"Seek And Ye Shall Find"


Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - January 6, 2002

Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12


     Today is Epiphany.  In the Christian tradition, January 6th is the day when the Church celebrates the moment when Jesus was first introduced as the Christ to the non-Jewish world. The astrologers represented the Gentiles in this instance.  According to Matthew's account, these travelers came from a country somewhere in the East.

     All of us know the story of the three kings who came to Bethlehem bearing the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  Actually, there could have been five or six men.  Tradition has suggested there were three because that was the number of gifts they brought. 

     Today I would like us to focus our attention on what motivated them to make their journey.  Our lesson states, "Soon after the birth of Jesus, some men who studied the stars came from the East . . . They had been searching the skies and had made a discovery.  Had they not been studying the heavens and had they not known the traditions of their discipline, they would have never left their native land.  Their drive to search and discover may provide us with guidance for how we can direct our lives. 

     A lot of individuals take their cues for living from what happens to come their way.  They get their jobs this way.  They find their mates this way.  They buy their houses this way.  They settle for what comes to them instead of reaching beyond the known, as did the strangers from the East.  These explorers were prepared to move from where they were in order to expand their understanding about the sudden and mysterious appearance of a new star. 

     There is another definition for the word "epiphany."  Webster says, "An epiphany is a moment of sudden intuitive understanding, a flash of insight."  Again, this generally happens when we are searching for something.  Sooner or later the light of understanding shines brightly in our minds because we have found an answer.  We cannot find an answer unless we have been asking questions.       

     In the medical community, for example, a 37 year-old physician in Texas has perfected a technique for by-pass surgery.  He enters the chest cavity through the rib cage.  Another medical group is experimenting with stints that have been coated with a unique compound.  Once one of these devices is inserted into a partially blocked coronary artery, that particular area will not close again.  Another group is experimenting with cells that can repair a heart that has been badly damaged because of a major M.I. They predict that these cells will cause the heart to regenerate completely.

     No one simply stumbles upon insights, or truth, or new approaches by settling for what is. They make discoveries because they are committed to expanding what they know.  This is an individual choice we make in every area of life.  Each one of us has been wired by God for growth and development, yet very little will happen until we choose to move beyond where we are. 

     Listen to the names of these eight people.  See if you can recognize what they have in common.  Thomas Edison, Mark Twain, Charlie Chaplin, Alfred E. Smith, Andrew Carnegie, Claude Monet, Charles Dickens, and John Philip Sousa. None of these towering giants in their respective fields of creativity completed elementary school.  We can hardly imagine this! 

     When we study each of their biographies, we quickly learn that they accepted failure as a part of learning, they did not blame anyone or a particular circumstance for preventing them from developing, nor did they assume that because of where they were that they had to stay there.  Like the strangers from the East, they were prepared to leave where they were to satisfy their quest for discovery.

     Turning back to our lesson, it is interesting to note that tradition has also ascribed to these mysterious travelers the title of "Wise Men."   Perhaps they were considered wise because they came seeking to give away their gifts.  Herein lies a great truth.  Those who seek to create, enhance, beautify, or perfect have given to humanity great music, art, increased food production, safer and less-polluting automobiles, stronger and less expensive building materials, and more definitive diagnostic procedures. The list of contributions from those seeking answers is extensive.    

     On the other side of the equation, some people seek in order to receive. Suicide bombers, for example, seek hero status among their peers, or they desire immediate entrance into the presence of Allah. The person who sent the anthrax through the U.S. Postal Service was possibly seeking revenge.  Some people seek a life-partner from a sense of longing and emptiness.  They want to find someone who they believe will complete them.  They have either forgotten or were never taught that God has yet to create an incomplete soul.      

     A member of our congregation gave me a sweatshirt for Christmas.  It showed the three Wise Men on camel back. Above them were the words, "Wise Men Still Seek Him."  And, indeed, both men and women do.  Jesus Christ came to teach us how to live so that we will reflect the image of the one who created everything.  There is no greater quest than this.  Herein lies our wholeness, our salvation, and our inheritance.  This is our true identity. The Wise Men came to behold the child who would grow up to offer this epiphany to those who could understand. 

     In the New Year, if we spend time stretching and expanding our understanding of what Jesus Christ came to give us, our journey will take us way beyond where we are today.   We cannot stay with what reinforces our current understanding if we want to expand our skill at living and loving.  Where there is no growth, there is no life. We must make this journey alone. This is our responsibility.  This expansion of who we are and of what we know is the reason that we were born. 

     No one has ever discovered anything by relying solely on what others have taught them. Like the strange travelers from the East, are we ready to leave what is comfortable in order to find what awaits our discovery? 

THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER

     Gracious and loving God, as we enter the New Year, continue to make us mindful of how you formed us in your image.  You created us to live in simplicity, and we appear drawn toward much that is complex.  You created us with the ability to learn and grow, while we often resist change and cling to old patterns of thinking.  You created us to take risks in faith, and we move toward what preserves our comfort, security, and well being.  You created us as one-of-a-kind beings, and we frown on those who want to color outside the lines.  Enable us, O God, to trust in whom you created us to be.  May our moments together as a church family equal those in our aloneness.  There is so much work to do.  Guide us when we say, "Here am I, send me."  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 once again return to normalcy. 

     So often, O God, the sharing of our greatest gifts does not come during moments in our lives when we are exchanging material possessions.  They come while we are engaged in the routine, when life is in the midst of transition, or a spontaneous moment of thoughtfulness enters our mind. It is then that the blessing of friendship means the most.  So often such a gift comes at a time when we least expect anything. 

     As we continue our journey into 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 to others the gift of who we are remain with us long after the customary glitter has faded. May we come to appreciate such qualities of life as those that remain timeless. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .