Welcome to this morning's Sunday Worship for Epiphany; this is a "Come Together on Sunday" service led by Martin Sykes.
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Rev Christine Fox: email@example.com
Thank you to all those who have been part of arranging this week's service.
Below you can find this weeks Message. The full service sheet can be found here.
A missionary was teaching in Africa, and just before Christmas he’d been telling his students how Christians, as an expression of their joy gave each other presents on Jesus birthday.
On Christmas morning, one of the students bought the missionary, a seashell of lustrous beauty. When asked where he’d discovered such an extraordinary shell, the student said he’d walked 30 miles to a certain bay, the only spot where such shells could be found. The missionary was overjoyed and said, “that was wonderful of you to travel so far to get this lovely gift for me”. The student replied with his eyes gleaming; Long journey, part of Gift.
The most precious gift in the world for Elizabeth and me, apart from our love for each other, our faith, and our church, is our family, and when our family makes the effort, to make the journey from Cheshire, Yorkshire, Leicestershire to come and visit us on Boxing Day and other times of the year, that’s when we experience the joy of family and that’s so special, and for us.
We always thank each other for making the long journeys, and they always reply, Long journey, part of Gift.
The birth of Gods only son in a stable in Bethlehem, is so precious to us as Christians, because His ultimate great sacrifice on the Cross was His most precious Gift to us. Jesus set aside the Majesty and the Splendour of Heaven, to become a tiny, helpless baby who grew up to experience life as we do, and yet lived without sin, and died that we might have know what it is to be loved, to be forgiven, and enter into eternal life. Jesus long journey from Heaven to Earth to the Cross and beyond was His precious Gift to us, and as we offer our thanks to Him. He simply says, Long journey, part of Gift.
When Magi arrived at that stable in Bethlehem, and offered their gifts to the Christ Child, I wouldn’t at all surprised if Mary & Joseph would have been overwhelmed by their generosity and would no doubt asked them who they were, and where they were from and how long their journey had taken. They would have introduced themselves as Magi and that they were from Persia, and had travelled 700+ miles, a journey that had taken over 4 months, They presented their Gifts to the Christ Child, and Mary & Joseph would have thanked them for their generosity, dedication and journey, and The Magi just might have replied by saying, “Long Journey, part of Gift.”
The Wise Men were gentiles and were called Magi, which was a title given to a philosopher class in Persia – Iran. They were Astrologer's who were priestly leaders and advisers to kings who played a prominent part in court life who used sophisticated astronomical observations to study the stars and their meanings, and that’s what made them Wise. They were also extremely wealthy and clever and men of authority, but above all they were seekers - they needed something else in their lives - they needed a living relationship with God as we all do. In their quest these Magi searched the heavens and the earth and when they saw a New Star, which may have been Comet, they used their knowledge and wisdom to come to the conclusion that this was a sign of the birth of the long-Promised King of the Jews in Palestine (Matthew 2; 2 Magi called the star “His Star!”) and decided to make a State Visit. The title” King of the Jews” was only ever used by Gentiles and appears twice in the Gospels – once at his birth, and the other at hid death – the words were written by the pagan, gentile Roman soldiers on the sign above Jesus head on the Cross. God clearly reached out to the gentile Magi to lead them to the Christ child. Matthew clearly sees this as an acceptable Gentile response to a genuine revelation.
The Magi spent much time and energy, and risked their lives by travelling at night, but they refused to be put off - some may have laughed at them, some would have scorned them, but they weren’t to be deflected from their search. Maybe they didn’t exactly know where they were going as they followed that Star, but they knew who they were seeking.
The epiphany is about Jesus being for everyone, for all nations and not just the Jews, the chosen people. The Magi saw and understood the sign and responded by following that sign, HIS Star. But the Magi clearly hadn’t heard of or read the Book of Micah chapter 5, where a Promised Ruler from Bethlehem is prophesied because towards their journeys end, they went to The Magi clearly went to the wrong place (Jerusalem), they saw the wrong person (Herod – King of the Jews) and asked the wrong question – where is the one who has been born king of the Jews We saw His star when it rose and have come to worship him.
