This is the sermon preached by curate Amanda Ogilvie-Berry on the Feast of the Epiphany
To view the service visit our YouTube page. The sermon begins at 18mins 45seconds.
Today I wonder whether we can focus on three things that this feast of Epiphany, that moment when the magi enter Jerusalem, the nativity scene, from the East, enable us to reflect on? What is it that you, or this community, seek? Will we follow the star this Epiphany seeking God as individuals or as the community of St Peter’s? Will we simply seek or will we strive to give back to develop a reciprocal discipleship? Imagining the difference in the magnitude of gifting if we are willing to consider giving our gifts to Christ together as a whole community.
Show of hands: how many of you made New Years resolutions? How many on the 8th day of January have kept to your resolution? I won’t ask you to share them, but I wonder what it was that motivated you, what did you seek in making them? Maybe to get fitter, to be more ethical, to drink less, love more, to be more God focused – my resolution is always to be willowy and enigmatic – I will let you judge how that is going!! This morning I am going to encourage us all to be really honest. If we are naturally inclined to fix our eyes upon Jesus that is brilliant but if we are distracted by more worldly things (I think we are all human!) which we seek, let’s bring them to God together. This Epiphany will you, will we seek to follow God’s star into a journey of holiness being wholly engaged with God in all the things that we think, do and say both individually and in community with one another?
Whoever the magi were, however many, however few, whatever their gender, these were a community of people seeking a sign and when they see that star they follow, setting out on adventure, anticipating they had seen the star of the prophets. They immediately ask Herod ‘where is the child born king of the Jews?’ This mission is not without purpose, background, knowledge or faith. This star the sign of the long awaited messiah. King Herod so often portrayed as a benign pantomime villain but rather a power crazy, dangerous, despot is frightened. This is political dynamite. Jesus is the true king of the Jews and Herod is a usurper – it seems Herod was aware of this himself as he responds in insecurity to the magi. This Herod dies soon after Jesus’ birth, but his son Herod Antipas will be pivotal in the life of Jesus. The house of Herod from the start don’t take kindly to other claims to the title ‘King of the Jews’.
Matthew’s passage is contextual pointing forward at the birth of Jesus to what will happen at the cross where Pilate will have a different kind of Kingly gift for Jesus to the magi’s. His soldiers will be the first gentiles since the Magi to call Jesus King of the Jews but there gifts would not be recognisable to an earthly king. The crown Jesus will receive won’t be made with fine spices but thorns and this throne won’t be gold but a wooden cross, Replacing a bright star will be total darkness out of which redemption will be won by the true king.
So a challenge – are you willing, are we willing together as a community to seek, God’s star and follow it together, for one another, for our Parish to witness to the Messiah – God born in flesh.
I wonder what kind of adventure it will be? Will it take the form of an epic like Lord of the Rings or Narnia, will there be risk, loss, love? Will it be a calm and uneventful adventure or will we face curveballs like Herod?
I wonder how much being a community meant to the outcome of the curveball for the magi. That moment in the passage when Herod begins to whisper in their ears, encouraging a different adventure. I wonder whether they all immediately knew that Herod was a ‘wrong un’, or whether they discerned their way forward together? I wonder whether they were all of one mind or whether some persuaded the others in a process of prayer, discernment and trust? As we arrive at the dawn of this new year what are our curveballs? What is it that throws us off course? I wonder whether in the support, care and prayer of community we are more likely to survive our curveballs than if we journey alone?
Please turn and have a good look at one another. The beautiful, diverse community of wonderful disciples of Christ that are gathered to pay homage to the King this Epiphany. Really have a good look. Think of those who aren’t here today but we would want to come on our adventure too. What do you think? Shall we go on a journey – following the star, seeking Christ the King together, bringing and offering our gifts in service to Christ together? I am up for it, will you come too?
I have packed a suitcase for our community to encourage a taste for adventure for those willing to consider the challenge!
A compass, and a map – now I know if I went on my own I would be immediately lost North is always straight ahead for me, and maps make my head explode, so we might want to put someone else in charge of navigation! I wonder whether you think that might be you?
A flask now I have two –flasks that can be filled with nice warm tea, coffee, soup to sustain us on the journey and to share with those we encounter on the way but there is also a hip flask – have another good look at one another, don’t worry if you are worried about certain people on the journey, community life is not always easy and we have some hard stuff for when it feels tough perhaps the party planners and peace makers could take joint care of that?
Blankets – we will need time to rest, to look after one another on the journey. We will need people who will spot those who need to be wrapped up, cared for and given some extra love so they can continue on the journey – maybe a job for the pastoral carers amongst us?
When the journey feels dark we might need a torch or some candles to lighten the way, re-find the light of the star when we go off track.
We will need entertainment. I have not packed them but I hope the choir will come to give us music and singing to cheer us on our way!
A copy of the vision statement, the Bible and some liturgy. Maybe we will all attend Bible Study as a whole community – sharing God’s word and our love and understanding of it, praying together, worshipping together, sharing our vision and discerning it together on our community 2023 Epiphany journey.
I have packed us a cushion with a reminder that all we need is love. If our mission is going to be successful we will need to be patient with each other, maybe let go of what we want for someone else, practice compromise, love each other even when it is tough and carry each other when one of us can’t continue. And I chucked in some packets of love hearts so that we keep a sense of humour – building deeper, more fun filled loving relationships to sustain us through our Epiphany journey.
Lastly although I would love to hear what you would add – a cross to remind us what it is that we seek, the cost of discipleship and the sacrificial love that is modelled for us by the king we seek to pay homage too like the magi.
Imagine if we achieve our mission, reach our journeys end and find God together – we all felt secure, confident enough as a loving, trusting, community of disciples to offer the abundance of different gifts that we have in service of one another, our community and God.
Matthew encourages us to think about what it means for Jesus to be the true king of the Jews. And then come and pay homage by whatever route you can, however the adventure goes, whatever it is you seek, and respond with the best gifts that you have.
Will you come together to seek God for this place this Epiphany offering the best gifts that you have? You have a star to take with you to remind you that we follow God’s star together wherever we are, connected by community in this place. Whatever curveballs we meet we never journey alone but always together and with God.
We are going to bring the Kings and the gifts up and place them in the nativity scene. You have been given a heart post it note please now consider and write on it one gift that you will offer to this community in the service of God this Epiphany we will collect them and bring them forward for you so that we can offer our gifts along with the gifts of the magi, bringing them in homage to the King as we set off on our community adventure together. Amen.