Tag Archive: Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg


Journeying with the Magi

This was yesterday’s sermon for the Eve of the Epiphany, preached at Community Lutheran Church.  The text was Matthew 2:1-12:

2In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah* was to be born. 5They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
6 “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.” ’

7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ 9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

One of the things I loved most about growing up in the country was being able to look up at the clear night sky.  And I didn’t realize that until I moved to Rockville and I couldn’t really see the sky because of all the electric lights.  When I was younger, I remember going snow tubing once in Pennsylvania and leaning back on my snow tube, gazing up at the starry sky.  I just thought it was perfect – the crisp, cold, clean winter air and the stars twinkling above me.  And I remember feeling like there was something holy about that time – something that filled me with a spirit of worship and praise.

In this morning’s reading we hear about the magi having their own night sky experience – encountering the star of all stars.  These magi show up in Jerusalem asking about the child who is to be born king of the Jews.  And they don’t just ask around town, they ask Herod, who is, by title, the appointed king of the Jews.  Awkward!

Needless to say, Herod is caught by surprise, and he calls together his top advisers – the chief priests, those who are in charge of the Temple, and the scribes, those who interpret the law of God – to see what they have to say about all this.  They tell him the Messiah is to be born in Bethlehem, just 5 miles south of Jerusalem.  This revelation makes Herod shake in his sandals, as well as all of Jerusalem, because a new king not appointed by Rome is not only a threat to Herod, but a threat to the Roman Empire.

So Herod, not exactly rejoicing over this news, secretly calls the magi to go and search for the child and to let him know when they find him.   He says he wants to know so he can go and pay this new child king homage, but as we heard last week, he’s really out to eliminate this potential threat.

So off the magi go, following the star they had been following from the East.  Eventually, it stops over the house where the child Jesus is living.  When they see him with Mary, the magi kneel down and pay him homage, acknowledging him as king, and bestowing gold, frankincense and myrrh on him.

It’s a familiar story – a great story!  There are songs about it and there’s even a tradition of going around and blessing houses on Epiphany, marking them with the year and the initials of the wise men’s names: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar.  But, there’s a couple interesting things about all this.  The Bible never tells us how many magi there were.  We only think there were three because there are three gifts.  The Bible also doesn’t give us any names – these were added on later in Christian tradition.  And, finally, while it’s really fun to sing “We Three Kings,” these people probably weren’t kings at all.  Instead, they were probably astrologers and magicians from the East – maybe even Persia.

So we’ve got an undisclosed number of people from the East following a star to a king.  And they must have had some doubts about following a star to get to their destination because they pull over in Jerusalem for directions! It’s only after Herod tells them to keep searching that they follow the star again.  It’s like verifying your GPS isn’t lying to you by asking a local.

Still, you have to admire them.  They set out from their homes, not knowing where they were going or what they might encounter along the journey, or even what they might find at their destination – and, still, onward they went.  They went, following a star, knowing that stars were associated with kings.  And they went to worship the king of a foreign country.

It’s made me think a lot about journeying and traveling.  I have always loved learning about different countries, cultures and history – so much so, in fact, that I thought I might end up going into anthropology in college.  And when I was sixteen, the travel bug bit me… hard.  In my previous, pre-seminary and pre-pastor life, I worked at a travel company.  Working there, I was able to learn a bit about different countries and was fortunate to be able to travel to a couple different places.

I still love traveling, and Jeff and I are blessed to be able to be headed to the Holy Land with Gettysburg Seminary tomorrow… and, yes, I still have to pack!  Now, this is going to be a religious trip, focused on the land and history of Scripture.  But one thing I’ve realized throughout my journeys is how all my travels have played a role in my faith.  They’ve helped me to understand church history better, but they’ve also helped me to see people in a new way. I’ve realized that it hasn’t been the places so much as the people and experiences that have shaped my faith.

Speaking with Muslims in Egypt during the month of Ramadan – their month of fasting – helped me to reflect on my own Lenten practices.  Realizing how far a laugh or a smile can go to break the ice and transcend language barriers has helped me think about people as the children of God in concrete ways.  And I’ve been moved to prayer taking in gorgeous landscapes and spectacular feats of engineering.  Having time away from the hustle and bustle of regular life and experiencing a new place has given me the opportunity to tune in to God in new, fresh ways.

