It’s still God’s dream

On August 28, 1963, during the March on Washington for Civil Rights, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial. During the speech, his wife Coretta Scott King said, “it seemed as if the Kingdom of God appeared. But it only lasted for a moment.”

It only lasted for a moment.

Fifty-seven years later, we need to ask why the moment did not last longer. Fifty-seven years later, we need to ask how far we have come on that long road to racial reconciliation and what King called “beloved community.” Fifty-seven years later, we need to ask why the dream remains only a dream.

Surely we have made progress. When you remember the time, or read accounts of it or watch newsreel footage of the marches and the vicious opposition to them – the beatings, the bombings, the lynchings, the cold-blooded murders, and the almost inconceivable torrent of hatred …

When you consider all of that, it is hard to believe that this is the same country, so primitive and so backward do some of the attitudes appear by contrast to the apparent openness of our society today.

And yet this is the same country where many Americans still cannot abide the notion that for eight years we had a black president. It’s time to take back our country, they said, and by that they meant that it was time to get that black man out of the White House. So they replaced him with a slick white demagogue with orange hair.

That Obama fellow, you know, was hardly a proper president, because his African-born father committed the unpardonable sin: He married a white woman from Kansas.

Martin Luther King Jr. called racism “the hound of hell that dogs the tracks of our civilization.” It was his dream that even this hound might be redeemed by God’s love. Nearly sixty years later, the dream remains unrealized because of the power of human sin. But King knew, and we know, that the Hound of Heaven won’t give up until the hound of hell learns to heel through the power of God’s grace.

King’s dream was not only that people of color would find social justice in America but that all people of all races would be reconciled and live in harmony in beloved community. What he dreamed of, simply, was the Kingdom of God made manifest on earth. That is our dream, too, because that is God’s dream planted in us.

King new that racism and segregation are wrong because they are destructive to all of God’s people. They are physically and morally destructive to the people of color who are victimized, and they are morally destructive to white people who unfairly benefit from their victimization. Even more, racism and segregation are wrong because they are counter to God’s will.

God’s will is what God wants, what God pursues, and what God wants us to pursue as well. What God wants, what God pursues, and what God wants us to pursue, is reconciliation – reconciliation with God and reconciliation with all other human beings.

What God wants, what God pursues, and what God wants us to pursue, is the creation of beloved community.

This is community where people can live together without fear. This is community where people are valued not for the color of their skin or who their parents were or how much money they have in the bank, but rather for the content of their character – and that is determined primarily by their relationship with God.

This is community that is attentive not to the interests of a few but to the interests of all; community that is dedicated to the flourishing of each and every one of its members; community that defines itself not by who it keeps out but by who it keeps in.

The goal of such community is true integration – not merely the members of various groups living side by side as separate but equal partners but rather living together, as one, in an inclusive society bound together by love.

The only way to create such community, King said, is to make love the center of our lives. The only way to achieve beloved community, King knew, is to make God the center of our lives.

God has to be the center of beloved community because it won’t work without God, and because it is, in fact, God’s community. It is nothing less than the Kingdom of God established on earth, as it already is in heaven. It is the New Jerusalem that comes down to earth from heaven. It is the goal of human existence. It is God’s dream for humanity.

We tend to agree with the dream, but we have reservations, don’t we? So many of us object, “I’m not racist.” And we may not be, as individuals, one to another.

But we live in a society that is racist to the core. We have inherited and internalized belief in white supremacy. Based on that belief, our social system kept black people in chains for hundreds of years, and in the century and a half since slavery was abolished, has devised new and more devious means to keep them in bondage.

Whether we acknowledge it or not, we who are white benefit from that system. We can be satisfied merely to feel guilty about that, or we can work to fix the system. That’s a daunting challenge. We know what happens to people to try to fix the system. See what happened to Jesus. See what happened to Martin Luther King Jr. See what happens to so many others, every day.

Still, we know that a gospel that accepts this status quo is not the gospel of Jesus Christ.