Clearly, Herod didn't have a clue what they were on about, but he knew who would know about the Messiah about the Christ, so he asked the Chief Priests and the Scribes, and they told him the child would be born in Bethlehem, in the land of Judea. Luckily for the Magi it was only about 7 miles away, because Herod sent them off, told them to search diligently for the child and to tell him when they had found him. Fortunately, the wise men didn't trust Herod or his interest in the Christ Child - they realised their terrible mistake and “went home another way” because they had learnt the hard way not to trust Herod. The consequences of their question were horrific, because Herod ordered his troops to kill all boys under the age of 2. The Magi got many things so wrong with terrible consequences, but they were still clever, dedicated and committed in their quest to find Jesus.
Two thousand years ago, there were no computers or any kind technology available to the Magi, and yet His Star in the East was revealed to them and led them, eventually to the Christ child in Bethlehem where they gave their Gifts, and themselves and worshipped Him. We too need to seek his presence and come before him. No doubt, like the wise men we do get it wrong and make mistakes - we may be laughed at and scorned or put in danger, but like the Magi we mustn’t be put off until we come before him and offer to Him our Long Journeys of Life, love & Faith that are Part of our Gift to Him.
One of the most distinguished and honoured of American bishops during the 19th century was Bishop Wippell, of Minnesota. In 1898 the Bishop visited London for the Lambeth Conference.
During the conference, a fellow Bishop approached him and asked him to do him a special favour. “I have a friend”, he said, Who has been the vicar of a slum parish in New York for the past 30 years. He wrote to me recently telling me how discouraged and depressed he felt.
I wondered whether you would be kind enough to call on him on your way home to cheer him up a little?” Bishop Wippell immediately agreed to do this; And his fellow Bishop wrote the vicars name and address on a piece of paper.
When Bishop Wippell saw the name, he said, “I have heard of this man, and I shall look forward to meeting him”. When Bishop Wipple arrived in New York, He called on the vicar, who welcomed him into his home. Gently, the Bishop encouraged the vicar to share his thoughts with him. “I have served God in this parish for the last 30 years,” said the vicar. “I have put my heart and soul into my work. I have visited my flock diligently; I have nurtured the sick; I have looked after the youth; I have said my prayers; I have always thoroughly prepared my sermons; I have conducted the church services as beautifully as I can. Yet, in spite of all of this, I can't see any sign of progress. In fact, if I'm honest, the church isn't as flourishing as it was when I first arrived. I feel a complete failure.”
The Bishop gently took the old man's hand in his and said, “do you remember preparing a young woman called Emma Smith for confirmation some 25 years ago?” The vicar thought for a while and then replied, “Yes. I vaguely remember her. I believe she headed out West. I haven't heard about her since.”“You're quite right,” Replied the Bishop, She went out West and got a job as a housekeeper on a remote farm. She looked after the farmer and his three grown up sons. His wife had died some years previously and father and sons had become brutalised and course through isolation. And heavy drinking. After Emma had been on the farm for a couple of years, the eldest son said to her one day. “I don't know how you can stick it here with a lot like us!” The woman replied, “I couldn't if it weren't for my faith. And my love for Jesus”. “Tell me about it”. said the eldest son. “I can't tell you much”, She replied, Because I'm not educated, but you can read the notes which I made during my confirmation lessons.”
This, the eldest son did and then got in touch with a clergyman who lived about 30 miles away and obtained further instruction. Later he took his share of the family property, went to college, offered himself for ordination, and was accepted.
And that eldest son is now the Bishop of Minnesota, who is sitting talking to you at this moment. So, you see my friend. Your labours have not been wasted. Had it not been for you. I would most certainly never have become a Bishop.
Life for that slum parish Vicar in New York, was a journey full of love, faithfulness, generosity, commitment, devotion, dedication, and commitment & compassion, and on his journey, unbeknown to him, he touched the lives of many people including Bishop Wippell. I’m sure that when Bishop Wippell thanked the vicar for his journey of faithful witness, that he would have replied, “Long Journey part of Gift, part of my Gift to you”.
Life for all of us is a long journey, and our prayer is that our journeys for this new year will be full of love, faithfulness, generosity, commitment, devotion, dedication, and commitment & compassion and just like that slum parish vicar in New York, our Long journey of life is part of our Gift to the Christ Child.
Our prayer is simply, “Take my life, and let it be, consecrated, Lord to Thee.”
Wise men still seek Jesus.