That’s been my experience traveling, and perhaps you’ve experienced similar things in your travels, but I firmly believe that you don’t have to travel in order to be on a journey.  We can journey even while we’re at home and encounter Christ on our way.  I have seen God in the faces of people with whom I’ve worshiped.  And I’ve seen God in conversations and laughter with family and friends.  Maybe you’ve seen God through cooking or through creating things.  Maybe it’s been through your interactions with others.  Or maybe it’s been through being transported by reading fantastic books.  What has God used to move you worship like the wise men?

Each of us is on a faith journey.  They all take different shapes and forms, but there is one unifying factor – God is seeking us out.  God led foreign astrologers and practitioners of another religion by a star to meet Jesus.  Now, that’s some creative communication if you ask me! It shows that God pulls out all the stops to reach out to people and draw them from afar to be near to God.  Listening to people’s stories, God’s creativity in communicating with us never ceases to amaze me, but we’ve got to have eyes to see it.

The question when it comes to our journeys is what are we seeking?  Are we seeking Christ or something else?  In our world, success, wealth and fame are highly prized and highly sought after rather than the radical way of Christ. Instead of listening for God’s leading in our lives, it’s often much easier to listen to what society tells us is meaningful – power, prestige, money and independence.  So are we looking for Christ as we travel through life?  And where do we meet him, see him and worship him in our lives?

When the wise men saw that the star had stopped, the gospel says that they were overwhelmed with joy.  In the Greek, it almost seems as if the writer is falling over himself trying to describe how excited and bubbling over with joy the magi were.  It says, very roughly, “and seeing the star, they rejoiced with great joy very much!”  It’s a wooden translation, but you get the point – these were happy people, overflowing with joy that they had finally found the one for whom they were searching!

It reminded me of one of my family’s favorite movies: Hook.  In it, Robin Williams is a grown-up version of Peter Pan who has lost the magic and become a workaholic lawyer, driven by success and blind to his family.  That is, until Captain Hook, played by Dustin Hoffman, captures Peter Pan’s kids and makes him return to Neverland to get them.  It is there that he begins to remember his past and reconnect with magic of life again.

The other lost boys have a difficult time seeing past the fact that their beloved leader is now grown up.  But one of them takes a good hard look at Peter’s face, smoothing away the wrinkles and peering into his eyes.  He then says, “Oh, there you are Peter!”  He is filled with joy at this discovery of his long lost friend.  And his joy causes the other boys to take a closer look and realize that their leader just needs a little help and memory jogging to get back into shape.

I’ve seen this movie a thousand times.  And when I have those moments when I encounter Christ in the unexpected, or I witness God in conversations and interactions, a little voice in my head says, “Oh, there you are God!”  It’s always a moment of surprise, wonder, delight and joy.  I think it’s this type of response that the magi had when they knelt before Jesus and paid him homage.  It’s the kind of attitude and response, we too, should cultivate in worship and in our daily lives.

Imagine if we came to receive communion that way.  Following God’s call to come to the table and outstretching our hands in wonder and joy that Christ meets us there.  Imagine if we entered into conversations with others, looking for God to be present there.  Imagine if we remained open to God’s leading and let ourselves be moved to prayer and worship in this midst of everyday life.

As we continue our journeys, we can remember the journey of the magi.  How they came from afar, trusting in a star and God’s leading, and being open to worship Jesus and be filled with joy.  We can keep our eyes open for encountering Jesus in the people and places, situations and experiences of our lives.  And we can remember that God never stops seeking us out or trying to reach out in creative ways to get our attention.

I’ll end with one of my favorite prayers: “O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Amen.

© 2014. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

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You Are My Beloved Child

This was the homily I preached yesterday at Christ Lutheran Church in Washington, DC for the Festival of the Baptism of Our Lord.

Two years ago, Jeff and I went on a trip with Gettysburg seminary and some local pastors to Turkey and Greece.  It was a fabulous trip and we had the opportunity to see many sites written about in Revelation, as well as to explore some of the places Paul visited and wrote about.  And two years ago, to the day, we visited Sardis in Turkey.  There we saw the ruins of the massive temple of Artemis with its towering columns that were made up of 22 rounds of marble a piece!

