When You’ve Found Him, Bring Me Word – The Defining Moment: Font and Cross and Star

You'll like at least this about today's message. You get to finish it. I can't. ‘Too big a subject, too little time. So you get to determine how it comes out. (At least you're guaranteed to like the ending. And you get to choose when it's over. I'm off the hook for time.) So, let's get started.

Two weeks and three days ago we greeted Christmas. "Joy to the world, the Lord is come," we sang. "Let earth receive her King!" So, how are we doin' with that? Now that the Christmas stuff's put away, what about Christ? What is the world's, what is our response to Jesus? Arguably, Matthew was the first to ask and answer that question. He pictures the poles, the extremes. On the one hand, the Magi on their camels. "Where is he to be born King of the Jews?" Literally, heaven (the star) has guided them. And their blessed hope is to adore him. On the other hand, there's Herod. He wants to kill Jesus. "When you've found him, bring me word, that I too might come and worship him." NOT! Well, there we have it. How do we host Jesus? Herald him or harm him. Caress him or kill him. Those are the earliest and the most extreme responses to the presence of Christ upon earth. Most of us aren't entirely good at the first. (Our praises have problems.) And we're not entirely innocent of the second. (Our silence and our sin are slow-motion menaces to God's Messiah, God's Anointed One.) Now Matthew's right. From the first, Christ-believers've struggled to relate to those who believe differently, beginning with those who follow David's Star, versus David's Son. His Gospel is aimed at helping the Covenant (Hebrew) People become Christ's people. Maybe a clearer understanding here, between kindred believers, might help us live and share and believe in a world of increasing difference and shrinking borders. Matthew sees it almost as a test case. So let's lean into the conversation between Font and Cross and the Star of David and see what we can see. Of God, of God's Son. Of one another and ourselves. And maybe, just maybe, we might come a little closer to the Kingdom on Earth as in Heaven.

Dealing with difference, in peoples/faiths, always begin with what we share, not what we dispute. It always advances understanding/peace.  A lifetime of dialogue has taught me Christians and our Jewish friends hold four great treasures in common. These can help us talk and live with each other in a respectful, open, even loving way. Here's my list. Both of us who spring from the faith of Abraham (followers of the Font-and-Cross, and David's Star alike): 1) love and serve the Creator God who is the source of all things, 2) believe that God loves us intimately enough to teach and guide us by God's Commands, 3) trust that God holds us accountable for the lives we live, 4) struggle to understand, follow, serve and please God. If not in each of these, in the four held together, this set of convictions sets us apart (that's what holy means, by the way, set apart) from all other belief systems and world views. We are kindred spirits here in a way we are with no other peoples on earth.

Begin with what we share, not what we dispute. Jesus spends his earthly ministry in large measure trying to help Hebrew souls be more Hebraic. Helping Jews be more Jewish! God is Creator, Father in Charge, the only one in position or with permission to judge. This life has meaning and purpose. We're not a cosmic accident, but a divine enterprise, set here to reflect, represent and glorify God! That's how to be a light to non-believers. And a glory as God's chosen people. For Jesus, to stray from this is to live outside the Covenant Community. To live by this is to be grafted into this sacred faith-following family. This is why we find Jesus beside the River Jordan today. Christ is not baptized because he is a sinner in need of repentance. He asks John's baptism to place himself publicly in the community of the Creator-Father. By the waters he says God's story is my story. His love my love. His purpose my purpose. His pleasure my praise. Mark's Gospel, written earlier than Matthew's has only Jesus hear God's words, "You are my beloved son." But Matthew let's us all be witnesses. "This is my beloved Son," Therfore, we are to listen to him! God is our guide, says Jesus. So be true. "I don't come to rescind the law but to fulfill it down to the last jot and tittle. But I don't expect you to swallow it. I expect you to engage it, wrestle with it, make it your own and yourself God's own." Christ's classic formula, "You have heard it said of old… but I say unto you…." And God will hold us accountable. Even (though singularly to say, "Better for that soul that he had not been born…" In all this Rabbi Jesus teaches Christ-ian and Jew alike. Hallelujah.

