The Magi, Resolutions, and Journeys

Gospel Lesson: Matthew 2:-12

Resolutions.

I don’t like them…. and not for the reason you think.

I think its great to strive for something and to have a system of gracious accountability.

What I don’t have a whole lot of time for is guilt.

It seems that the whole system of setting new years resolutions is wrapped up in two phenomena:

that we missed the mark in the year prior. We messed up. Slip down that slope too far and you run into “I’m a horrible person”

But that’s not all. I think that resolutions set us up for failure. Unrealistically high goals, usually going from point zero to accomplishment in 1 day. That’s inhuman. No one can do that, especially not alone.

Phil Schroeder, Director of Congregational Development for the N. Georgia Conference shared an article from Entrepreneur Magazine. In this article, the author shared a similar viewpoint to what I have been sharing. He goes to the extreme of never setting new years resolutions. Forget even setting goals.

Instead, he suggests committing to a system.

I quote from the article:

  • If you’re a coach, your goal is to win a championship. Your system is what your team does at practice each day.

  • If you’re a writer, your goal is to write a book. Your system is the writing schedule that you follow each week.

  • If you’re a runner, your goal is to run a marathon. Your system is your training schedule for the month.

  • If you’re an entrepreneur, your goal is to build a million dollar business. Your system is your sales and marketing process.

Commit to the system and then regularly check in to see if the system is getting you towards your goal.

All of this sounds rather simple, right? But its a seismic shift.

Many of you know I like Alabama football. Their coach is known for talking about “the process”  and how if players commit to the process–which means doing the off-season conditioning, knowing the play book, going to class, respect yourself and the University, and play each play to the best of your ability–then the championships will talk care of themselves.

When players commit to that mindset, things happen. When they buy into hype about being the best team, thinking they need to focus on championships instead of making plays, they lose.

Churches are no different. If we as a community of faith say, “we want 100 more people in worship” or we say “we want $30,000 in giving annually”, more times than not, generosity and gracious hospitality does not happen.

But when we say we want to be a community where people experience God’s radical love in a way that changes people’s lives, then who knows what can happen. Then congregations can start planning for how people respond to God’s love.

The Magi are an example of this. As I alluded to on the church’s facebook page, I don’t think the Magi woke up one morning in their homes and decided that they would give rich gifts to a homeless family staying in a barn in an outskirt of Jerusalem.

Their years of training led them to understand that the star in the sky pointed to a new king being born. They used that training to set a course westward. They continually checked their course. Its fairly safe to assume they asked people if they had heard of a new King being born. Did they read the signs right?

Ultimately, they found themselves kneeling to the the Holy Family and worshipping the Christ Child. It wasn’t in the place they expected. I assume their worship wasn’t directed towards the people they assumed they’d be reverencing. But they got to where they needed to be.

It isn’t really that different with our personal lives.

  • “I want to be skinner”
  • “I want to be a better Christian”
  • “I want give up (fill in favorite vice)”

These are herculean tasks. But maybe if we commit to a system for our lives, those huge goals and resolutions can be attained. After all, this is one of the gifts of Methodism to the world, right?: a plain system of accountability that comprised of spiritual formation and holy living.

Much like the “10,000 steps a day” model of getting healthier, what if we said,

  • “I’m going to worship more frequently, expecting to meet Christ somewhere that day. “
  • “I’m going to commit to some type of learning opportunity, even if it means giving up something I currently enjoy.”
  • “I’m going to find 1 place to regularly serve my neighbor.”

Pick one, pick two, pick all three. They are all things that can lead to committing to a process of living a deeper, more faithful life. And not only pick one of these but assist our faith community in providing this structure for each other.

But why do this? Is it just for self-edification?

No!

Barbara Brown Taylor reminds us in Daily Feast: Meditation on from Feasting on the Word, Year A that the Isaiah text we read today references this:

that for the prophet Isaiah, God’s glory is completed in the glorification of God’s people. Their radiance is essential to any bright future of God’s own imagining. If they hope to sit on the sidelines while someone else shines instead of them, then they have missed their central role in God’s vision. They are not God, but God’s presence will be seen over them. They are not kings. But kings shall walk by their shining radiance.

On this cold, cold day when we could all use a little light, a little warmth, let us let our light shine not “in 2014” but each day, a new commitment. You never know who you are going to influence, who’s path you are going to illuminate, or who’s epiphany you are going to announce.

Amen.

Image by Prio