We all have that friend or family member
who is a living comedy bit right?
That person who runs around looking for their glasses,
frantic with having misplaced them,
only to discover that they were perched on their head
the entire time.
Or the person who wants to find their lost cellphone by calling it
and proceeds to pick up the very cellphone they lost to call it.
I’ll admit. I’ve done that one.
Earlier this week we took the kids to the mall
so that mommy and daddy could stretch their legs
without the air hurting our faces
and to get Michaela a new pair of shoes.
Of course Braeleigh wanted a pair too
and so we set about the task of putting different shoes on their feet,
testing where their toes were,
and having them walk up and down the aisle.
Ultimately the shoes Braeleigh wanted
didn’t come in her size
and so we convinced her
that we could look in another store
since Michaela had already found the pair she wanted
and it was getting close to dinner time.
So we started to gather our things when suddenly we realized… Braeleigh is missing a shoe.
One of the ones that she walked into the store with was missing.
And it was impossible for it to be missing.
They are black and hot pink with Dora the Explorer on them.
Not hard to spot. They should not be missing.
We took them off, put them on the floor by Michaela’s shoes
and then looked at new shoes.
We return and one of Braeleigh’s is gone.
So we began to explore the store for Dora the Explorer.
We started in the general area of where we left it
because shoes don’t just get up and walk away on their own,
at least not one shoe on its own,
that… that would probably be hopping away on its own.
But I digress.
Her Dora shoe was not in the general area.
It hadn’t been accidentally kicked under a nearby shelf.
So we expanded our search.
We looked in the entire aisle,
and then the next aisle,
and then I went back to the original aisle
and started looking on the racks –
maybe someone had seen it on the floor
and thought it was supposed to be on the shelf –
I looked everywhere.
Braeleigh thought this whole strange manhunt
for her Dora shoe was funny.
We had both store employees helping us at this point
and finally I decided to ask Braeleigh
if she had done something with the shoe.
“Braeleigh,” I said, “do you know where your other shoe is?”
Hoping that she would remember
if she had done something with it.
And she did. She took us to a shelf in our original aisle,
and mimed putting a shoe on a shelf,
and told us it fell behind that shelf.
Now we had a specific area on which to focus our search.
So picture this, me, my wife,
and one of the store employees laying on the ground
with our flashlights trying to find a little size 11
Dora the Explorer shoe under this shelf full of shoes.
We pulled out boxes, practically pulled out the shelves.
We found other shoes that had fallen behind,
a nice pair of platform shoes from the 70’s,
along with lots of box lids and dust but, alas,
Dora was nowhere to be found. It had been raptured.
And it was cold outside
so Braeleigh had to have shoes to get home
and to wear now that some pint size Prince Charming
was off trying to fit her Dora shoe on every toddler in the mall.
We eventually talked Braeleigh into a different pair of shoes
and she was very happy.
We checked out
and I left one of my business cards at the store
and asked the clerk to call us if they ever find it.
Not so we can come and get it,
because Braeleigh was already
almost too big for those shoes anyway,
but so that we could finally find out
where little Dora had gone exploring.
In our house stuff goes missing all the time.
Braeleigh is a curious kid
and she loves to touch and pick up anything she can.
The problem is, she doesn’t always put it back down
where she found it.
At home though it isn’t always the big production
that it was at the shoe store.
At home we have an equalizer.
A secret weapon in the battle against lost stuff.
She is the finder of lost cups,
she is the one who finds the missing lid
to that one Tupperware dish, you know the one,
she is the wizard of lost items, She is Grandma Cathy.
When something goes missing,
instead of organizing a manhunt, we just ask Grandma.
And 98% of the time she produces it, like magic.
She may not be the best partner in Trivial Pursuit
but when it comes to knowing the relative position
of the vast majority of our things in time and space
she cannot be beat.
Can’t find the packing tape? Ask Grandma.
Can’t find your left sock? Ask Grandma.
Thermal underwear missing? You guessed it! Ask Grandma.
Sometimes, sometimes we need help to find what we’re looking for. Just look at Bono from the band U2
he’s been singing about that for over three decades now.
