Sunday, January 27th, 2013 – Sermon on 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

Today is the Third Sunday of Epiphany. Epiphany, if you’ll recall, is that season of light and illumination. The season that seeks to reveal and point the way to God. Three weeks ago, those three or fifty wise men, those outsiders, those non-religious folk were gathered up by God to point the whole world to the Christ child. We learned that God can use anyone in this world to show Jesus. Two weeks ago, we all got splashed with water as we were soaked in the story of Jesus’ baptism – and we heard that baptism is not an insurance policy for the afterlife. Baptism is an identity that is meant to be lived – You, all of you, all people, are God’s beloved child. Finally, last week, Jesus saved the day by turning water into wine at the wedding party. It’s a story about how with God, the blessing never runs out. There is always more. And next week we get to hear about how Jesus gets kicked out of his home church. Stay tuned for that. It’s a good one.

As for today, well, we get to read someone else’s mail. In Paul’s first letter to the congregation in Corinth, we get to eavesdrop on a conversation. Have you ever done that before? Have you ever “accidentally” opened a letter that didn’t belong to you? Or have you ever leaned back in your chair at Applebees, ever so slightly, just to listen in to someone’s conversation behind you? We do that today with Paul’s letter.

When we parachute in to the conversation this morning, Paul is being a good preacher. He is using an analogy that everyone can understand – he is talking about a body. We all have a body, we know how they work. A vulnerable, hungry, sleepy, and fragile body. Bodies break. Bodies get run down. Bodies suffer arthritis and diabetes. Broken toes and crows feet around the eyes. Bodies get warts and runny noses. They make funny noises at times. We are familiar with bodies. So we can relate to the analogy. He says that there are many parts to a body – a hand, a foot, an eye, a mouth. And that it is these many parts, these different and diverse things that make up one’s body.

But what we don’t know simply by eavesdropping is that back in those days, with Paul and Corinth, using the body as analogy was very, very common. All the politicians used it. Leaders used it. It was an expected, overused and clichéd  image used by the power whenever they needed society to behave itself.

Here is the problem: when the politicians and the leaders used this analogy, they always used it to keep the lowly people, the subordinate, the slaves from moving up in the world. From rebelling against the uppity-ups. The high-class, oppressive people. They would say, “I know you are viewed as the feet of society. You kind of smell. You’re not very pretty. We cover you up and try to hide you with socks and shoes, but even a body needs feet to walk on. So, for the good of society, stay where you are. Don’t try to be something you aren’t. A foot never complains that it isn’t a hand. So those of you on the bottom rungs of society – don’t complain. This is just how it has to be. Just play your part. Don’t try to upset the social order.”

But Paul takes this common analogy and twists it in an unexpected direction. He takes the metaphor of the powerful and turns it upside down.

Paul says that the parts of the body that are the least, the most insignificant, the most discardable, those are the ones that should be respected and honored the most. “The members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect.” Paul says that the least, the inferior parts of our body are the ones to be the most respected and most honored. No part is more important than the other.

He then says, and this is my favorite part, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it.” If one part of the body hurts, the whole body hurts. You know this. If you break your foot, your whole body is affected. Your hand can’t say to the foot, “Well sorry you’re hurting, foot. Good luck. I’m going to go to work. You stay home and rest.” If you catch the stomach flu, your whole body is impacted by it.

If one part of the body hurts, the whole body hurts. And then Paul drives it home. He says, “You are the body of Christ.” Together, you make up a body. Each one of you is different and diverse but together, you are the body of Christ. If one part of the body hurts, the whole body hurts.

Do you see how Paul is turning this body analogy on its head? He isn’t saying that their important people and less important people, just like there are important parts of the body and unimportant parts. He’s saying that all parts of the body of Christ are equally important. No one is more important than the other. If one person, one part of the body, hurts, then the whole body hurts.

