Sermon: Epiphany 4 RCL C – “Magic”

The podcast is available here.

Thibodeaux and Boudreaux entered a chocolate store. As they were looking at the candy, Thibodeaux stole three chocolate bars. When they left the store Thibodeaux said to Boudreaux, “I’m the best thief, I stole three chocolate bars and no one saw me put them in my pocket. You can’t beat that.”

Boudreaux replied: “You want to see something better? Let’s go back to the shop and I’ll show you real stealing. I’ll steal while the shopkeeper is watching me and he won’t even know.”
So they went to the counter and Boudreaux said to the shopkeeper: “Do you want to see a great magic trick?” The shopkeeper replied: “Yes” Boudreaux said: “Give me three chocolate bars.” The shopkeeper gave him three chocolate bars and Boudreaux ate all three. The shopkeeper asked: “But where’s the magic in that?”

Boudreaux replied: “Look in Thibodeaux’s pocket.”

My twelve-year-old mind still loves magic. I like to pull up the Youtube videos and watch the street magicians and see the reactions of those watching. Even those funny videos with folks hiding behind a blanket with their pets watching, then ducking out of site when the blanket is dropped. The cats could care less, but the dogs… priceless.

David Blaine, one of those Harry Houdini amazing magicians who started out as a street magician says, “Magic is not about having a puzzle to solve. It’s about creating a moment of awe and astonishment. And that can be a beautiful thing.” I like that, because it says that we don’t have to know how to pull a rabbit out of a hat in order to create magic, we simply need to participate in or be witnesses to “a moment of awe and astonishment.” Therefore, watching two people fall in love is not magic, but it is magical… just ask them. The birth of a child is the same, and even our gathering here today is magical, in that we come together with all our many histories, hopes, dreams, troubles, etc., but in spite of all these differences, we come together as a family in worship of the One True God. That is not magic, but it is truly magical in the picture that it creates… especially if we photoshop a few of you out!

Leading up to Jesus’ public ministry, which we are reading about now in our Gospel these past few Sundays, Jesus was preparing. He didn’t just walk on the scene and miraculously know all the Hebrew Scriptures. He had to study. And one of the greatest evidences of this study came at his temptation in the desert. Three times the devil came to him.

“If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”

The devil showed him all the peoples and kingdoms of this world and said, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please.  If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”

“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here,” from the pinnacle of the Temple.

In response to temptation one, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8:3. Temptation number two is put down with Deuteronomy 6:13 and number three receives Deuteronomy 6:16.

In the temptation in the desert, the devil came to Jesus and said, “Hey, Jesus, give us a magic trick.” In response, Jesus said, “Hey, stupid, if God wants magic tricks, he’ll read Harry Potter.”

Jesus did not come to perform magic tricks, God had something completely different in mind, and it would create “awe and astonishment,” but it was not magic.

Today, in our Gospel reading, Jesus is in his hometown, Nazareth. He has gone into the Temple and read from the Scroll of Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” Then he says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” The people are amazed, because they know him as Joe’s boy, but something in the way they are responding allows Jesus to discern their true motives, so he says to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” Put another way, Jesus said to them, “Doubtless you will ask me to turn stones into bread, to perform acts of God like in the days of Moses, or to show some other sign of power… of magic.” Jesus discerned that the people would ask of him, would tempt him in the same manner as the devil did in the desert, but just like with the devil, Jesus tells them that God has something entirely different in mind, and he does so by reminding them of two events in their history.

The first story comes from the First Book of Kings and the next is from the Second Book of Kings. In the first Jesus reminds the people that during a great famine, of all the people God could choose to miraculously feed, he did not choose a Jewish person, he chose a Gentile, the “widow at Zarephath in Sidon.” In the second incident, Jesus reminds them of all the lepers God could have chosen to heal, again he did not choose a Jew, he chose “Naaman the Syrian.” Not only was Naaman a Gentile, but a Syrian, a true enemy of Israel. That would be like someone from the Las Angeles Rams intentionally scoring points for the New England Patriots. And just like the Rams fans would want to tear apart that player, the people wanted to tear apart Jesus for reminding them and insulting them in such a way, but what it came down to was that Jesus was saying to them, “This isn’t about magic tricks and it is not about only you the Jews, this is about everyone, and I, when I am lifted up, will draw all people to myself.”

When they thought Jesus would perform a few magic tricks for them, they were more than pleased with him, but they did not want to hear about this new thing that God was doing and they certainly did not want to be reminded of their past failures, so instead of humbly receiving Jesus’ rebuke, they tried to throw him off a cliff.

My twelve-year-old mind still loves magic and everyday I am guilty of asking Jesus to perform some magic for me and when he tells me no, and that instead he wants me to cast aside my earthly desires in exchange for his holiness… well, to be honest, my twelve-year-old mind sometimes pitches a tantrum. I want the rabbit. Jesus wants my life. Not so that he can mark one more point up for the team or rule over me with an iron fist, but so that he can transform me into his likeness: holy and eternal.

My friend Thomas à Kempis writes, “The world, which promises small and passing things, is served with great eagerness: I – Jesus – promise great and eternal things and the hearts of men grow dull… for a small gain they travel far; for eternal life many will scarcely lift a foot from the ground. They seek a petty reward, and sometimes fight shamefully in law courts for a single piece of money. They are not afraid to work day and night for a trifle or an empty promise. But, for an unchanging good, for a reward beyond estimate, for the greatest honor and for glory everlasting, it must be said to their shame that men begrudge even the least fatigue.”

Put another way, we love the magic tricks whether they come from the world or the Lord and we will go to great lengths to receive our share of all the rabbits pulled from the hat, but what the Lord is offering is quite different. What the Lord offers does not vanish in a puff of smoke. It is eternal, but often times requires us to set aside our pride and recognize that his ways are not our ways and that in order to follow him, we are the ones that must change.

When you truly listen to Jesus with your heart, he will quite often tell you things that you don’t want to hear. Listen to him anyways and heed his words, remembering the words of the Psalmist: “Happy are those whom you discipline, O Lord, and whom you teach out of your law.” Listen to him and heed his words, and in “a moment of awe and astonishment,” if you allow it, the Lord will transform you. And that can be a beautiful thing.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, we offer you our thoughts: to be fixed on you; our words: to have you for their theme; our actions: to reflect our love for you; our sufferings: to be endured for your greater glory. We want to do what you ask of us: In the way you ask, for as long as you ask, because you ask it. Lord, enlighten our understanding, strengthen our will, purify our hearts, and make us holy. Help us to repent of our past sins and to resist temptation in the future. Help us to rise above our human weaknesses and to grow stronger as your sons and daughters. Amen.

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