A gospel that fails to confront racism is not the gospel of Jesus Christ.

A gospel that fails to confront the causes of poverty and inequality is not the gospel of Jesus Christ.

A gospel that fails to confront social and political systems that are designed to keep people in lifelong servitude is not the gospel of Jesus Christ.

“I have a dream,” Martin Luther King said. When you read the Bible with open eyes and without racist blinders, you know where that dream comes from. You know where King got that dream. He got it from God.

Because God has a dream.

  • God dreams that every child will be loved.
  • That no child will go hungry.
  • That no child will be abused.
  • That no child will be used in any way.
  • That all children will be allowed to grow strong and true.
  • That all children will learn to exercise their minds as well as their bodies and that all will be allowed to become valuable contributors to their communities.

God has a dream.

  • That every person who is capable of labor can seek and find dignified and rewarding work.
  • That every person is appreciated because of who he or she is as a child of God.
  • That no person is appreciated more, or less, than another because of family or racial or ethnic background, or any other artificial barrier we can erect against them.
  • That every person treats every other person as lovingly as he or she wants to be treated.

God has a dream.

  • That parents are honored by their children.
  • That no lives are cut short by murder.
  • That spouses are faithful to the one they’ve promised to love and cherish all the days of their lives.
  • That no one attempts to gain by theft, or fraud, or deceit.
  • That no one gossips about another.
  • That no one desires what belongs to another.

God has a dream.

  • That people give God glory, and God alone.
  • That people find their true identity in God and are fulfilled in God and happy and complete in God.
  • That people honor God by living the way God created them to live.

God has a dream.

  • That God will dwell among us, at home with us, in intimate communion.
  • That God will wipe every tear from our eyes.
  • That death and destruction will be no more.
  • That mourning and crying and pain will be no more.
  • That we will so live by God’s light that we won’t even need the light of the sun or the moon to guide our steps at night.

God has a dream.

  • That we will respond lovingly to God’s love.
  • That we will love God so much that we will let God transform us into the very likeness in which we were created – the image and likeness of God.
  • That we will learn to love others so much that we will live with them, cheek by jowl, in beloved community.
  • That we will so yearn for this community to become real in our lives that we will pray for it and work for it and keep on praying for it and working for it until it becomes a reality.

God has a dream.

  • That every valley shall be lifted up and every mountain and hill made low.
  • The uneven ground shall be made level and the rough places a plain.
  • We will build a highway in the desert for our God.
  • Justice will roll down like water, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
  • Messengers of good news will proclaim, “God reigns!”
  • The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together!

God has a dream.

The road toward that dream is long and often hard. It’s easy to become discouraged and lose hope. But because we know the dreamer, we know that one day the dream will come true.

And so we remember the words of an old song from the black church tradition.

I don’t feel no ways tired.

I’ve come too far from where I started from.

Nobody told me that the road would be easy.

I don’t believe God brought me this far to leave me.

I’ve been sick. I’ve been in trouble.

I’ve been friendless. I’ve been lonely.

But I don’t believe God brought me this far to leave me.

God has a dream, and God won’t give up until that dream is made real for us all. Work for it, wait for it, believe in it!


This message was delivered Jan. 26, 2020, at Edgerton United Methodist Church, from the texts Isaiah 52.7, Isaiah 40.3-5 and Amos 5.24.

Now on Kindle

I am happy to report that a Kindle version of my book Keeping Christmas is now available at Amazon.

Amazon lists it at $9.99 for the Kindle version and $14.83 for paperback.

That’s especially good because Amazon’s original price for the paperback was $17, or list price. The new price is a lot more reasonable.

Meantime, Cokesbury ( still has the best price — $12.29 for the paperback.

Cokesbury also sells the hardback version for $25.29, a substantial reduction from list price.

Christmas 2019 is past, and even the 12-day Christmas season is over — but that’s no reason to stop buying or recommending the book!

There are, of course, a few things I would change, and some typos that sneaked through the proofreading team. But it’s a good book, and I’m proud of it, and (he said modestly), you oughta read it.

