January 8, 2019
Covenant Promises ~ Sermon for January 6, 2019
Our New Testament reading this morning is the familiar Epiphany story of the Magi’s visit to the Christ child as told in Matthew’s Gospel.
Epiphany means “a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something.”
Epiphany is when you suddenly understand something – when you see the light.
For Christians, Epiphany marks the day that Jesus’ divinity was recognized.
One of the aims of Matthew’s Gospel is to convince readers that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the “prophet like Moses” that the Old Testament promised.
But, Matthew also works hard to show that Jesus is a different kind of Messiah from the one the people expected.
His mission included both Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, insiders and outcasts.
It expanded to embrace the nations, and the whole of creation.
Jesus is a Messiah for all. As we begin the annual journey of understanding Jesus, this is a good, and challenging, place to start.
Hear now a reading from Matthew 2:1-12.
Here ends thereading of God’s holy word. May God add to our hearing and understanding God’s blessing. Amen.
Please pray with me.
Radiant Morning Star, you are both guidance and mystery.
Visit our rest with disturbing dreams, and our journeys with strange companions.
Grace us with the hospitality to open our hearts and homes to visitors filled with unfamiliar wisdom bearing profound and unusual gifts.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
One of the best ways to understand the message of scripture is to place
yourself in the story.
Who are these wise men travelling from the East to find a king?
Are they any different than you and I journeying together searching for spiritual clarity and meaning?
I wonder how often we realize that the bible is talking about us.
The bible is an account of human beings encounters with God;
human beings efforts to understand God;
and God’s infinite compassion and love for humanity.
I would venture to say that there is almost no human circumstance that can’t be found somewhere in the bible.
So today, we have three wise men, who we presume to have some social status in that they are bringing expensive gifts and they get access to the local leader, Herod, on their way.
The message here is that God incarnate has come for all – the mighty and the lowly.
The story also tells us that these wise men were willing to follow the star to a barn, to discover a baby lying in a manger.
Perhaps the lesson there is that you might be surprised where God will turn up – in the most unexpected places, in the most unexpected people.
We know that the kings travelled a great distance.
Some scholars say they probably didn’t arrive until a year after Jesus was born, but then would the baby still be lying in the manger?
Travelling a great distance in biblical times was a hardship, so we discern a message of struggle, of effort to come in contact with the savior.
My favorite part of the three kings saga is that they travelled together.
This is foundational to our faith as Christians.
We are created and called to life in community.
Our lives are lived in covenant with God and with one another.
A covenant is a promise before God.
A promise to bring your best self to a relationship.
A promise to share the burdens of your neighbors.
A promise to be attentive and thoughtful in your interactions with one another.
We are a covenant people – we travel this path together.
Our United Church of Christ is based solely on covenant.
As covenant partners, we agree to work together to be the local church.
As the local church, we then covenant with other local churches in an Association that is charged with nurturing, sustaining and guiding clergy and their congregations.
Our Association, the Litchfield North Association, is in covenant with the Connecticut Conference of the United Church of Christ to provide support for the work of the church in the wider world.
None of these settings of the church could survive without the others.
Just as Paul said that we are the body of Christ, each making up one part, so it is with the church.
As this church prepares for the transitions ahead you will depend on your covenant with each of these settings of the UCC.
You will get guidance and support from the Association and the Conference.
When you are ready to search for a settled pastor, the national setting will provide profiles of candidates suited to serve you.
Both your transitional and your settled minister will depend on the resources of the UCC to help them establish their own ministry in Salisbury.
For all of this to succeed, you, Salisbury Congregational Church, must remain faithful to your covenant with one another and this church.
Each and every one of you will need to be active in ensuring a successful transition.
Perhaps you will serve on a committee or provide input to those serving, but most importantly you must hold yourselves accountable to your covenant.
For the church to flourish your hearts must be directed toward the light.
I encourage you to refrain from judgment; to restrain yourselves from gossip; to continue to show up, week-after-week, breathing life into this congregation.
Today, I want to give you the opportunity to renew your covenant vows to this church.
Friends, By your baptism you were made one in the body of Christ, the church.
Today we rejoice in each pilgrimage of faith that has brought us to this time and place.
We celebrate our presence here.
Let us pray.
Eternal God, we praise you for calling us to be your servant people and for gathering us into the body of Christ.
May we work together in serving the needs of others.
Confirm in us the power of your covenant that we may live in your Spirit, share regularly in worship, and so love each other that we may have among us the same mind which was in Christ Jesus.
Let the people say: Amen
Pastor: Let us renew our covenant vows together:
ALL: We covenant with God and with one another
to walk in God’s holy ways.
We unite for the worship of God
and for continued striving to know and to do God’s will and for the service of God and humanity.
We acknowledge this Church
to be part of all those in every age and nation
who are united by the Holy Spirit of God in Christ,
and we dedicate ourselves to serve this fellowship
according to our strength, ability and opportunity.
And now, let’s pray our covenant prayer in one voice:
As we gather to discern your will,
Let our church be a place where we learn about love and practice it, in keeping with our covenant;
Where we envision peace and work through open and honest communication to build it;
Where we strive to find harmony and uphold the dignity of all, while benefiting from our differences.
May we listen without judgment,
Use words with care and exercise patience as we deliberate.
May your Spirit grant us the courage, power and grace we need to make decisions for the good of all.
It is in Christ’s name that we pray.
Almighty God, who in baptism received these your servants into the church, forgave their sins, and promised them eternal life, increase in them the gifts of your Holy Spirit.
Grant love for others, joy in serving you, peace in disagreement, patience in suffering, kindness toward all people, goodness in evil times, faithfulness in temptation, gentleness in the face of opposition, self-control in all things.
Thereby strengthen them for their ministry in the world; through Jesus Christ our Savior.
And now, O God, hear our prayers this day for those whom we love.
For those who are sick, we pray for healing.
For those who mourn, we pray for comfort.
For those who wander the earth seeking a place to belong, we pray that your Holy Spirit might guide them to a life of faith.
O God, during these times of transition, we pray for your grace to help us discern your will for our church and our lives.
We pray for peace, in our hearts, in our homes and in the world.
Hear us now as we turn to you with the silent prayers of our hearts.
Jesus taught his followers to pray in these words…Our Father