Posted on Mon, Feb 13, 2012
Rev. Dr. Merritt's Sermon for January 8, 2012
Discovering Your Gifts
Rev. Dr. Jim Merritt
January 8, 2012
Good morning again and welcome to a new year of preaching and teaching from the Bible. Our liturgical calendar moves very quickly this year. We’re actually already 3 days behind the real observance of Epiphany and Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent is just a little over a month away. So let’s buckle down and go with the flow while we see what God has to say to us in high gear. Would you pray with me?
God, we love you and we bless you this morning. We’ve come to hear a word from you, so we ask you now to make the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts pleasing and acceptable to you. In the name of Jesus we pray. AMEN.
Amy Jill Levine is Professor of New Testament at Vanderbilt University. She is also one of the editors of this new book I have been mentioning to you. She offers some interesting suggestions about this morning’s reading. Levin wonders if the story as told in Matthew’s gospel could be a parody of the very similar pagan myths about divine-human children being miraculously conceived and their births announced with cosmic portents. After all, almost any 5th grader would understand that stars may rest over continents, but they certainly do not tend to rest over little stables behind small motels in Bethlem Matthew just might be saying, “We don’t need that.” And Levine suggests the original hearers of the story would have gotten Matthew’s intent, something we tend to lose in translations from one very old language to a modern one like ours.. What is important, in Levine’s understanding of Matthew’s message, however, isn’t that astronomical oddities happen following Jesus’ birth, but that this little baby boy will grow up to make a huge difference in the world; to revolutionize it.
My colleague Rev. Dr Durrell Watkins writes, ““…The story of the Magi following a slow-moving navigational star only occurs in Matthew’s gospel. It obviously isn’t a literal event. If a star moved slowly through the sky for months or years, someone other than “Mathew” would have noticed and mentioned it. And isn’t it odd that the only person who knows about the event is someone who wasn’t there and is writing about it almost a century after it supposedly occurred!”
Like so many other stories in the Bible, we really can’t take this one literally – that was not its intent. However, we can consider it carefully for its meaning to us. What it means is that we have experienced a long night of anticipation. Our hearts have been drawn from the beginning of time to this child called Jesus, and they still are. When he arrived to us and when we experienced him, our hearts rejoiced with exceeding great joy. God’s promise fulfilled again and again and again.
No, we can’t take the story literally (nor should we), but we can explore a deeper meaning. We have followed our hearts to a desired destination and then rejoiced when the journey led to achievement and fulfillment. We are all on a journey in our lives, and as we make discoveries on the journey, we are, of course, overjoyed.”
You and I, each one of us is on a journey which will lead us to many discoveries and experiences. Some of them will cause us to rejoice again and others will challenge us at the very fiber of our being. The truth is, that as we follow and live with Jesus, each one of is blessed with a divine purpose for our lives. How do we discover them? How do we know what our own purpose is? I have some suggestions.
The first way for us to find our own divine gifts is for us to really get to know God. There are many wonderful ways to get to know God. Bible Study, which we offer here on a very regular basis, leads us to a deeper understanding of God and of God’s history and callings on the people of God. I will just give you one word of personal testimony here. I have studied the Bible since I was young enough for my parents to take me to Sunday School. I still study it and the best scholarly books I can find about it nearly every day of my life. I’ve never grown bored. I’ve never arrived at a point where I felt like I knew it all, far from it. And I have never reached a place where God failed to move me and inspire me with what I learn on a daily basis. I love to study the bible and it is one of the ways I discover God’s purpose for my life over and over again.
The second way I recommend that we use to discover our own gifts is through a two part process; prayer and mediation. There are many forms of prayer. Some of us get on our knees and pray before bedtime. Some of us pray immediately upon awakening in the morning. Some of us pray over our meals. Some of us do all of these and they are very good practices. However, the kind of prayer to which I refer this morning takes time and mindfulness. It requires a private quiet place. I enjoy it here on this property, outside. It involves both talking to God and listening to God. Sometimes, when we have a dilemma in our lives the best thing I can recommend is to simply state it to God, and then listen, for a long time. “God, I’m concerned about this today, what do you think about it,” and then listen, really listen. See what God has to say. Meditate on God and on your concern for the day. “God, I’m concerned about ___,” Spend some time with it and with God and see how clearly solutions can come. God, why did you make me? What is it you want me to do and be? And listen.
Finally for this morning, you won’t be at all surprised to hear me say thing, Try some things on. Try on a volunteer position. Try on working really hard at being nice to everyone you encounter. Try on praying for people who have really offended you. Try on telling your neighbor about your relationship with God. Try on writing one page about you and God. Try on calling someone you see missing at church. Try on tithing. Try on reading a good quality devotional book for a week. Try on singing. Try on dancing. Try on artwork. Try on any thing you can think of that will bring you close to God. And begin with this prayer, “God I know you have a purpose for my life, show me, inspire me and give me courage.” This reminds me of a gospel hymn that I learned during many invitations in the Baptist church. The words are good for us this morning;
Have thine own way, God, have thine on way. Thou are the potter, I am the clay.
Mold me and make me after thy will, while I am waiting, yielded and still.
Have thine on way, God, have thine own way, hold o’er my being absolute sway Filled with thy spirit, till all shall see Christ only, always, living in me.
That’s my prayer for me this year, and that’s my prayer for you, too. Filled with God’s spirit, till all can see Christ, ONLY, ALWAYS, living in me. God bless you this morning.
©James Edward Merritt, Jr. 2012
Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms. Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord. All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered to you, the rams of Nebaioth shall minister to you; they shall be acceptable on my altar, and I will glorify my glorious house. Who are these that fly like a cloud, and like doves to their windows?
For the coastlands shall wait for me, the ships of Tarshish first, to bring your children from far away, their silver and gold with them, for the name of the Lord your God, and for the Holy One of Israel, because he has glorified you.
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”
When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.