Sermon for 1 Epiphany
I talked about the three kings that morning. This is an edit of the whole sermon
Now at this time of year when we speak of gifts our thoughts tend to leap to brightly wrapped packages under the tree but those are not the gifts that have been foremost in my mind. It is the gifts that all of us have both individually and collectively and how we deal with those gifts. The Magi present an interesting example of what to do with gifts.
It is the giving of our gifts that has been central in my thinking recently. Over the next year you're going to hear a lot of discussion about community in our diocese. Community is the at the center of the sharing of gifts. It is in community that we bring together whatever we have and offer it for the common good. Gifts are large and small and the only time that gifts do not work to the good of all is when we refuse to share them. And there's the hard part – sharing. Watch any group of two year olds together and you will see the perfect example of how not to share.
As I look at the place of young people in the Body of Christ the problem I see most often has to do with the sharing of gifts. Or rather the TROUBLE with the sharing of gifts. It is a problem on both sides of the equation too, both young people and adults. How often do things NOT happen because either the young people or the adults aren't willing to give up their time, their effort, their talents to make something work. Like the Magi we need to bring our gifts, lay them down and walk away. And in doing so we will discover that we walk away richer than when we began. As a community of faith we will make not only our lives but the lives of those around us richer as well.
So what gifts do we have to offer our young people and what gifts do they have to offer us? As the older brothers and sisters in Christ we carry with us tradition and inherited wisdom from those who have gone before us. This does not make us wise necessarily but rather makes us bearers of wisdom. That wisdom is not ours in any way shape or form. Rather it is gift that we have been given responsibility. Central to that responsibility is the requirement, not the option I believe, but the REQUIREMENT to pass it along, to share it, to teach it, to live it. If that wisdom is not freely and easily accessible to our younger brothers and sisters then of what use is it to them? In fact why should they even believe that such wisdom exists? Wisdom is a road map that says this way was tried before and this is what happened and this is why. So maybe you want to try a different way or at least try a different approach. It is also a tool that grows and remains sharp only when it is used.
I also mentioned tradition. I should note that mentioning church tradition to most teen agers will get you rolled eyes and an agonized moan. The reason for this is that too often they see tradition as manacles designed to stop them from doing things rather than tools that can make their journey easier. My contention is that sharing tradition means that we understand that tradition is a way of joining a community, a community not only of those folks we see here at St. Philip's on Sundays in the 21st century but also with the people who have worshiped in this community going back to its founding. And that our traditions make us members of a community that dates back through the history of our country, leaps back across the ocean to England and from that island to the earliest Christian communities in the Holy Land.
Here's one of my favorite traditions, the Book of Common Prayer. It is a rich resource for any person's life in faith but I think it is an especially valuable tool for a young person just beginning their walk with God. I will admit that upon occasion, when the sermon has not deeply touched me, I will explore the Book of Common Prayer in my pew. I have always felt that clergy would prefer that to me nodding off and snoring. What a wondrous book this is and yet one that many of us spend all too little time with most days. If you are a young person beginning a life in faith it can be hard sometimes to figure out what you're supposed to do or say. Young people tell me all the time that they don't know what to say when they pray. I tell them not worry, just look it up. (This book is filled with prayers for every occasion plus guidelines for history and even daily study of the Bible) I did a quick scan and found prayers for the Use of Leisure Time, for an election, for families and another for our enemies, plus one specifically for young people and even one on the proper use of God's gifts. Next time a young person needs to say grace remind them that there are no less than FOUR in the prayer book.
There are also traditions of love and support and healing and understanding that can give our young people the strength to carry on in a difficult world.
We must also remember that community is a two way street. What then are the gifts that our young people bring to us? As a group what gifts can they offer their community of faith?
I believe that the most important one is making us uncomfortable. The natural questions of someone who is exploring the world are exactly what we need to keep us thinking. It is far too easy to become comfortable, to simply walk our way through without pause or consideration. And because young people are not expected to know everything they can ask questions that maybe many of the adults would like to ask but are too embarrassed to admit they don't know the answer. Their questions become a gift when we allow ourselves to be drawn back into the process of discovery. Often we will find that in doing so we too discover something that we had forgotten or had never seen before. The questions continue the growth of the wisdom that our young people will then care for, preparing to pass it along to the generations that follow them.
Another of the gifts they bring to us is impatience. An impatience with waiting, an impatience with things that don't make sense. Because that impatience forces us to reassess what we're doing and how we do it. It forces us to decide what's important and what isn't. Their foot tapping, eye rolling, big sighs "Will you please get on with it" impatience makes us trim the dead wood away from our life in community. It's easy to live with somethings that really don't work any more simply because we're comfortable with them. Our young people will look at those parts of our life together insist that something needs to be done about them. When we find ourselves fighting to preserve every last button and dust mote we need to remind ourselves that while lighting the house with candles was certainly good enough for Jesus we really do have better ways of doing that today. Everything that we hold as traditions today was once a new and exciting change. Another historical aside – when the Book of Common Prayer was first created in England it was greeted with riots in some churches.
When we add in all the individual gifts that we each bring, be it music or cleaning or organization or preaching or teaching we find that we can live in a community of faith that is so rich and diverse that we may be dazzled by the possibilities Any humble home may become the center of great richness and joy.
Unlike the Magi we will not have to travel for years to find our goal, we will not have to inquire if we've found the right house.
Here is the house that you seek. You are the Magi the wise men and wise women, the wise young people and wise children bearing with you a multitude of gifts unimagined by those Magi two thousand years ago. Gifts still offered to the King of Kings. Not on one day only but now and forever.