Please remain standing, as you're able, in honor of the reading of God's Holy Word coming to us today from Matthew, chapter 2, verses 1 through 12.
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, "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.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.
5 They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6 "And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.' “
7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”
9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God. Please be seated.
As always, Lord, I pray that you would deliver me from me. Hide me behind the shadow of the cross, so that people see Jesus instead of me. And now, may the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight. O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer, amen.
Where are the Christmas decorations? Why are we singing Christmas carols, both of which we sang last Sunday?
Many of you know that yesterday was what is called the day of epiphany, which commemorates the coming of the wise men to see the child Jesus. When you see a nativity scene, you always see the shepherds and the wise men together. However, Luke's shepherds and Matthew's wise men do not get to Bethlehem at the same time. The shepherds came to see the baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. The wise men came to see the child and to the house where the child and Mary and Joseph were.
The wise men and we sing, “We three kings of Orient are,” but nothing in our text tells us the number of wise men. It's because of the three gifts that are given that people have associated the number with three, but it could have been more.
But they are from Persia, what might be called Saudi Arabia today. They're coming from the east because they are ones they could be astrologers, astronomers, but they are students of the stars, and anything they see in the night sky that looks different puzzles them and causes them to ponder and to ask questions.
They see a star that they have not seen before. Now there are those that will say that several stars came together to form a large star. That may be, because God could have arranged it that way, but they saw this star that seemed to indicate to them that there was a king that was born, and so they started following the star and they got to Jerusalem.
They went to King Herod, told him what they had seen, telling them that they believed that there was a king of the Jews that had been born.
Have you ever seen a king become so terrified of a baby? But this baby, from the very beginning, causes a severe disturbance.
We believe that Jesus was probably around two, because later on King Herod had all the male children, two and under, killed, thinking that he could eradicate the power of God and the threat to his kingdom.
They brought with them gold, frankincense and myrrh. Now if you ladies were planning a baby shower, those are not exactly the kinds of gifts that you would bring. They seem to be strange gifts. They are!
The gold that was brought to the child probably financed the flight to Egypt, once Joseph was warned in a dream to take Mary and the child and flee to Egypt because of the wrath of King Herod.
The frankincense was a sign of worship. They have come to worship this newborn king. It's interesting how scholars speculate about whether they were pagans, or what religion did they follow? But they seem to follow God because they've come to worship the king of kings.
And then myrrh, myrrh was used to anoint the dead. And this foresaw, the fact that this child would give his life for you and for me. We know that these wise men must listen to God, because they were warned in a dream by God to take a different route home. Not to go back to Jerusalem, not to inform King Herod, but to take a different route home.
And for a few moments this morning, I want us to ponder what it means to take a different route.
Most of the time, we think of changing something in our life as a form of repentance, and most of the time we think of going in one direction and we reach a point and we stop and turn around and go back in the same direction? Uh-uh, no! why would you want to go back to where you've been? Why would you want to go back to hurt and sorrow and guilt and shame?
No, you're walking in a direction and you make a turn. Now, if I walk too far here, I'm going to fall off so I'm not going to go all the way, but I'm taking a different, a new route home. My friends, what would it mean this year 2024, to take a different route?
And I have a few suggestions. I've only been here now a week and so, uh, I could probably add more to this list if I were here longer.
We have forgotten, as United Methodist, and we have forgotten, this church has forgotten, during all the turmoil of the vote and the anger and hurt and all and I'm not going to shy away from talking about it because it's already everybody that has said anything to me has mentioned the vote. It's sort of like, instead of BC and AD, we've got before the vote and after the vote.
We have forgotten that the mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
One of the questions that I would pause and ask each of us, how many people were won to Jesus Christ through all the stuff that has gone on? The reason that somehow we've got to take a different route is that we cannot go back to the way things were. But we have forgotten our mission, our purpose to bring people into the kingdom, to realize, as that old hymn goes, there's room at the cross for you. Though millions have come, there's still room for one. There's room at the cross for you. Amen
Thank you. And the ceiling didn’t fall? I mean it didn't hurt anything, so it's okay.
But we also want to make disciples who are going to make a difference in our world, that are going to transform the world, for Jesus Christ. To answer the prayer that we pray when we say “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
In other words, this world, because of our influence, should become more and more and more like the kingdom of heaven. And yet I see a huge separation between what I think the kingdom of heaven is and what this world looks like today.
