Sermons

Summary: For Epiphany: As Richard Foster wrote about "Money, Sex, and Power", is it possible the Wise Men’s gifts are warnings to Jesus and His family about these things? Complete joy comes from what Jesus did with these issues.

Who we are and what we have are two entirely different things, but we confuse them. We insist on identifying who we are by what we have.

Who we are and what we have are not the same thing. We are more by far than the material goods we possess. And yet everywhere we are identified by our stuff. I had parked in the garage at Georgetown Hospital, where sometimes you have to turn your car over to valet parking. When I came back from my visit, I turned over my ticket and waited while various cars were brought back. A long, sleek Mercedes came up the ramp, and the attendant said, “Is this Mercedes you?” Isn’t that an interesting question? Apart from the fact that it most certainly was not my car, he asked the question, “Is this Mercedes you?”. As if my identity and my car were one and the same. Definitely not so. And when the old Plymouth Horizon clattered up, and the attendant looked at it with pity on his face, I thought about saying, “No, I am the battered old junker.” But then that’s not quite who I am, a battered old junker. Is it? Tell me that isn’t who I am! No, who we are and what we have are not the same thing.

We are far more than the material goods we possess, and we are far more than the titles and the credentials we have I’ve known people who so confused their social status with their identity, that if you didn’t acknowledge that status, you had denied their selfhood. Speaking of Georgetown reminds me of one of the Catholic chaplains there, whom I got to know during my campus ministry days. Father Jacques had served a rural parish in France, and liked to tell us about the bishop under whom he had worked. The bishop visited his parish, and spent the night in the rectory. In the morning, the bishop came downstairs for breakfast, wearing pajamas, a dressing gown, and a large crucifix. Father Jacques asked him, “Sir, did you wear that all night? Did you sleep in all that gear?” His bishop answered, “My boy, suppose I were to die in the night. If the Lord were to come for me, how else would He know I am a bishop?”

No, no. We are far more than the material goods we possess, and we are far more than our titles and credentials. Let me take another step. We are also far more than who we are with. We are more than our trophy friends and our attractive lovers. Our identity is in ourselves and in who we are, before God, and not in the people we collect. Who you are is not a matter of whether you are in the right sorority or the high-standing fraternity. Who you are is not a question of whether you went to Harvard or Howard or Hampton or Hamburger College. Who you are is not even a question of which church you belong to – I hear that in the churches of Washington there is a pecking order, and that if you are really somebody you go to Shiloh or Metropolitan or you drive all the way out to Ebenezer. But Takoma? Well .... sorry ‘bout that!

Oh, brothers and sisters, who you are is not how much stuff you have. Who you are is not what credentials you have on your wall. Nor is it the connections you’ve made. Who you are and what you have are two entirely different things, but we confuse them. We insist on identifying who we are by what we have.

The Quaker spiritual writer Richard Foster did a book several years ago, titled, “Money, Sex, and Power”. Foster called false gods, idols. Money, sex, and power. Identifying ourselves by what we have instead of by who we are.

At some time after the birth of Jesus, wise men came bearing gifts. I want you to notice what they brought and why. They brought gifts to honor Him, of course. But maybe the gifts were also intended to remind both Him and His family of the false joys, the false identities, which might tempt them. Take Richard Foster’s phrase, “Money, Sex, and Power” and change the order just a little, make it “Money, Power, and Sex” – the same thing – and look at the gifts of the Magi: gold, frankincense and myrrh. You may discover that as they gave their gifts they were leaving lessons for this infant – you are more than gold, your possessions; you are more than frankincense, your power; you are more than myrrh, perfumed allure. Jesus, you are more by far than any of these things.

Sing the first verse with me to set the stage for the story:

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