A Sermon Outline based on Matthew 2:1-18;
with reference to Isaiah 60:1-6
Focus (What does the text say?): We are told the results of the work of the magi, without being told how they accomplished their amazing task.
Function (How does the text affect the listeners?): As Christians, we often must work hard and work anonymously, so that others will receive a spiritual benefit from our work.
I. Introduction - The Ones Who Prepare
A.It is January 6, and I have already started worrying about this summer's Church
backpacking trip. We have routes to plan and menus to put together. We have to make reservations at campgrounds and motels on the way. We have to plan for the spiritual aspect of the trip as well as the practical aspects such as first aid and parental contact forms. We do all this background organization so that the campers can just show up and go on a backpacking trip in an environment of Christian community. They don't have to think about the months of preparation. They just benefit from the effects of the preparation.
B. This is true of all of our journeys in life. There are people who go before us to prepare the way that we don't often think about.
C. How did the magi prepare? What we are not told in this story is all the preparation they had to do to make this trip. Can you imagine how hard it was to travel in those days, across national borders, across wilderness, through different cultures? But we don't have to worry about that.
We don't know where they came from or how many there were. The only part of the story God wants us to consider is the visit of the magi.
D.In this visit some important spiritual things happen thanks to the preparation of the magi.
First, the magi find "the King of the jews" even though he is born in a stable. They are able to discern God's work even when it comes in a surprising place. Second, they correctly discover that King Herod is evil. These are foreign people who understand good and evil better than most of God's chosen people. And when we read our Old Testament, we find that this is a sign that God is acting in the world. All the nations will come to know God and respond to God's love (Isa. 60).
E. The magi had to undergo years of education and make a great and dangerous journey to give us this message. But that was their work. Our work is to take the fruit of their labor and use it in our lives. We are called to realize that God will bring unexpected people in our lives to do wonderful things, and that is a sign that God is working in our lives.
II. Officers - Keeping Us Ready
Our Church officers are like the magi. Our officers do a lot of work so that we can all be ready to do the work of Christ in the world. The job of our officers is to allow us to gain the spiritual benefit of the Church, without us having to think constantly about all the details. They take care of the details and the preparation.
When we are organizing a food drive for the hungry, we can just walk in, turn on the lights, and we have room to meet, room to study and pray, room to store stuff, because our officers keep us all ready to do the ministry of the Church.
III. Some Giant Claims
As we prepare to ordain our new officers today, we make some giant claims. We say that they are chosen by God through the voice of this congregation to lead us in the way of Jesus Christ. We trust that their faith is strong enough to lead us in the right direction. We trust they will work together and that they will work for the benefit of all of us. Listen carefully as we ask them the ordination questions. They are accepting a great spiritual responsibility. They have the responsibility to prepare the way for all of us to work together effectively as the Church.
How do officers become ready for this journey?
IV. Preparing for the Journey - Our Beliefs
A. The most commonly asked question by new officers as they hear these ordination questions is about item c. We ask them to say they believe in the basic tenets of the reformed faith. What are the essential tenets of the reformed faith? This is an important question.
Item c. Is part of our ordination process because we realize that the faith of the individual leader is crucial if the Church is to remain healthy. (I have been asked so many times what the essential tenets are that I have made a bookmark with our essential beliefs on them. There are only about 20 of them. And out of those twenty beliefs, only 5 are what make us unique. All the rest we share with all the other Christians in the world.)
B. For instance, our most important belief, that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior, is the definition of any Christian. Like almost all others Christians, we accept the Bible as our authority in matters of faith. We believe it is God's grace that wins us salvation and not our good works. These are our common beliefs.
C. But here are the five that we feel characterize us.
First, we believe God freely and lovingly sustains and rules all of creation. God is absolutely sovereign. God is absolutely in charge. There is no power anywhere that can challenge God's power. That is our number one belief.
The second is our doctrine of election. We believe that God chooses us before we can make a choice for God. We believe God chooses God's people for salvation and to serve the world in Christ's name.
Third, we believe that people should live together in love and peace under God's covenant. This means we are not called to be individuals. Our faith is simply not a personal decision. We are always a part of a community. The Church is our spiritual community. And even our government and even the ways we work internationally are part of this covenant understanding. We believe working together is a holy thing.
Fourth, we believe in caring for the gifts God has given us and the world God made, with a stress on a life of simplicity. We believe we are responsible for the world God gave us and the power God gave us.
The fifth is the most negative belief. It is a warning to each of us. We believe that we tend to idolize ourselves, our own thoughts, our own way of doing things. And we do this to the point of excluding God from our lives. And so the only way to achieve the kingdom of heaven is to say no to our ideals and open ourselves to God.
V. Conclusion - You are the Magi, the ones whose diligent behind the scenes work will provide a spiritual benefit to us all.
A. Those are our essential beliefs. They make up the foundation of everything we do as a Church. We often don't talk about these basic beliefs because we assume they permeate all that we do. They surround us like the air we breathe.
B. The truth is, most congregation members will never ask us for a Book of Confessions to study our beliefs. But they do want to live those beliefs. They want to serve the world in the name of Christ. They want to bring good news to the world. They want to be a part of a wonderful, healthy, Church family that they can depend upon.
C. Officers, your job is to do the background work to make that possible. You are like the magi. We don't need to know all the details of your work, but the results of your work will be a great blessing to us.
D. The rest of you, your job is to let the officers know your needs and your dreams. What do you want from the Church? What would you like to accomplish with your life as a Christian? We have some wonderful people who want to help you achieve your dreams. Together, we are the family of God, we are the body of Christ. I pray that God's blessings will surround us as we work together in the coming year. Amen.