyful times shared with our former next door neighbors, who now worship just a few miles further down the road. It will give new meaning to me of the words of Jesus in John’s gospel: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” [John 12:24]

Norm Braun and Maple Heights UMC have died. But the seeds they planted are now bearing fruit. And for that I say, “Thanks be to God!”

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BREAKING THE SILENCE

It’s been exactly four months since I made a post on this blog. I haven’t exactly been silent, I just haven’t written here. If you are anxious to read my works, I have other platforms on which those appear.

I write a sermon each week, which you would have to attend our worship service to hear. We were podcasting them on our church website for a while but a few technical glitches made it somewhat tedious and we’ve taken a break from posting them for a while. I also write a brief reflection for an electronic newsletter which is distributed each Wednesday. We call it, Wednesday’s Word – catchy title, isn’t it? You can access that by clicking on the title, which will link you to the page, you can also go to the church Facebook page, and also subscribe to receive it weekly via email.

The above mentioned items are based on the assigned Scripture lectionary readings for that week. The posting on this blog is pretty open, although I limit it somewhat because I try to keep it faith or church related. There’s no point in reposting my sermons or reflections here.

Since my last post, four more saints have entered into eternal rest. I don’t want to write about death today. I also don’t want to write about the weather. It’s depressing. And guess what else? Lent is right around the corner. Oh, joy!

So what else is there left to ponder?

Anne LamottWriter Anne Lamott insists that writing is a discipline. If you want to write, sit at your desk and stare at the computer screen if you have to – but write something. I am paraphrasing, of course. I can’t recall her exact words. Nevertheless, I am so determined to make an entry in this page that I am following her advice.

Garrison KeillorI think of Garrison Keillor and his news from Lake Woebegone and how he has that knack for just talking in a seemingly unscripted stream of consciousness manner. I am not that proficient. I can’t just begin talking about anything that comes to mind and just blather on for minutes on end, or write for that matter. I agonize over a purpose, a reason for writing. My other avenues give me a purpose.

So the bottom line is that I haven’t seen any reason for writing on this blog just to fill space. I am sorry to disappoint anyone who has been looking forward to reading my writings. I have made a commitment to do more this Lent. That will be part of my Lenten discipline – to make at least two weekly posts on this blog.

I guess this is proof, to me at least, that the Lamott method works. I sat down, determined to post something, and I did. I hope it hasn’t been a waste of time for you. I look forward to posting more substantive content in the future.

In the meantime, may the blessings of our Lord accompany you as you enter the season of Lent. Peace!

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REMEMBERING GOD’S SAINTS

Give thanks for those whose faith is firm

when all around seem bleak;

on God’s good promise they rely,

so while they live and when they die

how forcefully they speak—

the strong who once were weak!

(Evangelical Lutheran Worship #428)

I have served as pastor at The Lutheran Church of the Covenant for only four years, but I feel I have already preached far too many funeral sermons.

At first, it was an occasional funeral for those who were homebound and not deeply involved in the life of the parish. But as time went on we were saying goodbye more frequently to some very active parishioners, some relatively young, who seemingly were present one day and gone the next. Given the age of the majority of our congregation, the future promises that this will become an increasingly more frequent occurrence.

cemeteryAs we approach another All Saints Sunday (November 3, 2013) I begin to reflect on the lives of those from our faith community who have entered the Church Triumphant in the past year. And though the hope of the Resurrection is a cornerstone of our theology, it cannot begin to suppress the pain of recalling the loved ones who are no longer among the living.

I am loath to name names, for fear of offending those families who may feel their loved one was slighted, but I especially cherish the memory of the ones who have been a blessing to me and my ministry in the brief time that I knew them. Though I obviously spent more time with some than with others, my heart is filled with gratitude for having known all of them; that I, for albeit a short while, was able to be a part of their lives, to share in their joys and their sorrows, to have been allowed a glimpse into their personalities, their histories, their hopes and dreams, their witness to the faith they professed. I recall with fondness the stories they revealed and the delight with which they told them. I saw the face of God in each and every one of them.

On November 1st, the actual All Saints Day, I will pray for each of them. I will read the homilies I wrote, recall the final time I saw them, and give thanks to God for having placed them along the path of my faith journey. For it is through the lives of these saints that we are encouraged to go on living, to face the relentless daily challenges that life hurls at us. It is through their lives that we learn that God walks alongside us, preparing us for the day when we too will know the fullness of God and live in God’s eternal presence.

