January 5, 2020, The Fourth Gift, by Reverend David Tatgenhorst
New Decade, a New Way
Rev. Fred Kaufman has my deepest respect. I attended his funeral in December. He was only in his 70’s, but he had lived a good life. This picture of him in the center, shows him with his family – from Vietnam and the US. He was a Mennonite pastor, and as I think I told you, in his casket, had on a ‘heeding God’s Call’ button, a fighter til the end.
While I was at his funeral, I thought of the time that I met Fred up in Cooperstown while my son was playing baseball. “What are you doing here, Fred?” I said. “your son is older than Little League. He’s not playing here.” Fred said that he was here to see Jacob play, the son of Jim Kurtz, a friend and neighbor. That was a beautiful thing – that he would drive all the way up to Cooperstown to see his neighbor’s son play baseball. As I read this passage, this was the best example I could think of for “paying homage.”
We pay homage to someone when we go to their funeral or go to a baby naming ceremony or this new thing of a gender reveal party. I guess that might be a kind of homage too. And that’s kind of what Fred was doing – besides enjoying being out on a field watching baseball. He’s was showing respect for a friend, paying him homage.
We’re not big in our culture on paying homage – showing allegiance, showing respect. We mostly joke about paying homage these days. We bow to someone as a way of joking that we respect them or care about them.
In reading to prepare for this morning’s sermon about the three Magi, the Epiphany story, one commentator suggested calling the sermon for today, “The Fourth Gift.” Most of us know the three gifts of the Magi – gold to wish virtue, prosperity and success, frankincense for worship and prayer, and myrrh for suffering and sacrifice. That last one is always the kicker isn’t it? I always imagine a parent saying, “I’ll take the gold and the incense, but you can keep your acknowledgment of sacrifice and suffering. I don’t wish that for my child!”
The story doesn’t say there were three wise people or kings by the way. We just developed that idea in our songs and tradition, because of the mention of these three gifts. The fourth gift might be seen as the primary gift. It was the gift that powered their whole journey. From the very beginning, the wise people wanted to travel – as far as it took to dedicate themselves to the only one worthy of worship. The fourth gift in this passage, the primary gift is to pay homage to the Christ child, to show respect, to give their lives to the One who shows them the way for their lives. They paid homage as we do to a dark skinned Palestinian Jew, born to be Messiah.
Paying homage is not a joke. The loyalty we show with our faith sets us on the journey of our lives – as it did for the Magi. This week on Friday the Main Line Muslim Society met for the first time for prayer in Lurwick Hall. They will be coming here for Friday prayers for the foreseeable future. When they pray, they pay homage, they bow five times a day to show their submission to God’s will. Even before they began to meet here, folks from the Muslim society contacted me to ask if we would like to join them for a vigil to combat anti-Semitism.
The women of the society are connected with women from the Narberth Havura that also is holding worship here. Anti-Semitism, the targeting of Jewish people is on the rise in our country and in the world right now, and folks in the Muslim society know it because they get targeted too. I will be joining them for a vigil here a week from Wednesday in the evening and I invite other folks from St. Luke to join us. I will send out details as they become clear. I was moved to get this request, and to see people from different cultures paying homage to each other, showing each other they have their backs, being loyal and creating relationships that matter.
There’s so much going on, though, I also have to address the UM church in the news this week. The protocol to guide a dividing of the United Methodist Church was in the news this week, and your friends may ask you about it. The protocol allows a new traditional church to split off from the United Methodist Church. We will talk about these plans a lot in the next months, but no matter how it ends up, I am sure that what we need is a church that pays homage, a church that shows respect, a church that follows the Living God, in the way God calls us to go.
You know, the first thing the Magi did when they got to Jesus was not give him the gifts. If they gave him the gifts first it might have seemed like they were in charge, controlling the situation. No, the first the kings did was pay homage; first they kneeled; first they prostrated themselves, first they gave themselves utterly and completely to the child of God, first they worshipped and then they gave the gifts.
We begin this year in church on our knees at the communion rail. We pay homage to those who have gone before – to Fred Kaufman, Noni Nash and Kathy Taylor. We pray for God’s guidance on this new path, promising that we will follow the way God guides us. We thank God for the birth that has led us to this place and this time, and we pay homage to the gift of this good news in our lives. Amen.