The Fourth King

The first thing you have to do when you are writing a sermon is figure out a theme. What am I going to be preaching on this week? Thursday morning I decided that my theme would be that there were four kings not three. Right when I landed on that, Phyllis Sneed sent me an email saying, see you Sunday and don’t forget there were four kings not three. What? I thought that’s crazy. How did she know what I was thinking? The next line said the fourth one had fruitcake and Mary and Joseph sent him away.

That’s not my theme, not exactly anyways. In my reading this week, one of the author’s pointed out that in our story the fourth king was Herod. Herod wanted to share a wildly different gift with Jesus. The other three had gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, gifts fitting to come from a king and gifts fit for a new king. Herod’s gift for baby Jesus was just as unwelcome as fruit cake, but even more deadly.

The four kings expected different things from God and sought a different sort of relationship with God. The three kings of legend were watching the skies and anxious to hear from God. King Herod was uninterested in what God was saying through signs and wonders. He hadn’t noticed any bright star in the sky. The three kings were seemingly new to the God of Israel, but enthusiastic in their conversion. The fourth king had been around the God of Israel all his life and that familiarity seems to have bred contempt. The three kings were willing to go where the star, God led them. They gladly bent a knee in the muck and manure of a stable in all their royal garb. The fourth king couldn’t be bothered to leave home to travel to Bethlehem with the other three. It was a backwater place and Herod wouldn’t have been surprised that welcoming the Messiah there would involve farm animals and shepherds. All four kings believed Jesus was a savior sent by God. Only three of the kings were willing to sacrifice, worship and serve that savior.

There were four kings in our story, which one are we? Are we anxious to hear from God, scanning the skies like the three kings? I love God spotters, people who in the middle of the day can hear or see God at work and point it out for others. I fear I am like Herod, not even paying attention to what God could be doing or recognizing the child of God in the muck and manure that might surround them.

There were four kings in our story, which one are we? I long to keep alive the enthusiasm of the three kings that comes with new converts. Worship for me is one way that I exercise that enthusiasm, what about you? While my familiarity with God has not bred contempt like in Herod, it can at times breed indifference.

There were four kings in our story, which one are we? Will we leave our beautiful church following where ever the star will lead us? A woman told me flat out that she was willing to give money but she didn’t like to go to “those sorts of places” to serve. Will we kneel when Jesus is not who we expected? A Reynoldsburg resident was alarmed by the way their Bhutanese neighbor kept their house. What are they doing I asked? They have turned their entire backyard into a garden. They have three families living in that single family house. They are constantly outside, too, which…and her voice trailed off. The end of the sentence was which makes our neighborhood look bad. It didn’t have to be said. I got it.

I desire to be the sort of king for Jesus that bears gifts day in and day out worthy of a king like Jesus. I want to be a king like Mrs. S, a librarian in Dubuque, Iowa I heard about on the radio this week. Lydia, a 26 year old woman told her experience of Mrs. S. when she was six years old. For six months, every morning her mom would bring her seven children to the library when the doors opened. They would spend the entire day at the library. The seven of them would be waiting for the doors to unlock, then rush in and head for the large circular desk of the children’s librarian, Mrs. S. Every day. First thing.

She would would greet them warmly, find books for them to read for the day walking through them the stacks individually, asking them questions. She would search them out later in the day for the activities she was leading that would interest them. She would help them find quiet places to nap in the afternoon. Lydia loved Mrs. S. She remembers her as always smiling, always warm, always glad to see them. She had a very special memory of Mrs. S sharing a book with her about twelve princesses and telling her that the little princess telling the story, the strong character who did the right thing, reminded her of Lydia. Lydia read the book over and over again.

As you might have guessed, Lydia and her family were homeless for those six months. They were new to Dubuque. Their father moved the family there for a better job. They couldn’t afford to rent yet, so they were staying at some distant relatives and casual friends homes, sleeping on floors in basements or all piled into one guest room. The mom not wanting to burden her host, would take them to the library to get them out of their hair…and into the hair of Mrs. S.  The thing was Lydia’s fond memory of Mrs. S. never included a sense that she was unwelcome or a burden to her. It wasn’t until she became a children’s librarian herself that she realized the great gift, the sacrifice, the strength of love in Mrs. S.

I want to be a king bearing gifts fitting to come from a king and fit for a king, not offering a pound of fruitcake that no one wants. I want to be a king like Mrs. S. and see Jesus in the Lydias of our world, precious gems concealed by the brokenness of our world. I want to bear the burden of love with a smile and good cheer, not with resignation and indignation. I want to not only do the right thing but do the right thing the right way. I want to kneel down in whatever muck and mud is a part of people’s lives, delighted just to be invited into those lives. I want to share the love of God I have received as generously as the love of God has been shared with me.

I want to be a king like Mrs. S. What about you? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have someone delight in our gifts and not look wearily at the pound of fruit cake we are holding out to them. Lydia became a librarian. I wonder how many people would embrace Jesus if they encountered a king. People are not just longing for Jesus, they are longing for a few good kings to show them the way. Amen  

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