God calls us to be open to the world before us and the ways that God reaches out to teach, even through people we might not expect.
Vicar Mollie Hamre
Epiphany of Our Lord, Year A
Texts: Matthew 2:1-12
Beloved in Christ, grace and peace to you in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Learning about other religions has greatly impacted my faith life.
In my undergrad, I was involved in Campus Ministry as Co-President for an Interfaith group. The Interfaith Group encouraged discussion and questions about different denominations, religions, and beliefs. Through that, I became close friends with one of my peers from India, whose background is Hinduism and Buddhism.
I recall one evening over finals week stopping by the Chapel and I saw her sitting in the sanctuary praying. She looked up, waved and I walked over to ask her what she was doing there. She told me that her mother had encouraged her to go pray to God for peace and encouragement over her difficult finals week. I wished her good luck, grabbed what I needed from the office, and left.
But internally, I was bothered by this interaction.
I was confused at how she could go and pray in the Chapel when she was not a Christian. I found myself irritated that in all the learning and preparation I was doing for Seminary there was no way she could understand the Triune God that was a part of that space for me. And truthfully, I was jealous that someone who, I assume did not know my religion, felt peace in that space. The same space that I, at times, struggled to find peace in.
But those differences in religion and context is where God appears in the Gospel today.
We hear the familiar story of the magi following the star to seek out “the child who has been born king of the Jews.” Children’s stories deem the Magi as the “three kings” because three items are brought to Jesus: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
In the Gospel of Matthew, the writer does not note the number of people or even if they were kings, just that more than one person had traveled a great distance from the East. These “wise men,” being priests and astrologers from a different community, had looked into the night sky and noticed something had changed. That whatever had taken place deserved their attention and that is all it took for them to journey to where Jesus was. Their travels lead them to seek out others, to ask questions, and learn about the world around them. This culture, religion, and background they were visiting was not their own, yet they entered into it with their own tradition in one hand and openness to the other.
And then enters King Herod.
Whose reaction to the news of Jesus’s birth is drastically different from the wise men. Instead of openness, Herod quickly panics and closes off. He calculates his loss and begins to act out of fear for his power. The coming of another “king” is bad news for Herod who has decided that his absolute rule is about to be challenged. In response, he lies to the wise men and waits for word of where Jesus is born. The wise men are curious and receptive while Herod disregards and rejects.
Now, Herod’s place of power is not the most relatable position for us today.
As we know, King Herod’s goal was to keep his power, which relied on the Roman Empire being in charge. Obviously, his motivations are focused on what is a threat to Rome and his rule. Herod’s false statement about wanting to pay homage to Jesus does not come from a place of genuine worship, but of violence, power, and manipulation. But for the Magi, who place themselves in the story, this does not appear to phase them. They decide to ignore Herod’s request to report back, without religious motive and reason. They choose peace and kindness–is that not what we call the work of God?
And if this work appears in the Magi, people from a whole different religion, what about the other ways God appears?
What about the times that it is easier to close oneself off to seeing God in the world instead of being open? The times judging at face value is chosen instead of welcoming. Fear is chosen instead of kindness and curiosity? See, something that I learned from my friends of different religions was that learning about their practices did not take away from mine.
They did not change what it means for my trust in God or what it means for me to be a Child of God. My friend who I found in the Chapel, was exactly that: my friend. She taught me about meditation, breathing, and patience. I was challenged to think about my beliefs and why they are important. All things I would have missed if I had decided to push her away and see her as a threat.
We are reminded today that it is not just Christians that are on a journey to seek out God, but God comes to us everywhere.
God comes through unfamiliar faces, cultures, and sometimes even other religions, giving us ways to connect with and understand one another. To engage conversations that could cause tension, but to tell us that it is that tension we are to navigate together. Who are we to decide the ways that God works and appears through others?
I say this knowing that our world is not a melting pot either.
There are differences, disagreements, and important distinctions, but when creation is cared for, the neighbor is loved and justice is found, this diversity is not a hazard. What if instead it was a way that God gives us different means to seek truth together? What if God reaches out with grace in different forms? This can be a challenge to consider, especially when we live in a world that would rather push away than welcome. But this welcoming encourages us to grow, to seek new ideas, and to explore where God is found. For our Magi friends, this kind of welcoming can be a life changing event, even for the coming of Our Savior.
In the name of the Father, and of the ☩ Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.