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Text: Matthew 2:1-12
Theme: What Star Are You Following?

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

When I was in basic training our company was split into teams of four and we were given a map, compass, pen and a piece of paper. We were told to make our ways to eight points marked on the map and write the word that we found there. Then, using the map and compass, we were to make our way back to our starting point. We formed up the teams and the team leader, chosen by the training personnel, had to go get our map and compass. Our team leader got the equipment and held on to it as we awaited our orders to get moving. The order was given, the team leader looked at the map, looked at the compass and said, "Let's go." And off we went.

Two hours later we were hopelessly lost. Unknown to the rest of us, this was the first time our team leader had ever picked up a compass and looked at a contour map. He didn't know what he was doing, wouldn't admit it, and we followed him. At the end of two hours of following him, as he followed the arrow on the compass, with the map still pointing straight up, not having found a single point on the map, and not seeing anybody else from our company, we asked him where we were. He finally admitted that he didn't know. All he was doing was following the arrow with the map straight up. Now, I'm no Boy Scout but I do know one thing, that's not how you use a map and a compass.

We go so lost that none of us knew where we were--it was our first time in that section of Fort Dix. We all looked at the map and tried to figure where we were. All we knew was that, according to our team leader, he followed the compass arrow, which always points north. As we looked at the map all of our marked locations were SOUTH of our starting point. We had actually walked off the map.

The one thing we did know was that we had crossed a road on our way to getting lost. We decided to turn around and walk back until we reached that road and then try to get a ride back to the company area. Our team leader didn't like that idea, and since he was in charge he ordered us to follow him and if we didn't then he would have us court martialed for disobeying a direct order. We told him a few choice things and the three of us took off--going back to the road because we didn't know what was in front of us. As we started back to the road our valiant team leader decided to join us--threatening us all the way.

After a long walk we made it to the road. We sat at the edge of the road and waited for some sort of ground transportation to come by. We were stuck in the boonies of Fort Dix and the cars and trucks and jeeps were not exactly plentiful on that road. After we waited for a while a deuce and a half came by and we flagged it down; the driver laughed at us and told us to get in back as he drove us back to the company area. Well, the company wasn't back yet. It turned out that they were still at the training area looking for us. When they did get back EVERYBODY screamed at us; the drill sergeants, the other trainees; they all wanted to know how we got lost and they didn't care that it was the team leader's fault. I learned a very important lesson that day. Know where you're going. And know who is leading you. In Epiphany language, I learned to know which star to follow.

As we study today's Gospel lesson we see the importance of knowing which star to follow because in this lesson we see three different sets of people following three different stars with three different outcomes.

The first group of people we see is the wise men and they were following Christ's star. They arrived in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, the seat of Herod the Great, and asked where was the newly born King of the Jews because they had seen his star in the east and were now there to worship him. But take a look at the lesson; the wise men's motives were pure; they had the best intentions in the world. But they had gotten lost. They went to Jerusalem instead of Bethlehem. Why? Because they took their eyes off of the star. They thought they knew where they were going; they were sure they knew where they were going. But they were 15 miles off course because they thought they knew what they were doing and they took their eyes off of God's guiding star.

And what happened when they found out where the Messiah was to be born? What happened when they got back on track and started for Bethlehem? Matthew, by inspiration of God the Holy Spirit, tells us that they once again saw that star and that star went before them, guiding them to the Christ Child, going before them until it came to a stop over the house where the Child was staying. But take a close look at the lesson; take a close look because Matthew tells us that they were OVERJOYED when they saw that star once again.

The second group of people we see in the gospel lesson is the religious leadership of Israel. They followed a star; they followed their own star; it's hard for me to put a name on that star. But you can see the implications of it anyway. The wise men appeared in Jerusalem asking for the newly born King of the Jews; Herod asked the religious leaders where the King was to be born. Look at the religious leaders' response. Without batting an eye they knew. They didn't even have to look it up. They knew; they knew where the Messiah was to be born. They knew the prophetic promise by heart. And now they hear the good news that he is indeed born. And what do they do?