Time to split? Part 2

A plan is in the works to save the United Methodist Church by splitting it – saving us from never-ending wrangling over human sexuality by separating the warring camps entirely.

Nobody is dancing for joy about this proposal, not even those who put it together. But it has a couple of things going for it.

Number one, it’s a negotiated settlement involving key representatives of the major constituencies: so-called traditionalists, centrists and progressives. These people are formally committed to making it work. So this thing might actually lead us to an “amicable” division.

It puts some hope in our hearts. It’s a light at the end of a long tunnel.

Number two, it gets the fundamentalists out of the UMC, on their own, where they’ve always wanted to be. Now they can mess up their own church and leave mine alone.

It should let us say goodbye to Good News (always bad news), the Wesleyan Covenant Association (almost as Wesleyan at heart as Franklin Graham), and the Institute on Religion and Democracy (a right-wing hate group whose mission is to destroy all faithful Christian witness in the U.S.).

Sure, we have to pay a huge bribe to make them go away – $38 million in all. (That’s $25 million directly plus $13 million for missions, made possible by their decision to “forgo” receiving those funds directly.)

But it may be worth it to be rid of them. Since its inception, Good News and its allies have been looking for some issue – any issue – to split the church. They finally settled on homosexuality as the best wedge to do it. The ploy appears to have worked.

So the big tent of United Methodism will shrink into two (or, possibly, but not likely, more) smaller tents. The UMC will have to scale back its mission and ministry efforts drastically. But we were already going to have to do that anyway, because the bureaucracy has just gotten too big to support, and we are still losing members at a frightening pace, partly because of the prolonged sexuality debate.

Remember the “Imagine No Malaria” campaign? Already it’s been reduced to “Imagine Less Malaria.” We won’t be able to eradicate disease any more than we were able to eradicate division. But we will continue to do what we can. Our global mission impact will suffer, but it will not disappear. We will be a smaller United Methodist Church. But we will continue to serve our world parish in the tradition of John Wesley.

It’s beyond sad. I have been a part of this church since 1974, when I was introduced to it by Linda, my wife to be. Since then I have served it as an active lay person, and since 1993, in various roles as clergy. If you can love an institution, I love this church.

But it’s not the church it used to be. It has been infiltrated by insidious forces that have brought about this schism for their own agenda. It is no longer possible living with these people. They want their way and only their way. Maybe this way, they can have it, and the rest of us can serve faithfully without their distracting influence.

Yeah, we might have to fiddle with the name. We were never really fully “united.” So the name no longer seems appropriate, does it? Will the other side really call themselves “Traditional” Methodists? Aren’t there truth in packaging laws anymore? How about “Radically Separatist Methodists”?

There’s a long way to go before this thing gets settled. In the meantime, as always, pray for the mission and ministry of the United Methodist Church.

Time to split? Part 1

I wrote this for my church’s January newsletter. I was going to post it here on Jan. 1, but life got in the way. Two days later, a proposal to split the church was announced. I’ll comment on that later. First, my Jan. 1 post that never made it “live.”

*  *  *  *

This is the time of year when you’re supposed to cheerfully flip the calendar to a new year and say “Happy new year!”

But I am not happy about it at all. Jan. 1 is when the so-called “Traditional Plan” goes into effect in the United Methodist Church.

The Traditional Plan basically makes it a crime in church law for any pastor or church to support LGBTQ people in any meaningful way. Non-compliance leads to expulsion.

It is a draconian measure, an anti-Wesleyan measure, an anti-Christian measure, and – yes – an anti-Christ measure.

It is the product of that awful special General Conference we had last February.

It is the culmination of a decades-long effort by fundamentalists to impose their narrow and bigoted view of scripture on everyone else.

It is an effort to make the UMC an anti-gay lobby and drive out all faithful Christians who object.

It is an effort to destroy the mission and ministry that the UMC has built over the last 50 years.

It is an effort to turn the UMC into just another culturally captive religious institution, just another political pawn that promotes conformity to insipid civic religion.

