(Photo: gathering at the Baptismal font to install Jena Hardy as Youth, Family, and Outreach Minister)

Epiphany of our Lord – January 6, 2019
Trinity, Worcester
Texts: Isaiah 60:1-6 and Matthew 2:1-12

Watch the sermon here (Minute 27:10)

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

The Power of Noticing …

That’s the title of a 2014 book written by Harvard Business School Professor Max Bazerman. In his book, and in a class at the Harvard Business School, Bazerman suggests that noticing, especially noticing those details easily overlooked or missed by others, and then acting on what is noticed, can have great consequences.

Noticing details others are missing, and pointing them out, might help avoid a tragedy. Noticing overlooked details, and acting on them, might lead to a great opportunity. There is power and potential in first noticing, and then acting on what is noticed.

Today’s Gospel reading on this Day of Epiphany, is about noticing.

The wise men as Matthew called them, sometimes referred to as kings or magi, noticed.  They noticed a star rising and they took action: they followed the star.

Did others see the star?

If the star the magi noticed had been big, and bright, and obvious, others would have noticed it also. But scripture doesn’t say that the crowds noticed, there’s no record of crowds flocking to the star in curiosity and wonder. Instead, it was the wise men from the East who noticed what others missed, it was the outsiders, who paid attention, and who traveled to Jerusalem to pay homage to the new king.

How long did it take them and where did they find Jesus?

Popular tradition places the magi at the stable in Bethlehem. On this day of Epiphany – we celebrate the arrival of the magi to baby Jesus. But Matthew records they found him in a House – who’s house? Mary and Joseph’s house in Nazareth? If so, the trek of the magi perhaps took longer than the 12 days. Maybe two years – some have speculated this is why Herod ordered all the newborn children two years and younger to be killed.

The point is this: a small group of people, outsiders from different countries and customs, noticed what the insiders missed. They noticed, they took action on what they noticed, and they experienced Christ.

The question before us as disciples, in faith, how are we noticing where Christ is shining in our lives?

Just as importantly, how are we acting on what we notice? As we look, it may be that Christ is shining in ways we haven’t noticed, in places we aren’t looking, in people we haven’t considered.

The Trinity Transition Team noticed.

Last Spring, in conversations with 13 focus groups, and in a process engaging 100 people of the congregation, the Transition Team noticed that a hope and desire for outreach, for engagement with our neighbors, for connection with the community, came up in comments over and over again. The Transition Team noticed people of Trinity observing a star rising over the city of Worcester, a star calling us outside of our walls into neighborhood ministry and mission.

Some were surprised by the recurring theme of outreach, this desire to connect with our neighbors and community, but there it was in the written summary after summary of the focus group conversations.

First noticing, and then acting …

Receiving the report of the Transition Team, last summer the Council acted. Over serveral months, the Council considered various ministry staffing scenarios before proposing adding a full time lay minister of youth, families, and outreach to the ministry staff. This Fall, the Council presented that proposal to the congregation at a Special Congregational Meeting in October.

In an overwhelming vote, the congregation approved a staffing model of pastor, cantor, and Youth, Family, and Outreach Lay Minister. Acting on the Congregation’s decision, the Council in December voted to hire Jena Hardy for this full time position with a start date of January 1st. Today, at our 10:00am liturgy, we install Jena to this position.

This process is a story about noticing – about noticing where Christ is leading; and then in bold discipleship – following the light of Christ.

In our Second Reading today, the Apostle Paul wrote: “Through the church … through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to rulers and authorities in heavenly places.” In the church, the light of Christ shines!

In a miracle of faith, the truth is that as we set out to follow the star we see rising over the community, in fact, the star, the light of Christ, rises over us! As we set out to follow the Christ who is revealed in our neighbors, our neighbors will see Christ who shines through us!

Not that this will be a star that everyone sees. We don’t need to be a place that attracts everyone. Instead, as a community committed to growing in faith, sharing hospitality, and abounding in love, we shine for those who most need the light of Christ, who are desperately looking for the light:  the lost, the lonely, the hurting, the forgotten, the rejected.

And, it must be said, there are dangers to noticing and following. Herod was not at all happy that some were noticing power and authority in someone other than him. As one comfortable and privileged in power, it was scary and threatening for people to notice, and acknowledge, another king.

It’s not easy for any of us to notice and follow. Perhaps like Herod, we want to find out for ourselves what the message of the star is all about so that we can resist, stand in the way, or squash the change. This sin is common to us all.

But, nevertheless, faith invites us today to trust in the power of the Holy Spirit forguidance, for course corrections, and for resources for the journey.

Our call as disciples on this day is to notice Christ shining in our lives. Christ may shine in big, bright, obvious ways – maybe in faith you’ll look back and exclaim: Christ was right in front of me all along! More likely, and the lesson of our Gospel reading today, is Christ shining in less obvious, and less noticeable ways, ways that require faith to not only notice, but to set out, to act, and to respond to the light.

The Good News on this Epiphany Sunday, is that Christ wants to be noticed!

Christ wasn’t born of Mary & Joseph in order to remain a secret.  Christ came as the light shining for the world and to be noticed by the world. The birth of Jesus Christ fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy recorded as our 1st reading today.

Isaiah prophesied that nations would come to the light and kings would recognize the brightness of Christ’s dawn. The visit of the wise men  we celebrate on this Day of Epiphany,  was the beginning of the fulfillment.

The ministry of the Apostle Paul also fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy as Paul ministered to the Gentiles. Presented in our 2nd reading today Paul wrote: “Grace was given to me to bring to  the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ.” For, as Paul wrote: “the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”

Today in us, Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled! Through our noticing and acting, Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled, as the healing and liberating light of Christ shines in us, for all peoples of the world.

Our celebration on this Epiphany Day is that not only does Christ want to be noticed, but that Christ notices us!

Christ shines for the whole world, for every nation, for all tribes, peoples, and languages of the world – and Christ notices the hurts, wounds, and brokenness of the world and shines in healing, peace, and hope.

In our baptisms, we have the promise that Christ notices us forever, and shines for us leading us to life, joy, and love.

May the Holy Spirit grant us the faith to see, recognize, and trust this Good News.

Thanks be to God.