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A DISSONANT SPIRIT

“Next to the word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world. It controls our hearts, minds and spirits. A person who does not regard music as a marvelous creation of God does not deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of hogs!”

― Martin Luther

bigcurvedstaff

Whenever my wife and I go out of town, we look for a church in which to worship. It is usually a Lutheran church, if at all possible.  Knowing that we will be out of town on a weekend, the first thing I do is go to our ELCA website to find a church nearest where I will be. If the church I find has a website, I go there to learn more about the congregation to determine if that is where I want to worship. I base that on several things, none of which, by the way, have to do with the size of the church.  While it would be nice to worship in a larger gathering, where two or three are gathered is also suitable for us.

What is most important to me in worship is music.  I love to sing.  One of the things that sets us apart as Lutherans is our love for congregational singing. The blessed Martin Luther called music, “a precious, worthy, and costly treasure given to mankind by God.In that respect, I must have been predestined to be a Lutheran because singing is essential to my happiness and well-being.

So I would offer this advice to any church based on my most recent experience. If you have any way of notifying visitors of what to expect at your service, please do so.  For example, if your early worship is strictly spoken, that is, without music, please by all means let a potential visitor know ahead of time.  I was never so disappointed as when I visited a church on Pentecost Sunday, fully expecting to belt out a hymn or two about the Holy Spirit, and not singing one syllable of anything.

I happened to be away from home officiating a family wedding.  That’s what most pastors do when a family member asks you to officiate his or her wedding.  I was asked a year ago and immediately said yes, not realizing the wedding would be taking place over Pentecost weekend. Even though I am reluctant to be out of the pulpit for festival days, this wedding was important enough for me to make an exception. And I would still have Sunday to worship somewhere, even though I would not be preaching or presiding.

Even after a wonderful night of fun and merriment full of dancing and delight, I was looking forward to an even more spirited worship at a liturgical church that I was convinced would be full of the Spirit.  In retrospect, I guess we should have waited until the late service. There was a musician listed in the bulletin, but the organ went untouched during the liturgy and no mention was made as to why there was no music. It cast a pall over the entire worship. I was never so disheartened.

I try to avoid being publicly critical of other churches because I would obviously not like to see my church publicly excoriated by others who may have visited one of our liturgies and found it lacking. But this situation was indefensible. Unless the service is specifically listed as a “Service of the Word,” there should be singing – even a Capella.

So in the future I will check my calendar carefully in order to avoid a repeat of this occurrence.  And I hope readers will not find my comments too harsh or belittling or persnickety, but rather an honest appraisal of a disappointing encounter fraught with unfulfilled expectations.

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PERFECT LOVE DRIVES OUT FEAR

If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.

–The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King

MLKToday, April 16, 2013, marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

There is an op-ed piece by Barnard College professor Jonathan Rieder in The New York Times which offers some insights into the thinking of Dr. King.  While I am not thrilled with the title of the piece, “Dr. King’s Righteous Fury,” it is nevertheless worth the reading. 

I was particularly struck by the quote which I used at the top of this entry.  It is a prophetic indictment of the state of our church today. It had been a while since I had read the letter, and I am amazed at how fresh and appropriate its content and comments remain today, 50 years after its first coming to light.

Sadly, the horrific events in Boston on Monday overshadow the opportunity for thoughtful reflection on King’s magnificent piece of prose, from which we also glean the well-known quote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

We pray for the victims of the senseless tragedy in Boston, that God’s abiding presence may bring comfort and healing to all who mourn. And we ask God to strengthen our faith, renew our hope, and liberate us from the captivity of fear, so that violence may not have the last word. By the power of the Holy Spirit, may we be encouraged to love our enemies, and strive for justice and peace in all the world.

 

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A NEW SEASON

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

John 20:19

Baseball and the BibleAs some of you may know, I love baseball.  As a youngster I lived for this time of the year. I was a terrible player.  I discovered very early in life that I would never become the next Roberto Clemente, so I did the next best thing.  I would buy every baseball or sports magazine there was to learn as much as I could not only about my favorite team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, but also about the rest of the teams in the National League.  I would eat, drink and sleep statistics – batting averages, home runs, RBI’s, earned run averages, and pitcher’s won-lost records.  I read about the players’ personal lives, their families, their hobbies and other interests.  In short, I had an interest and a curiosity that bordered on obsession.