Temple of Artemis and Church Ruins in Sardis, Turkey

Temple of Artemis and Church Ruins in Sardis, Turkey (church ruins bottom left)

But in the back right corner of these ruins, there was a tiny 4th century church, made of simple brick.  There, we gathered together and heard the letter to the church in Sardis from Revelation, and one of the retired pastors offered anointing.  My journal entry from the day reads as follows: “It was amazing to stand in a 4th century church on the Baptism of Our Lord and be anointed in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  What a special experience.  The sweet smell of the oil, the gathered community and the simplicity of the ruins were so moving.  Thank you, Lord.  To stand gathered with all the saints in worship is a gift – remarkable and holy.”

In the ruins of a tiny church, nearly completely hidden by the enormity of the surrounding temple ruins, I was reminded that in baptism, I had been sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.  I was reminded that I was a part of a larger community of saints – saints who worshiped thousands of years ago in countries far away, and saints who worship together today from differing backgrounds.  And I was reminded that in my baptism, I was called to follow Christ throughout my life.

4th Century Christian Church in Sardis, Turkey

4th Century Christian Church in Sardis, Turkey

In baptism, God claims and affirms us.  God says to each of us “you are my beloved son” or “you are my beloved daughter, with you I am well-pleased.”  Baptism is God showing us who we are through water and words.  It’s God saying, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name and you are mine.”  It’s God showing us whose we are – people freed from our sins and dead to our old selves, raised to live new lives in Christ.  Baptism shapes our identities – we are God’s beloved children, forgiven through God’s grace, and made a part of the beautiful community of believers that stretches across time and space.

In baptism we are also gifted and blessed with the Holy Spirit.  This Spirit calls us to seek God, stirs up fire for justice and transformation in our hearts, and empowers us to serve in the world.  It is with this Spirit that both John and Jesus were filled – and we receive it, too! Folks, that’s powerful.  And as Uncle Ben told Peter Parker in Spider-Man, “with great power comes great responsibility.”

When I hear this Gospel reading for today, I think about John in all of his wildness – all of his unconventionality and how he served God as a prophet.  Here was a man yelling “you brood of vipers!” at the curious people who came to see him and listen to him.  He wasn’t one to hold punches or to withhold the truth from anyone.  And oddly enough, they ate it up!  They couldn’t get enough of it – they wanted him to baptize them with the baptism of repentance.  John’s fiery words convicted them of their wrongdoing and they wanted to straighten up and fly right.  But when they started to wonder if John was the long-awaited Messiah, this confident and feisty leader pointed away from himself.  That’s the image I have in my mind – John standing on the banks of the Jordan River, fired-up about calling people to repent, all the while pointing to God, trying to put the attention where he knows it should be.

We may not serve like John the Baptist – I mean, seriously, how many people can pull off calling others a “brood of vipers” and get away with it?  But all of us are called to serve and, in doing so, to point to Christ.  And it’s crucial to recognize that each of us has different skills and passions – tools we can use to serve God and to build up the kingdom.  Our ministries are not going to be identical, because we, as beloved children of God, are not identical.

This doesn’t make it easy to figure out how to serve because our service might look very different than that of our neighbors.  But I think the key is appreciating that we were baptized into a community – into a group of people who may be very different but who are all united through Christ.  We can respect and support the ministries of our fellow believers as they respect and support ours.  Remember, God says “with you I am well-pleased” not “with you I would be well-pleased if you were only a bit more like so-and-so!”

Continuing to come back to baptism each day helps ground us.  We are God’s beloved children and God is well-pleased with us simply because God loves us, not because of anything we’ve done to earn God’s favor.  In baptism, we are forgiven and set free, gifted with the Holy Spirit to make a difference in this world for the sake of the kingdom of God.  Yes, we have been gifted with the Spirit to make a real difference, if only we could believe it!

And we’re not just called to serve within these four walls.  Throughout the week, the words we say and even the smallest things we do can all bear witness to Christ and how God is at work in our lives.  It may be as simple as letting someone merge in front of you on your commute home or by being a gracious host or hostess.  It may mean taking a stand against something you know is wrong at work or in school.  It may mean following that little nudge that you feel pushing you to do something that is out of your comfort zone.  Wherever we are and whatever we’re doing, our lives, just like John the Baptist’s, are to point to Jesus, the one who has redeemed us through love.

Today we are installing the council members, both experienced and new.  Each of them has responded to the call and challenge to serve with a “yes.”  Throughout the coming year, they will be tasked with prayerfully beginning new discussions, considering requests, and making decisions.  And in all of these situations, they are being asked to serve in ways that mean they, and by extension our congregation, will point to Christ.  As they begin or continue their terms, let us pray for them that they might be filled with the Holy Spirit and be faithful in following Christ as they serve on council.  And as we all continue on our journeys, may we pray for one another and help each other figure out the ways in which God may be calling us to serve using our unique skills.  As we go out to serve this week, may you remember, you are God’s beloved child and with you God is well-pleased.  Thanks be to God for this incredible gift and the opportunity to make a difference! Amen.