Look around. How often do you think of yourselves as one body? I often hear that faith is individual. Faith is personal. People come to church to be spiritually fed for themselves. While this is true, this isn’t the whole truth. Faith is communal. Faith is a community. Faith is never just about us – we exist for others. To love the neighbor. To care for the poor. To bind up with wounded. The community of faith has many members, but we are one body.

According to Paul, together we are the body of Christ. Which means if one of you gets cancer, we all get cancer. If one of you loses a spouse, we’ve all lost a spouse. If one of you has a baby, we all have had a baby. We stand together, not separate. And it is not just us. But our community as well. If one person is homeless, then we all are homeless. If one person hungry, than we all are hungry. This is a radical way of looking at the world, because what it says is that each person matters and is important. It says that each person is a crucial part of the body of Christ. And to ignore them, to act as if they don’t matter is to ignore Christ.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor during World War II and opponent to the Nazi regime, is good example of what this looks like when lived out in real life. Sitting in the back of a truck and headed deep into the Bavarian Forest, Bonhoeffer sat with fellow prisoners heading to the concentration camp at Flossenburg in the final days of World War II. Bonheffer was sitting next to a Russian soldier. As they travelled the Russian soldier and Bonhoeffer talked and became friends. When the truck stopped for the night and it became clear that many of the prisoners would soon meet their demise, pastor Bonhoeffer was asked to administer communion. He agreed and stood to begin, but the Russian soldier, his friend, remained sitting. He said he was an atheist and therefore it would be hypocritical for him to partake. Upon hearing his response, pastor Bonhoeffer sat back down and is reported to have stated, “Then neither will I partake, for how can I be sure that in leaving you for the communion table I would not be leaving Christ.”[1]

To Bonhoeffer, even a Russian Communist Atheist was part of the body of Christ. And to leave him for the Communion table, was to leave Christ sitting on his own.

As we seek to feed bodies with the love of Jesus this year, as we help people come to church who can’t get here on their own because of bodily limitations. As we visit people who are confined to their homes because they aren’t as stable on their feet as they used to be. As we learn more about the shelters in town that provide a bed and a roof for men, women, and children. And as we care for people’s bodies this year in other countless ways, I don’t think we will get anywhere if we don’t realize that together, we are a body. The body of Christ. That it takes all of us to live out this thing called faith. We don’t just come to church for ourselves, we come for one another. To support one another, to pray for one another, to encourage one another.

I saw this play out in a small way yesterday. Yesterday morning, 7 people got together at Steele County Foodshelf. Our task: putting labels on cans of corn. At first, it seemed pretty menial. I even wondered if it was a waste of time. But quickly, we all found that we had a part to play. Rueben was responsible for bringing boxes of unlabeled can to the table. Cameron was in charge of opening and unloading the boxes. Jace, Cory, and Jonh Lowy were the labelers. Jessie and I took the labeled cans and put them back in the box, for Rueben to pick up. We all had a part to play. No part was more important than the other. Together we labeled 647 cans, or 27 boxes. And the work seemed unimportant but only until you saw one of those boxed unloaded onto a shelf, and a young woman take a couple of cans to bring home to her family. The work seemed unimportant, but only until we learned that in the last year, the number of family needing the foodshelf went from 300 to 600. 600 families in our community. And suddenly, what we had done in that short amount of time seemed very, very important. If one part of the body is hungry, the whole body is hungry.

God enters into the world through flesh and blood. We believe in an incarnate God. It’s through you. It’s through me. It’s through us. Together, we are the hands and feet of Christ in the world. So, if I cut to the chase, here’s the point. It’s simple. It’s not meant to be complicated: you matter to this world. What you do matters to this world. Your church needs you. The world needs you. Your life is not just your own. You are part of something much bigger than yourself. You are apart of the body of Christ.  AMEN

[1] Andrew Root and Kenda Creasy Dean, The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry, p. 108.


