Finding God in the Furnace of Doubt

descent_into_hell_by_dionisius_and_workshop_ferapontov_monastery

This was a sermon delivered on April 23rd at St. Andrew’s Church in Rome, GA.  The Scripture was Easter 2A from the Gospel of St. John. 

 

Dostoevsky once wrote, ‘It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt.

Our Gospel today tells the story of Thomas.  Poor, poor Thomas.  Doubting Thomas as we always have heard him.  Not Denying Peter or Power-Seeking Sons of Zebedee?  No, Thomas is forever known as the one with little faith, the one that just had to see.  And I think Thomas gets a bad rap. Thomas is really the patron saint of us all.  For doubt is not the opposite of faith, but the catalyst used to find Christ’s fiery love within the questioning.

I think it’s interesting that our lectionary places this story right after the glorious celebration of Easter.  I think we take for granted the pain and turmoil that the disciples were going through at this time.  They had just witnessed the death of the man they thought was going to free Palestine from the Roman occupation.  They thought he was going to restore the Jewish people as rightful rulers of their land and that the apostasy that had occurred in the Temple would be avenged. Jesus was just another failed revolutionary whose plot was foiled.

We enter the story on the Sunday evening, all the Disciples (well, except for one) were gathered in a house with the doors locked, for fear.  Fear of those who had crucified their leader.  Fear of death also.  He then showed him his hands & side and pronounced Peace to them.

So here they are, scared, frightened, no idea what to do, forgetting all that Jesus had taught them over the last 3 years, and the doors are locked.  They were huddled.  They didn’t want to risk anything.  Right before this in the day, Mary Magdalene had announced to them that Jesus was alive.  But it appears, even for them, that they couldn’t accept the word that was brought to them.  They, too, had to see to believe.  And so, out of nowhere it seems, Jesus appears in their midst, telling them, ‘Peace be with you.’  Peace, not worry, not fear, peace.  And then he does something amazing.  He breathes on them.

Why is this breathing important?  It’s both a sign that he was truly alive.  The dead don’t breathe. Ghosts or spirits don’t breathe.  He really is alive.  He really has something coming into his lungs.  And then he tells them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit (or in Hebrew, The Ruach Ha-Kodesh/ The breathe of God)…’

He is creating something new in this moment.  Remember what John calls Jesus in the first chapter– The Word (the Word that created the Universe, the creative Word of God) has become flesh and dwelled among us.  John, perhaps the most mystical of the Gospel writers, is showing us that Jesus was creating something new in this moment.  He was giving the disciples or apostles a new mission.  

In the ordination prayers for Priests in the Anglican Church, these sames words are given to each priest. Jesus was giving his mission, which is the putting together of the world back to rights or the Tikkun Olam (repair of the world), to the Disciples which is the stand-in for the Church.  Jesus was giving grace or power to the Disciples not to lord over others but to help in that repair or renewing.  No longer do you have to go to the Temple to be forgiven, take my forgiveness out of this central location and into the world.  God’s love and grace was being extended to the entire world.

Where was Thomas when Jesus first appeared? John doesn’t tell us. My own guess was that he was out and about getting on with his life. Why do I think that? Because Thomas was a realist. Let’s not forget: in chapter 11, it’s Thomas who recognizes that for Jesus to return to Judea is to face the threat of death, and it’s Thomas who urges the other disciples to go with Jesus. So while we don’t know where Thomas was when Jesus first appeared, we do know where he wasn’t — locked in the upper room for fear of the religious authorities.

The other disciples tell Thomas they have seen Jesus and what does he do?  Does the say, OK!  That’s cool!  No, Thomas, like many of us, says he needs physical proof– to actually touch the wounds of Jesus.  See, we give Thomas a bad rap here, but let’s not forget that the other disciples actually got to see Jesus.  Maybe our expectations of Thomas are expectations we put on ourselves– why can’t you just believe more?  Why do you need to see the wounds?  Or to quote Darth Vader, ‘Your lack of faith is disturbing.’

I grew up in a tradition where you didn’t doubt.  If you doubted, you didn’t have faith and that meant that you weren’t living right with God.  Thomas was used as a negative example.  Don’t be a Thomas.  Doubting Thomas was a curse, a way of saying that your faith was ‘not mature’ enough.  The problem for me, however, was that I couldn’t just take what was told me for face value.  I was, and still am, a questioner.  My kids are the same way, which is in and of itself, both endearing and, well, tiring.  But still, doubt & questioning is better than indifference, for at least in doubt, we are curious enough to try to find the answer.

