"But I Am Just One Person"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - 1/3/1999
Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12
When Jesus started his ministry, he painted visual portraits with his words that people understood. When he saw the mechanical behavior resulting from people being obedient to the Hebrew Law, he was like the little boy in the fairy tale who said, "The emperor has no clothes." Obeying the Law did nothing to bring forth the expressions of kindness, caring, or joy among his people. Jesus reached a point in his life where he could no longer obey the Law out of a sense of loyalty, duty or faithfulness. He chose instead to express his love and, since that decision, the world has never been the same.
When we are doing what we really want to do, we benefit those around us in ways we may never understand. This morning we find this illustrated in our lesson. When the three astrologers came to Bethlehem from the East, they were pursuing their dream. The astrologers believed that a baby was born who would eventually change the course of history. They came to experience this event for themselves.
Because they were pursuing what held great meaning for them, they participated in the formation of history. The astrologers not only managed to save Jesus' life but their gifts also provided the means for his family to live when they fled into Egypt. They accomplished these things never knowing how they would be influencing history.
We may wonder if one person can affect anything. As we enter the New Year, why not allow the fact that we can create change to become one of the primary aspects of our faith. Each one of us can give gold, frankincense and myrrh to one another. It means stepping out on faith. We must remember that history-making people had no idea they would be remembered centuries later for what they were doing. For example, Paul never thought that his letters would be preserved to influence millions upon millions of people. He wrote because that is what he enjoyed doing.
Think about your life this morning. Who were the people who made you stretch, who made you think, who sternly cautioned you, or who helped you understand that they believed in you? These were the ones who played significant roles in the unfolding of your history.
As I look back on my own life, there were so many people who gave me gold. I remember my first job was in a greenhouse re-potting young tomato plants. Hilda Weaver was one of the owners and she believed in me even though I was a seventh grader. She put me to work with an experienced woman in her seventies who not only taught me about plants but also about life. The older woman helped me learn how to ask questions about many aspects of life I had taken for granted.
All of us can point to specific moments when single personalities impressed us. What is interesting is that not all people in our lives needed to be wonderful, positive role models, bubbling with wisdom. They could have been mean-spirited people. They made us wonder how they got that way. And they mirrored for us all that we do not wish to become.
Even alcoholics taught us how to look with great respect at the hidden power of distilled or fermented liquids. We learned that for some people alcohol has the power to create irresponsible slaves out of non-suspecting people.
None of us ever arrives where we are in life without the gifts others have given to us. They have done it much like the astrologers did, by living their dream. Whether these people were like a rose or a cactus, they had the ability to guide, to teach and to fertilize the garden where our values were formed.
You are just one person. There is great significance to that. Frequently, our church has engaged in a project that worked miracles in the lives of others because one person had an idea. A thoughtful suggestion can reverse the tide in the life of a person who was being flooded with waves of self-doubt. A smile can cause the sun to rise in a life that others have unintentionally ignored.
None of this is to suggest that in the New Year we take on the role of being intentional change agents. The principle I'm talking about does not work that way. To do so would be to walk through life deciding who needs fixing and who does not. If we cause wonderful changes to come in the lives of others, those changes will more easily happen when we are following our dream. People eagerly become attracted to others who have learned how to live their lives with joyous energy.
When someone's life is not working for them, they know that better than anyone else. They need authentic friendship and trust. They need our gold, frankincense and myrrh more than they need our critical observations. After all, how much do we really know where someone's life is leading them? The prodigal son would not have come home a changed person had he not first been given permission by his father to venture into a world where he did not belong.
As we continue in the New Year, think of what each of us can do for others when we spend a lot more time polishing our own stone, i.e., doing the things that express what we love doing. Remember, the three astrologers did just that. Without knowing it, they saved Jesus' life and provided for the well being of his family. Imagine what God can do for others with our light burning brightly on the hillside.
We pass this way in life only once. By living our dream we sow seeds. In so doing, we experience joy while God causes vast orchards to grow where our seeds landed and germinated. This is how God works. This is how love creates. Amen.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
We thank you, God, for the dawning of a New Year. Teach us to accept each new day as a diamond to be polished. Enable us to discard thoughts that do not work for us. Guide us as we try to unlearn those habits that have made us creatures of need and servants of our desires. Inspire us to move through the barriers that prevent us from sharing our love with each other. Teach us to practice our faith by taking risks, by reaching out to those we do not know, and by trusting completely that Your Will is being done. Enable us to become effective disciples who are every bit as valuable as those we read about in the Gospels. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Loving and ever faithful God, most of us are so grateful for all the remembrances that have been ours this Christmas season, yet within the deeper recesses of our spirits, there is a joy that the New Year has come, and our lives can return to some degree of normalcy.
As with Mary and Joseph, we identify with their longings for normalcy, for familiar routines, and for the blessings that the comforts of home would provide again. And it was during such a period of longing that the wise men came offering their gifts.
So often, O God, the exchange of our greatest gifts does not come during moments in our lives that are extraordinary. It comes while we are engaged in the routines of life—when life is in the midst of transition. It is then that the blessing of friendship means the most, because it comes at a time when we least expect anything special.
As we enter the New Year, may our lives reflect the beauty of the season we just experienced. May the warmth of giving, the joy of extending ourselves, and the peace of bringing love to others remain with us long after the glitter has faded. Such are the qualities of life that will always remain timeless. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus Christ, who taught us to say when we pray. . .