There was no audio recorded for Wendell’s sermon, but his sermon notes are available below:
Show us your ways, O Righteous One, and teach us your paths. Amen.
As we enter this new year, Grace Lutheran is looking at some changes, some changes we’re rather not make. At our coming annual meeting, we are looking at cutting hours and salaries of some of our staff. The biggest chunk will fall to the pastors. Yet, if well managed, this will also allow us to move ahead with our most crucial areas of ministry as well.
We are not the only church or denomination facing these things. Nearly every church is seeing a similar trend. While some individual congregations are finding ways to buck this tendency, most are coming face to face with this same reality. And those that are not yet, may soon find themselves in our shoes.
Here are the demographics for the US: 80% of those born in the depression before WWII, found their way to join a church and contribute generously to the ministry of their congregation. When their children, the Baby Boomers, came along only 60% of them affiliated with a religious community. The next generation, Gen X, had an affiliation rate that fell precipitously to something like 20%. And while the statistics are still being compiled for the next generation, the “Millennials,” first indications are turning even smaller.
These demographics hold true not only for Lutherans and Mainline denominations, but extend across all Christian churches including some that were growing by leaps and bounds just a few years ago. Furthermore, all religions are reflecting these trends. While people see themselves as spiritual, they have less and less desire for formal religion. Younger people affiliate less with religious organizations than do those who are older. At the same time they also tend to donate fewer dollars per capita as well. Churches are getting smaller.
So should we just shut our doors and go home? Or is there hope for a new church in a new future? Is there something in the story of the Magi that will give us hope in God’s presence?
King Herod was a scoundrel, a very successful, busy, wealthy scoundrel, but a scoundrel nonetheless. Everything he did was self-serving. He even tried to trick the Magi into being his spies.
The Magi, on the other hand, were not even kings, but most likely Jewish-friendly astrologers who went searching to find God’s work in the world. Seeing a portent in the heavens, they left the comforts of their homes and brought extravagant welcome gifts to an unlikely child-king, who had been born in a barn. They went out of their way and gave sacrificially for their faith. Likely their journey took months. Who knows when they started or how long after the birth they arrived. Some have even speculated that Mary and Joseph had already returned to their house in Nazareth by the time the magi arrived.
What the Magi saw there has become a revelation to us all. Jesus, the Messiah, had been born to a couple of young parents. After Herod’s sumptuous palace, the humble house of the baby Jesus was small potatoes indeed. Yet there before them was that child, born in humble circumstances, surrounded not with feather beds and silks, but hay and homespun strips of cloth, the child that would come to be called the light of the world.
But the Magi were searching for God’s Messiah and they saw past the humble surroundings to see the wonder of redemption. God was taking on flesh in order that the world might have a new beginning. Somehow the magi recognized God’s handiwork among them. They knelt before the child and paid him homage.
The humble birth of the Christ Child, God’s Messiah, even God’s own self, had taken on flesh and blood to be like us in our infirmity. This was the wonder the Magi saw before them. This was the miracle of new life for all the people of the world.
God has not stopped doing wondrous things in humble circumstances not even now in 2013. What new birth might take place here at Kings and Harrison? What new tent will God pitch on this corner where we gather? What new miracle might God shape out of our remnant?
God does not always move with the biggest and the best. In fact, just the opposite is true. After all God has saved us not with armies of angels, but with a defeated man hanging from a cursed tree. It is oftentimes in the sign of the opposite that we must search to find the God who will deliver us. God did not come to Elijah in thundering tempest or wild whirlwind, but in the still small voice of quiet and calm.
It may yet be that God is about to do a new and wondrous thing among us, even in our own humble circumstance. If only we will be faithful and patient so that God can work within the parameters that are available to us. We do not yet know all that is set before us. There may be possibilities before us that we have not yet seen. As the star of old led the wise ones to the house with Mary and Joseph and their new son, so also we too have a star that guides us through our desert existence. That star is the scriptures which enfold the good news of that son. In those pages is the account of how God comes to us to deliver us and all the world from the the Herods who lord over us. In that word God reveals that we are set us free to serve our God and our neighbors in need, through the freedom that gospel brings us.
It is the revelation of God’s compassion for us, in whatever need we have, that is bringing us to God’s new kingdom of mercy and peace. That kingdom has not stopped coming. That was the message of Advent, The message of Christmas and now the message of Epiphany as well.
We are God’s people of the promise of the Good News of the gospel. That God’s grace, long hidden from the world, might be revealed in and through us, fellow heirs of mercy, members, through Christ, in one body around the table of grace.
All the paths of our Redeemer are steadfast love and faithfulness. Amen.