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Sermon Preached by

The Rev. Fulton Porter, III

January 6, 2013

The Epiphany

St. Thomas Church, Chicago

Matthew 2:1-12


Courage to Change


In the name the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.


“And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, They left for their own country by another way.

As we come to the 150th year of our emancipation as a people from chattel slavery and as we come to the end of the Lovie Smith era in Chicago, it’s the first Sunday in a New Year. We’ve said our goodbyes to past mistakes; we’ve reconciled our differences and our indifferences, and we’ve pledged in our hearts to make this year a better year. This morning we come seeking…seeking a fresh start, a fresh direction, a fresh anointing and purposing for our lives.


What does all this seeking tell us about ourselves? Have we really reached a new place in our lives when we are ready to pack up – geographically, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually – and move to another place, to new people, to another way of relating to the world? It’s typical of us to want to venture OUT on this first Sunday in the New Year, but do we have the courage to really begin a new journey?   NEW always sounds exciting; new ideas, new friends, new job, new boyfriend, new car, new neighborhood….but can we see the journey before us?; do we have the courage to begin?; do we know how to get there? The journeys from HERE to THERE are seldom easy, and they’re often not enjoyable. In fact, when we step out into new territory, there are certain risks involved. And it’s the risks that keep most of us from getting past this first Sunday commitment to seek a new path.  There are new places God wants us to visit. Will we go? There is new service God wants us to render. Will we go? There is a greater spiritual maturity level God wants us to achieve. Will we go? There is a higher intellect to grasp, a deeper commitment to make. Will we go? Do we have the courage to seek what will draw us to a more profound, more fulfilling, and more demanding relationship with God?


This first Sunday in the New Year is, of necessity, a message of courage. It takes courage to change. The human spirit would always rather STAY than GO. We like what’s comfortable and familiar. We would rather live with descriptions others give us than to see reality for ourselves. We would rather force contentment upon ourselves within someone else’s boundaries, than to do some of our own exploring. We raise our children the same way Momma raised us. We pursue the same career our daddy’s chose. We want to live in the same neighborhoods where we grew up. We worship in the same sporadic fashion as our friends and neighbors. We would rather keep everything in control and in its place. Change takes courage.


Today we look to the Wise Men for an example of the courage we need. These Wise Men left everything familiar and traveled very far in search of the new King who held promise for the world. The Wise Men show us a better way to live, a way to take risk and live TOWARD something. We see in them the courage WE NEED to seek something more for ourselves.


Epiphany means manifestation or appearance. The visitation of the Wise Men is called the Epiphany because it symbolized the manifestation of Jesus to ALL people, even people not His own. Jesus was born to seek out and to save the world, to be the Incarnate Son of the Living God.

History tells us that these Wise Men were evidently astrologers. They had interpreted the appearing of the new star in the heavens as a sign of an unusual event…the birth of a long awaited Messianic King, the King of the Jews, whom they knew the Jews expected to come from Bethlehem. THEY were not kings, as we often portray them, but they were astrologers; a very highly paid position in any of the lands they came from, and men of great wealth. But they left all that was familiar and struck out in an uncertain direction. They risked their lives on an interpretation, a projection, a foreign prophecy, and gave up about two years of their livelihood…because they believed that the fulfillment of this prophecy would change the world.


How much time are you willing to put into the changes that will take you to higher heights? Does two years sound like too much courage to muster up? Would you spend two years searching for someone…something? Would you commit two years to affect any kind of real change in your life?  Change takes courage. Imagine the changes that would take place in your relationship with Christ if you committed two years to bible study…two years to persistent prayer…two years to faithful worship! You can argue that you don’t believe it would have much of an impact on your life; that your problems can’t be resolved without money, or a divorce, or a new career, or a new house. But that’s the coward’s way out. Cowardly Christians are those who refuse to test the promises of God. They want tangible proof before they put God to the test.


But the lesson from the Wise Men is that Jesus is Someone worth seeking. He neither invades our lives nor overtakes us. But He gently holds out His invitation saying, “Come unto me unto me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”


The Wise Men believed that Jesus had been born into the world to effect change. They searched two long years because they understood the desperation of man’s need for change, and the hope that would rest in a Savior. Their determination propelled them forward in their quest and caused them to sacrifice creature comforts in the hope of an encounter with Christ.   Maybe that’s why it’s so difficult to fill our churches to overflowing today. We’re not willing to sacrifice creature comforts to have an encounter with Christ. We’re afraid that our journey will require something of us…some sacrifice that we are not willing to make. Mankind lacks the courage to trust God at His Word and believe that His plan for our lives will be better than our own, no matter how good ourd may seem.


We know how to pack people in for program and we can fill the church for fellowship. This is all wonderful but getting them to commit, to change, that’s what continues to elude us. They’ll come on occasion, but they won’t commit to Christ.  Let me put my kickstand down for a minute and get real. Have you ever noticed what drives people to the church? It’s trouble. Trouble in our lives makes us go to the church looking for answers. The problem is that the answers most people look for are not the answers they need.  They want mercy money for past due bills. They want carnal counseling for a failing marriage. They want secular solutions for their troubled siblings.

They want earthly hope for their ailing health. In spite of a lack of faith, God sees their condition…and He uses the great work of the church through prayer and mission work to satisfy their needs. But as soon as they receive their remedy, they resort to their old rituals. They fail to credit Christ for their conquest.  They came to the church searching, but they weren’t searching for Christ. They came to the church searching for answers to their problems, when they should have been searching for Christ!


The church needs Christians with the courage to commit to Christ. We need men and women with some stick-to-it-ness, who recognize the source of their strength and give credit where credit is due. We need men and women who have the courage to leave the comfort of their familiar surroundings and step out on faith…to seek change.


Isaiah sent out the clarion call with these words which we heard read today: “Arise, shine, for thy Light is come!” He predicted that “Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.”  Notice the word come. Christ does not come to us, we must come to Him. Change requires movement, and movement requires courage, the courage to change. The Kings did come to Christ because they had the courage to seek change. Gentiles all over the world have come to Christ because they had the courage to change. And we can come to Christ, if we have the courage to make the journey. It’s a journey that will change your life. It’s a journey that will improve any condition. It’s a journey that will supply your every need. It’s a journey that will satisfy your starving soul.


Do you have the courage to commit to Christ? He’s sitting at the right hand of the Father waiting for you to take the first step on your journey waiting for you to place your hand in His.

In that moment, He will intercede for you; He will restore your soul; He will sustain you with His power; And He will lead you into greener pastures, where Kings have journeyed and found the answer. Do you have the courage to change? Then join us on this journey!








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