Sunday, January 5, 2014

"Not to wish upon a star, but to follow one" -- a sermon for the Second Sunday of Christmas

A sermon preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, January 5, 2014

Sing with me, because I know you know this…

When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you

We’re coming up on 75 years since the first time the lights dimmed in a movie house and Jiminy Cricket sang those words. 75 years since we saw Geppetto make a wish upon a star, that his marionette, Pinocchio, could become real.

Of course, if we remember the rest of the story, we remember it took a lot more than wishing to make it so. For Pinocchio to become a real boy, he had to be brave, truthful and unselfish and tell right from wrong by listening to his conscience.

When Geppetto awoke, Pinocchio looked like a real boy, but he wasn’t one yet. He had to learn what it was to be real through some pretty horrifying trial and error involving child trafficking and a carnivorous whale. Ultimately, he only became real when he gave his life up for the one who had given him life in the first place, Geppetto.

When the movie opened, Jiminy Cricket made it sound so easy.

When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you

But we know – and, in fact Pinocchio discovered, too – the truth is not so easy. And yet it is no less wondrous. In fact, even more so.

This morning, we hear the story of another star. And far below on the earth, three rulers of their age saw it, but they did not just make a wish upon it, hoping their dreams would come true. They followed that star. They followed it for a thousand miles and more over dangerous terrain. They followed that star to the house under which it stopped and then knelt down and worshipped a child, offering him gifts of incredible riches … gold, frankincense and myrrh.

When we look at the story of the Magi through 21st century eyes, it can seem as fanciful as Pinocchio. Stars can no more move and rest over one specific house than a marionette can come to life and a cricket can sing. But stories do not need to be factual to be true.

The Magi saw something extraordinary. They saw the presence of God breaking into the world in a new way. And they knew that as much as they already had – wealth, power, everything the world valued -- it was nothing compared with the chance that star offered to them. A chance to, in the words of the collect we prayed this morning “share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, Jesus Christ.”

Or, in the words of Pinocchio, to become real. To become the fullest of what humanity can be.

That’s what Jesus shows us. Jesus shows us God’s dreams for all of us. Jesus shows us what it is to be truly, really human. And it is not about striving after thrones and crowns, wealth and power. Those are the ways of Herod. It is about giving those things away in love.

The God whom they found under that star is a God who came into the world as one of its most vulnerable citizens and invites us to join him in that vulnerability. To take all that we have and all that we are and lay it down in love for the life of the world.

Like Pinocchio, it isn’t just about wishing but ultimately about giving our lives away. But unlike Pinocchio, this isn’t just about following our internal compass of a conscience and being brave, truthful and unselfish. It isn’t about those things any more than it is about just wishing on that star and hoping our hearts desires will come to us. It is about what we will promise in a just a few minutes, when little Palmer Bettis Runnels is presented for baptism.

It’s about Jesus, and it’s about some promises. Promises that are to us what the Magi laying those gifts before the child were to them.

We’re going to ask Palmer three questions … and because she is too young to answer for herself, her parents and godparents are going to answer for her:

Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?
Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?
Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?

And the answer each time is I do. I do. I do.

This is what being fully human is. It is doing what God did in Jesus. Putting our whole selves in Christ’s hands the way God put the divine self in our hands in that little child. Putting our whole trust in Christ’s grace and love. Laying all that we are and all that we have at Christ’s feet and saying, with the same intensity that we do in the marriage service “with all that I am and all that I have, I honor you.”

Lore has it those kings were rulers of great power, with nations at their command. But in laying their gifts at Jesus’ feet they were subordinating that citizenship to a greater one … that of being God’s people on earth. Of sharing the divine life of the one who humbled himself to share our humanity.

And that is what we do, too. Because we see something extraordinary, too. In this world, even in this place, Christ is still being born. God is breaking into the world in a new way. And as much as we already have –wealth, power, everything the world values – it is nothing compared with the chance this star offers us. A chance to share in the life of the divine. A chance to be freed from a life of fear and other people’s expectations and to live boldly and love without counting the cost.

A chance to be freed to be a real person – not defined primarily as a St. Louisian or an American or even as a Citizen of Facebook but as part of Christ, God freely given out of love for the life of the world.

And there’s one more way this isn’t like Pinocchio. We don’t do it by ourselves. Because there’s one more promise coming up, and it’s one for all of us.

In a few minutes, I will turn to all of us gathered here and ask “Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support this person in her life in Christ.” And we will answer with a volume so loud it will rattle the rafters:

We will!

We will shout those words because this life in Christ is too challenging and too wonderful to do by ourselves. And so we do it together. When we are tempted to hoard our gifts and power for ourselves, we are here to remind one another that isn’t who we are … that being real is about giving our lives away.

We will shout these words because being formed as Christians is not just the job of parents or Sunday School teachers but of all of us. All of us take on the responsibility of forming our children as followers of Jesus and when we do, we find that they are some of our best teachers, too.

We will shout these words because this life is our hearts’ desire. It really is. Because this life in Christ is a life where we continually know that we are deeply beloved and delighted in by God, where we are free to live boldly and love extravagantly in return. And where we never need to fear anything not because nothing bad will ever happen but because when those bad things do happen, we know that God will never leave us and we will never leave one another.

Most of us grew up listening to Jiminy Cricket sing, and most of us have probably at one time or another wished upon a star. And maybe those wishes have come true, and maybe they haven’t.

But today, we come together not to wish upon a star, but to follow one. And it truly does make no difference who you are. Because when we follow the star that leads to the house where the child is. And when together we lay our gifts before him and put our whole trust in Jesus’ grace and love, our lives will become more real and we will become more deeply human than we can possibly imagine.

And everything our heart desires will come to us. Amen.

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