- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 22, 2005

The following are excerpts from a sermon given recently by the Rev. Anne Troy at Bethesda Presbyterian Church.

How can we humans, in all our diversity, learn to live together fruitfully, productively and in peace in today’s complex and interconnected world, instead of in conflict that may erupt into a nuclear holocaust that will destroy us all?

These are questions that raise special issues for Christians because of the absolutistic and exclusive claims about divine revelation and ultimate truth that have often been regarded as central to our faith.

Among ordinary Christian believers as well as most theologians, it is usually taken for granted that the fundamental truths and values of the Christian tradition have been provided by divine revelation. To many Christians, however, this sort of practice, which has stood the churches in good stead for two millennia, seems more and more faulty and dangerous.

The great Mystery of God has been explored and religions arose as varying understandings of what human existence is all about and how it is to be lived. It is apparent that there are a number of other religious and secular communities and traditions — Buddhism, Judaism, certain forms of secular humanism — that have quite impressive resources for interpreting and orienting human existence.

It seems a narrow sort of self-impoverishment to refuse to learn from these differing ways of being human — however different or alien some of them may at first appear.

Secondly, and much more importantly, it has become obvious today that if we humans do not learn to appreciate each other in our all diversity, if we continue to willingly destroy those whom we regard as our enemies, we may succeed in bringing all human life to an end.

We cannot forget that we live in a single interconnected and interdependent world, whether we like it or not. We must learn to encounter others on equal terms, seeking to appreciate and understand both their insights into the human condition and other forms of belief and practice.

My fundamental premise is that it is a necessity today for religious and secular communities that differ and disagree to come to sufficient understanding and appreciation of each other to enable them to enter into positive dialogue and other interaction, instead of persisting in the sort of separation, distrust and even warfare that may destroy us all.

The story of the Magi and the star is familiar to many of us. When we look more closely, though, we find that this story is amazing. It turns all our expectations upside down. It calls us, like the Magi, to be explorers in faith. Not experts, but explorers.

Matthew’s Gospel is the only Gospel to tell the story of the Magi. Who were the Magi? Diviners from the East — astrologers. They are the heroes of the story. We have no indication that they were Jewish or became Jewish. They were pagans who were faithful to what they knew. What they knew was astrology, and their study of the stars led them to believe that a special king had been born. And they set out to find him.

The Magi could not find Jesus on their own. They needed information from the chief priests and scribes. They needed the promises of Scripture.

But when they got the information, what happened? The priests and scribes were experts in the Law of God. They knew the Scriptures backwards and forwards. They were the religious establishment. I’ll be happy to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they were devout people, who had probably prayed many times for the coming of God’s promised Messiah.

When these diviners from the East arrived on their doorstep, saying, “The Messiah has been born. Tell us where to find him,” who went to Bethlehem? The chief priests and scribes? No, the diviners from the East. The religious experts had been praying for the Messiah’s coming, but when his arrival was announced, they got scared.

For the Messiah actually to come would be, well, inconvenient. The experts stayed where they were. The explorers, the Magi, hit the road. Who was being more faithful?

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