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  • The Rev. Arianne Rice

Let’s Intentionally Gather and Invite!

Feast of the Epiphany

This morning I wanted to look at the pattern of the magi. It is a pattern of intention. A pattern of practice. A pattern that enables wise men to choose life-sustaining actions and a life-giving response – as opposed to being manipulated or intimidated by people and power that was surely overt and intimidating.

But, before I do that, I want to talk about a pattern of this community that feels far away. We gather. We’re doing it right now – even though the in-person part – is still out there in the future. We are a gathering community and I want to ask that we do so – online – next week.

Next Sunday, Jan. 17th the Vestry and I are calling a special meeting of our congregation and I would like to wholeheartedly invite and encourage you to be present. I know Zoom is not ideal – but hey, thanks be to God we have it don’t you think? We need to live into some of our congregational pattern - like electing new vestry members, and we’ll share more info in this week’s email.

We also need to check-in and hear about the ongoing work of our ministry – how your pledges enable this community to do that. And because we know God’s pattern is always leading us forward – we need to talk about what God is calling us to as we start off this new year. What is our ministry in this time? How can we be supporting each other in our lives of faith?

We don’t know, honestly, if there were just three magi. We just know that a rector writing a hymn for his Christmas pageant – known to us as we three kings – thought that number, supported by the psalm, worked perfectly for his tune. Regardless, the pattern of three is a small group and that is a pattern that fits.

We need more small group gatherings. Sacred Ground has been transformative for the twenty or so parishioners who took part this past year. We can renew that program – and we can create other small group gatherings, for prayer, bible study, a book group – or even simply checking-in and seeing each other. On the 24th a newly from COGS Connect group will be inviting us to coffee hour to strengthen our pattern of hospitality and connection.

Picture our foyer on a Sunday morning after worship for a minute. That center table filled with snacks – Jane’s cucumber sandwiches and Cheryl’s or Donna’s or Nancy’s or Bob’s cookies and table decorations befitting the day - and the room alive with conversation and hugs and greetings.

We have a pattern of welcome and connection – and we need to keep it up! We need to be intentional about being a gathered community – and I promise, the vestry and I will ensure a welcoming and informative Sunday next week.

You know, way back in June, when the vestry and I were struggling – and for myself I would use the word, agonizing, over whether or not we should be gathering in-person – In my report that month, I wrote this, “A worshipping community is not a store, or restaurant or gym or school – all of those operate in a competitive marketplace and exist because of a transactional model of operations….A worshipping community, thanks be to God, gathers voluntarily to give thanks, hear the stories of our faith, engage in traditions and rituals, and prays for our world, for each other and for ourselves. And we come together to see each other, shake hands, hug, sing, eat, laugh, cry, support one another, and welcome neighbors and newcomers to join with us.”

In other words – we are not a transactional community – we are a relational community, driven by an economy of grace, grounded in the belief that God brought our community into existence and continuously sustains it. Whether we literally see each other, or not.

I’m sharing those words this morning eight months later, to start off 2021 remembering the intentionality that generates the Body of Christ – which is who we are as a church even when we are virtual. Because, yes, I am praying for a packed Zoom room next Sunday. It’s not exactly what we want – but sometimes – God asks that we go down another road.

Just as God suggested to those Magi. That is one of the most powerful verses of our gospel this morning – having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country down another road.

Sometimes, intentionally, you’ve got to change course – for the good. Sometimes the way you thought things were going to go – well, life happens – and you’ve got to reassess, with intention. I know I’m using that word a lot this morning – well, guess what – that’s intentional.

If you want to do something powerful at the start of this new year – instead of making that list of resolutions – set some intentions. Better yet – set one intention – one! One intention – one way of being that not only will sustain or support you – but, in turn, will also be a gift to everyone around you.

That is the pattern of the magi – their way of being not only supports them – it is a gift to the world. They had a plan formulated over years and written in the stars – and their plans had to change! At first, they go to Jerusalem, wrong city, assuming that the current king would welcome their news – but on that assumption they were wrong too.

Do they give up? Are they defeated? Not even close. In fact, the magi are so grounded in their purpose that they do not give into the fear that is all around them. Not only is King Herod frightened by the thought of losing his seat of power – but all of Jerusalem with him. The whole city is terrified because of the way in which Herod has violently ruled to hold on to what he’s got. Surely many parallels with our time and place, but I’d like to go down a different road one that focuses on staying grounded.

The magi stay grounded. And I imagine one reason is because they know the patterns of God’s creation point long past the timelines of desperate, self-serving leaders. The magi recognize Herod’s empty words, but they don’t argue – they just go about doing their good work. And they course correct – and head to Bethlehem – to bring their gifts – to bring their presence – to bring good news – life-giving news to the world.

In that report from last June I wrote words that I still hold true, “It is hard to take a long view. But that’s exactly the view our faith tells us to take every Sunday as we remember we are part of salvation history. It is hard to take a long view when the world feels strange. It is hard to make sacrifices. It is hard to create something entirely new. It is hard to keep the faith and keep us in community. And at the same time – that hard work is joyful, life-sustaining and renewing.

Current upheavals in our world will never inhibit us from living into our baptismal vows. There is much we can do within our membership and in reaching out to our neighbors to continue to be church, a body of Christ, right now. “

Let’s embrace the pattern of the magi – who traveled down a long, who set their intention; who changed course when they needed to, yet stayed grounded and stayed connected. We are traveling by another road to – and still – God is working God’s purpose out.

Let us gather together as we can to see, and hear and connect and bring forth our gifts and some epiphanies for us to live into together. Amen,

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