Us and Them and God in Between

Rubens- Adoration of the Magi
Rubens- Adoration of the Magi

Imagine that at the next Worship and Music Committee meeting, I and the other members get together and decide to include astrology into our services. Every Sunday we will read everyone’s horoscopes. I thought I would give a little taste of what this would be like by including the horoscopes of a couple of signs for 2015.

Virgo: Expect opportunities and congenial people around you from January 1st, as your ruling planet Mercury is in Capricorn along with the Sun, Venus, and Pluto. Capricorn is an Earth Sign and very compatible with you, Virgo.

Sagittarius: Be well, active, and avoid too many extra calories too often, however yummy. This could be an ongoing challenge after early April, when Jupiter’s retrograde ends.

What do you think? Chances are that if you find value in gathering together for worship at church, you would not find this addition to be very helpful or good. We gather together each week around the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion and God’s Word in preaching and Scripture. These are the “means of grace” as our church calls it. This means that we recognize God’s Word and Sacraments to be the explicit, consistent, and trustworthy way by which we experience the grace and love of God. Horoscope readings and astrology did not make it onto that list.

I hope that this playful re-imagining of worship practices give you a sense for how strange and unexpected the appearance of the Magi must have been for faithful Jews and Jewish Christians of the first century. Imagine being one of the pious and faithful Jewish scribes or priests in Jerusalem when the Magi show up on your doorstep saying that know when the Messiah is to be born. These are Gentiles- non-Jews. They are magicians and astrologers. They learned of the Messiah’s appearance through looking at the stars- not careful reading of Scripture, a vision from the God of Abraham, or the collected wisdom of Jewish elders. They were outsiders in every aspect and on top of that they were religiously incompatible with their faith as followers of the One God.

But God showed up in that encounter. Between the two very different groups of Jewish priests and scribes and Gentile Magi from the east, the Christ child was revealed. They each had a piece to the same puzzle, but did not possess the whole solution individually. The Magi knew when the king was to be born as they observed a new star arise. The Jewish priests and scribes knew where the king was to be born (Bethlehem) through their knowledge of Scripture. God brought these two very different and seemingly incompatible peoples together and in so doing, God revealed the grace and mercy of God manifest in the Christ child. This could not have happened in this way if God had not brought these people together.

The story of the Magi tells us that wonderful moments of grace and blessing happen in the meeting of strangers and enemies. That is very good news.

Nadia Bolz-Weber is a Lutheran pastor in Denver, Colorado at House for All Sinners and Saints. Some people have characterized her as an off-the-charts liberal in regard to her social, political, and religious stances. The Pirate Christian, or Chris, is regarded by some to be as conservative as Bolz-Weber is considered to be liberal. The Pirate Christian also harshly criticized Bolz-Weber’s leadership and commitment to the Gospel on his internet radio show.

Oddly enough, the two of them shared a stage for a public forum on worship practices in the church. Something unexpected and wonderful happened at this meeting. Bolz-Weber explains,

[The audience] saw us share a thirty-minute public dialogue about our own brokenness and need for confession and absolution, why we need the Gospel, and what happens in the Eucharist. As as he talked, he cried. Twice.

I found him to be hurting and tender and really smart.

I looked him in the eye and said, “Chris, I have two things to say to you. One, you are a beautiful child of God. Two, I think that maybe you and I are desperate enough to hear the Gospel that we can even hear it from each other.”

God made my enemy my friend that day. And I have not been plunder for the Pirate ever since.

As people around the world make their New Year resolutions, I think we can consider this story of the Magi in our formation of the Church’s New Year resolution. Perhaps we are being called to experience the grace and mercy of God in our relationships with unexpected and unlikely people. Maybe God is calling us to resolve to keep our eyes and ears open for such experiences of the Gospel. After all, we are desperate enough to hear it, that we can even hear it in our enemies and strangers.

I wonder where those encounters might be for us as a church. Many of these encounters will come without any planning, but others may be in front of us, but we just don’t realize it yet.

Are we being called to encounter the grace of God in our non-Lutheran and/or non-Christian sisters and brothers? We might be called to participate in the interfaith prayer service at Covenant Presbyterian Church to gather with our faithful sisters and brothers to pray for those who have been murdered in our city. We might be called to be a part of the advocacy and social change that is being pursued by the United Mercer Interfaith Organization.

We may be called to engage in difficult debate with our sisters and brothers within and without our church. God may be calling us to gather with those we know we will disagree or have different faith convictions and discuss LGBT inclusion and leadership in our churches. We may be called to join in the national ELCA conversation about Holy Communion and whether or not it should be opened to those who have not yet been baptized.

God may be calling us to encounter our neighbors right in our neighborhood. To meet our sisters and brothers, hear of their experiences of the grace of God, and to hear of their desire to see the grace of God in places where they don’t currently see it. To share our experiences of the grace of God, and to share our desire to see the grace of God in places where we don’t currently see it. We might do this at the Clothes Closet, at a Community Meal around the holidays, or some other new ministry.

We are desperate to hear the Gospel of God’s unconditional love. We are so desperate that we would be willing to hear it from our enemies or strangers. There is a great distance between us and those who are so different from ourselves. We may think that we could never bridge such a gap. But this story of the Magi shows us that God is present in those gaps. God appears and shares grace and love in the space that exists between separated peoples. Between old and young, men and women, gay and straight, latino, black and white, conservative and liberal, Christian and non-Christian, Magi and priest. In this story, we realize that there is no separation from each other, because God is present in the separation and there is no separation from God.

Amen.

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