There is dismay, anger, sadness, and fear abroad in our land. It is an age old story, like that of Herod, of struggle for power, of attempts to hold onto personal gain and influence at any cost. Seeking to gain and keep control one has misled and misconstrued their actions and intent offering flattery, feigning rapport in exchange for loyalty.
This week, led by such a sense of loyalty, an angry crowd stormed the nation’s capitol in an attempt to disrupt and even destroy our governmental system and the people’s representation in it. Chaos and mayhem broke out in the halls of Congress with invaders parading Nazi symbols and the confederate flag. Desecrating walls, floors, and carpets, the rioters were seeking to take our legislators captive and the turned to destruction of furniture and art.
Those who might have imagined that these extremists had dialog and reconciliation on their minds soon learned otherwise.
I imagine you are as disturbed by these acts and their implications as am I.
On this day when we celebrate the Epiphany, we remember the magi and their actions. After they had observed the workings of Herod and his court, something, an angel, told them there was danger hidden in Herod’s promises. They recognized the risk to the infant and to themselves. After worshipping at the feet of Jesus they went home by another way.
My friends, it is time we recognize the danger before us. We need to take a deeper look at what is at work here. And it’s complicated…. So complicated, in fact, that we may be tempted to leave it to wiser, more experienced minds to solve. I believe what we need is more engagement and willingness to engage the tangled mess before us.
You see, the way of the world is to give in to temptations like those Jesus faced in the wilderness, temptations of one to pursue power and satiation of desire and wealth. Often a person is tempted then to veil their own intentions in an appeal other’s basest desires. And so, alliances are created and abandoned at will to advance their own cause.
Stay with me now as we consider where that temptation has led. This country as many others depended from the beginning on a pool of workers to do the hard labor required in agriculture and industry for providing the basics, food, housing, sanitation. Many of our forebears came to this country engaged in just this type of work. But if we go back to the beginning we see the colonizers imported nefarious and abusive systems with them. Systems of serfdom of Europe had transitioned to workhouses, craftspeople and their apprentices. Coming here they brought the idea of indentured servanthood in which people were promised the opportunity to earn self sufficiency through a protracted season of back breaking work.
When the numbers of indentured servants were insufficient to meet the need for labor, they turned to capturing and enslaving free people of Africa. Still today that legacy endures. You see, the practices of subjugating those who had been slaves did not end with emancipation. No, even now blacks and other people of color are scapegoated.
It is easy and convenient for the wealthy, the privileged, to sow suspicion and point fingers, to distract those who feel left out, and often are left out and left behind. As the rich grow richer and the poor struggle. It is easy and convenient to name people of different cultures, traditions, and faith communities as being to blame for the problem we face. It is easy and convenient to say the poor are lazy, incompetent, unskilled, getting more than their share even as they work longer, harder, and die younger as a result. It is easy to lead people to fear the intentions of others and to suggest they must protect what is hard-earned and rightfully theirs.
My friends, this is exactly what epiphany reveals. It reveals the power hungry who see others, even supposed allies, as disposable.
Today let us turn to God, asking for wisdom to save us from this madness. May we be led once again in this season of Epiphany by the light of that sacred star.
Let’s look into the corners where fear dwells, so that, recognizing the beloved of God in our neighbor we learn to appreciate the humanity of those who have been scapegoated and pushed to the margins. When promises are made, let us ask, “Is this promise genuine? Whom does it serve? Is it for the common good? Who benefits? Is it for me, my neighbor, all of us, or only a favored few?
Let us like the magi seek wisdom to recognize when people are unjustly blamed by those who seek only their personal success. Let us seek to build a better and beloved community. Let us be guided by our own Epiphany star. Amen.