Sunday, January 20th, 2013 – Sermon on John 2:1-11

John 2:1-11

I was in the 9th grade. Sitting there in the front row of my biology class, I looked at my teacher in the back of the room.  We were talking about acids and bases that day.  She took in her hands one glass of water and one glass with a clear base solution. Then raising both glasses, she poured the water into the other glass.  As the water hit the bottom of the other glass, one could see a chemical reaction happen immediately.  The water had become a deep, dark, red.  Our teacher looked up and said, “See……water into wine.”  And at that moment, I could not help but think to myself, “Aha! That’s how Jesus did it….”

Our gospel story for today is the infamous wedding at Cana.  Jesus’ inaugural event in the Gospel of John in which Jesus saves the day.  He saves the wedding guests from their sobriety and the wedding party from the embarrassment of running out of wine.  He does all of this of course, by turning over 120 gallons of water into wine.  Not just any wine – the best wine.  But with many of Jesus’ miracle stories, this story begs the question: really? What really happened that day out in Cana? Really, someone turning water into wine? C’mon.

I mean, maybe something else happened. Perhaps Jesus simply pulled out a secret stash of wine from underneath the table.  Or maybe everyone was too drunk to notice that Jesus and the servants had left to make a quick run to the liquor store.  Or who knows, perhaps Jesus knew something about acids and bases, like my biology teacher, and was able to pull off a similar kind of magic trick.

So often we get caught trying to explain how miracles such as this either did or did not happen and we start making up theories that help us cope with the strangeness of such stories.  But is that really the point?  Is it important to know how it happened?  Because in the end it just sounds like magic and I have to believe that Jesus is more than a magician. Maybe the purpose of this story is not for us to wonder whether or not the miracle happened and how.  Instead, perhaps the purpose is to wonder what the miracle points to, or reveals, about God.

You see, John doesn’t even refer to this event as a miracle. He refers to it as a sign. It is the first of Jesus’ signs. And signs are things that point. Signs point us toward things. They show us how to get somewhere, like highway signs. And in John, Jesus’ miracles are no different. Jesus’ miracles are never what we are supposed to focus on. Instead, we are to focus on what these miracles, or signs, point to.

So let’s try again. Let’s look at the story with new eyes.  Jesus and his disciples are invited to a wedding and the wine has run out. Something always goes wrong at a wedding, doesn’t it? At ours, the musicians started too early and no one went to get Lauren when the ceremony was about to start. If there is a wedding, you can be sure something is going to go wrong.

Back in the day, weddings typically lasted a week. Which means the time hasn’t run out on this wedding reception quite yet. And they are going to need more wine.  So Jesus’ mother makes a plea with Jesus to do something. Jesus resists the idea a little bit at first, saying that it isn’t really his problem. It is the families of the bride and grooms problem.

But, like a good son, Jesus listens to his mother and comes around.  Jesus tells the servants to fill six huge stone jars with water and then to take some of it to the chief steward.  The water becomes wine; the chief steward tastes it. And then he proclaims with great joy that the bridegroom had saved the best wine for last. You see, back in the day, during such feasts, hosts would serve the best wine first. You know, while people were still paying attention to such things as the quality of the wine. But once people became, let’s say, less attentive to details, they would bring out the boxed wine. The cheap stuff. But Jesus not only turns water into wine. He turns it into the best wine that is saved for last. It was the first of his signs, the text says. So the question isn’t “How did he do this?” The question is, “What is this sign pointing to?”

To answer this question, perhaps a little history. You see, in the Old Testament times, an abundance of good wine was a sign of restoration and the coming of a new age for God. Lots of wine was a sign of joy and blessing. The absence of wine, on the other hand, was a sign, of God’s wrath and God’s judgment. So you can imagine the embarrassment of running out of wine at your wedding.  You can imagine the shame. How humiliating for the couple and their parents for the sign of blessing to run out. But then Jesus shows up, delivering gallons and gallons and gallons of the best wine.

You start to see what this sign is pointing to. It is “in the abundance and graciousness of Jesus’ gift, [that] one catches a glimpse of the identity and character of God.”