Secondly, several years ago, there was a what I thought at that time was trite. There was a push to wear a little bracelet that said WWJD, what would Jesus do? I never wore one because I thought it was trite. However, I've changed my mind.
It is time that all of us ask, about each of our actions, what would Jesus do? Because I've seen people in South Georgia and I'm beginning to see people in Mississippi who, during all of this conflict, I'm not sure what they have said and what they have done is what Jesus would do. And so it's time when each thought, each action, each word that comes from our mouth, we need to ask ourselves what would Jesus do?
Third, transparency. I want to tell you, as your interim pastor for just six months, that I'm going to be as transparent with you as I possibly can. You're going to know the financial information. You're going to know whatever it is that you need to know, because we have nothing to hide.
Fourth, we need to recover and teach what we believe.
I believe in the virgin birth. I believe that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. I believe that I was born with an original sin nature and that I needed a savior to shed his atoning blood sacrifice on the cross so that I might get forgiveness of my sins. I believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus. I believe in the authority of scripture. I don't worship this book. Some people have what I call Bible idolatry, but this is my authority, this is my roadmap and I believe one day he's coming back to judge the living and the dead.
There has been a lot of misinformation shared that somehow United Methodists no longer believe these truths. They're part of the articles of religion in our discipline.
And, yes, one of the problems we have in the church is accountability. There are some bishops, there are some groups that teach contrary to what I believe to be Wesleyan theology, but I'm not one of them.
And then what I have observed is that this is a staff-driven church and we are losing a good many of our staff, and we're beginning to realize what they do. Our children's director and our youth director are in charge of preparing the communion elements. That should not be driven by a staff member, and so what I'm going to be asking of you is, as we contemplate the future direction of the church, as we see what we can afford financially and as we see what we have to have as staff, that all of us step up to the plate to volunteer.
There are things that our staff has been doing, and you will allow them to do it as long as they're willing to do it, and after all, that's what we're paying them for. But it's time for us to step up to the plate and honor our vow of church membership. When we vow to uphold and support the church with our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service and our witness.
I want us to develop a generosity of giving, Both financially and in missions. You're already doing a great job in missions. This church has a great outreach program, and I'm going to speak very frankly here. Some of you did not make a pledge for this year because you weren't sure about the future of the church, and I'm asking you, even if you don't write it down on a piece of paper, that you begin to search your heart and the heart of God and contemplate all that God has given you and that all of us are going to need to, if possible, increase our giving
Two more points. There's nothing more magical than to say in closing or two more points because you think he's finally going to get to the end.
I'm going to have an entire sermon on this in a couple of Sundays. It's time for us to forgive. It's time for us to quit demonizing others.
Good people, I didn't say bad people, good people have said hurtful things to each other that under normal circumstances, they would never, ever utter, and it's time to quit holding on to that, to let go of it.
It's a gift you give yourself! And as long as you hold on to it, you're going back to the past and you're rehearsing over and over what has been said and what has been done to you. And yes, you have a right to feel that way. Except, how's it going? How does it make you feel? Does it give you a sense of joy and peace? I think not.
And then my last point I believe that the word all means all. There's no asterisk. Anytime in the Bible that the word all is used there's no asterisk that says we exclude this group and we exclude this group.
When I entered the ministry I was told that the United Methodist Church was a big tent and at that time it had everybody from George Wallace to George McGovern. For some of you that doesn't mean anything, but we can update it. We could say that the big tent today includes everybody from Hillary Clinton to George Bush, and we've always bragged about the big tent that there was room for people of different thoughts and opinions to worship and serve and love each other under the same tent.
I would offer for you, as we prepare for communion, I would offer to you that there's a better example, and that is: we're a big table.
We say about communion in the United Methodist Church that you don't have to be a United Methodist, you don't have to be a member of this church, you don't have to be a member of any church because it is God who gives the invitation and God gives the invitation to all. Again, no asterisk.
And so as we partake of communion, the Lord's Supper, and we remember that he shed His precious blood on the cross for all, then let us never forget that the table of the Lord is large enough to include all. These are some preliminary thoughts of mine as what it would take for us to take a different route. Amen.