It is an effort to replace the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ with an enslaving anti-gospel of discrimination and hatred.

A new day is coming. General Conference 2020 convenes in May. The church may split. I don’t want that to happen, but it may be the best course of action. I am sick of being told that I am “unorthodox” and worse because I don’t follow a certain narrow and bigoted interpretation of scripture. So called “conservative” elements make it clear that I am not welcome in their church. Now I am beginning to think that I don’t want them in my church either. So much for the big tent. Let ’em have their own little tent.

Pray for the United Methodist Church and the witness of Jesus Christ through it.


The diversity and creativity of the ways Christians celebrate can be astonishing, especially in the season of Epiphany.

Churches that spring from the Catholic tradition emphasize the visit of the magi to the baby Jesus. Churches in the Orthodox tradition emphasize the baptism of Jesus. We in the Wesleyan tradition incorporate elements from both Catholic and Orthodox traditions. We celebrate both the visit of the magi and Jesus’ baptism.

We don’t celebrate the baptism as vigorously as the Orthodox do, though. In the Tampa Bay area, thousands of Greek Orthodox Christians gather for the traditional blessing of the waters. At one point in the ceremony, the archbishop throws a white cross into Spring Bayou, and dozens of young men jump in after it. The one who retrieves it is said to receive a special blessing.

Even in Florida, the water is chilly this time of year. But the contestants don’t do this just for the thrill. This year’s winner says he did it because he wanted to emulate Jesus’ plunge into the Jordan River at his baptism.

He knew why he was jumping into the cold water. Somehow, he was sure, it would bring him closer to Jesus.

Jesus’ baptism is one of the few incidents in his life that is narrated in all four gospels. That means it’s important. Actually, it’s pivotal. Jesus’ baptism marks a turning point in his life.

There’s an 18-year gap in the life story of Jesus. Luke records a visit of Jesus’ family to Jerusalem when he is 12. The story then skips ahead to when, as Luke says, he’s “about thirty.” (Luke 3:23)

In between those times, we hear nothing. Speculation abounds. Maybe he goes to India to study with followers of the Buddha. Maybe he goes to the desert near the Dead Sea to study with the Essenes. Most likely, of course, he stays in his hometown of Nazareth, practices his trade as a builder, studies scripture as best as he can in such a small village, and meditates on the work of God that he sees ahead.

When he hears that his cousin John is calling Israel to repentance and baptism, he knows his time has come. He heads for the Jordan

We understand that when Jesus comes to John, he has no sins of his own to confess. Still, he humbles himself before God, before John, and before the others who come to be baptized. He fully identifies with those who repent of their sin. He accepts their plight as his own. He accepts their failings, their yearnings to be forgiven, and their longing for a future that is not defined by the mistakes of their past. He submits to baptism as a sign that even he is putting his past behind him and moving into the future with faith and hope.

What happens next is not visible or audible to John or to other onlookers, at least according to Mark’s version of events. That means that we know about it only because Jesus talked about it later. He talks about it because it’s an important moment in his life. It’s a powerful affirmation of who he is and what his mission is. It’s a personal epiphany, a fresh expression of his identity, a new way of seeing things into the future.

As he is coming up out of the water, he sees the sky ripped open and the Spirit of God descending upon him like a dove. And he hears a voice from heaven. We might imagine it to be a booming voice, but maybe it’s only a whisper. “You are my Son, the Beloved. With you I am well pleased.”

Jesus’ baptism is a pivotal moment in his life. He remembers and cherishes this divine affirmation for the rest of his life.

He remembers when he begins his own ministry, gathering disciples and going throughout the region proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom of God and demonstrating its coming by healing the sick and diseased and driving out demons.

He remembers when he is condemned by religious leaders and rejected by the people of his hometown.

He remembers when even John questions whether he is the one Israel is waiting for, and when even members of his own family question his sanity.

He remembers when some of his closest friends betray him, when the religious establishment conspires against him, and when the power of secular Rome crashes down on him.

