Sunday, January 10, 2010

Epiphany revisited


Image source: PauseForThought

John Hudson is the pastor of Pilgrim Church in Sherborn, MA. Prior to his call to that pastorate, John was the pastor of West Concord Union Church, located across the street from the former Our Lady Help of Christians Parish in Concord. The proximity of the two churches and my friendship with John made for an especially good relationship between our two faith communities.

John this week to ask if he might use my Epiphany poem as part of his sermon this weekend when his Dover church celebrated the visit of the Magi. I was pleased and honored to welcome his using my words. He invited three readers to "voice" the poem and used it as the intro to his sermon which follows below.


What Next, Then?

Preached by Rev. John Hudson at Pilgrim Church in Dover: 1/10/09
Text: Matthew 2:1-12

A conversation overheard in the caravan while going home by another way...

Wise man #1: Myrrh, frankincense and gold: that's what we left with. Now we go home empty-handed. Empty saddlebags on the camels, hearts full of questions...

Wise man #2: Did we leave the presents with the right king? One king in a palace, warm, fine and plush; the other in a barn all muck and hay – and oh, the smell! But did we leave the presents with the right king? Oh, I think so! Remember Herod’s eyes, envy-green?

Wise man #3: But ah, the innocence of the child who but cried and nursed and slept…I think I saw him smile once! And clearly, his parents needed the help. No newborn’s parents would have turned down the gold! No, they were honest folk.

Wise man #1: You could see it in her face and in the way he cared for her and for the child. They’ll save our gifts for when they need them and mark my words: they will need them.

Wise man#2: But did we find the one we sought? Was it his star? What if we were wrong?

Wise man#3: His star it was, indeed: a star of mystery beyond the wisdom of us all. We may not understand but we know it was his star.

Wise man #1: What next, then? What will we tell the folks at home of what we saw - and did not see? And what will they think of us when we tell of a manger throne in barn of a palace? They’ll likely think us fools! I wonder, still, myself if we found anything or everything -or maybe even more than all…

Wise man #2: A trip we won’t forget, that’s sure, nor him we found, nor those we met along the way. And the angel in the dream with warning – just in time!

Wise man #3: Now this way home, another way…A new way now, the way of dreams… So mind the star, it’s still above…But fading fast, so keep the pace…

(Thank you wise ones! And I my offer thanks for that beginning dramatic dialogue to an old friend and colleague, Father Austin Fleming, who serves The Holy Family Parish in Concord.)

What next, then? What’s next? Good question by that wise man. For the magi that is the question. The gifts are given; the infant king found; the star followed; the quest over and so all that is left for them to do is to turn around, to keep a wary eye out for King Herod, to hop back up on their beasts of burden, and to get back on the road, the road, for their journey homeward.

Back on the road. Though facts about the Magi and their journey are somewhat speculative, many scholars surmise that those astrologers and scientists may have traveled up to 1000 miles from the East, up to one full year to get to the baby Jesus and then back again. That’s seven hundred and thirty days on a camel! Ever rode a camel? It’s murder on the backside! For two full cycles of the seasons. Two years away from their families and homes and the familiar, all for what was probably a very short visit with Mary and Joseph and that new baby. How long did they stay? An afternoon? An evening? An hour or so?

The story of the Magi and their magical mystery tour is one of the richest in our Christian tradition, filled with vivid imagery and details. But this year as I read it, what struck me was the incredible amount of time, time that those three travelers spent on the road, the journey, the trip, the riding and then stopping and then setting up camp and then feeding the animals and then mucking the stalls and then arising again and then just moving ahead: walking, living, going—day by day, week by week, month by month. If their direct face to face time with Jesus was just, say two hours, that means they spent the other 17,518 hours on the road. The road.

This is how most of our human life is lived: on the road—right? From….to. Birth to death. Traveling to and from. Life is never just about one day or one unique visit or one extra special event: it is about the journey, the mundane, the slogging, if you will, not just a singular star-crossed epiphany. Christmas is a big deal but—but it is only one day a year, one out of 364. The real work of Christmas happens beforehand for weeks, a month: shopping, prepping, wrapping, hoping: all of the details, the tasks, the road towards the 24th. The day our child is born is a big deal but—the parenting, the real work we do is done under far less dramatic circumstances: changing dirty diapers, reading bedtime stories, nervously waiting up past curfew for a kid to get home, eating thousands of meals around a worn and familiar dining room table, disciplining our kids, supporting them, loving: day by day and week by week and month by month and year by year. Our faith: if the only day we all took seriously this person called Jesus was Christmas or Easter, we’d risk having a pretty tepid, weak Christian faith. Faith really happens when we get ourselves to church on January 10th and July 15th, when we pray everyday, not just in the emergency room; when we get the kids to church school on a snowy March Sunday and for youth group on Mondays. Faith happens when we put our envelope in the offering plate every week and not just that stray twenty whenever we show up. Faith happens on the road, the road. Life is the road, all life is in fact mostly about the road.

One thought on this Epiphany. It’s tempting as we live this life to want to mark it by just special days, holy days, singular events, the arrival if you will. Life really happens when, when I have a baby, when I get married, when I graduate, when I buy a house, when I get a promotion, when I run that marathon, when I arrive. But the truth is that a good life, a God life, happens in all of those in between times, mostly. On the road. Going towards. Coming from. God acts in our lives not just on holy days but on ho hum days too. The sum of a blessed life is not to be found when we will finally get there after so many days on the road but is to be found in the miracle of the journey of life itself.

In December my family gathered together to celebrate my Grandfather’s 96th birthday at my Aunt Carol’s and Mom’s house, a well worn two family home just two streets away from where I grew up. As we ate the cake I turned to my cousin and observed, “I’ve been going to parties in this dining room for forty one years!” How many meals have I eaten in that home? How many times have I bound up those front steps, hugged my Mom, heard kind words from Aunt, laughed with my cousins, cried at receptions after a funeral, drank a thousand cups of coffee, swapped a score of bad jokes in the cramped kitchen? A hundred days. A thousand days. All on the road. All on the journey.

We’ll return to New Orleans this March to help build Habitat houses for a third year and do so in a city that still boasts more than 100,000 damaged and abandoned homes. But: the ten houses we helped build in 2008 and 2009: today these are home, home to ten families. The road. Not the arrival. In just two weeks we will house one or two homeless families right here at church on the second floor, in a country that still today has more than 3.5 million folks classified as homeless. We can’t house all of them. We can show love and hospitality to just two families. The road. The journey. Not arriving there yet. But working, striving, loving, to get there.

The road. The trip. The day to day acts of kindness we carry out and the people we love and the prayers we offer and the justice we work for and the gifts we give and life we live. This my friends is what really and finally matters. Not the arrival. But the road. What next, then? With our journeying God it is time to get back on that road. Let all God’s faithful travelers declare, “Amen!”

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Your poem was innovatively used by Rev. John Hudson's three wise men and then his excellent homily embellished on it further. Nice collaboration between friends!

Rosemary

apc said...

The way John used your poem and then his homily was just wonderful. I do remember John and his gifts and your friendship as well. You were both great collaborators as well as such a good example to others.