Tag Archives: seeking

Star Light, Star Bright

“Star Light, Star Bright”

epiphany stained glass

Matthew 2:1-12 (2:2) – January 6, 2019

Have you ever been far away from the city at night—perhaps downstate Illinois, or the upper peninsula of Michigan, or in the Rocky Mountains—and looked up to see the sky filled with stars? I just was in rural Indiana a few nights ago. The night was clear and crisp, and I saw more lovely stars than I had seen for a number of years. The heavens at night are truly amazing. We can all be astounded, just by looking up.

About the time of the birth of Christ, there were some wise men, scholars from the East, who did just that. They not only looked up and admired the night sky, but they also studied the sky, the stars, and the movement of the planets with great intensity. Two thousand years ago, some Gentile wise men—or, Magi, as some translations of the Bible use the transliteration—noticed something absolutely remarkable in the skies.

I don’t know whether lots of people notice the skies or the stars any more. At least, not here in the United States. At least, not here in this world of instant entertainment from any number of entertainment or electronic devices people can watch or hold in the palm of their hands.

What are people missing, in not paying attention to the skies and the stars? What are people missing, by not paying attention to this particular Star, the Star the wise men saw?    

The account from Matthew’s Gospel tells us about these scholars from the East—Gentile scholars, probably minor nobility, who devoted their lives to observing and studying the skies. A pastor and biblical historian, Chad Ashby, says “The term magi is the precise Greek word used in Matthew’s gospel. His story demonstrates that the Magi were astrologers and interpreters of omens—following a star and dreaming dreams.” [1] These studious activities of the wise men—activities we might today consider selective, esoteric, even a bit crackpot—were perfectly valid. At the time of the first century, these activities were universally recognized as important parts of serious study.

What I want us to focus on is the Star, the scholars’ special point of study. These scholars had access to a number of scholarly, historical and prophetic books and writings from many different places in the known world. After observing this fantastic Star in the skies, and consulting the learned books they had available, these scholars came to the conclusion that they needed to travel where the Star was telling them to go, or where the Star was leading them.

Where do we go when we are seeking, today? Do we follow a Star, on a spiritual journey? Do we have some learned writings telling us where to go?

As we finish up the Advent and Christmas seasons, we consider two special Christmas and Epiphany carols today. Today, we think of “The First Noel” and “We Three Kings.” These beloved traditional Christmas carols tell us much of what we now associate with the Nativity story. In fact, these two carols conflate the Nativity narrative of the angels and shepherds from Luke with the later account of the Epiphany journey of the wise men visiting the toddler Jesus. Thus, we have the mash-up of the angel and shepherds at the manger with the newborn Jesus, right alongside the three Kings offering their gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh.

I could discuss the fact that the Gospel of Matthew never tells us how many scholars travel to see the young Jesus, but simply that they did bring gifts. Those gifts are identified as three, and I suppose somewhere along the line someone fabricated the idea that three gifts meant three gift-givers, and these scholars or minor nobility from the East transformed into kings. But, I am not going to dwell on that point. Because—it is not significant to our narrative.

What is significant is the response of King Herod. When Herod found out that the Gentile scholars wanted to see a newborn King, he was filled with great fear. The Gospel of Matthew specifically says so; and the majority of the people of Judea were very much afraid, as well.

What about us, today? Would we even begin to follow that Star, as the wise men did? Do we fear where or to what that Star could lead us? Are there new possibilities in our lives that await us? Are we afraid of what lies ahead? Are we afraid to find Jesus?

According to the historical record, King Herod was a narcissist and a highly polarizing politician, adept at lying and twisting the truth to get his own way. He was a hedonist who even had a series of wives, and was a chronic philanderer. (Comparisons have been made between Herod and current political leaders.) However, Herod’s two-faced request to these foreign-born nobility sounds mighty suspect to me, particularly since I was born and raised in Chicago, which has a pretty politically crooked reputation.

So, it’s not at all surprising to have duplicitous King Herod cozying up to these scholars and giving them a line. Moreover, he schemes to have the wise men gather information for him, and then come back to report. Is anyone else really creeped out by Herod’s two-faced behavior? Let me say that if you are, that is just as it should be. Herod is the really bad guy in this story, especially because he has all baby boys under two years old killed in the area surrounding Bethlehem. Just in case the newborn King of the Jews happened to be among them.

When you and I try to follow Jesus, are there things—or people—that seem like good ideas on the surface? But under closer examination, are we able to identify them as false and two-faced, or even twisted and hateful? Even though Herod was blustering and being his usual twisted, hateful self, the Star continued to shine. The Star continued to lead the wise men to the house in Bethlehem that contained the young boy Jesus, with Mary His mother.

We all know what happened when the scholars from the East met with Mary and the young Jesus. They bowed down, presented their gifts, and worshiped.

