Matthew 2:1-12 and Home By Another Way by Barbara Brown Taylor
Sunday January 7th, 2023
Rev. Nicole M. Lamarche
Thank you Karen! I heard that last Sunday you hummed Silent Night. That’s beautiful. Keep the music going however we can.
I invite you now to join me now in taking some deeper breaths, allowing ourselves to tune into deeper things, arriving as fully as we are able, letting go of our lists even if just for a time. And I invite you to join me in this prayer from Psalm 19.
God may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
For weeks and then months and then now years and still found myself starting myself starting a sentence the same way, “when this goes back to how it was….”
And then at some point, I realized that certain things were just going to be how they are. And that trying to live as if what was, was going to be, was not a good use of energy. Are you with me?I thought that the pandemic would be something we could eventually declare done. And yet while it has changed forms and it isn’t a public health emergency in the same way, it still impacted our holiday, it is still creating carnage- it’s the thing that just won’t go away literally and also its presence in terms of what it has changed won’t go away and I suspect it will be with us for the rest of our lives at some level.
As I have shared in other places, I feel both stronger and softer somehow after these years. Maybe that comes with surviving and being willing to grow instead of shrink?
I have been reading a lot about how to come through things and I came across this work by Alice Updike Scannell, an Episcopal priest who died in 2019 and wrote of radical resilience. And we think of resilience as the ability to endure and to get through and be okay on the other side. She wrote of it as being able to recover and not just pick up where we left off but live with the permanent changes. And that feels true to me. Radical resilience isn’t about picking up where we left off.
A lot has been written about how Americans as a whole are meaner and less patient and I have mentioned here about how the FAA has changed their rules in response to our meanness. In my experience this has proven to be true, but what is also true is this idea of radical resilience, living with a heightened sense of gratitude- not all of us, but some of us are softer, some of us are more grateful.
When we had to slow down, we could see it all more clearly. When we couldn’t be outside of our pod or attend worship in person or go to a theater, we realized when some of that was all taken away, we realized how much that meant to us. The pandemic was a mortality salience event, where individually and on a mass scale we humans were reminded that we are all going to die at some point and that made people move, spend more time outside, leave toxic workplaces, leave bad relationships, take risks, find a spiritual community and more.
So now with some time, it’s clear to me that yes some of us got meaner, and some of us got stronger, more grateful, quicker to express how much something meant, quicker to say we are sorry or quicker to let the tears come in the moment we know might not happen again just like this.
While I was away on vacation, I had the privilege of burying my nose in some books and articles and I was lost in one in a beach chair when a redheaded woman with her body adorned in freckles and a laugh that just couldn’t be missed, clearly wanted to talk to me.
She wanted to know about my book and how people turned to her for advice on parenting and then she wanted me to know she was an expert on solar and an economist and that she really wanted to solve climate change.
She was an LGBTQ rights advocate, had worked on women’s health is convinced the Supreme Court won’t mess with marriage equality. I am not sure sure, but on she went. We talked a while and she inquired about what they thought were some cynical views I held.
I told her that it was more that I found I wanted the truth. Then she wanted to know what I did and you know she thought it was hilarious that I was a religious leader.
She bought an airstream trailer in the pandemic because she was undergoing chemotherapy and couldn’t be around anyone. As she recounted all of this, her 20-something daughter Luna was right by her side and joyfully added commentary to her mom’s musings.
Toward the end of our encounter, her energy shifted and became slightly less intense, and she raised her glasses so she could look directly in my eyes. Thank you for giving your tax dollars to my healthcare, she said. It was $46,000 for each cancer treatment. She didn’t share how many she had to have. I didn’t really feel like I could say you’re welcome, so I said something about how glad I was she was alive.
And I was thinking as I left the noise of the scene, how in some ways the pandemic was a big epiphany, a collective epiphany that manifested differently for each of us, but it put us on another road entirely, one we didn’t really choose exactly, although we have had some agency along the way.
In our tradition, today is Epiphany Sunday from the Greek word epiphaneia “to appear” to be made manifest! And as you know the word is used to describe scientific breakthroughs and discoveries, insights, insight, but the idea is that it puts you on a new way of thinking and being, a new road.
This story is only in the Gospel of Matthew, but it has captured the hearts of poets and the souls of artists and singers alike. James Taylor wrote a song inspired by this text, called Home By Another Way. “Steer clear of royal welcomes, avoid a big to-do.A king who would slaughter the innocents will not cut a deal for you.He really, really wants those presents, he’ll comb your camel’s furuntil his boys announce they’ve found trace amounts of your frankincense, gold and myrth. Time to go home by another way, home by another way.You have to figure the Gods, saying play the odds, and go home by another way.We can make it another way, safe home as they used to say.Keep a weather eye to the chart on high and go home another way.
And that last line of the song and those words from verse 12 in the Gospel feel like right where we are, somehow finding home anew, going a different way, traveling by a different road… In part because home isn’t where and what it once was and because we aren’t where we once were either.
In her book Home by Another Way, Barbara Brown Taylor creates a beautiful storyline for the magi. She writes that “they were called out and found themselves away from everything they knew how to manage and survive, out from under the reputations they had built for themselves…”
And I think this is true for us now too, we are radically resilient, living with a heightened sense of gratitude, which can change what we seek and how we show up.
Tomorrow it will be five years of shared ministry together and we have endured a lot over that time. There was a period where I wasn’t sure I would make it, but I give thanks to God and the stars for you who were willing to keep going and to take this other road and here we are.
It’s clear that part of what this story of Epiphany has to offer us is the reminder of what is possible when we are willing to keep going even when we find we are far from everything we knew how to manage, knowing there is light on this other road and I am grateful to be finding it with you. And what a gift that we are living into this new way, traveling this other road even in worship by daring to practice what we believe which is that it is the call of each of us to tune into the greater wisdom within us and among us. Knowing each of us arrives from different places and perspectives, I invite you now to take some time to reflect together as you are so moved, taking turns listening and sharing. We will have 2 minutes. How have you been changed? How do you find yourself going home by another road somehow? If you are new to this, just a reminder that it is our practice to share only as we are moved.
Our collective epiphany has reminded us to savor this life, it has heightened our awareness for what is good, deepened our gratitude, and where we are lucky, made us radically resilient. Let us keep seeking light, knowing we will find what we need, what a gift to be journeying together, even by another road. May it be so. Amen.