Sermon January 3, 2016
“The Best Part”
A new year feels like a fresh start. The slate has been wiped clean and we can begin again. Perhaps you made resolutions to do things differently this year. Perhaps you have given up on those, but you would still like the opportunity to start something new or leave something behind. I love this opportunity for our congregation. Do we have some things we would like to release from last year? What are we looking forward to the New Year as a faith community? I am looking forward to deepening relationships with one another. We have planned a wonderful Lenten series using the book Learning to Fall: The Blessings of an Imperfect Life by Philip Simmons. This exquisite book helps us explore what it means to really live as we share part of Philip’s own journey with ALS. We are planning other opportunities to gather as a congregation and enjoy one another’s company through dinners, games, and growing relationships with our neighbors. We have a big map and we are going identify church members who are in our own neighborhoods so that we can connect with one another. Knowing one another and our neighbors opens up all kinds of opportunities. I have heard from many of you how much you appreciated hearing the stories of those who share them this fall. We are going to send them once a month so you can continue to know one another in that way. I am so excited to see what this year will bring!
We begin the New Year with the story of the Epiphany. Last Sunday, a group of us braved the weather and had a “small church service”. We talked about how strange it was that Jesus was born on Dec 24 and on Dec 27, he was in the temple as a twelve year old. That is one fast growing kid! Now we are back to baby/toddler Jesus being visited by some stargazers bearing gifts. This is one of the high holy days of the year. Churches often treat this day as anticlimactic after the big push for Christmas; some of us are still recovering. But in many parts of the world, Epiphany is a bigger holiday than Christmas with gift giving tied to the wise ones who brought gifts rather than Santa.
There have been many conversations and even jokes about the gifts the wise ones brought including the one that says wise women would have asked directions, arrived on time, cleaned the stable, baked a casserole, and brought practical gifts. The thing is, there is no gift that equals the gift of Jesus. Frederick Buechner says, “For all their great wisdom, the wisemen overlooked the one gift the child would have been genuinely pleased to have someday—the gift of themselves and their love.” (Peculiar Treasures, p. 195)
This hit me. I started working on this sermon at the tail end of Advent. We were still stressing over buying the right gifts for each person on our list. So here are these astrologers who watched the night sky for something big to happen. When it happened, they wasted no time. They knew that the best response was to go. Something had happened and they didn’t want to miss it.
How many times in your life have you missed something right in front of you? I took Astronomy in college. I took it pass/fail and assumed it would be easy so I blew it off. I didn’t do much more than show up. I passed…barely! I think back to that semester and realize that I wasted it. I don’t know anything about the stars. It makes me mad at myself that I would squander an opportunity to learn about our awesome cosmos.
I wonder if that is part of the message of Epiphany. Something amazing is happening. God’s light shines bright in the world. Don’t miss it! Don’t be so buried in what you are doing that you miss what God is doing. Don’t get so lost in the details that take so much energy that you miss the awesomeness right in front of you.
DL Dykes was a minister in Shreveport who told about a life lesson he learned as a boy. He grew up in a little town in Louisiana called Pleasant Hill. Each year DL and his best friend Bobby went to the state fair in Shreveport. These two boys loved sharing the excitement of the fair. One year they went separately because of schedule conflicts so they got together later to compare notes afterward.
Bobby asked DL, “Did you see that big pig that TJ Horn showed?”
DL replied, “Yeah, that was great, wasn’t it?!”
DL asked, “Did you ride the ferris wheel so you could see all of Shreveport?”
Bobby said, “Yeah, that was great too!”
Bobby asked, “Did you ride the roller coaster?”
DL, said, “No, we ran out of time and had to leave so I didn’t ride it.”
Bobby said, “Oh DL, you missed the best part!”
DL went on to say, “I’m not worried about standing before God and being punished for my sins. I’m worried God will say, ‘DL, you lived your life, but you missed the best part.’”
We stand at the beginning of a new year. Oprah calls the new year “another chance to get it right.” The world gives us a calendar and calls January the opportunity for a fresh start. As followers of Jesus, we have that opportunity every day. We don’t have to wait for a new year, but since we are here…let’s take advantage of it. This is what we have to offer God – our lives. Each day is an offering. Many years ago, I heard the saying, “Your life is God’s gift to you. What you do with it is your gift to God.” God has given us another precious year. The best thing we have to offer in return is to make the most of it. The best part is what is in front of us right now. That may be hard to hear if you are in the midst of unemployment or grief or fear about your future. But the present is what you have.
Today you are invited to come forward to receive communion and to set your intention for the coming year. You may light a candle for someone in your heart or for peace in the world. You may also light a candle as a tangible expression of your intention to live every day so that you won’t miss the best part. Don’t worry. The light of Epiphany will illuminate your path.
This is true for our community as well. We are entering a new year and we can move into this year with a commitment to truly be the Church. We can deepen our relationships with one another. We can reach out to our neighbors. We can pray for and work for peace in our world. We can say yes to the opportunities that come our way and be the church God has called us to be. Last year, a local concert theme was “The Best is yet to Come”. I would like to amend that to say that today is the best day there is. The light of Epiphany shines bright in our midst calling us to say yes and live with every fiber of our being. Today we say yes and know that we will not miss the best part!