A sermon preached by seminarian Casey Anderson-Molina on January 2, 2022…
It’s good to be home. I never dreamed that my seminary education would include a tangible method for remembering the Greek alphabet!
Good stories include conflict or misdirection. Someone departs home and travels to a different land, gets lost instead of asking for directions, has interesting experiences, and finally arrives at their destination only to discover that it is different (either good or bad) from what they thought. On the way home they may encounter different scenarios. Ultimately when they return both they and their home are different.
In Homer’s The Odyssey, after a 10-year struggle during the Trojan War, Odysseus battles mystical creatures and faces the wrath of the gods, while his wife Penelope and his son Telemachus stave off suitors vying for Penelope’s hand and Ithaca’s throne. Odysseus wins a contest, no doubt using all of his newly acquired skills to to prove his identity, slaughter the suitors, and retake the throne of Ithaca.
In Shakespeare’s Hamlet Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, returns from university to attend his father’s funeral. Upon returning he discovers his uncle has married his mother. He struggles to come up with a solution and an ethical justification for said decision.
In C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe the Pevensie children enter Narnia to discover the White Witch has attempted to take over Aslan’s reign. They encounter fauns, talking Beavers and Mice, Nymphs, and Father Christmas. They discover Aslan the Lion is the Creator of Narnia. After witnessing several sacred moments, they return to their world completely and forever changed.
In J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings Hobbits, Wizards, Elves, and a Dwarf sojourn to rid Middle Earth of the “one ring to rule them all.” In L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz Dorothy and “her little dog too” travels a yellow brick road to discover a way back to Kansas and befriends a brainless Scarecrow, a heartless Tin Man, and a fearful Lion all of whom are avoiding a green witch with plans of her own. In Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods famous fairy tale characters enter into the local forest and all undergo transformations. In the last book of J.K. Rowling’s world of Harry Potter three young magical beings from a famous magical school search for
horcruxes and the methods to destroy them. And in Stan Lee’s Marvel universe avengers travel through space and time seeking and gathering infinity stones to reverse a great evil.
There is a deep human need for us to express and remember the transformations we encounter throughout our lives. Those stories may sound something like this:
Once upon a time, in a not-so-far city (or town) two young men left their home in a yellow truck with a stressed dog and an angry cat, leaving their beautiful church filled with wonderful people like yourselves behind so one of those young men could figure out what it means to answer the call to be a priest. Along the way, they were narrowly missed from being hit by a car rebounding off of an interstate divider, they experienced a flat tire and had to call roadside assistance, they
delayed an hour because of a heavily burdened semi-truck delivering a beautiful yacht to someone famous in Nashville, and they were detained because they trusted directions from a GPS with questionable intelligence. This GPS told them to take a winding, narrow, unmarked, two-lane mountainous road instead of the interstate that they took at a previous time. This, as I’m sure may be a surprise, caused lots of growling, scratching, and gnashing of teeth from the perfect angels called José and Casey. When they finally arrived and unpacked they learned how to love each other again! (Aside: you don’t have to be ordained to administer the sacrament of reconciliation!) Their adventure continued with a pandemic, an ice storm, cicadas, disappointments, well-intended lost liberals, well-intended frustrated conservatives, a separated summer, elitism, lost wallets, strange neighbors, good restaurants, awkward professors, beautiful weather, cyberspace meetings, and thinking of ways to live in a small apartment, purchase groceries, and find entertainment in a small town on a secluded mountain with its own complex
history. And here we are back at home, still feeling called, and hopefully better than before we left. I’ll bet your stories have these elements. Perhaps your journeys consist of its own challenges.
Perhaps a few of you have been given a dream and you have done your best to fulfill that dream. Or you have been given talents and you have multiplied them. Perhaps you have spent a lot of time climbing out of poverty or maybe you are still living in poverty. Some of you may have journeyed across different lands in the hopes of having a better life, some of you have faced discrimination, lost loved ones, ran for your lives, battled gender inequality, struggled through sickness, experienced racism and inauthentic tokenism, been disappointed by broken promises made my politicians, refrained from decorating your desk with pictures of your spouse or partner because it could prevent you from being promoted, been annoyed by people who won’t use your pronouns. Some of you may have been given a burning desire to help people and so you have traversed and toiled the worlds of government, education, medicine, and the arts in order to make
this world a better place. I’ll bet a lot of you are far from where you started. After the past year and a half I have no doubt of the real tragedies that have made their way into this place. And perhaps you have been or are currently at the place where you are questioning everything.
Today’s gospel reading shows us that you are not alone.
Mary has given birth to Jesus and they have just been visited by a group of wise people. Joseph is warned in a dream to take Mary and Jesus and flee to Egypt because Herod will attempt to take Jesus’s life. When they depart from Bethlehem, Herod becomes infuriated, and in a sick method all too familiar to Jewish families, he initiates a genocide by killing children as a way of displaying his power. They stay in Egypt for a while. We don’t know how long, at least long enough for Herod to die. As they are headed back home, Joseph receives another message from God informing him that Herod’s brother Archelaus is reigning and is worse. They take another route instead and reside in Nazareth.
Can you imagine the frustration they felt? Mary had to explain yet again to strangers their situation. “Yes, that’s my child.” “No, Joseph’s not his father.” “No, I didn’t commit adultery.” “No, I wasn’t drunk when I conceived him.” They were always looking over their shoulder. They never knew how long they had to stay. They were missing their friends and family from home. Betrayal was always nearby. Joseph, at the beginning of this Gospel, was told that Jesus would be the one to save them. During the first move Joseph was confident that his action would fulfill what had been predicted by a prophet of old. In his move to Nazareth, however, he believed it might be the fulfillment of prophets of old. I imagine Joseph and Mary questioned that if their son was the Messiah, how could he have been born in such chaos.
We’re still asking this question. Where is God in the midst of climate change, pandemics, continual discrimination, corrupt legal systems, negligent immigration policies, economic inequality, and transphobia? Where is God in the midst of innocents being murdered in one city and justice being ignored in
another? How could God Incarnate live in such a world?
What Herod didn’t know, however, was that the word Nazorean refers to the Hebrew word for branch. So when Isaiah prophesied that a shoot would come from a felled tree and that out of Jesse’s (Jesse being the father of David) stump would grow a beautiful branch, Isaiah was referring to the phenomenon of the life remaining in a tree’s stump even after it has been cut down. Jesus would be the branch, and since Jesus, according to Matthew, was a descendent of
David then Jesus would be true King, not Herod.
In a world and society where Mary could have been stoned or Joseph’s quiet attempt to separate from her would have been considered righteous, they overcame this by committing themselves to each other, by walking with each other in spite of all the dangers, by encouraging each other when the journey became rigorous, by taking a stance against evil, by apologizing when they were wrong, by respecting each other’s dignity, by believing justice and peace were for more
people than just themselves, by promising to defend the other even when strangers didn’t believe or understand, and by carrying some of the load when doubts started to creep in. This is discipleship and it was in this environment in which Love was born. It was in this environment in which Love became ruler of all.
A sermon preached by seminarian Casey Anderson-Molina on January 2, 2022…