That is, with God the blessing never runs out. Jesus’ sign reveals to us something about the character of God. With God, there is always enough blessing to go around. God is not one who withholds wine, but God is one who gives it abundantly as a sign of our relationship with God, as a sign of God’s abundant and everlasting love for all of creation.

If it’s true. If there is always more than enough blessing, then maybe there is enough for you and me, even now. Have you ever experienced a blessing? Have you ever not had enough of something? Enough money to pay your bills, enough food to settle your stomach, enough love to keep living? And then suddenly, whoosh. There it is. In an envelope in the mail, or a friend stopping by with dinner, or phone call just in time?

Has worship ever been a time of blessing for you? A time where you just walked out feeling uplifted? Perhaps the hymn speaks the words that you needed to hear or Communion filled you right where you need it. Or what about passing the peace? We’ve started passing the peace in the past year. Some of you really like it. And for others, it has been a challenge. Wherever you are, let me tell you how the passing of the peace has been a blessing. Someone once shared with me, “My favorite part of worship is passing the peace. It’s the only time of the week where someone touches me.” Contrary to popular opinion, the passing of the peace is not simply social hour or a greeting. Passing the peace is quite literally…passing peace. It is to encounter another’s humanity. Another person’s body. It is looking someone in the eyes, and seeing them. It is touching someone’s withered, or weathered, young or yearning hand, and saying, “Peace to you.” And you don’t quite get that until you’ve had a hard conversation with someone in church. Where you don’t agree. Where you might even be mad at each other. I’ve had that with some of you. And then you pass the peace. It means something. It is a time to make peace. And it can be the greatest blessing. The truth is that once you’ve been blessed in some way, it is not hard to see how you can be a blessing to others.

We are going to talk a lot this next year about bodies. Our focus theme for this year is: Feeding Body with the Love of Jesus. Having a singular theme like this helps to unify us as a congregation. We come together to ask: what is it our bodies need in order to feel blessed and cared for by God? Is it a ride to church? Someone to come and visit us when we are lonely? Is it shelter and a warm meal? I invite you to join us in this focus this year. Keep an eye out for what your body needs. Keep an eye out for what other people’s bodies need. And keep an eye out for how you might be abled to help.

Brothers and sisters, do not hear this story of Jesus turning water into wine as a time to wonder about the laws of chemistry or Jesus as a magician.  That is not the point.  And it is too easy to get stuck there.  But hear this story as a time to wonder what Jesus is revealing about the character of God. With God, blessing never runs out. There is always more. And as you are blessed by God, then may you be a blessing to others. AMEN

Sunday, January 13th, 2013 – Sermon on Luke 3:15-22

Luke 3:15-22

If you have ever heard the same story told by two different people, then you know how many different ways there are to tell a story.  And often the way a story is told tells you something about the storyteller. For instance when two brothers come home from a fishing trip–one who didn’t catch a thing and the other who caught 5 fish, including a 15lb walleye–they will tell you different stories.  One will tell you how it rained the whole time, how impossible it was to sleep on that uneven ground, and how poorly his brother set up the tent.  The other one will tell you how delightful the weather was, how he didn’t mind not sleeping because it just meant he got to listen to the sound of creation throughout the night, and how he can’t wait to do it again next month.  Same event, different details.  And it is the details that make all the difference.

The same is true for the writers of the four Gospels. Each of them try to tell us something by how they tell a story. What details they put in. What they leave out. Each of the gospels writers tells of the baptism of Jesus in a completely different way.  Now, in the Gospel of John, Jesus isn’t even technically baptized, so we will just leave him out of this.  In Mark, when Jesus is still soaking wet in the river standing next to John, God speaks only to Jesus, saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” In Matthew, John baptizes Jesus and then God speaks to everyone, not just Jesus. God says, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

But the way Luke tells the story is quite different than both Mark and Matthew. In Luke’s version of the Jesus’ baptism, someone is missing. Listen again:

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

Someone is missing from this event. Who is it? Who is missing? John is missing. John the Baptist. That little section that was left out of the lectionary reading in your bulletins, Luke explains why.