© 2013. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

Community Life

Hi friends!  I’ve been bad about updating this blog, but it’s because there’s been a ton of fun things going on, and that’s a good thing, right?  Over the past month or so, I’ve been living at the Collegium Oecumenicum in Munich and it’s been great! One thing I’ve really been thinking about is community.  Here, I live with about 50 other students from all over the world.  I share a floor with others, which means that I share bathrooms, a kitchen and a living room with other people.  Some people might shirk at the idea of living together and having to share with others, but I actually think it’s a great thing that everyone should do – at least once!  And, for the record, this is my second round of living in a Wohngemeinschaft (WG – or, “flat-sharing community”).

So now you may be wondering why I would want to live like this, right?  Well, I can sum it up in one word: community.  Here at the Collegium, we have the opportunity to eat breakfast and lunch in the large dining hall, or we can cook in the kitchens found on each of the floors.  In doing so, it means that we often run into others who are in the dining hall or in the kitchen at the same time.  This leads to fun conversations, or to making plans to go out and do things in the city or the surrounding area, or to delicious community meals.  Last night, for example, many of us pooled our resources to make a huge dinner of salad, bread, pasta, and homemade tomato sauce (yes, bread and pasta – I think we were carbo-loading!).  All shared what they had and helped with the cooking and cleaning.  It was a blast and we had plenty of food to left over for today.  It was truly beautiful because everything was freely shared and enjoyed.

And this is not the only time in my life I’ve experienced this.  People here and in Freiburg, where I studied before, – poor students, mind you! – have been so generous with what they have.  When I think about this, I think of the wealth we have in the States (and in a large part of the developed world in general) and the fact that it seems the more wealth we have, the more people seem to clench their fists tightly around what they have.  “This is mine…,” we say (myself included), and we insinuate that these possessions will not change hands any time soon.

I’ve also been struck by how the members of this community support one another.  I was quite nervous a few weeks ago because I had an important interview, but my roommates stepped up and listened to me, later asking how everything had gone and rejoicing with me when things went well.  People really paid attention and cared about what was going on in my life.  This is also something I’ve experienced in the community at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg and within various church communities.  It makes such a difference to know that people are really looking after you – that they are listening to you, praying for/with you, and that they follow up with you.

This particular community at the Collegium is also drawn together by our mutual belief in Jesus Christ and I’m really enjoying my experience here.  I find it exciting and refreshing that people invite others to attend church services of various flavors and that faith is something that is openly discussed here.  In an increasingly secular country (32-37% do not profess a religion), I find a great deal of hope in the students gathered here who explore and struggle with faith together.  We’re a community of people that gather together from various backgrounds in worship, confessing our faith together in the Apostle’s Creed and praying the Lord’s Prayer together.  These confessions and prayers happen in whatever language people choose and many have remarked how fascinating it is that, somehow, we all begin and end together when we speak, even if we’re not using the same language.  We’re a people who break bread and share wine together, both in the Eucharist and in every day meals.

Don’t get me wrong, I love having my own personal space, but there is something truly wonderful about living together in community.  It’s not always easy or perfect, but there’s a holiness or a sacredness that happens in community when people come together in spite of their differences.  Communities challenge and stretch us – they force us to examine ourselves and how we interact with others.  And besides, the Trinity, is, after all, a community, isn’t it?

So my question here is how can we intentionally build community where we are?  We may not live in a WG (“flat-sharing community”), but we can still work at building these communities in our churches and in our neighborhoods.  Maybe the foundations have already been laid and there only needs to be a critical mass of people who are willing to commit to spending time together, listening to and caring for one another, or working together to transform the local neighborhood.  The church should be a natural place to start, but if community is lacking, how can you help to foster change?  What ideas do you have?  I’d love to hear them!

For me, though, it’s late…and I don’t want to miss the morning breakfast with everyone!

© 2012. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

For those of you preparing for Lent, I’d recommend checking out the video below from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg.

May your Lenten experience this year be challenging and fruitful, drawing you closer to the triune God who calls us to follow. In Jesus’ name I pray, AMEN!

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