Isaiah 60:1-6, Matthew 2:1-12
Disney and the Gospels: Moana
What comes to mind when you hear the word “journey”? (Aside, of course, from the the music of the awesome band Journey!) When I think in terms of literal journeys, trips, I think especially of the cross-country road trips I’ve taken. I’ve done three of them now, where I’ve driven out west and back. It was something I always wanted to do. When I was in my first appointment, I finally started making plans. I booked hotels. I reserved a place at the Grand Canyon, long on my list of places to see. I made plans to visit with friends. But just before I was about to start, I had a swollen lymph node that I had gotten checked out. My doctor didn’t think it was a big deal, but sent me for CT scan anyway. While I was on the first day of my road trip, driving somewhere in Ohio, I got the results: I had several enlarged lymph nodes, and the doctor wanted to check them out. I’m sure I could have continued on my trip, and seen my doctor when I got back, but I was now a panicked mess, and after one day of traveling, I canceled all the rest of my reservations, turned around, and went home. The lymph nodes - after a few more tests and more waiting - it was nothing. I was fine. But it was a few more years before I got to take my road trip. Finally, I again made all my plans and reservations, this time heading ultimately to Portland, where my brother Tim was living at the time. And I did it - I drove across the country. I visited my friends out west. I saw the Grand Canyon, still one of my favorite places. And once I made that first trip, and knew I could do it? Go cross-country by myself? I’ve made that journey west a couple of more times, and taken my mother to the Grand Canyon, and am even now thinking about when my next trip might be.
Or there are the metaphorical journeys. The journey of becoming a pastor was a long one. It took a lot of years - nine, in fact - from the time I started the ordination process to the time I became an elder. But that journey was actually pretty smooth. Things went basically as planned. I hit all the mile-markers as I expected, when I expected. God called, I answered, and followed the plan mapped out for me in detail. Other journeys are harder. You may remember me telling you that when I was appointed to Gouverneur, I was - reluctant. I had been serving a church that I loved, and I had been struggling with my sense of call, and had been trying to figure out ways to stay where I was and it just wasn’t working. I wasn’t expecting an appointment in the North Country. I took “the journey” of this appointment because it was what I had committed to as an elder who itinerates, goes from place to place as the Bishop sends us. But I wasn’t happy about it! I journeyed dragging my feet. It wasn’t long, though, before I discovered that God was of course with me on this journey too, and that I had been called to just the place I was supposed to be, to serve with a people I love.
What memorable journeys have you taken, literal or metaphorical, that stand out to you? This past week I posted about the trip I hope to take to Disney with my family next summer, and I found out people get pretty passionate sharing about their journeys to Disney World. Is there some place you traveled to that you really looked forward to, or that took a lot of effort to plan and execute? What about your metaphorical journeys? What goals have you set out and accomplished that took journeying through a lot of years, or a lot of paperwork, or a lot of assignments, or a lot of struggles to get there? What journeys were you eager to take? When did you set out dragging your feet the whole way? I think of some of the journeys I know you have faced, or are even in the midst of now. We’ve got folks who have been on a journey for better health, or are starting out with the RipIt challenge. We’ve got young people who are journeying through school, through childhood, and young adulthood, and figuring out what journey God wants them to take as they look to college and beyond. We have some families who are journeying through preparing to welcome a new life. Some of our families are taking the journey that involves moving out of home into assisted living or to an apartment or in with family. Sometimes, we have folks who are taking that journey we all will - from life into death and life beyond. What journeys have you taken? Where has God called you?
For the next few weeks, we’ll be using themes from some Disney films to explore the teachings of Jesus, and first up is a fairly new Disney film, Moana. How many of you have seen Moana? I really enjoyed the movie. Like some of the other newer Disney films, it breaks the typical mold of a princess who spends half the movie waiting for a prince to come and save her. Moana is her own person. Moana is a young woman who feels called by the ocean. She’s felt the calling ever since she was a small child. She doesn’t know exactly what the ocean wants her to do, but she knows it has a journey in mind for her. Her parents, however, and her father in particular have other ideas. Her father is the chief of her village, and she will one day take that role. He wants her to be attentive to the tasks that will help her grow into her future as the leader of the community. And he doesn’t want anything to do with the ocean. The whole people used to be voyagers, but they stopped long ago, and discourage anyone from setting sail - especially a person who needs to stick around as a future leader.
The song Taylor sang for us today, “How Far I’ll Go,” is Moana singing of her longing to answer the call of the ocean, and head out on whatever journey it has in store for her. She sings, “I've been staring at the edge of the water 'Long as I can remember, never really knowing why. I wish I could be the perfect daughter But I come back to the water, no matter how hard I try. Every turn I take, every trail I track, Every path I make, every road leads back To the place I know, where I can not go, where I long to be. See the line where the sky meets the sea? It calls me And no one knows, how far it goes. If the wind in my sail on the sea stays behind me One day I'll know, if I go there's just no telling how far I'll go. I know everybody on this island, seems so happy on this island. Everything is by design. I know everybody on this island has a role on this island So maybe I can roll with mine. I can lead with pride, I can make us strong. I'll be satisfied if I play along But the voice inside sings a different song. What is wrong with me? See the light as it shines on the sea? It's blinding But no one knows, how deep it goes. And it seems like it's calling out to me, so come find me And let me know, what's beyond that line, will I cross that line?”
