1/6/2016 sermon, “Spiritual Sherpas”

Preacher: Jo J. Belser
Location: Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill, Alexandria, VA
Text:Matthew 2:1-12
Day: Feast of the Epiphany, RCL

“Spiritual Sherpas”


“Everest North Face toward Base Camp Tibet Luca Galuzzi 2006” by I, Luca Galuzzi. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Everest_North_Face_toward_Base_Camp_Tibet_Luca_Galuzzi_2006.jpg#/media/File:Everest_North_Face_toward_Base_Camp_Tibet_Luca_Galuzzi_2006.jpg

Who here has seen the IMAX movie Everest? I saw the original 1998 version, not the 2015 remake. The movie told the story of an earlier Mount Everest disaster and showed in panoramic beauty this Himalayan mountain and the dangers of the climb.

The climax of the movie was when the leader of an international climbing team crested the top of Everest, world’s tallest mountain. He was followed by the other climbers, all as the IMAX camera captured their moment of triumph.

Maybe you wondered—as did I—who was doing the filming? Any ideas?

I thought of Sherpas. A Sherpa is a native of the mountainous region of Nepal who lives high in the Himalayas. Sherpas are familiar with the mountains. They are climbers, some of them, and many others support the climbers in various ways. Sherpas know the path to success on the mountain. They can identify potential disasters as well as new opportunities (maybe such as learning how to operate an IMAX camera). In short, Sherpas are native guides.

I thought of Sherpas when I read our Epiphany gospel lesson for tonight. I thought that the wise men who set out from the East to honor a newborn a newborn King of the Jews would surely have been better off with a native guide. Our lesson says that these wise men understood the significance of the star—at least in part. They didn’t know that God had come to dwell with us. Surely someone who knew the God of Israel could have helped make their understanding complete?

Maybe not, and we do have to give the wise men a lot of credit. They set out—from afar—to see this new king for themselves. They didn’t say, “Ho hum, a new star, one that heralds the birth of a new King of the Jews,” then go about their everyday business. They set out to meet this King in person.

We hear nothing of the trip until these men arrive in Jerusalem. Surely this is where a King of the Jews would be born? The wise men’s questions in Jerusalem about this child scared King Herod mightily, “and all Jerusalem with him,” our lesson says. Not knowing the politics of the region, these men stirred up quite a ruckus. Surely a Sherpa, a native guide, could have steered these seekers directly to the Christ Child without alerting King Herod and the chief priests and scribes and dooming the young boy children to death? (Our lesson tonight doesn’t tell us about King Herod killing all the boys under the age of two, but if you read on in Matthew chapter two, that’s Herod’s response.)

I believe that a Sherpa, a native guide, could have even gotten the wise men to the Christ child much sooner than the trip apparently took. There have been all kinds of attempts to estimate how long the wise men’s trip would have taken. Most estimates are in in the one- to four-month range, depending on where the estimator reckons the men began their journey. Considering the age of the children that King Herod had killed, though, we get a hint that the journey took something approaching two years. They needed a guide!

Yes, a guide could not only have more fully taught these men who the child was who they were travelling to visit, a guide could have gotten them there more directly, more discretely, and much sooner.

Sure, the wise men got there on their own, and for that we remember them and understand that this child is for ALL the nations. We are especially pleased that these men, who undoubtedly worshiped other gods, paid the child proper homage by kneeling down before him. They probably thought of they were kneeling before an actual king. They also probably thought of their costly gifts as proper homage—these gifts that the Holy Family would need to escape King Herod’s fear that their uninformed inquiries had aroused. But the kneeling—THAT was righteous!

At the end of tonight’s gospel lesson we hear how these men—admittedly very wise—had managed all that they had accomplished despite not having a native guide. We hear that they were “warned in a dream,” so were able to leave for home safely. In other words, the Holy Spirit was giving them direct aid.

But you know this story of the wise men, I’m sure. Just like you probably know that a Sherpa wasn’t actually the one who filmed the movie Everest. But Sherpas DID aid the climbers throughout their quest of that mountain, and a very famous Sherpa climber was even part of the climbing team. This man’s own father had been one of the first people to successfully climb this mountain. Native guides!

I’m sure you even have deduced why I’ve been going on and on about Sherpas tonight, on this Feast of the Epiphany. The reason is because Randi Hicks Rowe, who will be ordained tonight, is a “spiritual Sherpa.”

For years Randi has been organizing support for those who are climbing the holy mountain of life in search of the Christ child. She is a native of the Christ-terrain, and knows these contours very well. She has taught many who don’t know much about the Christ they seek—or even that they are searching for this holy child. In fact, there are numerous “base camps” around our own and neighboring dioceses that Randi has helped do their function of equipping and supporting those on THEIR own life’s quest.

Tonight, as an experienced, tested, and trusted guide, the church is empowering Randi in this ministry in a new way. We are counting on you, Randi, to warn us of dangers and to be alert to new opportunities—especially to help all of the “spiritual Sherpas” that are our church to get out of their own base camps and guide the climbers of this life to Christ Jesus.

I know that Randi is up to the task. God has given her great gifts, especially the gifts of community-building, teaching, and communicating all that she’s learned about the Holy Quest, the holy mountain, and the Holy Child. Like the wise men of old, Randi is tonight kneeling before the Christ Child and offering these gifts back to the giver to use as Christ Jesus will, as God needs.

And what about you? And what about me? Aren’t we, each of us, wise men on a quest to find the Christ Child? Aren’t we all “spiritual Sherpas,” tasked with aiding others on THEIR holy quest? What gifts will we bring out of our comfortable homes in the East, out of our sheltered base camps along the way, and lay at Jesus’ feet? And who will we guide along the way?

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