Those of you who follow the Cleveland Indians are very well aware that they have a new manager who has two World Series rings to his credit.  The teams has been improved with free agents.  For the first time since he bought the club, the owner has opened his pocketbook and is actually paying competitive salaries for proven talent.  At least for the first few games, that investment seems to be paying off.  The home opener was this week and for the first time in recent memory, there was an enthusiasm and an atmosphere of expectation that perhaps this team and this town can once again experience the excitement that was felt in the late nineties when winning the division was almost routine.

This post is not about baseball. I merely wanted to draw you in a bit. However, in many ways we can make a direct comparison and contrast between baseball and faith.

The anticipation of winning that World Series championship comes around each spring with remarkable regularity. This hope that a new season brings is never destroyed, no matter how many disappointments we live through year after year after year.

Those frustrations that we feel when the Indians disillusion us, had to be in many ways the same way the disciples felt just after Jesus’ crucifixion.  This was the man they’d pinned their hopes on, the man who was going to take them to the World Series, metaphorically speaking, of course.  He was going to return the kingdom of Israel back to the Jews and drive out the Roman invaders.  But now he was dead, killed like a common criminal, on a cross.

So here the disciples were.  Huddled in a room behind locked doors.  Wondering what to do next.  Worried that the authorities were coming after them and fearful that they would meet the same fate as their leader.  And then the Gospel tells us that Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

And then, our Gospel goes on to say, the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.  Try to imagine that scene, if you will.  The disciples, once cowering in fear, upon seeing Jesus, in an instant celebrating, cheering, high-fiving each other with all the euphoria that comes from watching a star slugger hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth. 

Jesus came and stood among them.  That is not so simple a statement as it may seem.  The doors were locked.   We don’t know how he entered. Yet Jesus came and stood among them.  But he not only stood among them.  He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Here is a new beginning. The Spirit, the helper, will help the disciples lay the claim of Jesus before people.  And seeing Jesus and receiving the Holy Spirit made all the difference in their lives. 

The apostles were now speaking of grace and hope. They were the people of a new way. Their agenda remained the agenda of Jesus. But now the Spirit, as it inspired and empowered Jesus to bring goodness and hope to people, released the apostles from the powers that oppressed them, the power of fear, the power of sin, and showed them the way of peace.

What about us?  We who, like Thomas, were not there in that locked room on that first night of Easter.  What difference does Jesus and the power of the Spirit make in our lives?

We, too, are messengers of God’s salvation.  We are a faith community that is called to be a people shaped by Jesus’ gift of the Spirit given to us in Holy Baptism.  It is about a new beginning, a second chance to change direction (repentance) and to look to Jesus for leadership. It is also a chance therefore to find forgiveness for sins.

To spread a message of forgiveness, Jesus doesn’t call those who appear blameless or somehow most worthy. He calls those who truly know that they themselves have been forgiven.

Let us rejoice in the new beginning, the new season of Easter, the season filled with grace and hope.  Jesus is calling us, forgiving us, and sending us.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

 

 

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WHO DO YOU TRUST?

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?

The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

Psalm 27:1

There are several psalms that I always have at the ready whenever I visit parishioners in hospitals. Psalm 27 is one of them. The very first verse should give you a clue as to why. It is a psalm of absolute trust and confidence in God no matter what difficulties or hardships may confront us in life. They are words one needs to hear before facing surgery or while recovering from sickness.

Verse one sets the tone for what is to come. The remainder of the psalm is consistent in its mood. There’s not one shred of ambivalence, not one ounce of doubt, no swaying back and forth between despair, anger, and pleading. The psalmist is totally grounded in his assurance that God will always be present.

As I post this entry, I am anticipating arthroscopic knee surgery Friday, February 22, 2013.  I have never had surgery on any part of my body at any time in my life.  So despite the fact that this is considered “minor” surgery, it is a big deal for me.  My definition of minor surgery is when it is on someone else. Anytime one undergoes any medical procedure, there is always a risk factor. 

Given the age of our Covenant parishioners, a lot of them have gone through this experience many more times than I have.  Many of them had major operations: cardiac procedures and surgeries, joint replacements cataract removals, among many others. I have had the privilege of accompanying some of them and praying with them before their surgeries and praising God with them afterwards. I have learned so much from them and their situations to the point that I sometimes feel as if I could qualify for a license to practice medicine.  