I’m actually considering loaning Grandma Cathy out to him.
There is a search happening in our scripture this morning as well
and it’s not a search for a lost item. It’s not even a search for a lost child,
Jesus parents knew exactly where he was.
It is a search for meaning, for understanding, for purpose.
It is a search for the divine.
Wise travelers from the east,
astronomers and astrologers,
scientists and soothsayers,
have traveled to Israel to find the child born the King of the Jews.
Somehow, for some reason,
these people from the east knew something
about Hebrew prophecy and signs in the heavens
and followed a star looking for a newborn king.
And on their way they stop in Jerusalem.
It makes sense because Jerusalem was the capital city,
it was where the kings lived,
and so the logical assumption was that child king must be there.
They were not quite there though.
Bethlehem and Jerusalem are only a few miles apart
but their entrance into the area doesn’t go unnoticed.
I imagine they pulled up to Herod’s palace
asking to see the new born king
and instead were given audience with Herod the Great,
King of Judea, who is very interested in discovering
where this newborn king is
because he is certainly not in Herod’s household.
When the wise travelers tell him
that they are their to find the newborn king of the Jews,
Herod, Herod the Great, builder of the second temple,
and the great fortress of Masada, and Caesarea Maritima,
known for his brutality and ruthlessness, is afraid,
and all of Jerusalem with him.
Why in the world where the King and the city afraid?
What was it about this newborn baby that threatened them?
Well it’s about more than the power of Herod,
but rather the source of Herod’s power.
Herod is the client King of Judea,
his power comes from Rome,
he was not anointed King by a prophet,
nor was he in the line or succession of David,
he was appointed King by Rome,
and so a challenge to his power is a challenge to the empire,
and Herod and Jerusalem are frightened
because previous challenges to occupying forces
were met with tremendous bloodshed.
Yes it is possible that Herod would lose the throne
but the greater threat was that Rome would see it as insurrection. And the nation of Israel
could not stand against a vastly superior Roman Empire.
It was fear of upsetting the status quo.
Upsetting the balance of power.
Of moving from a state of relative peace
to a state of war with Rome. A war that Israel could not win.
And so it is out of that fear that Herod calls the Chief Priest
and asks them about this prophecy and this star.
And this is the glasses on the forehead moment
as far as I am concerned…
these non-jews from a foreign country
tell him about the star and the newborn king.
And Herod, the King of the Jews,
has no clue what they are talking about.
Apparently Herod and the Chief Priests
just thought that new bright star to the south
was an astrological anomaly.
A pretty little addition to the night sky, nothing more.
They have been sitting right on top of it.
The Chief Priests knew that Bethlehem was the place
but chalked it up to fairy tales and folklore.
Herod, too busy to search himself,
sends the travelers on to Bethlehem to search diligently
for this King and then to return and tell him
where the child his so that he too might come and worship too.
And this is where the rubber meets the road for us.
There is an old expression
“you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.”
Well, we can point people in the direction of Jesus,
but we can’t make them follow,
we can’t force them to search for Jesus.
If we want faith to mean anything
we have to search for Jesus ourselves.
At the end of this gospel, the Gospel of Matthew,
Jesus gives us what we call The Great Commission.
They are our marching orders,
it is what Jesus wants us to be doing with our lives.
“Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the son,
and of the Holy Spirit,
and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”
Our faith, our beliefs,
all of our buildings and ministries, all of our programs,
all of it is intended to be working towards that goal,
toward making disciples.
It is not about pretty stained glasses or elegant altars.
It is about the people around us,
how those with whom we worship help point us to Jesus
and how we, in our lives and in our words,
help to point those who don’t know Jesus in his direction.
And when they head off in that direction
our programs and buildings
and ministries and dinners
are all intended to keep pointing us in the right direction,
to make us and others disciples of Jesus Christ.
And being a disciple is not a degree that is conferred.
It is not a title that we obtain. It is something that we are.
We are disciplined in our following of Jesus,
we are diligent in our search.
We look and look and look some more
until we find Jesus
and then we keep looking
because Jesus doesn’t stay a baby in Bethlehem,
Jesus moves and grows and keeps moving
always being about his Father’s business,
healing the sick and comforting the broken hearted
and making disciples.