Maybe they went back to their books to study more Messianic prophecies. I don't know what they DID do. I only know what they DIDN'T do. They DIDN'T join the wise men in their journey to Bethlehem to find the newly born King to worship and bow down before him. They FOLLOWED their own star; but their's was the star of indifference; their's was the star of apathy; their's was the star of unconcern. They said they looked forward to the coming of the Messiah; they said they EAGERLY awaited his coming. And when they heard the news of his arrival they acted as if they could care less; they didn't even make the 15 mile journey to Bethlehem to find out if what the wise men said was true.

And yet we have a third person in this lesson who followed his own star. That person is King Herod. And the star he followed was the star of political power and terror. Matthew tells us that when Herod heard the wise men's news he was greatly disturbed. He was greatly disturbed because of the type of man he was. Herod was vicious. He came to power in a blood bath. And he maintained power through the use of force and terror. If it helped him stay in power, Herod had no qualms of executing his wife, his sons, his nephews--all of which he did at one time or another. Herod had no reservations about using force and terror to maintain control. That is why he sent the wise men to Bethlehem with instructions to find the Child and report back to him because Herod was going to follow his star and put the Child to death.

Three groups of people all of whom followed their own stars with startling results. But the story doesn't end with the wise men and Herod and the religious leaders. The story comes to us. And, in this lesson Jesus asks us what star we follow. What star do we follow as his church?

And, after carefully and prayerfully thinking about this question, I don't think we've really been following any star lately. If we've followed a star, it's the star of complacency; it's the star of self-satisfaction. Things seem to be going alright; we can gather together on Sunday; we're not too bad off financially, there aren't any major crises in the church--and, for some people, that's just great. By following the star of complacency, by following the star of self-satisfaction, we can sit back and take it easy and not have to worry all that much. But that's not the star God wants us to follow.

God wants us to follow the star of mission; it's the star of outreach; it's the star of dissatisfaction. It's the star of dissatisfaction because people are dying and going to hell because they do not know Jesus as their God and Savior. It's the star of dissatisfaction because people are dying and going to hell and that breaks God's heart. It's the star of dissatisfaction because people are dying and going to hell and we're not really doing anything about it-AND WE SHOULD BE! For that is God's will for our church.

After much prayer I have a proposal to make. I propose that we, as Christ's church, follow a star. I propose that we follow a challenging star. My proposal, my star, is that this church make a commitment to work toward having 125 people in worship within the next five years.

Is that a star that God would have us follow? YES IT IS. Maybe the number is off a little but the goal, the purpose, the mission is definitely God's will. It is God's will because God himself tells us that he does not desire the death of a single person. But that it is his unalterable will that all people turn to him and be saved. Our Lord Jesus Christ tells us that it is his mission, his purpose, to come and to seek and to save the lost. His mission is our mission; his purpose is our purpose. Yes, it is God's will that we follow a mission star and seek the lost and bring them to their Savior's loving arms.

I have to admit that I had to examine my own motives for wanting to do this. What star was I really wanting to follow? Was it the star of pride? Or the star of power? Or the star of respectability? As I prayerfully considered this I knew that it was the star of mission because we must be about our Father's business of seeking and saving the lost. Following this star, this star of 125, is how we refocus our mission as Christ's Church; it is how we get back to the basics of seeking and saving the lost; it is how we make disciples by bringing people into a personal relationship with their God and Savior Jesus Christ.

Now I know that some of you are skeptical about this. When Alicja first heard me share this goal, this dream, in Bible class she laughed out loud and the other people in the class were just as skeptical but a little more polite. I can only tell you one thing: It is God's will that we follow that outreach star--there's no doubt about it. That's why he's given us his Great Commission; that's why he speaks so much of seeking and saving the lost. It is God's will that we follow an outreach star. My prayer is that you will make my star your star, make it OUR star--our mission--our purpose--to reach out and touch people's lives with the good news of God's love in Jesus Christ our Lord.

The star--you'll be seeing a lot of it in the years to come. It is a visible reminder to me of my mission. Hopefully and prayerfully, it is a reminder of OUR mission to reach out, to touch, to bring, to bring to Christ. Amen.

We arise and pray: God of love, it is your will that all people come to you and be saved; keep us steadfast in the true faith and use us to proclaim your love to all people--in this way let the people find salvation and then let them, lighted with Christ's light, glorify you; through Jesus our Savior, whom we are called to share. Amen.

And may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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