Dealing with difference, in peoples/faiths, never shy from difference. But always receive it with a lively sense of mystery and grace. Jesus and his own grew and went beyond Hebrew family. We must deal with that fact today. Four great tensions distinguish these two lines that flow from Abraham. 1) Christians see God imaged, pictured in Jesus. Jews see this as a violation of the 2nd commandment against godly images. 2) Christians are defined by what we understand of God (beliefs and creeds); Jews by how they wrestle to observe One-They-Cannot-See. 3) The Font connects us to a community of believers where faith is nurtured; David's Star connects to the family circle where kinship with God is nourished. 4) For us the Cross is the key to the opened grave for us and all; for Jews hope is born in covenant and ends in the rest of the beloved (Abraham). Many of us have heard/said that all faiths are finally the same. You cannot hear these differences and hold that view. But you can remember that God knows what God is doing and has (for 1000's of years) made us who we are. And we can recall that no one voice (from Rome to Salt Lake City to UM's Nashville) speaks for all who cling to Christ, nor is there any authorized/official voice for those under David's Star. [= Rel. can't be practiced… w/o Temp. view]. So lots of folks on both sides hold varied views with equal fervor and faith. But not with equal truth.

Dealing with difference, in peoples/faiths, never shy from difference. We hold it to our hearts that to see Jesus is to see God. ‘The Holy Heart in an infant face and arms outstretched in our behalf. (Gest.) I believe it and it bathes my soul. It baptizes me with the Spirit. Like Colin Gordon [Jim, Beth], I am herby sealed by the Spirit and marked as Christ's own. I've a calling to spread that word. You too. Especially to any who are not so blessed. But as a gift, not first a pride or threat. Especially to those who say no, not for disinterest in God, but in what they hold as fidelity to his command. I can/must say what I know, with invitation, not enmity. All my creeds are creaky, cranky things, my certainties certificates of sin, if and when I do not live out what I shout about. Are you different? It was Gandhi who observed with sad amazement, "For every Jew there is a Jew, but where is the Christ in Christendom." Jews practice faith in community and Christians at home, but our emphases are somewhat reversed. Here can clearly learn from each other. The cross

is our critical divide. Most of us say nothing saves like the cross. I believe Jesus when he says no one to the Father but by me. [Gest.] I sing lump-throated, "He tore the bars away, Jesus my Lord. Up from the grave he arose." There is no one I would not tell this saving grace. But I do it with a spirit that knows it a grace unearned. (Not I, Christ in me.) I do it remembering Jesus says, "Judge not that you may not be judged." And, "I have other sheep that are not of this fold." And, "He who is not against us…" And upon the cross two stunning words. Foremost, "Father forgive them, they don't know what they're doing." (How often that's me!) And "John, behold your mother. Mother, behold your son." As we peoples of Font/Cross and Star relate, I wonder if Jesus is not telling us here to keep the fifth commandment together. Are we not to understand "Old Testament Peoples" as our Faith-Parents and honor them (with dignity if not agreement)? And are they not to love us like parents their offspring, even when they grow in new and unexpected ways?

I promised you would get to close this message. I will keep it. I only suggest a few directions that might help. Difference-in-general is helped by noting carefully and graciously where we stand on common ground. And by honest effort to understand, acknowledge and examine disagreement. We do so standing on principle. But not on each other. And remembering it will take all the grace of god (found for us in Jesus Christ) to hold us up, friends and challengers alike. And we do so trusting that God has a passion, an unsatisfied Spirit-longing to hold us all in his everlasting arms. Let's live with and talk with each other of that longing, and lift each other as best we know toward Heaven. Prayer, grace, kindness, truthfulness and holy affection (love) will be required. And they are our companions too. Given of God!

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I heard a long story this week I've not time to tell, but to sketch. Dad and 3 kids. Christmas week. Dad, up from the TV to see his kids' Jesus in shoebox/manger. Robed son 1: "I'm all the shepherds." Robed son 2. "I'm Jos. Mary's out. Dtr., camel-gaited in mom's heels, "I'm the wise men bringing gold, circumstance and mud!" You know, the Savior comes to our richness, situations (news clips) and our muddy sins. Whatever the faith communion from which we come, he invites us to gather at the same Light Throne! With each other, we can do no less. Not in the aftermath of the manger, nor before the looming cross!

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