When I was a kid Michael Crichton wrote a little book
called Jurassic Park.
You may be more familiar with the movie.
The whole story centered around a theme park
filled with dinosaurs cloned from fossilized DNA.
As a kid I loved the book
and the movie was absolutely cutting edge for the early 90’s.
In the book one of the characters, Dr. Ian Malcom,
talks about the science used to create the clones.
He compares the science to inherited wealth.
The scientists who made the clones
did not take decades to master all the science themselves,
to learn it for themselves,
they simply read what others had done and built from there.
In the novel version Dr. Malcom uses the analogy
of learning martial arts.
You cannot walk in to the black belt presentation
and expect to receive a belt
unless you have done the work to get there.
Unless you have sweat and bled and sacrificed.
When you do the work, that discipline, the knowledge and skill
that you have worked so hard to obtain,
becomes a part of you,
it resides in you and you cannot give it away.
And by the time you have learned enough
for your hands to be deadly weapons
you have also matured enough to know to use them wisely.
And then of course dinosaurs escape
and all sorts of trouble ensues.
Because there are not shortcuts.
The scientists didn’t put in the work to understand
just how big this is…
and I never thought I’d say this
but our faith is a lot like Jurassic Park.
You can’t just take someone else word for it;
you can’t just jump in at the end –
you have to do some learning and searching,
gain some discipline for yourself.
I can’t ask Grandma Cathy
to find my spiritual fulfillment for me.
I can’t send her out to search diligently for Jesus
and then bring me what she finds.
I have to search and struggle for myself.
If my faith is going to mean anything,
if I am truly going to get to know this God who loves me,
I have to be disciplined,
I have to ask questions and search for answers,
even if those answers only give me more questions.
I have to wrestle with the issues
or my faith becomes shallow and stagnant and non-existent.
While we are trying to make disciples,
we have to remember to be disciples;
we have to keep searching.
And that includes pastors.
Sometimes we get so caught up
in the trying to show the way to others
that we forget to keep searching ourselves.
As the new year has started several friends and I
have begun a “read the bible in a year” study
where we are just reading to grow closer to God,
not to prepare sermons or bible studies.
We are seven days in and I can tell you it hasn’t been easy.
I’ve had to get up a bit earlier to read
and consider exactly what those scriptures are saying to me,
not to a congregation, not to a bible study group, but to me.
It has been difficult.
But it has also been so worth it.
Every time I read the bible like this
some thing new jumps to life off the pages.
They can be profound or simple.
One of the readings this week was a genealogy
and in it there was a brother introduced as
“Jubal, the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe.”
And I was just tickled a bit at the idea
that this was probably where we get the word “jubilee”.
All of us forget from time to time.
We become complacent
or we think that we can do it all with our own strength.
But it is important that we remember
to come back around to searching and finding
and searching some more.
That is how our faith grows,
that is how our church grows,
that is how the Kingdom of God is built.
So if you have already been searching diligently,
that’s great. I am happy for you;
don’t stop, keep going, double down if you can
you won’t regret it.
If, like me, you find that you have been in a complacent place,
a place where you are comfortable
but not growing in your faith… do something about it.
Open your bible,
have a conversation about your faith with someone,
send me an email with a question you have
about God or faith or the Holy Land.
Just do something.
Don’t let someone else do the searching
because that will never fulfill you, it won’t cause you to grow.
Let’s have this year be a year of searching for us all,
a year where we turn over every rock,
where we pull out all the boxes
until we find that pesky Dora shoe…
which we did find by the way… a day later the store called.
It was exactly where Braeleigh said it was…
except that it was in a completely different place.
Jesus promised that, if we seek, we will find.
He didn’t say it would be quick or easy – but he did promise, if we search for God,
we will always find him.
So, may you find the courage to search for Jesus this year,
may you take the time to be a disciple
so that you can make disciples,
and may you be surprised and delighted
by the God who loves you, the God who created you,
and the God who calls you to seek diligently for Jesus.
Today, tomorrow, and for the rest of our lives. Amen? Amen.