John proclaimed the good news to the people. But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, added to them all by shutting up John in prison.

So John is missing because John is prison. Put there by King Herod. But if John is in jail, then who baptizes Jesus? Listen:

 And when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

Who? The Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit baptizes Jesus. Now, I don’t think that Luke is trying to make a historical statement by saying that John wasn’t there when Jesus was baptized. I think Luke is trying to make a theological statement. Who baptizes Jesus? Not John. The Holy Spirit. It seems Luke is saying it does not matter if John is the one who poured water over Jesus’ body or not. Baptism is about God’s action. This is not a historical statement. It’s theological. It’s about God. Who baptizes? God baptizes! The Holy Spirit baptizes. It doesn’t matter who is handling the water. Whether it is John the Baptist, me, or your aunt who pours water over you – God is the one who baptizes.

A couple of years ago, I heard the story of a woman in her 80s. She was attending worship one Sunday morning and during the sermon, the pastor proclaimed to the congregation this message. That God is the one who baptizes, not the person pouring the water. The woman caught her breath, not expecting to hear those words. And also not knowing how much she needed them. With tears coming down her face, she approached the pastor after church. “Is it true? That God is the one who baptizes?” “Yes, it is true,” the pastor said. The woman spoke again. “When I was born, I was very, very sick. They didn’t think I would make it. So there in the hospital room, in great fear, my aunt baptized me. And all my life I have wondered and worried that I was not enough because I was never truly baptized. That it didn’t count and I didn’t count. Because it had been my aunt in a hospital and not a pastor in a church. I have felt incomplete. But now I know. It wasn’t my aunt who baptized me that day in the hospital; it was God.”

More than telling us about Jesus’ baptism, Luke is saying something about God. That in baptism, God is the actor. God is the one doing something. It’s not you choosing God; it is God who has chosen you. God has claimed you. Baptism is a claiming event. It is about hearing for the first time who has claimed you. Who you belong to. To be soaked and washed in God’s claiming love. It’s a love that says, “You are mine.” It is all about identity. Your identity.

Have you ever wondered about your identity? Have you ever asked the question: who am I? So often, when we want to get to know some one, when we want to know who they are, we begin by asking them, “What do you do?” What’s your career, your job? Or we ask seniors in high school – who do you want to be when you grow up? And this is when we start to associate who we are not with who we belong to. And who has claimed us. But with what we do. And then, if who we are depends on what we do – what happens when we lose our job? Or when we fail at our job? Or when we retire? We feel like a nobody.

But with God, your identity does not rest in what you do. But in who has claimed you.

As you might imagine, I read a lot of children’s books these days. One of my favorite books is called Are you my mother? If you don’t know it, it is the story about a baby bird that has just hatched. But just before it hatched, its mother flew away to go find it some food. So when the baby bird hatches, its mother is nowhere to be found. So the baby bird goes around to all different animals asking, “Are you my mother?” To the kitten, “Are you my mother?” To the hen, “Are you my mother?” To the dog, to the cow, even to a big bulldozer, “Are you my mother?” Finally, in the end, spoiler alert, the baby bird sees its mother and says, “I know who you are. You are not a kitten, or a hen, or a dog, or a cow. You are a bird. And you are my mother.”

This is a story about identity. The baby bird is wondering who it is and who it belongs to. And what I love about this book is that the bird’s identity does not rest in what it does or what it accomplishes. It doesn’t rest in whether it is a good bird or a bad bird. Its identity is discovered and rests in who its mother is. Who it belongs to.

We ask these questions: who am I? Am I enough? Baptism says you are made by God. You are made in the image of God. And you belong to God. This is your identity. And then the questions of who am I? Am I enough? They can fall away. It doesn’t matter what other people think of you or say about you, this is who you are. You are God’s child. Be who you are. Every thing we do should flow out of that promise. I don’t care what you’ve done in your life, good or bad, you are God’s child and you are loved.

