The Very Rev. Tom Callard – January 5, 2020
About fifteen years ago my white Honda Civic was stolen from the driveway of the rectory where I lived in Chelsea, Massachusetts. It was one day before my birthday, which is, by the way, coming up in a couple weeks. The family and I were going out to a friend’s house, and we went outside and there was no car. Not even the hint of a car.
So we called the police. And it turns out that the Honda Civic was the most stolen car of the year. We alerted the insurance company and did all the things you have to do. And we borrowed a car from a friend until we could get a new one. But I never gave up hope that I would find my Honda Civic because I knew that it was out there somewhere, and I would find it. I don’t know why, but I was sure I would find it. So from the moment it went missing, I began to search.
It turns out that not only was the Honda Civic the most stolen car, but it was also one of the most popular cars, especially in white, like mine, and I began to notice white Honda Civics all over the place. And for days and weeks after my car was stolen I looked at each one of them to see if that was my car. I looked at the dents, I looked at the interior. It became a game, and the kids got involved, and would say things like: Dad, there’s one, and I would quickly turn the car around and follow it until could determine that it was not mine.
This went on until one day I found what I was sure was my car, parked on the street in Salem, Massachusetts, of all places. Miles away from where the car was stolen. But we saw it parked there and it had the same dents and same basic feel of my car. A different license plate, of course, which I wrote down, as well as the exact location. And the next day I was going to call the police and tell them that I found my stolen car.
But they called me first. The next day they called and told me that they had found my actual car, in a lot not far from where we lived. It turns out that days before, the car had been towed to the lot and it came up being stolen. So we went to get it and it had been stolen by people who could not drive a stick shift, so they stole it and drove all the way in first gear up the street from where we lived, and they made a turn and ran into something like another car, and they just parked the car on the street and left it. And then after a month of being just around the corner from my house, where I never saw it, it was finally towed away. And when I got there, there was too much damage to the motor and to the front end that it could not be saved. So I had to say goodbye. But at least I knew where my car was.
And so I bring this up today because it is Epiphany Sunday. Today we are celebrating the Epiphany. And this experience of searching for my car years ago taught me a few things about doing a search, and searching is at the heart of what Epiphany is all about – the wise men searching for the messiah, the King of the Jews. Epiphany is about that sacred act of questing and looking and then finding. And I think whether it’s your car or your calling in life or your purpose, the answer to your dreams, or the Messiah himself, whatever you might be searching for, there are some basic truths to the search. And the first is that it should be fun.
At some point when my kids realized that I was really looking at every white Honda Civic as if were mine, we made it fun to drive around looking at cars. I wonder in your life if your search is a fun one? I wonder If your spiritual journey and your search for God and for peace and your own quest to find the Messiah, if these things are done with joy and play? Do you play with God?
For me there are few things worse than religion which is overly serious. Of course, our religion is at times solemn and certainly profound. But it should never be so serious that our religion is not also fun. I mean, look how we are dressed. When I get to wear the cope, which I did on Christmas Eve, that big heavy golden garment that hangs down stairs most of the year – we only take it out at Christmas and at Easter. And when I have it on, I think to myself, this is play. How great is this?
I think there is a big part of my sense of religion that comes from having been a little kid playing and laughing with my sister during long, boring Episcopal churches services when we were five or six. While my mom was trying to keep us quiet. That child is still within me. .
Is there within you a little kid who wants to play at church, who wants to play with God, but maybe you sense that the adults around you are telling you to grow up? Religion is not about being serious. It’s about life.
In one of his sermons, Brother Curtiss, who is one of the monks at the SSJE, writes of being with this man, who was a friend of his, while the man was dying in the hospital. And the man had a breathing tube in his throat, and he was unable to speak, so he would write things down on a piece of paper. And as Brother Curtis made his final visit to the man, they prayed together and cried.
And toward the end, the man in the hospital bed wrote, “Is it happening?” and Curtis asked him, “Is what happening?” And the man scribbled the word, “Dying?” And Curtis said, “Are you asking if you are dying right now? Is that your question?” And the man nodded. And Curtis responded, “I don’t know, I haven’t done this before.” And the man shrugged and he rolled his eyes. And after a pause Curtis said, “You don’t know either, do you? Is this your first time?” And they both laughed because they thought that was so funny. Because life is funny.
A prayer for you for 2020 is that your year is fun, that you play with this journey, and that you let that child within you play, too. Because God created us in God’s image and as little babies we are so amused by our fingers and our toes and the funny faces that people make. And as little kids we don’t know about seriousness until someone comes along and tells us in church– that’s not funny. Church is serious. God is serious business. But it’s not. Look at the way God plays with us all the time. So may your journey this year be playful.
The second thing my stolen car taught me about the search and the meaning of Epiphany is that you can’t have your mind made up if you’re really going out to search. I was so sure, my mind was made up that my car was going to be out there on the road and I would find it. I was so sure from the beginning that I probably drove by my actual car ten or fifteen times, as it was parked just around the corner from my house. But I never saw it because I was searching for something else.
The wise men in the Epiphany story had this powerful insight into where they were going, because they were following that star. And yet, as they got to Herod they had to consult, they had to stop and ask for directions, which we hate to do. They had to ask him: where is the child? Because they knew that they did not know.
This year as we begin 2020, do you know how little you know? How little we know about what’s going to happen this year: how the year will turn out, what will happen to us, to our life, our family and friends, to the world? We don’t really know where we’re going, we just pretend. We just hope. But back a year ago at the beginning of 2019 could you have predicted all that came to pass this last year?
Our journey in 2020 will be strengthened when we can admit that we don’t really know what we’re looking for, and we can’t really wee where we’re going, and so we just have to ask, throughout the course of the year, for help. Just like the wise men.
Faith requires asking for help. We can ask through prayer. We can ask by reading and listening to the Bible, by coming to church and listening to sermons, by being inspired by things, and by talking with our friends and those we know about the struggles we face.
A prayer for 2020 is that we just erase right now what we think we’re looking for, otherwise we might pass it by ten or fifteen times. We know we’re following a star, but we don’t know where it will lead. So let’s stop and ask along the way. My prayer is that we are bold to say help me.
And finally, I learned something very profound by the experience of having my car stolen, which is that the thing I was looking for was next to me all the time. I never had far to go to find that which was the object of my quest. Because it was literally a two minute drive or a five minute walk from my house.
What if the thing we are searching for, which we may think is so far off and impossible to attain, that we have set up our lives to find, what if that thing is right here already? What if it’s right here and has been here since the beginning. For, after all, isn’t God already here?
Part of what’s so powerful about the Epiphany story is the realization that the journey these wise men take is the journey we all take every day, to find the incarnate God right here, right here in the stable, or right here in the Host in the Eucharist, right here in our prayers and the hugs of our friends and those we know and in the sunset tonight, and in our chest, beating with life. It’s the journey to find God here, that is the journey of life. And this is what 2020 is all about.
You have to take that journey, because sometimes you’re not aware of God or knowing God or touching God right here. Much of the time we’re not. But at the end of the journey, it’s not going to take you years and you do not have to go by camel in the desert at night. You don’t have to drive out looking for your car. Your car is right there. And it has been. You just need to see and open your heart and know in your soul that the incarnate God is born, that Christ is within us and among us. So you can lay your treasures down.
My prayer for 2020 is that we can lay our treasures down already, here in our midst, and know that, in reality, the journey to God is over. For God has been born among us. And now begins the good part, for now begins our work trying to change the world.