I am grateful that some of them have trusted me enough to share their anxieties, their concerns, and their fears with me. Others have expressed a confidence so absolute that it is beyond admirable. But my one hope when I visit with them is to leave them with that assurance that God is present with them, with the surgeons and with the medical staff, no matter what the outcome.

What I’ve learned through my own personal encounter is that the greatest source of anxiety stems from our dread of not being in control.  As my family practitioner advised me, “You close your eyes and the next thing you know, you’re in recovery.  And for that unknown period of time you have turned your life over to the medical people, trusting that their skills will bring you through the procedure safely.”

That is a tall order for those of us who are not accustomed to letting others take charge, especially over our affairs, our health, or our lives.  We say we trust God, but do we really?  Our actions demonstrate quite the opposite.  We take matters into our own hands, behaving as if everything depends on us.

Throughout the season of Lent we follow Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem.  Jesus knew what his mission on earth was and, for him, it was not going to have a very happy ending.  Yet he trusted God every step of the way.  It is that trust that he modeled for us that we would do well to consider as followers of Christ and citizens of God’s kingdom.

During the season of Lent we stress the spiritual disciplines of fasting, and prayer and almsgiving.  One of the major reasons we do so is to develop a sense of trust – trust that God provides for our needs, trust to depend on God for everything and to ask for anything in prayer, and to trust that God’s abundance enables us to provide for others.

Two ways God makes God’s presence known is through prayer and the study of God’s Word, and through our community of faith – our church congregation. It is with those people with whom we gather week after week in praise and worship of God in the sanctuary that we receive the support and encouragement that enables us to withstand whatever feelings of fear, discomfort, despair and disappointment we may be experiencing. A few minutes a day spent in prayer and study; and an hour or so a week spent in fellowship and rejoicing just might give us that sense of God’s presence among us, that sense of trust and confidence that will overpower fear.

I trust that my surgery will go well.  I ask your prayers on my behalf.  And I will hold you in prayer – that you learn to develop an unfailing trust in God’s goodness and grace, and move forward in faith, not in fear, in ways that convince us of the reality of God’s presence among us.

 

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The Confession of St. Peter

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

[Matthew 16:15-16 NRSV]

A personal confession:  This text has deep personal meaning for me on a couple of different levels.  First, it was the gospel text that was preached on the day of my ordination, which fell on January 18th, 2003, the feast of the Confession of St. Peter. 

It’s hard to believe that it’s been ten years.  I can still remember the day as if it were yesterday.  I don’t remember what Bishop Marcus Miller preached that day.  I was so overwhelmed by the entire day that the details of the sermon were buried by other memories and the emotions I was feeling.

I wrote the following in my journal a couple of days later (I didn’t know what a blog was back then, so my thoughts were committed to paper).

clip_image002[4]It was absolutely the best day of my life.  I cried uncontrollably.  To see people whom I had known at various stages of my life all together because of me was overwhelming.  It was an affirmation that I had been seeking all my life.  I thank God for allowing me to witness what many people don’t see in their lifetime.

One of the most vivid scenes was the procession.  I had sensed at the rehearsal that I would cry at this point and sure enough, I did. 

At some other point I hope to reflect more on that day.  A lot has happened in ten years and I’m not where I expected to be at this point, although I consider it more important to be where God expects me to be.

The second thought this gospel brings to mind is the day of my first interview with the entrance committee shortly after I had declared my intention to be a candidate for the ministry of Word and Sacrament.  The conversation was going rather well and as the interview was about to end I was asked the question by one of the committee members, “Who is Jesus for you?”

“What a strange question,” I thought.  I began to stammer and stutter and, after what I thought was an eternity of stumbling, bumbling and fumbling for an answer, I began reciting parts of the Apostle’s Creed and everything else I could think of that mentioned Jesus.  Finally I just stopped and admitted that I really hadn’t given that question a great deal of thought.

Now you might think that a rather bizarre confession for a pastor to make.  But at that time, it was really something that I had never explored deeply.  I had been involved with the church for most of my life.  Since being baptized at seven months I have had a relationship that I felt was second nature with Jesus Christ.  As an adult I had been involved in teaching Sunday School, coaching youth basketball teams, doing some lay preaching, serving on church councils and committees, attending assemblies and representing my congregation in whatever capacity I could; but I had never given any real intense thought as to who Jesus was for me.