I know this may sound redundant and old-hat. God loves you. We hear that all the time. But as we continue to spend time together, what I continue to learn is how much we still need to hear this. We need to hear this over and over and over again. We forget it. We lose sight of it. Because it dissolves away too quickly. Every week, atleast, we need to hear these words from God. You are my child. I love you. Martin Luther says that we must remember it daily. Every day. And not just us. But the people in our community needs to hear these words too. The kids at the alternative school need to hear these words. The men and women in the detention center need to hear these words. The people at our places of work and the people in our families need to hear these words.

Let me just say again as I have in the past, if you haven’t been baptized, or if your child or your grandchild hasn’t be baptized, this water and these promises are for you too. You have them.

So, let’s all listen to them. Let them sink into your bodies and be digested. Take them in so that they might change our life. And then let’s be people who share these promises to others, with our words and with our actions. Let’s be a community who tells others these words of God: You are my child, my beloved. I am pleased with you. Amen

Sunday, January 6, 2013 – Sermon on Matthew 2:1-12

Matthew 2:1-12

Welcome to the season of Epiphany.  The season of illumination – where we announce God’s light as revealed and radiated throughout all of creation. So don’t put away your Christmas lights just yet. Keep them up for a couple more weeks. They remind us of this season of light. It is fitting that we have a reading from the Gospel of Matthew, which has a particular infatuation with light, beginning right here in our story of the wise men for today.

The whole story gets started because of a light. A star shinning like a diamond in the sky. But what is almost more amazing than this star dancing in the moonlight is the people who first saw that star. Those three kings or three wise men, however you like to call them. But you know, nowhere in the text are they referred to as kings. And nowhere does it say that there were three of them. We are so familiar with this story that we forget what it actually says. And it doesn’t say much about them. All we really know about these so-called wise men is that they are different. They are different. They come from another land. The East. They are foreigners. They are non-religious. They are not Jewish. They don’t worship in a temple. They are astrologers and magicians who watch the sky. So you can see how that’s the particularly amazing part of this story. That this guiding light leading to the Christ child would be revealed to these men who are different then everyone else. And that they become the ones who point it out to the rest of the world.

So these wise men – who knows how many – see this star shinning and they follow it all the way to Jerusalem to the palace of King Herod. They come up to King Herod and they say, “Uhh…have you seen the king of the Jews? We’re looking for the child born king of the Jews.” Now that takes guts. To walk up to King Herod, the king of the Jews, and to say, “Have you seen the king anywhere?” And notice how King Herod responds. He becomes frightened. And so does all of Jerusalem.

The bible says that love casts out fear. But the opposite is true as well – fear casts out love. Think about it…it is hard to love when we are afraid. And often we are fearful when people who are different than us come into our life. Too often we become afraid of what their presence might mean. We are afraid of the change they might bring. And as a result, it makes it very difficult to love those who are different than us.

I’m not saying Herod wasn’t right to be afraid. The wise men are coming to point to the One with ultimate power. A new king who will outlast Herod – a child born in Bethlehem named Jesus. Who rules not with power and might, but with unconditional love and forgiveness.

So then, King Herod who is now afraid of these men speaks with the religious ones, the chief priests and the pastors. Who didn’t see this star in the sky, by the way. Together they learn that this child must be in Bethlehem. So King Herod sends these wise men to Bethlehem to find this child born the king of the Jews. They go and on their way they keep following that star in the sky until it stops over a house. Not a stable, mind you, so this is probably a couple months or years after Jesus’ birth. They enter the house of Mary and Joseph and they kneel before Jesus. These non-religious, non-Jewish, magicians, who are different come and kneel before Jesus. Pointing the way to the Christ child.

God uses people who are different – these so-called wise men – and they become the ones who point us to the Christ child.

This is a story about how God’s embrace is getting broader and broader and broader. The grace and love and activity of God reaches far beyond any boundaries that we might set up between who is inside and who is outside. The God found in the Christ child and in the story of the wise men reveals that there is no longer insider or outsider. All are welcomed into and participate in God’s saving grace for the world. This is the way of God.

