Potsdam United Methodist Church
Where we let Jesus shine! Where we invite, love and nurture ALL!
Sunday Worship
11:00am Service
12:00pm Fellowship
Pastor Rev. Brooke Newell
Secretary Donna McDonald
315-265-7474

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January 5:

January 5, 2014   (Epiphany)
Call:    Matthew 2: 1-12
Text:    Isaiah 60: 1-6;   Ephesians 3: 1-12
Read: W&S #11

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We are in a new year
   With all the opportunities that it is sure to provide
And   With all the surprises it most certainly has in store for us.

And so I say, "Happy New Year"

And I offer that greeting
as a person who has already experienced one of the year's surprises.

For I ended 2013  And I began 2014
in a motel in Lowville, NY.

Now while I did spend some of 2013 away from home,
the motels I slept in during the past calendar year were in
   major cities
      like Omaha, Washington, and New York
   significant cities
      like Syracuse and Utica and Elkhart, Indiana
   resort areas
      like Portsmouth, Maine and Lake George, NY
   locations of historical importance
      like Ottawa Illinois
         where Lincoln and Douglas debated
      and Fremont Ohio
         where President Hayes lived.

But Lowville, NY?
That does not fall into any of those categories

However, when the New Year's Eve snow storm
Made it nearly impossible for us to see
And truly impossible for us to stop any place sooner,
Lowville, NY
   Provided us with the sanctuary that we needed.

We had never planned to sleep in a hotel in Lowville
   But with what was thrown out before us on our trip home
      We were forced to adapt
      And we are mighty glad that we did.

I did not recognize it during my unexpected stay in Lewis County
   But adapting was what Mary and Joseph did
        When faced with the fact that there was no room at the inn
      They had not planned to stay in the stable, but they did
      And look what happened there.

I mention this because
   adapting is exactly what the Jewish people had to do
   when it became clear
That the gentiles (persons who were not Jewish)
had been granted access to God's family.

And this morning's three scriptures
   Not only summarize the Advent to Epiphany season
   They progressively proclaim loudly and clearly
          The inclusion of persons other than Jews in God's family

The earliest of the three scriptures
The words spoken through Isaiah     [Isaiah 60: 1-6]
   Alert us to the fact that this inclusion
   Was a part of God's plan long before the manger birth
The people of Israel and their messiah
   Were to shine as a light   Why?
   To cause other nations and their kings to come to that light

   The people of Israel and their messiah
      Were to see
      And they were to be radiant that others might see

   Those nations drawn to and guided by this light
were to bring  gold and frankincense
      As a means of proclaiming the praise of the Lord.

Centuries before the birth of Jesus
   God, through Isaiah,
   Was telling the people of Israel

That their job was to shine brightly
   In order to bring other nations  (that is the gentiles)
   To God so that they might proclaim that God was lord.

When the messiah was born
   His praises were (as Luke tells of Christmas)
sung by heavenly angels
   and   his story was told by humble shepherds

Mary, the child's mother
   Who had been told by Gabriel of the wondrous child she was to bear and deliver
   Heard the angels and saw the shepherds
And as we heard Luke tell us on Christmas Eve, she
   "treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart."

And then, some time later,
   The magi or wise men from the East
   Men who were respected  But who were not Jewish
   were drawn by the light
      and they brought gifts as praise for the Lord.
Including the gold and frankincense
that Isaiah had said they would bring
   The gifts also included myrrh
      A funeral spice
      A sign of the child's early death

And as they did, Mary who had been pondering
   what she had seen and heard at the child's birth
Recognized
   That the gifts these strangers from the East had brought
      Confirmed Isaiah's and Gabriel's words
      That:    Her son was to be Lord and King
         Not just of the Jewish people
         But of all nations
            Of Jews and gentiles alike.

But because Mary recognized it
   Doesn't mean that everyone did.

Too many people
   Failed to see that Jesus was the anointed deliverer
      Because he was not a royal military man
   And of course, that was what they thought they needed

And equally unfortunately
   Even many who saw Jesus as the messiah
   Interpreted his birth as being only for the Jewish people

After all, The child himself        was Jewish
   The promises had been made    to the people of Israel
   The people of Israel were     the covenant people
God had covenanted with them to and through
   Abraham, and Moses, and David
And so these people
Despite accepting Christ as the promised messiah
   Failed to understand that their very purpose
      Had been set out in Isaiah's words
      To be a light to draw people to God and the messiah.

This caused tensions and divisions within the early church.

And this is where Paul
and his blunt, straight forward way of expressing himself comes in.  [Ephesians 3: 1-12]

What Paul told the Christians at Ephesus was, in essence,

"The reason that I am a prisoner for Christ
   Is that Christ has called me as his instrument
   In announcing to the church
      That the gentiles have joined the Jewish people
         As equal heirs and members of the same body"

The gentiles, in other words,
are just as much a part of God's family
as were those biologically descended from Abraham.

The gentiles share equally with us
In God's promise in Christ Jesus.

The gentiles are to be part of the church
   In order that the wisdom of God in its rich variety
   May now be made known

This was and is a part of the eternal purpose
   That God the father has carried out in Jesus the son
      In whom we and the gentiles (Paul proclaimed)
      Are granted access to God.
And if I was surprised to begin 2014 in Lowville, NY
   Many of the Jewish people
   Who had for years prayed for the coming of the messiah
      Were even more surprised
         To find that the gentiles were their equal
         And that they were to be a part of the church
            A church of rich variety
            A church of Christ's brothers and sisters
            A church which like Christ himself
               Can shine brightly enough
               To attract others to its Lord.

But like Marge and I on New Year's Eve They had to adapt

And they had to see this not only as a surprise,
   But also as an opportunity

As you and I conclude the Advent to Epiphany season,
we as a congregation have to adapt to the days ahead
and have to see the opportunities

After next week's look at the humility in Christ's baptism
   We will explore a series of scriptures
Which tell us how to be a church.

I pray that we use the opportunity provided by those scriptures
To shine our lights more brightly
   And thus attract more followers to Christ

If we do so we can, like Mary, experience an Epiphany
   In other words we can snap our fingers and say,
         "By George, I think I've got it."

And we can and will, like our dancers this morning
   "go tell it on the mountain."