Home By Another Way
Below is Rev. Barbara's sermon from
January 8, 2017.
Greetings from Rev. Barbara Kershner, Interim Pastor
From the warmth of our welcome, to the inspiration of our worship, the delight of our young people, the embrace of our caring, and the diversity of our mission that we offer, you will want to see what we are all about. We invite you to visit us. We'd love to have you as part of our Church family. We welcome all!
" . . . 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." Matthew 2 11b-12
If you were here on Christmas Eve, you may remember that my message was in the form of a poem. I want to share a few verses with you again this morning, but this time not written by me. See if you can guess the writer of these lines:
"Those magic men the Magi, some people call them wise
or Oriental or even kings — Well anyway, those guys
they visited with Jesus. They sure enjoyed their stay.
Then warned in a dream of King Herod’s scheme
they went home by another way."
Who’s the poet? Dr. Seuss? Shel Silverstein? NOPE. It was James Taylor in a song called Home By Another Way.
He goes on:
"Steer clear of royal welcomes, Avoid a big to-do
A king who would slaughter the innocents will not cut a deal for you.
He really, really wants those presents. He’ll comb your camel’s fur
Until his boys announce they’ve found trace amounts
Of your frankincense, gold and myrrh."
January 6th is the feast of epiphany when Christ was revealed to the non-Jewish world. January 6th is also known as Little Christmas or Three Kings Day. Children leave out their shoes stuffed with straw for the kings’ camels the night before epiphany. In the morning, the children find small gifts and sweets. Epiphany means "something previously hidden or unknown has been brought to light.” The truth suddenly dawns on you. Epiphany brings good things to light and often to unexpected people.
The three wise men or kings were not Jews. They did not follow the law of Moses and the religious traditions of the Jews. They did not live in Israel. They did not have generations of family in town. They were strangers. But to them the Savior was revealed. They worshiped and brought gifts to the little king while his fellow countrymen and the earthy government trembled in fear and sought to kill the baby.
Those outsiders could see what the locals could not—a new king, a new way of being, a new age of leadership. The strangers brought a fresh perspective to an old, old prophecy.
We who have been in the church all our lives sometimes can’t see things as they really are. We look through experienced eyes and often assume things. We often take faith and people for granted. And we sometime feel anxious about those strangers. But We can learn from outsiders, we can be surprised by strangers, we can be challenged by new comers. And We too can have an epiphany—seeing our faith in a new light.
The wisemen didn’t know how things were done in Judea, but they did know that God was up to something big and they wanted to be a part of it. It is the same today. There are folks out there who don’t really know what goes on in here. But they are longing for a spiritual life. They are seeking understanding and wisdom. They are needing community and hope. They’re just not sure what’s behind our blue doors.
You’ve told me that this church needs more members, and you’ve hinted that some younger members would be good. And I agree in part, but I see with the eyes of an outsider. The reality is — there are simply not as many young families with five or six kids as there used to be. People don’t stay in one place anymore. And all churches are getting older. The median age of mainline Protestant adults is 52 . Even the Catholic church is getting older — the median age of Catholic adults is 49.
There simply are not as many young families around here. The only population that’s growing in this county is retired folk. So it is really OK and realistic to reach out to that older population as a source of new members.
Something else about the younger generations — they are not simply younger updated versions of you with a later expiration date!
People in their 20’s and 30’s grew up in a different world. They don’t save string or aluminum foil or rubber bands. They have all kinds of electronic gadgets and they update them faithfully. And many 20 and 30 somethings have no religious background of any kind. They are known as ‘nones.’ Not like Sister Mary Frances, but n-o-n-e-s, meaning in surveys they check ‘none’ under religious affiliation.
There are approximately 56 million religiously unaffiliated adults in the U.S. The unaffiliated are now second in size only to evangelical Protestants among major religious groups in the U.S. So those younger members you hope for will probably not come from a Congregational background or even have a basic Christian training. They will need a lot of spiritual nurture and guidance in the ways of church life. How do we share the message of Christ with them? Are we prepared to welcome and help them?
How do we reach them? Just getting people in the door will take serious intention.
How do we get them in the building?
The strangers from the east, the magi, the kings—were drawn by a star. God didn’t say — “oh, folks will find out about Jesus if they’re interested. They’ll just walk in off the streets and worship him.” NO! God got people’s attention with a star. It’s size and brilliance captured their imagination so that they were willing to take a risk and set out to journey, to seek for something, someone, new and extraordinary and unknown. And when they found Jesus, they were overwhelmed with Joy.
God put a big bright splashy star in the sky to get folk’s attention. It was good PR. Good public relations. Good advertising I have noticed we have very little pr. We don’t invite the wider community. We don’t advertise and invite to wonderful events like the Christmas pageant. No one outside the circle knows what goes on here. From the darkness I wouldn’t even know the church was in use. Driving up on Christmas Eve, I couldn’t see the sign. The windows were lit, but not the sign. Even a simple spotlight on the sign would look more inviting than the dark mound! This is what an outsider sees.
This is something to talk seriously about in our meetings with the transition team. There is no one right answer. There is no one correct route. There will be some ideas that we might try but fall flat. There will be amazing surprises. There will be shining moments and probably a few gloomy reports, but we will have an epiphany and we will share the light of Christ with our community.
We can provide alternate routes to the Christ child. Some folks are drawn by music. Some will come for a sense of belonging. Some because they feel obligated. Some out of the habits of a lifetime. Some out of curiosity. Some in desperation. God has ways of leading people and bringing them together in Christ — special times of blessings or prayer services for particular groups, perhaps veterans, or maybe pet owners for the feast of St. Francis, or maybe farmers for an earth day celebration or a creation justice topic. See what ideas you can generate over the next few months.
If one thing doesn’t work, we can try again or try another way. We can let God lead us, more reliably than our GPS. We can let God re-calculate the way as we share the same good news as was given those strangers, those magic men the Magi so long ago.
As Sweet Baby James says:
"We got this far by a lucky star
But tomorrow is another day
We can make it another way
Safe home as they used to say
Keep a weather eye to the chart on high
And come home another way."
— The Work of Christmas — by Howard Thurman
When the song of the angels is stilled;
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
Then work of Christmas begins
To find the lost
To heal the broken
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner
To rebuild the nations.
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.
81 Hancock Road • Williamstown, MA 01267 • (413) 458-3467