He remembers when he is mercilessly whipped and when he hangs on a cross for six interminable hours, and he prays, “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing.”

He remembers the words: “You are my Son, the Beloved. With you I am well pleased.” That was God’s affirmation to Jesus at his baptism. It echoes throughout his life. He must hear it constantly and be encouraged by it.

What I would like you to understand today is that when you were baptized, whether you heard it clearly or not, God said something similar to you.

What I want you to understand today is whenever you recall or renew the act of your baptism, God says it again, whether you hear it clearly or not. God says: “You are my child, and I love you. You are my son, my daughter, my beloved.”

If you don’t hear that, if you don’t get that, you may live the rest of your life in a terrible darkness because you have the wrong impression of who you really are.

In many churches today, you will be told again and again that you are a despicable sinner, and God hates your miserable guts, and if you don’t repent, God will condemn you to a fiery eternity, which you totally deserve because you are such filth.

Let’s shed the light of truth on that whole awful narrative. First, admit one thing. You are a sinner. Can you say that? Say, “I am a sinner.” Now, let’s talk about a deeper, truer sense of who you are. Say, “I am a child of God.” Say, “God loves me.”

You are God’s beloved. That is your innermost and most important identity. Genesis 1.26 says that you were created in the image and likeness of God. You are by original nature a beloved child of God.

Yes, something has gone awry. The image in you has become distorted. You are bent toward sin. But that’s a condition that can be fixed – and Jesus wants to fix it. Jesus wants to restore you in the image of God in which you were created.

In Genesis 1.31, God looks out over all creation and pronounces it very good, supremely good, excellent in every way, as various translations render it.

Sure, things go downhill fast. But it matters where you start talking about it. We hear so much about “original sin.” But sin is not original. Goodness and blessing are original.

Jesus comes to restore us to our original state. Your baptism is a sign that this restoration is beginning. Your baptism is an epiphany, a revelation of who you really are, who you were created to be, and who you will become, by the power of the Holy Spirit, thanks be to God.

When you repent, you are changing direction. We’ve made “repentance” into an empty church word, but it’s a powerful real-life word. It means changing direction. You were going the wrong way. Now you’re going the right way. Surprise! It’s the direction you were intended to go all along. It’s your original direction. You are not turning. You are returning.

Your baptism is also a commissioning for service. Just as God is transforming you, you are commissioned to be an agent of transformation for others. You’re not baptized solely for your own redemption. You also are baptized for the redemption of others.

In few moments, we are going to reaffirm your return to God. First, we are going to join in a service of covenant renewal that John Wesley originated more than 250 years ago. After that, we will celebrate our baptisms. I will invite you forward, as if to receive communion, but instead of bread and the cup there will be water – ordinary tap water mixed with water from the Jordan and sanctified by a blessing.

I invite you to dip the fingers of one hand in the water. Then you may make the sign of the cross on the palm of your other hand, or on your forehead, or on your forehead, chest and shoulders.

Let this act remind you that you have been baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and you are God’s beloved. As you return to your seat, and go about your business in the days ahead, keep reminding yourself: I am a child of God, and I am God’s beloved.

“Beloved” is a message delivered Jan. 12, 2020, at Edgerton United Methodist Church, from the text Mark 1:4-11.

Star of wonder

What was that star of wonder, star so bright? Who were those magi who followed it? Where did they expect it to lead them? These are among the questions we’ll pursue as we look at this ancient tale of international intrigue, murder and a small but significant refugee crisis.

I warn you, this message has too many moving parts, and we will follow that star by way of several rabbit trails, so hang on.

Look! Up in the sky! It’s a star! It’s a planet! It’s – well, what was thing in the sky, anyway? Over the years, commentators have suggested that it was a meteor, or a comet, or a supernova – the explosion of a distant star – or perhaps a special conjunction of planets.

Planets? Doesn’t the text say “star”? Well, the ancients were no dummies. They knew the difference between a star and a planet. But, just like us, when they looked up, they saw stars. They were more precise about what they saw only when they needed to be.