Which then begs the questions, who are the people in our lives who are different and maybe even stir up fear in us and might God be revealing Christ to us through them?

A couple of years ago, on a winter Sunday morning, I decided to go to a church I had never been to before. The church worshipped in a school auditorium. So I pull into the parking lot of the school, close to the front doors. And as I am walking in, all the way over on the other side of the parking lot, I see a Muslim man. A man whom our culture has told me to be afraid of, just like Herod was afraid of the wise men. And this man has two beat up traffic cones and is standing beside what I assume was the cheapest van he could afford. And in the driver’s seat of the van was his wife. He was teaching her how to drive. I watched them for a couple of minutes and even though I knew nothing about them, you could get a sense of their story. Here was a husband and a wife, in a foreign country, just trying to get by. Perhaps they fled violence from their homeland. Perhaps they fled poverty in search of a better life. I don’t know their circumstances. But here was this man, compassionately yet quietly, teaching his wife how to drive, probably so that she could find work. About an hour later, when I walked out of church, I realized that I experienced Christ more fully in watching this Muslim man care for his family than I did in going to church. He was a foreigner who was a different religion than I, and his ordinary act pointed me towards Christ.

With God, there are no insiders or outsiders. God’s grace and love for this world reaches far beyond any boundaries we might set up.

Last year, an Owatonna businessman suddenly found himself out of gas on Highway 35 heading back into town. It was about 11:30 at night. He didn’t exactly want to call his wife to get her out of bed to come and get him. All of a sudden a rusty old car pulls up and two Latino men step out. In broken English, they ask him if he needs help. He tells them that he is out of gas and needs to get to a gas station. “We’ll take you,” they say. The whole time, this man is feeling a little uncertain and afraid. Really, God? Can I trust these men? Is this safe? Well, he goes with them. The two men end up paying for his gas and on the way back, he learns that when they stopped to help him, they had been going in the opposite direction. Which means, they turned around at the Medford roundabout to come back for him. In the end, when he tried to pay them for what they did, they declined, saying, “No, no. We are from Owatonna and we are Christian. We wanted to help you.” And then they were gone.

With God, there are no longer insiders and outsiders. God’s grace and love for this world reaches far beyond any boundaries we might set up.

And so, I wonder, where do our boundaries need to be stretched? Who is God inviting us to welcome into our life as a way of growing our own circle of love? Where is God pulling on our hearts, making them bigger and bigger so that there is room for more in there? Our theme for this year is Feeding Body with the Love of Jesus. What type of bodies, what type of flesh and blood people is God calling us to reach out to and feed?

Is it the lost driver on your street with a different skin color than yours and poor English? Is it the kid at school who acts and dresses a little bit different than everyone else?  Is it your gay family member who no one really speaks to anymore? Because the truth is, just as Christ lived and died for you, just as you are today. With all of your fears and failures, insecurities and inadequacies. Christ lived and died for them too. Just as they are.

We are all in this story, but I don’t know what part each of us plays. You might be the insiders, the Herods and the chief priests. The ones who are afraid of those who are different and fearful of what their presence in your life might mean. Or you might be the wise men. The ones who are different and foreign in someway. Either way, I hope and pray that all of us leave here changed and different. Because today, God comes to you speaking a word that declares that you are not an insider. And you are not an outsider. God’s grace and mercy and love for this world extend far beyond any of our imaginations. There are no longer insiders and outsiders; we are all tangled up in God’s grace, now and forever.

One last thing. Did you notice what the wise men did when they left Jesus? They went home another way. That’s what happens when we encounter Jesus and we are transformed. Our whole life is rerouted.

So, this morning, as a way of living out your faith, as a way of participating in this epiphany story of the wise men, I invite you to go home a different way. If you usually head east out of the parking lot, go west. If you usually go west, head east. If your home is north of here, drive south for a couple of blocks. Who knows what you will see. Either way, you get to see a new piece of this world and the people and creation in it, that God loves so much.  Thanks be to God. AMEN