Seward United Methodist Church
Friday, May 25, 2018
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Responding to the Truth

Matthew 2:1-12 and Ephesians 3:1-12

 There are no lack of surprises in the Christmas story:  Angelic visitors, an elderly and barren couple having a child, a young virgin becoming pregnant, her husband-to-be taking her as his wife in spite of the public shame, the King of creation lying in a humble manger.  We can add one more to the list:  After centuries of waiting and anticipation, the longed-for Messiah finally arrives, and the people who have been waiting, by-and-large, ignore his arrival.  The religious leadership of the nation is blind to it.  And even when they become aware of his arrival, they don’t do anything.

 Instead, of all people, it is a group of magi, astrologers, who come seeking him.  Wait a minute:  Wasn’t astrology forbidden in the Old Testament?  Yes, it was.  And yet, in spite of that, for some reason, God chooses to reveal this marvelous event to these “pagan foreigners.”  

 The magi came from the lands to the East, most likely Persia or Babylon.  Those were the two empires who held Israel captive in the sixth century BC, which might explain why they, of all people, would know about the coming of the Christ child.  No doubt, they had access to the writings of the Old Testament and perhaps especially Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, some of the prophets who were contemporaries of the Babylonian Exile and who wrote about the expectation of a coming Messiah.  

 They saw his star.  Whatever that means!  And honestly, we have no idea.  Numerous theories have been proposed about comets and supernovae and various planetary alignments, but all we have are theories and conjectures.  When they saw his star, whatever it was, they acted on it.  They came, bringing gifts, and worshipped him.  They acted on what they knew.  Unlike the scribes and chief priests who knew the truth about Messiah’s birth but did nothing.  Perhaps the scribes and priests simply couldn’t believe that these foreign pagans had it right and they had missed it.  Regardless of the reason, they did not act.

 It reminds us that God is looking for people who will act on the truth they know.  It’s not enough just to know the truth; you have to do something with it.  The biblical concept of truth is more than just knowledge.  It is knowledge that is obeyed.  Truth is not just something we know.  It’s something we walk in, something we practice.  It is as Jesus said in Matthew 7:  The wise man hears the words of Jesus and puts them into practice, and he is like a house build on the solid rock.  But a foolish man hears Jesus’

words and does not put them into practice.  He’s like the man who builds his house on the sand.  Both hear the same words, but only one acts on them.  

 I think in our society, it’s fair to say that most people have heard the words of Jesus.  Most people have heard the truth of the gospel.  But I think it’s also fair to say that most have not put it into practice.  And sometimes those people are in the Church.  Some people attend church for years, perhaps only out of habit, and they hear the word of God, but they never put it into practice.  They don’t act on the truth they hear.  And so they are not that different from the chief priests and teachers of the Law who heard the word Messiah had come and didn’t do anything with it.

 It also reminds me that we must not take God’s blessings for granted.  That is a trap.  For more than a millennium, the Hebrew people had enjoyed a privileged relationship with God.  There was no other nation that could point to its own history and say, “God has done such great things for us.”  No other nation he had led out of slavery in Egypt.  No other nation with a Temple where God’s glory came to rest.  No other nation where God had intervened in such powerful ways.  

 And certainly some had begun to take their blessedness for granted.  They assumed God would not judge them.  They assumed that they were saved and others were not.  One of the reasons God sent John the Baptist to prepare the way for Jesus was to shake people up, to wake them from spiritual lethargy:  “Repent, the kingdom of God is near.  The axe is at the root, ready to strike.  Do not say to yourselves, ‘We are the children of Abraham’ for God can raise up children of Abraham from these stones.”

 We can fall prey to the same way of thinking.  There is a strand of thought in America that sees us as the “New Promised Land.”  And certainly, we have experienced great blessing from God.  Our nation has been preserved from the worst of the world’s conflicts.  Aside from Pearl Harbor, a few remote islands in Alaska, and September 11th, we could say that we have gone 200 years without fighting on American soil.  And when we hear a politician speak, and he ends his speech with “God Bless America,” we just accept it blindly.  But the real question is not, “Has God blessed America?”  The real question is, “Is America blessing God with how we live as a nation?  Does God have a reason to continue to bless America?”  I think we’re foolish to assume the answer is yes.

 We must reject any kind of thinking that says, “God’s purposes or God’s blessings are only for _______________.”  And we could fill in the blank in any number of ways,

“God’s blessings are only for Americans.  God’s blessings are only for white people.  God’s blessings are only for the Western world.  God’s blessings are only for men.”  None of those are true.  Paul makes it clear in Ephesians that God’s secret plan, his purpose revealed through the ages, is that God’s riches are for all who will accept and believe the good news.  

 The vision of the gospel is one, new humanity created in Jesus Christ.  Racism, sexism, and any other kind of prejudice have no place in the Church.  But the Church has not always obedient been obedient to that vision.  Paul was in prison for preaching the gospel to the Gentiles.  While it may not have been Christians who put him there, we know that there were Christians in his day who did not follow the Church’s ways of welcoming Gentiles into the community.  And there have been other examples of the Church not welcoming some people.  In our own heritage, there are “African” Methodist churches from a time when Methodists would not welcome black members as equal parts of the Body of Christ.

 God welcomes all who hear the truth and respond to it.  We are wrong if we do anything less.  

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