As Pastor Janet Hunt says, these wise men—however many they were—became convinced of their find. “Having felt the prodding of one particular star to take this incredible journey, when they came to the place to which the star led them, they were met there by God.  We know this could not have been at all what they expected — at least not God in the form and circumstance before them there…. Still, in that baby, they met the ‘Holy One,’ God’s Own Son. And all they were doing was what they believed they were made to do.” [2]

God was working in and through these scholars from the East, long before they followed the Star, long before they find Jesus. Is it possible that God could work through us, today?

God may want us to continue to follow that Star, to find Jesus in a new way today. We may realize that God was working in and through us, for years, Do we have some new adventure, new relationship or new direction where God is leading us, today?

We can take the opportunity and follow the Star, straight to Jesus, straight to the things—and people—where He wants us to get involved. Won’t you take the opportunity to be engaged and amazed, today? Why not take the opportunity to shine the light of that Star, the light of Jesus, in a dark world today?

Amen, alleluia.

[1] https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/2016/december/magi-wise-men-or-kings-its-complicated.html

[2] http://words.dancingwiththeword.com/2012/12/on-magi-and-journeys.html

“On Magi and Journeys,” the Rev. Dr. Janet H. Hunt, Dancing with the Word, 2013.


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God’s Commandments in Psalm 119

Matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers – Sunday, October 1, 2017

Psa 119- 4-5 precepts, script

God’s Commandments in Psalm 119

I appreciate Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words so much. His commentary on the beginnings of Psalm 119 hit home to me. We are considering verse 4:

You laid down Your commandments,

that we should fully keep them.

I was particularly intrigued by his description of “the Hebrew word for ‘commandments’ in this verse. It is a word that cannot be translated by a single word of ours.” [1] I am fascinated by these types of words that cannot be translated, word-for-word. Instead, translators are forced to find approximate definitions and translations.

I appreciate the candor of some translators and commentators when they honestly state their difficulties in translation and interpretation. And, sometimes, a word in one language takes a phrase or even a sentence to define it in another language. (Again, I think this is fascinating!) The word translated as “commandments” is one such word, “that cannot be translated by a single word of ours. It derives from the verb for seeking, visiting, paying attention to. Hence, the commandments are what God looks at, pays attention to, and the means by which He seeks and visits the human being.” [2] (The NIV translation is “precepts,” which conveys much similar ideas.)

Bonhoeffer considered God’s commandment to be a permanent thing, in fact, a continual thing. As Bonhoeffer mentions, God’s commands are not just for an instant, or for a short period of time. No, they are for a good long time. What’s more, God “laid them down.” God established the commandments as one lays a cornerstone for a building.

What a marvelous image! God meant the commandments to be permanent, laid as a foundation or cornerstone. Thank You, God, for giving us the gracious gift of Your Scriptures—Your commandments.



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[1] Meditating on the Word, Dietrich Bonhöffer, edited by David McI. Gracie. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Cowley Publications, 2000, 106.

[2] Ibid.

Seeking Guidance with Martin Luther King, Jr.

Matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers – Sunday, April 30, 2017

guidance, compass

Seeking Guidance with Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. King was an African-American Baptist minister, assassinated in 1968. He also was a civil rights leader, an eloquent preacher, and proponent of dignified social action with the creative weapons of love and non-violence. He believed in taking the biblical stories and transforming them into God’s prophetic voice for the present, turbulent times. [1]

I was especially struck by Dr. King’s statement: “I believe firmly that love is a transforming power that can lift a whole community to new horizons of fair play, good will and justice.” [2] Love is a transforming power, indeed!

The creative weapons of love and non-violence were indeed innovative, attention-getting, and peaceful. These creative, innovative weapons were accepted by a widespread group of people, mostly people of color—but not all. In today’s parlance, a number of allies (white folks) stood with the civil rights movement.

God’s hand was clearly in the civil rights movement, in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The prophetic voice of God was heard not only throughout this country, but around the world. Alas, today many people of color are still fearful. (Or, newly fearful.) This is because of several reasons, including the rise in xenophobia, racism, and generalized fear and anxiety. Many people find themselves fearful of the rise in xenophobia and racism, coupled with random acts of vandalism and violence.

I urge those who are frightened and anxious to come together, gather to pray and meet together in groups. If enough people gather together, and refuse to retaliate with hate and anxiety, there will be a strong, vital group expressing encouragement and love.

I close with this call for prayer from Dr. King: “We ask people everywhere to pray that God will guide us, pray that justice will be done and that righteousness will stand. And I think through these prayers we will be strengthened; it will make us feel the unity of the nation and the presence of Almighty God.” [3]

Lord, in Your mercy, hear all of our prayers.



Like what you read? Disagree? Share your thoughts with your loved ones and continue the conversation.

Why not visit my companion blogs, “the best of” A Year of Being Kind.  #PursuePEACE. My Facebook page, Pursuing Peace – Thanks! And, read my sermons from Pastor, Preacher Pray-er

[1] Spiritual Classics, edited by Richard J. Foster and Emilie Griffin. (San Francisco, California: HarperSanFrancisco, 2000), 279.

