Today's celebration at All Saints in Worcester is a bilingual (English and Spanish) celebration of the Feast of Epiphany, "Three Kings Day." While it is a challenge for me, I have tried to write a homily half my normal preaching length so that it could be translated into Spanish as we went along. I continue to be present into this new year with the people of All Saints during the rector's absence.
Eighty percent of the Torah – four of the first five books of the Bible - takes place in the wilderness.
To say this another way, Genesis is a prologue that introduces us to God’s people, who end up in Egypt by the end of that story because of sibling rivalry. And then, when a new Pharaoh arose who did not know Joseph, Moses is called at the burning bush to lead this people to the Promised Land. It takes them four long books to reach their destination: Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are all about wandering around the Sinai Peninsula for forty long years!
Don’t worry, I am aware that the wilderness experience is a Lenten theme and today only marks the beginning of Epiphany! We have six weeks before Lent. But here is what I want to say to you today, All Saints, even before we get to Ash Wednesday: it is not that nothing happens in all that wandering. That's a double negative so let me say it another way: lots happens in the wilderness. Lots is learned over the course of those four decades. God’s people learn to pray for daily bread. They are given a Law to orient their lives by. They are given that tent of meeting, where God is present among them. While no one should pretend the desert isn’t hard, it is ultimately about spiritual formation.
And this is why I am jumping the gun and telling you all of this today. Because this is a formative time for you, All Saints. It’s not fun to be in the wilderness and some days it may feel like (and in fact be like) going in circles. But this season of your life together will be what you make of it. And it will make something new of you. People are coping (and not coping) in various ways, and doing the best they can. There is a mixture of hope and fear, of leadership emerging of and also of pointing fingers, of giving thanks for daily blessings and of asking “are we almost there?” Some are stepping away and others have stepped back in. It’s complicated.
Lent will come soon enough. For today there are these three kings to attend to. These magi from Iran. These goyim. There is one important thing I don’t want us to miss today as we enter these next six weeks of this Epiphany Season: they are on a journey also. Just as the ancient Israelites journeyed toward the Promised Land through the Sinai Desert, so these three journeyed to an unknown destination in search of one who is king of kings and lord of lords. They followed a star. Although we only see them when they arrive, it was surely (as T. S. Eliot imagined in Journey of the Magi) “…just the worst time of the year for a journey, and such a long journey.”
If you are going to sign on to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, Biblical faith in both testaments seem clear: you have to be willing to go on a journey. You have to be up for an adventure. We may not know where we are going but we do know The Way. His name is Jesus. He is the babe to whom the magi bring their gold and frankincense and myrrh, the one to whom we bring ourselves, our souls and our bodies. He is the teacher, the healer, the prophet, the Crucified One, the Risen One whom we trust to be the way, and the truth, and the life. He is enough to go on.
Are you with me? The magi get there a little later than the shepherds but all are welcome and all come to worship Jesus. Together. That’s worth paying attention to.
A quick preview of the next two Sunday gospels: they are both call narratives, which always seem to find their way into this time of the year. Jesus simply says, “follow me.” He says the same to you and to me – and to all the saints down through the centuries, in English and in Spanish and in the languages of many tribes and nations.
I don’t pretend this is an easy time for you here at All Saints. It is not. But I do want to insist that it is potentially a transformative time for good. You can’t go back – not back to the good old days under “name-your-favorite-rector.” Not back to the week before Father Greg arrived here, nor back to early October 2017 when some were relieved and some were angry and many were confused about Greg’s medical leave. There is only a way forward.
This is a critical moment in the life of this historic congregation and I care enough about you to speak the truth in love, because this world is too dangerous right now for anything but truth and too small for anything but love. So if I’m being too subtle or staying too close to the Biblical text let me move from preaching to meddling: All Saints, seek the light. Follow the star. It will lead you to Christ. Bring your gifts, knowing that no gift is too small. What can you give if you are not rich or talented or wise in this bleak midwinter? Give your heart. Start there. It will be enough.
There is a journey ahead and I don’t know how long it will take. What I do know is this: Jesus is the Way and that if we put our trust there, then all will be well. I don’t say that as pie-in-the sky. I don’t say it as if I can snap my fingers and make it so by tomorrow. I say it this way: keep your eyes on the prize. I say it because it is the most true thing I know and that even when you have nothing to go by but a star, if it leads you to Immanuel then it will be enough.
2017 was a hard year. I wish I could promise you that 2018 will be easier. But I don’t know yet what the next few months are going to look like. What I do know this: God is faithful. And you are all saints.