So I pose to you, the reader, the same question today.  Who do you say Jesus is?

I would suggest to you that that is the most urgent, the most relevant, the most essential question that confronts us today. Wherever we turn in life we are faced with the implications of this question.

Is Jesus your Messiah, or just some guy that lived 2000 years ago? 

clip_image004[4]Is Jesus Lord of your life, or a fellow whose name you mention on occasion, sometimes not in very flattering terms? 

Are you willing to confess Jesus as the Son of the living God at work, or at school, or in the mall, or merely within the safe confines of your church on Sunday?

Jesus is what makes us different.  Jesus is what keeps us alive!

Without a sense of who Jesus is for you, life is just something that happens to you while you are busy making other plans, to echo John Lennon.

Fortunately for me, the candidacy committee accepted my babbling response that day; and that cleared the path to my ordination ten years ago on this date.  I owe that all to the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

On this day of the confession of St. Peter, hear again the question that Jesus asks us again and again, “Who do you say that I am?”

How will you respond?

 

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The Epiphany of Our Lord

“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.”

[Matthew 2:2]

Epiphany is one of my favorite church festivals.  It evokes an assorted set of memories.

The first one goes all the way back to infancy.  As a child in Puerto Rico, Epiphany was our Christmas.  We called it Three Kings Day or El día de los reyes.  On the fifth of January, the eve of Epiphany, we children would take a shoe box, fill it with grass, and place it under our beds.  This was ostensibly food for the camels, somewhat like leaving milk and cookies for Santa.  When we awoke, the box would be empty of grass, but somewhere in the vicinity under our beds, there would be toys or whatever gifts the “3 reyes magos” (three wise men) brought us.  All day throughout the neighborhood the burning question on everyone’s lips would be, “¿Qué te trajeron los reyes?” (“What did the wise men [or kings] bring you?”)

It was not until we moved to the mainland United States that we learned of the custom of receiving gifts at Christmas.  Our thought on the island was, since the wise men brought gifts to the Christ child on Epiphany, it stood to reason that this day should be the day of giving gifts.

But my most bittersweet recollection took place as a junior in college when I was blessed and beleaguered to be in the right place at the right time.  I sang bass in the college choir, and the drama department needed voices to perform in their production of Gian Carlo Menotti’s Christmas classic, Amahl and the Night Visitors.  The script called for the one king, Balthazar, the bass, to be played by a black man.  I happened to fit all the demographic requirements but I was not the 1964 Amahl Photodirector’s first choice.  The original person cast in the role was white and the plan was to paint him with dark brown make up.  When some of the African-American choir members learned of this they were insulted, to say the least, and they made their feelings known.  The controversy spread to the rest of the few minority students on campus who requested a meeting with both the drama and choir director.  The result was that I was cast in the role.  The acrimony that stemmed from the incident was soon forgotten but the results could have been disastrous had I not performed well. 

I don’t know whether anyone was transformed or any attitudes were changed as a result of that encounter.  But the story of the wise men from the East is transformational in its message.  If you’ve read the narrative, which, incidentally, only appears in the Gospel of Matthew [Matt. 2:1-12]; you know that wise men from the East came to pay homage to the child who was born king of the Jews.  Among the messages one gathers from the story is that God’s love and salvation is available to all people, not just a select few.  The wise men were Gentiles, not Jews.  One can assume they were into astrology, which might explain how they received the news of Jesus’ birth by way of the star that was visible to them.

The good news of the Gospel reaches out to us in different ways.  The star in the east, that drew the wise men to Jesus; the angels who announced the birth to the shepherds; are all indications that there is no one way to reach out to those who need to hear the message.  There is no one style of worship that is better suited or more effective in attracting people to Jesus.  I am often reminded of this when I attend worship services of other traditions or hear a debate about liturgical versus contemporary worship.  We can sometimes get bogged down in details and forget the big picture.  It’s not about how we worship but how that worship speaks to us and how we respond.  The lives of the wise men were changed forever as a result of coming face to face with Jesus.  We are called to be that light of a star to others who may also need to come face to face with our risen Savior.  As Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:16 – In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Note:  The photo above is taken from a page in our college yearbook.  In case you can’t tell, I’m the guy in the middle! 

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