Hundreds of attempts have been made to identify the star of Bethlehem. With the aid of computers, we can now produce precise charts of celestial objects at any place on earth at any hour in the last few thousand years. But our calculations lack one key variable: the date of Jesus’ birth.

In the year we know as A.D 525, a solution was proposed by mathematically minded historian in Rome named Dennis the Short. Dennis devised a system for placing Christ at the center of human history. He divided time into two eras: BC, for Before Christ, and AD, for Anno Domini, in the year of our Lord. Dennis announced that Jesus was born on Dec. 25, 1 B.C., just a few days before the calendar flipped to A.D. 1. (Notice that there is no zero in between.)

Problem is, it appeared that Dennis miscalculated. According to his system, it looked like Herod the Great died in 4 B.C., nearly four years before Jesus was born, though obviously he was very much alive when Jesus was born.

Johannes Kepler, the great mathematician and astronomer, then calculated that Jesus was born in 7 B.C. during a rare conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn. Kepler’s conclusion was widely accepted for 400 years. But in the last few years new evidence has emerged. It now appears that Dennis got it right, after all. Herod didn’t die in 4 B.C. but rather in the spring of A.D.1, several months after Jesus was born.

Star gazers are still searching their star charts in light of the latest data, and the identity of that bright object in the sky remains a mystery. Does it matter in the great scheme of things? Probably not.

On the other hand … any science fiction fans among you? I refer you to a short story titled “The Star.” It was written in 1954 by Arthur C. Clarke, author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, among many other works. “The Star” is one of the most famous and finest science fiction stories ever written. Reading it will cure you of the need to speculate about the identity of the Star of Bethlehem.

Sometime before the birth of Jesus, on or about Dec. 25, 1 B.C., the star is observed by magi in Persia. They interpret it to mean that a new king will be born in Judea. Why they interpret it so we cannot say. But off they go to find this baby king.

Dispelling the legends is important here. These were not kings, for one thing. For another, we don’t know how many of them there were. We only guess that there were three because they gave three gifts to the baby – gifts that were, indeed, fit for a king: gold and two kinds of costly aromatic spices.

For a long time, we’ve called them “wise men,” but I prefer to call them “magi,” because that’s what the gospel of Matthew actually calls them. They were astrologers, star gazers, magicians. They may have been valued as advisors in some royal court, or perhaps were considered court clowns.

They were wise in that they correctly interpreted the sign they saw in the sky. But they were not wise in other ways. By blundering into Jerusalem the way they did, they almost got baby Jesus killed.

Herod is called Herod the Great primarily to distinguish him from several of his sons who also were named Herod but were by no means great. Herod was a great builder. Two thousand years later, several of his monumental constructions still stand. But he was obsessively jealous of his power and viciously protective of it.

If we were to continue reading Matthew’s account, we would learn that Herod becomes enraged when the magi don’t report back to him, and he sends soldiers to kill all the young boys in and around Bethlehem. He wants to make sure this newborn king doesn’t live long enough to threaten his rule.

Outside of Matthew there is no historical record of this massacre, so some commentators doubt that it happened. But it so fits the pattern of Herod’s cruelty that we have no reason to discount it. After all, this is the man who wanted his soldiers to slay thousands of innocent people after he died so that history would record that there was great mourning at his death. Happily, that order was not carried out.

The story of the magi raises several questions.

One: Why are they apparently the only ones in the world who see the star and interpret it correctly? Why, for instance, didn’t somebody in Herod’s court notice it? Predicting the future through astrology was forbidden in Israel, but Jews did observe the skies carefully – not for signs that something would happen, but for signs that something had happened. How did they miss this? Maybe they just didn’t care.

That may also be the best answer for question two. After telling Herod that Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, why don’t the wise men of Israel immediately head for Bethlehem to greet him?

Don’t they believe their own interpretation of prophecy? Are they so jaded that they don’t believe God could do a great thing in their lifetime? Or are they just scared of what Herod might do? Are they afraid that if they start the parade to Bethlehem, Herod’s soldiers won’t be far behind?

