This is a sermon I wrote for the ordination service of Katie Shaw Thompson and Parker Ammerman Thompson at the Ivester Church of the Brethren in Iowa. Enjoy!
Reading the Stars
Rev. Amy S Gall Ritchie
1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6 “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’ ” 7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
As a little girl, whenever someone would say “Amy look do you see the big dipper?” I would say yes! All of the star clusters looked like the big dipper to me. Everywhere I looked, I saw handles and little squares. If I were looking West or south when I said yes, the one trying to offer me a cosmic experience would gently grasp my chin and turn it in the right direction so that I would see the real ones.
You know how to do it….
You first find Polaris, the north star.
Then just up to the left is the little dipper, and down below that is the big dipper. I can do it now. I’ve learned to read the stars. Anyone with a smartphone or iPad can find all the constellations.
I had hoped to get a glimpse of the Iowa night sky last night,
knowing we would have the wide vast prairie beneath us allowing for the purity of the dark to set the stars ablaze.
But it was not too be.
Had we had a clear night, we would have been able to cast our northward glances toward the W of Cassiopia, the lone bright presence of Vega, the curving tail of Draco and of course,
the moon at 80% full.
These ancient watchers of human activity forever have held their place in the night skies. These stars, planets, celestial bodies have relevance for us. They guide the sea captains, they affect gravity and all bodies of water including the human body, but are they for us to read?
Our wise travelers from our sacred text could.
This story of old, this story told once a year casts our magi as astronomers. But lets be clear, astronomers do not look to the heavens for signs and meaning.
They plot the stars and the cosmos.
Astrologers read the stars.
These magi, these royal seers from the east in Persia looked up from their holy texts, read the stars…And they saw the birth of a King.
This is not the first time in history that this had happened. There are other recordings of eastern priests of other religions that took in the whole of creation as a telling of the Sacred story, mounting their camels and traveling off to affirm the rise or birth of a King as they had seen it in the stars.
This was their heritage.
It was part of what they did,
acting as outside observers to validate human activity as destined by fate. A bit crazy, to cast their gaze toward the heavens seeing the lives of others, following their call to go and discover.
These wise travelers, seers, believers, magi…mounted their camels and headed westward, following the star that seemed to move them along toward a goal, a place, confident that they would find a person of royal purpose.
Our wise wanderers stopped to see Herod. But their purpose was to follow the star, to find the King.
And that is what they did.
They found Jesus,
in a house.
The star they followed stopped, they were filled with Joy
and they knew where to go.
The Greek use of this word for Joy that our scripture texts speaks of, is a Joy that is used elsewhere in the New Testament for the emotion that people felt when Jesus did something great. Here, Jesus hasn’t done anything, he’s just been…found…. ….a boy, likely rambling around the floor playing with sticks and rocks and handmade toys.
This Joy joins together star, travelers, Holy One, experience.
They had found Jesus.
Its what they had set out to do.
Its what they did in life…
…now it was time to return.
And they did so by a different route.
It is easy to hear the call story of Katie and Parker in this tale of magi and stars, traveling and finding the Sacred.
Both Katie and Parker were raised out east, in homes that honored heritage and family, Faith and wisdom.
They came together in their relationship when they were young, weaving two distinct persons into a parallel path,
wide enough for both.
It is a bit crazy when you think of it,
how they ended up in the faith family at Stone Church in Huntingdon…
a gathering of folk who would be the ones to grasp their chins and say “Do you see your star?”
Stone church directed the gaze of the hearts of Katie and Parker, toward that place where life purposes reside, because they saw the rising of Jesus’s call within them.
So what do Katie and Parker do? They mounted up their camels and followed that star westward! It kept them moving to the brink of the country,the edge of land (Pacific School of Religion, Berkley, CA), where they could go no further.
They went to where the star stopped.
They found Jesus in the faces of the city’s poor. They found Jesus in the words of Thomas Merton. They found Jesus in the beings of the men and women, the straights and gays who were also seeking Jesus in that place and time.
They found Jesus within their compassion for those who are shunted aside by church and culture. They found Jesus in the sun, sand, and mountains…in the rocky crags, the urban beat, the ancient redwood.
Their star had stopped and they found Jesus.
But you know, there is a phenomenon in the heavens of planets going retrograde…a visual illusion that astronomers mark where orbits and complex crossings of curves and tragjectories …look like a planet is standing still or going backwards…moving in a different direction that is different from where it looked like it was headed.
And so was the star for Katie and Parker.
It moved them from that place, to a new place…the Midwest where I’m sure they never thought they would end up.
Yet, their star stopped and there was joy and finding again.
This time, they found Jesus in the finding of themselves.
Thinker, writer, poet for God, still water of reflection, friends, Brethren, possibly pastors….their call. Jesus was not hidden from them in this new place.
And now, they are here.
And this morning we celebrate an ordination of life purpose.
An ordination of following the star of calling.
An ordination of finding Jesus in order to give Jesus.
Praise be to God.
But this story now doesn’t orbit solely around Katie and Parker, for here we are at the Ivester Church of the Brethren.
You, Ivester, have been guided by your star, to continue the work of Jesus, for a very long time. The founders of this gathering and those along the way have carried out your own collective ordination to serve God by serving others, by working for peace, by giving voice to the voiceless.
I can only imagine the stories that Velva, our birthday girl (90 on the day of this preaching), could tell today of the good news that has been found and given by this congregation over the decades. Others of you, have those stories too, on the tips of your tongues.
Your lives together have acted as a constellation of their own, guiding, shaping, loving, and being Jesus in this world.
Do you know, that I have known of you for over 30 years? I don’t know how and I cannot tell you specifics of your story, but I’ve known of your peacemaking, your justice serving ways since I was that girl seeing big dippers in every star.
So purposefully you have grasped your call in this world, in this prairie place following God’s brilliant star above…and have lived it so well in plenty and in strife…that some random church of the brethren girl in Northern Indiana knew your name.
I have always known that the word Ivester meant peacemaking, as though it were some greek word to be parsed and understood.
Do you see?
Do all of you see the moment we stand in?
It is a moment made from Sacred Seeing,
This ordination of Katie Shaw Thompson,
the ordination of Parker Ammerman Thompson,
the continued ordination of the Ivester congregation…
…is at a bright standing star of a moment
where there is Joy
because Jesus is in the house.
There is a simultaneousness that occurs when a person, persons, congregations follow the star of calling that God has placed before them…..in that following, they become guides for other to seek the tragjectory in their lives where the holy meets the human, where life purpose becomes known, where camels are mounted and the people move forward.
This is that moment. It is a crazy and astonishing moment.
And the possibilities for the Good News
to be heard,
to be known,
to be shared…..
….are as countless as the stars above,
….as true as Polaris in the night sky.
May it be so.