The Epiphany of our Lord
January 3, 2016
“Everybody Has A Story – Part 1”
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior Jesus. Today I would like to start a sermon series that I am calling “Everybody Has a Story.” For today’s sermon, I would like to use Philippians 2:4-7 as the basis and that text reads as follows:
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
This is our text. My dear friends,
There have been a number of times in my life when I felt uncomfortable with a situation. I have been approached by shady-looking vagrants many many times. I have been confronted by angry drivers. Once, when we were dating, Joanne and her friend thought it would be funny if they left me in a room with no one else except her previous boyfriend…and I’ll take a vagrant confrontation ANY DAY than do that again! During most of those times I couldn’t point to, or give the reasons for, my discomfort. Well, with Joanne’s ex-boyfriend that was kinda obvious. But otherwise, something just didn’t feel right. I think most of you would understand. You’ve been in similar uncomfortable situations. I know you get it. I know Tommi Kelley gets it.
Last fall Deputy Tommi Kelley was in Houston, Texas and was filling up her squad car with gas. Remembering how, just a few days before, Officer Darren Goforth had been gunned downed at a Texas gas pump, Kelley had a strange, uncomfortable feeling in the pit of her stomach. That feeling didn’t go away when she realized someone was walking up right behind her. The someone approaching her was 16-year-old McKinley Zoellner. Although Deputy Kelley didn’t know what was going to happen next, she most definitely wasn’t prepared for what came out of Zoellner’s mouth. He said, “Do you mind if I watch your back?” Deputy Kelley didn’t mind. Quietly, the young man stood there in a downpour of rain and made sure no harm was able to sneak up and blindside the deputy. When Kelley’s car was full, Zoellner simply said, “Have a good day,” and then he walked back to his mother’s car, so they could continue their route. Deputy Kelley didn’t let them get away that easily. She stopped Zoellner and heard how he had made his mother turn around, so he could help the deputy feel safe and secure. Then Kelley asked if she could take a selfie with her new friend. He consented and the photo went viral. Within a few weeks, the photo of those two had been shared on social media more than 200,000 times Looking back on the incident, Deputy Kelley said, “It meant a lot to me, especially with everything that’s been going on lately…So when you have someone that is so young and mature and thoughtful and came up to help, I was very impressed with him.” Now I’m not going to say Zoellner did everything right, because he didn’t. He should know it is not wise to come up quietly behind a policeperson. That is especially true when it’s night, and they’re alone, and it’s raining, and strange things have been happening to other policepersons. It’s a good way to get hurt. Even so, I appreciate Zoellner’s words: “Can I watch your back?”
It’s an unfortunate reality of the world in which we live that we need someone to watch our backs…and fronts…and sides. New year. New troubles. Same old pains. Same old addictions. Same old reality of sin in this world. And short of the coming of our Lord this year, nothing will stop sin from working into your hearts and lives throughout 2016.
Epiphany, that we celebrate today, doesn’t actually happen until January 6th so we’re a little ahead of the game. Epiphany signals the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of a new season – a season of reflection and understanding who this Jesus is recently born into our world. Christmas is great and Christmas is awesome. But Christmas also has an uneasiness to it; it has its own uncomfortable feeling. Why? Remember what Paul wrote in Philippians 2? “Though (Jesus) was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” His parents carried Jesus out of the manger, and once He learned how to walk, He started on His path to the cross. Epiphany celebrates all the different ways that Jesus is revealed to us as the light of the world, and oh boy, could we use some serious light in these dark and difficult days! Jesus took the form of a servant in an effort to die – a Suffering Servant – a substitutionary death on the cross. Don’t forget, though, that the journey doesn’t end at Calvary. Nope. You need to wait until the 3rd day, and then the Easter resurrection finishes the salvation narrative and turns our uncomfortableness and sorrow into joy and peace and victory! We who have been redeemed by God’s Son, the world’s Savior, have been rescued for a purpose. As part of the family of faith, we should do our best to watch each other’s backs. There are a great many hateful individuals out there, and the devil is still walking about as a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. As we gather around Word and Sacrament in 2016 there will be many in our midst who need our help, and that help we should offer. You have been saved by grace through faith IN ORDER TO love and serve and help. As time and situation offer, we need to reach out to others and say, “Can I watch your back?” Those of us who are in a difficult situation need to swallow our pride and say, “Would you watch my back for me?” It is, after all, the least God’s people can do for those brothers and sisters whose backs need watching.