Eventually, of course, Moana does set sail, answers the call, and takes a journey that ends up saving her people from starvation, bring restoration and new life to her community. Her journey is filled with a lot of struggles, a lot of setbacks, a lot of people who try to keep her from doing what she feels she must. But she persists, and she completes the journey.
“But the voice inside sings a different song ... See the light as it shines on the sea? It's blinding But no one knows, how deep it goes. And it seems like it's calling out to me … What's beyond that line? Will I cross that line?” What is that voice inside you calling you to? Do you see the light? Are you seeking its source, figuring out how deep into your heart it goes? Are you answering the call?
There’s another journey we’re thinking about today, on this Epiphany Sunday. Matthew tells us that Herod was king during the time when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Seemingly out of nowhere, some “wise men”, people who were famous for studying the stars - something between astrologers and astronomers perhaps, they show up “from the East,” a vague description of their origin, and ask Herod, “Where is the child born to be king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” There are many astonishing things about these verses. Why would these wise folks care about the king of the Jews, a tiny little tribe in the scheme of the world? Why would they travel a distance to see him? Why would they want to worship him, since they certainly weren’t Jewish themselves? And did they think the child was Herod’s son? After all, Herod was king of the Jews, so if the child they’re looking for is anyone other than Herod’s son, they can’t believe Herod would be too excited to hear about another king being born. But clearly, whatever they saw in the sky, whatever the Star of Bethlehem meant to them, God was calling to them through it. They journeyed a long distance, not knowing what they would see or find, only because they wanted to bring gifts, and worship. Have you ever set out on a journey with so many unknowns?
Herod, of course, is not excited to hear this news about some other potential king. So he gathers his other wise folks - chief priests and teachers of the law, and tries to figure out from them where a potential messiah (that is an anointed one, a label for a king) might be born. They figure out that Bethlehem is the place, and Herod then sends the visitors from the east to find the child. He says he wants them to report back, so that he, too, might worship this child. If the wise men were really very wise, that should set off alarm bells in their head. What king wants to bow down to another who might have claim on their throne? The wise men head to Bethlehem, are thrilled to see the child, and offer him their gifts, gifts for a king. And then, satisfied, they leave. Thankfully, they are warned about Herod’s intentions in a dream, and they go back home by a different route. Such a journey, to visit the Christ-child and bring him some gifts. We have no idea what happens to these folks later, how their journey impacts them, what they do next, how their lives are different. But we know this - they were called to a journey. They followed the star, seeking and searching until they got answers. They came face to face with Jesus, and they worshiped him and gave him their very best.
Inspired by Moana’s journey, and the journey of the wise men, I want you to search your hearts and ask God what journey is in store for you in 2019 and beyond? How will you follow God’s light, and where will it lead you? Are you brave enough to set out, guided by the star of Christ, even if you’re not sure what you will find where the light rests? To focus us on our journey this year, we’re receiving Star Gifts today, which will remind us to follow the light as we set out on our journeys.
I’d never heard of the practice of giving a Star Gift or Star Word on Epiphany until a year ago or so. I’m part of a group called “Rev Gals” on facebook that developed out of a group of clergywomen who kept blogs, especially about a decade ago, when everyone was blogging - myself included. In this group, we often share resources for ministry, and I noticed that a lot of people were talking about this Star Gift thing. I read the article that I also shared with you all in the newsletter this month, and on the same day I bookmarked the article, thinking to try sharing Star Gifts this year, Glenda sent me an article about the very same thing. I figured it was a pretty good sign that we should try it!
The original article says, “Every person who comes to church on Epiphany Sunday receives a star gift and is asked to reflect on that word for the coming year. The people are invited to ponder what significance this word might have in their lives, and how God might be speaking to them through that simple message … The wise men who traveled great distances to offer their gifts to the newborn Christ-child were responding to the gift first given to them. They received God’s gift, then offered their gifts to God. As we commemorate the arrival of the wise men and remember their offerings, we delight in this paper reminder that symbolizes God’s generosity in our lives … Epiphany is the celebration of God’s presence breaking through to shine as a light in the darkness. Each year our congregation rejoices in the reminder of our generous, giving God—one star gift at a time.” (https://revgalblogpals.org/star-words/)
We have so many expectations for a new year. We can put so much pressure on ourselves, making resolutions and promises to ourselves about how much “fixing” we’re going to do in our lives. But this year, maybe you can just commit to opening your lives, your hearts to an Epiphany - a revealing of the light, a revealing of Christ at work in our lives. You can’t fail at that, because the light of Christ is unwavering. If you search for it, you’ll find it. And when you see the light, when you hear the call, let’s commit to following the star, wherever it leads. Let’s be brave, and go on whatever journey God call us to take. Sometimes the light will lead us outside of our comfort zones. Sometimes, not everyone around us will support our answering the call. But you can’t get lost if you just stick with the light, which is constant. Will you journey with Jesus this year, and beyond? It might require as much planning and attention and as great a commitment of resources as planning my family’s perfect Disney vacation! But when we follow the star, when we answer the call, we, like the wise men, will find that our lives are overwhelmed with joy. Amen.