Question three: Knowing that the king will be born in Bethlehem, why does Herod wait for the magi to lead him there? Why doesn’t he just send his soldiers now and get it over with?

Well, maybe he’s just trying to be crafty. Maybe he thinks that if he can identify this child, he can simply make him disappear, along with his parents and any other unfortunate witnesses. If he’s careful, hardly anyone will know what happened.

It all blows up, though, when the magi are warned in a dream and finally do something wise. They get out of town as fast as they can. Also warned in a dream, Joseph and Mary evacuate with the infant Jesus. They head southwest, to get out of Herod’s kingdom as quickly as possible, and seek refuge in Egypt.

Yes, our holy family are refugees. Those expensive gifts from the magi must come in handy on the long journey. Happily, there’s a large Jewish colony in Egypt where they can blend in and hide for awhile.

But what about those they leave behind in Bethlehem? It’s Joseph’s hometown, after all. Do they warn others on their way out of town, or leave the young boys to Herod’s wrath? And will Herod’s soldiers bother to distinguish whether they are killing boys or girls, or just kill children willy-nilly?

There are so many things about this story that we want to know and have no way of knowing. So we fill the gaps with legends about Gaspar and Melchior and Balthasar, and how they represent three races and three great civilizations, and about how there was a fourth magi who got sidetracked on the way, and an old woman named Befana who is still following that star, looking for that baby.

There’s also some clever speculation about the Wise Women – you know, the wives of the three Wise Men. According to this cartoon image, they follow the men and provide more useful gifts to baby Jesus and his family – fresh diapers, casseroles and lots of baby formula.

More than 20 years ago, our daughter Jennifer played a small role in a production of Conrad Susa’s opera “The Wise Women.” This was staged by the now defunct Civic Opera Theater of Kansas City. In this version, the wise women never get to Bethlehem. Instead, they are offered a private vision of the holy family.

We tell ourselves such stories because we believe that despite the actions of Herod and others like him, news of this baby’s birth does get announced to the world. People are told of Messiah’s birth. Lives are changed by this news.

We can’t know how the lives of the magi are changed. We only know that they return home, as Matthew tells us, “by another way.” It’s been suggested, of course, that after encountering Jesus we all must go by another way than we came. We all must go by the way of Jesus, as it is described in the gospels and the book of Acts.

These magi saw a sign in the sky, and they went looking. International travel was expensive and hazardous in those days. They searched at great personal cost, possibly at great peril. Because they weren’t nearly as wise as they thought they were, they got entangled in an evil monarch’s evil scheme. Sometimes our search gets off track, too. We think we’re following the light and end up being used or abused by evil. No one ever said that following Jesus doesn’t have distracting detours.

The star on the cover of our bulletin is an image I borrowed from the website of the Moravian Church of North America. Moravians and Methodists go way back, to the earliest days of the Methodist movement, when a young and confused John Wesley was mentored by Peter Bohler and others from the Moravian movement. We still have much in common.

The Moravian star normally has 26 points. Linda and I have a fairly large star that’s part of our outdoor light display. The star is supposed to stay up from the first Sunday of Advent until the day of Epiphany, which is officially tomorrow. So tomorrow our star will come down.

It’s OK. We talk about following the Star of Bethlehem, but if you read the story carefully, you’ll see that the magi actually follow the star only for a short distance at the end of their journey. It’s the meaning of the star that they pursue all the long way from Persia to Israel. Only briefly do they follow a light in the sky. Mostly, they follow what it means.

Similarly, we don’t follow a star. We follow the person to whom the star points. We follow Jesus, and we walk the Way of Jesus. The season of Christmas is almost over. Epiphany is dawning. Now we’ll see what the holy birth means to us.

So we’ve arrived, rabbit trails and all, at our true destination!

“Star of wonder” is a message delivered on Epiphany Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020, at Edgerton United Methodist Church by the Rev. James Hopwood. The text was Matthew 2:1-12.