Star Gifts Sermon 2018

Baptism of our Lord/Epiphany
January 7, 2018
John 1:35-51

This first Sunday of the year, we always have to decide whether to recognize the Baptism of our Lord (and with it, the gifts of our own baptism), or Epiphany (and with it, the gift of God being made known to us and to all). Either festival draws us to think about gifts of God – the gift of new life, and the gift of God-with-us. In both, we have the gift of seeing and experiencing how God works among us, bringing light, life and salvation.

And this strikes me as a good thing to talk about as a new year dawns. Even if you’re not one for making New Years resolutions, it is hard not to feel, at the turning of the year, a sense of potential. A new year, a new opportunity. What will this new year will bring, and what changes would you like to make in your life in order to see those new things come about?

Perhaps that is why, when I read our Gospel text for today, the question I was drawn to was Jesus’ question to the disciples who are following him: “What are you looking for?” he asks. For what are you searching? What longing fills your heart that you are trying to fulfill? It strikes me as a good question to ask at the beginning of a new year. What are you looking for in your life this year, and in particular, what are you looking for in your of life following Jesus? What in that relationship do you seek? What do you crave?

The disciples’ answer is just as telling: “Rabbi,” they say. “Teacher. Where are you staying?” Or better translated, where do you abide or dwell? Abiding, you see, is a really important theme in John’s Gospel – to abide with someone indicates a deep and intimate relationship, like Jesus’ relationship with his Father, and like the relationship Jesus wants to have with us. So for the disciples to ask, “Where do you abide?” is to say, “What we are looking for, is you. What we are looking for, is to be in a deep and meaningful relationship with you. What we are looking for, is to see you and know you.”

And just as Jesus issues his invitation to the disciples, he issues it to us: “Come and see.” Come and see what a relationship with Jesus looks like. Come into this year and this life of discipleship with your eyes and hearts open, ready to see God at work. And here I can’t help but think about our star gifts, because the whole point of that exercise is to help us keep our eyes open to how God is made visible in whatever one particular aspect of life we happened to draw last year. And the hope, is that in noticing God there, we might also be drawn into a deeper abiding relationship with God.

So I’d like to move now to sharing star gift stories, sharing how we have seen God made visible in the past year. To get the ball rolling, I’ll share with you about my own star gift. I drew perseverance, and boy was it a year where I had my eye out for that! It was a year that delivered no slow-news days, where every week or every day seemed to be yet another outrageous something or other, where every day we were reminded of our divisiveness as a world, a country, and a community. It was a year where I dreaded checking the news each morning, fearing, “What now?” But in the midst of all of that, I also saw emerge people who actively sought peace. Whether in one-on-one ways in their local communities, or on a larger scale by community organizing, some worked very hard to bridge divides: to help create space for conversation, to learn about people who are “other,” to create space where people are heard and valued and where restoration, not division is sought. We believe in a God whose very being is relationship – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and so when I see people persevering against the dominant culture of divisiveness in their effort to build and restore relationships, I see God, beautifully manifest.

How about you? Where did you witness God at work this year? Where was God made manifest?

[Leave space for others to share…]

“Come and see,” Jesus says. He calls his disciples by name, just as he calls us by name in our baptism, and invites them and us to come and see. And they do. And they invite their friends to do the same. “Come and see.” Come and see how God has been made manifest in my life. Come and see how God is made manifest in my worshipping community. Come and hear the story of faith, my story, our stories, and see how God is working among us.

Thank you for thinking of your stories from last year. I hope you will share them also outside of this place, with others who might be looking for what Jesus has to offer. I’d like now for us to draw star gifts for next year. [Ushers…] As you pick your star – don’t look! – trust the Holy Spirit that this is indeed where God has in mind for you to see him this year. Hang our star on the fridge, or put it on your dashboard, or somewhere else where you will be reminded regularly to watch for God through that gift.

[Once everyone has one…] Hold onto your star, and let us pray…

God, we acknowledge that we are not always ready to receive your best gifts for us. You have given us an epiphany word in order that our searching will bring us to you. It is often our habit to turn aside, stumble over, or even reject experiences and encounters that we later understand to have been precious gifts. Help us to be open to the gift that you offer us now through our star words. We acknowledge that we do not fully understand what this word might mean for our faith, but we receive it from you with gratitude and pray that your Spirit will enable us to live into our word with intention and faithfulness. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.