[2] Ibid, 280.

[3] Ibid, 281.

John Milton’s Poems on Submission

Matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers – Thursday, March 30, 2017

John Milton 1608-1674 English poet dictating Samson Agonistes From Old England's Worthies by Lord Brougham and others published London circa 1880's

John Milton’s Poems on Submission

Submission: almost a dirty word, in the 21st century context. Certainly, submission smacks of knuckling under, being oppressed, or unfairly treated. However—it wasn’t always this way.

Submission is one of the spiritual disciplines Richard Foster and Emilie Griffin list, and four readings are included that give different insights into this discipline. John Milton is the first, that brilliant writer, employed in the English political sector for years. Milton has two excerpts listed here: the first written when he was 23, and the other written after he lost his eyesight in his 40’s. In both cases, he was profoundly empty, and was casting about for some meaning in his life.

Yes, the first poem written in Milton’s youth bears great hope, but also frustration. Why hasn’t God given this young man great things to do? Or, if not great, at least tasks to occupy the young Milton’s time? (He even calls God “my Great Task-Master.”) At the end of the poem, he does submit to God’s will and God’s timing—as must we all.

I may relate more to the poem of his middle age, after blindness has come upon his eyes. It certainly has a more subdued and wistful air. Milton comes to the realization that just as countless others do God’s bidding, in various ways (“thousands at his bidding speed/And post o’er land and ocean without rest.”), so does he, as he is able. “They also serve who only stand and wait.” [1]

Yes, the second poem touches something deep within me. By God’s mercy, I have never experienced blindness. However, I am extremely nearsighted. If it weren’t for corrective lenses, I would be in a sad situation. Unable to see more than three or four inches in front of my face, I would have a vastly different life in a different place than the western world in the 21st century.

But, that is only touching on my physical eyesight. What about doing God’s bidding? I was searching for God’s bidding, for years. Yes, I was frustrated at wandering through life, on my meandering way around the wilderness of my 20’s and 30’s. Never hearing clearly what God might be saying, even though I was searching. Avidly, doggedly. Now, since 40 and into my 50’s, it is different. Yet, I can remember and relate so well to what Milton says here. I have learned, the hard way, what it is like to submit.

Dear Lord, this excerpt brings back difficult memories to me. Frustration, fear, anger, anxiety. How I would go round and round and round again, and end up in exactly the same place. Yes, I have learned to submit. And, be patient. Lord, in Your mercy, hear the prayers of all Your children who are still wandering, still waiting, still seeking Your bidding. In Your powerful name we pray, amen.



Like what you read? Disagree? Share your thoughts with your loved ones and continue the conversation.

Why not visit my companion blogs, “the best of” A Year of Being Kind.  #PursuePEACE. My Facebook page, Pursuing Peace – Thanks! And, read my sermons from Pastor, Preacher Pray-er

[1] Spiritual Classics, edited by Richard J. Foster and Emilie Griffin. (San Francisco, California: HarperSanFrancisco, 2000), 173.

Seeking the Light—in Ignatian Prayer

Matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers – Thursday, May 28, 2015

Light be a light to the world

Seeking the Light—in Ignatian Prayer

I was a bit puzzled by the third step in the daily Ignatian prayer process, as interpreted by Margaret Silf. I know it’s a small thing, but I did not quite get what she meant. Or rather, one particular word she used.

Here’s the step, as found in Silf’s book on Ignatian spirituality and prayer, Inner Compass: Light-seeking: “Ask God to help you see and understand how His love has been working within you today. This is a gift of the Spirit, and it has been promised to all who sincerely seek it.”

I consider myself theologically knowledgeable, in basic terms. But here—Silf’s use of “light-seeking” interchangeably with “God’s love?” Perhaps I am overthinking what she’s doing here. I probably am.

What I sometimes do with concepts I have difficulty understanding is this: I break it down. I take it apart, in pieces. It’s then that I come to some understanding of the separate pieces. Yes, I have some idea of what constitutes “God’s love.” And, I am so moved by Silf’s imagery of “Light-seeking.” Thought-provoking mental image!

I’ve come to a comfort level of not-knowing. Or, at least not knowing in full. If I can’t square the phrase “God’s love” with “Light-seeking,” it’s okay. God will still love me just as much if I don’t understand some things about God. No one has a full understanding, anyhow. I suspect that I am in a better (read, more open-minded) position, now that I realize I just don’t know stuff.

And, that’s okay. God understands. God still gifts me with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, no matter how much or how little theological background I may have. I just need to be honest, open and willing. Willing to be open, with an open mind and heart. Amen. Amen.


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Why not visit my sister blogs, “the best of” A Year of Being Kind.   @chaplaineliza And, read my sermons from Pastor, Preacher Pray-er .