I’m blessed to be at St. David’s. You are such a lively, faith-filled people. And during this pandemic, you are doing more than ever to strengthen this community, providing pastoral care and being a Light in the world that the darkness cannot overcome. I’m grateful for all your collaboration with your local community organizations to address so many needs right now. And I’m grateful for your long standing commitment to Church Without Walls which includes a service today. I want to thank the vestry for such strong leadership. And Deacon Terry for being a model of servant leadership. And Father Harvey who is so dedicated to this Church and to the mission of Jesus. Harvey serves on a number of diocesan committees including Becoming the Beloved Community. I really benefit from his wisdom.
During the stress of the pandemic, my spiritual director urges me to laugh at least once a day. I think that is good advice for all of us. So here is an Epiphany story that made me laugh. A church held their annual Christmas and Epiphany pageant. This particular year the actors playing the “three kings” were quite young. The one bringing the frankincense could not even read yet. He only knew his lines because he was told what to say. The first king kneels in front of the manger and says “I bring you the gift of gold.” The next one says “I bring you the gift of myrrh.” The last and youngest kings says “Here. Frank sent this.”
Now is time for the sermon. Let’s see what the Magi have to teach us during a pandemic. During this time of so much suffering and economic stress, some wonder about the very nature of God.
There is a story of a philosophy professor who told his class there is no God. Or if there is a God, and God creates all that exists, then God created evil. A student in his class disagreed and pondered how to respond. The following week that student asked his professor: “Does cold exist?” And the professor said “of course.” The student, who knew science well, said “No it doesn’t. Cold is the absence of heat. Cold unto itself does not exist.” And then he gave a few other examples.The professor was humbled. But then the student went to the heart of the matter. “And what is evil? The absence of goodness. Evil itself does not exist and therefore is not created by God.” I don’t know the name of the professor in the story but the name of the student is Albert Einstein.
That’s philosophy. How about religion during the pandemic? The Jewish tradition contributes greatly to our understanding of God in this time. The Jewish people have a great way of arguing with God. Look at the Psalms. Some are full of praise but some are “God how could you do this?” At the old Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge there is a statue outside of the Chapel of a person in biblical dress kneeling , his head is tilted toward heaven but his hands are covering his face- a scene of obvious anguish. A scene of lamentation. Lamentation can be an honest prayer in these days. It is actually a way of staying connected to God.
Eastern religions say that suffering is simply a part of life. A Buddhist friend of mine says that when hard times come, we should say “welcome.” Deal with reality as it is. There is a lot of wisdom there, but I have such a tough time doing that.
Diane Eck is a professor of world religions at Harvard. She says there are many, many things that religions hold in common. For example, eastern religions speak of “God of a Thousand Faces” and we have a similar theology in the Trinity. She sees God in Jesus as God the Child, God the Teacher, God the Healer, God the Crucified One, God the Risen One. Eck says that four of those dimensions of Christ are found in many non-Christian religions throughout the world. God as a child, God as teacher, God as healer, God as resurrection and new life. The only one that is unique to Christianity is “God the crucified one.” God enters into suffering. Yes, God heals. Yes, God brings new life. But God is also in the suffering. God is not just with Jesus in his incredible, powerful ministry of healing and teaching and miracles. God is not just with Jesus in Resurrection. God is in Jesus on the Cross.
God is with us in this pandemic. In the heroic hospital workers and first responders. In the teachers going the extra mile. In so many ways. And In the fear, in the death, in the economic distress.
In today’s gospel the magi, the wise men, figure out where the Messiah is to be born. They go to other very intelligent people - the scribes and priests of Jerusalem, to see if they are correct. These wise men of Jerusalem tell the wise men from the East that the Savior is to be born in Bethlehem. Did you ever wonder why only the magi took the journey to see the Christ-child? The others figure it out in their heads he was there, but they did not move. They figured it out but they did not go to the newly born Messiah. They only thought about him. Only the magi took the journey and it transformed them. They met Christ and went home by a different road.
Our minds, the life in our heads, can’t grasp where God is in the pandemic. No explanation fully works. So like the magi, let’s take a journey. Let’s take a journey to our hearts. And that journey- which is compassion, the journey from the head to the heart- brings us to a place where we meet Christ, the Crucified and Risen One. May we go home by a different road, a people transformed. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Harvey Hill
Third Order Franciscan