Thomas wasn’t indifferent to if Jesus was risen or not.  He cared, he cared so much, he needed to touch the wounds, the places of pain within Christ, to know that He was who he said He was.  So a week later, again on a Sunday, Jesus appear among them again, and Thomas is with them this time around.  And what’s the first thing he does to Thomas?  Scold him for his lack of faith?  No, he offers his wounds to Thomas to touch.  That’s love.  

Love isn’t just a feeling, Love is an action.  Love is Christ letting Thomas touch his wounds, his scars, to feel what Love really feels like.  Thomas had probably spent that week before within a furnace of doubt and pain.  Why couldn’t he just believe?  Why couldn’t he make himself not feel the way he does?  And Jesus, letting that go, offers Himself to Thomas, offers his pain to Thomas.  And out of that moment, Thomas proclaims– MY LORD AND MY GOD!  Thomas’ confession of Christ’s divinity is found in touching the wounds and scars.

There is a story of St. Martin of Tours. The fourth-century monastic bishop received an apparition. It seemed as if Christ, arrayed in regal attire, was appearing to him. Martin heard, “Acknowledge, Martin, who it is that you behold. I am Christ; and being just about to descend to earth, I wished first to manifest myself to thee.” But Martin kept silence. Then he heard again, “Martin, why do you hesitate to believe, when you see? I am Christ.” Finally, Martin knew what was really happening, and he replied, “The Lord Jesus did not predict that he would come clothed in purple, and with a glittering crown upon his head. I will not believe that Christ has come, unless he appears with that appearance and form in which he suffered, and openly displaying the marks of his wounds upon the cross.” At that, the devil was exposed and vanished like smoke, leaving a terrible stench. As the more famous story earlier from his life reports, Martin, while still a catechumen, had clothed the naked Christ. Martin came to know Christ through a bodily way marked by humility. What we find in this lesser known later story is Martin’s firm conviction that Christ always has wounds. If he doesn’t, that’s not Christ. It’s the devil.

Now, if the cross of Christ has this effect upon his glorified body, what does this say about our humanity? Most certainly, we affirm that Christ’s humanity is our humanity. The reason for the Word to be made flesh, suffer, die, and rise was to have our humanity experience the transformation into the glory that he had with the Father before the world began. You could say that Christ’s glorious wounds are our wounds. He took our humanity to himself in the Incarnation. It is our humanity that suffered, died, rose, and ascended to the right hand of the Father. Christ’s humanity is completely ours.

For us today, what does that mean in our witness to the Gospel and to the world?  When we are baptized, we are placed into the body of Christ.  Through his incarnation, as St. Athanasius says, ‘God became man so that man might become god.’  This is a participation, not a change in nature, within God.  We are not destined to become ‘gods’ and rule our own planets, as some other religions state.  No, we are to find ourselves so filled with grace and mercy and love and holiness and peace that we are moving closer into the fullness of God and showing that to the world.  And when we identify with God, we are going to have wounds and scars also.  Jesus was ‘wounded for our transgressions…and by his wounds we are healed.’  Becoming like Jesus, participating with God, working towards sanctification, means that we are going to have scars to show to the world.  For we are the body of Christ, and like Christ showed Thomas, we have scars and wounds.

So we are to open our wounds to those around us, allowing them to probe them, in order to show them Jesus. And we, therefore, in meditating upon our own participation in the fullness of Christ’s paschal mystery, we can catch a glimpse at how our struggles in grace are not in vain. Our conformity to Christ’s cross now will allow us to share the victory of the risen Lord, marked forever by the scars of the redemption he won for us. By thinking this way, heaven becomes even more real for us who know, all too painfully, the reality of the battle we are fighting upon this earth.

As we are invited with the apostle, Thomas, to probe in faith Christ’s wounds, we can come to believe that the glorious wounds are not only Christ’s, but ours as well.  Let us not forget that in spite of his initial doubt, Thomas, by legend, went to India and preached the Gospel in the East.  He was martyred in 72 AD some 39 years after crucifixion and resurrection all for the cause and love of Christ.   And like Thomas, while our alleluia may come from the furnace of doubt, we can proclaim, ‘My lord and My God’ till our dying breath.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Striving in Christ

I delivered this sermon at Saint Andrew’s, Rome (GA) on Sunday, February 2/26/17 for  Transfiguration Sunday (Year A) according to the Anglican Church in North American Sunday Lectionary.

Text: Colossians 3:7-14; Matthew 17:1-13

I first learned about Lent when I was in high school from a Catholic friend of mine.  She told me about how she was going to give up chocolate and soda for several weeks until Easter.  I thought, that’s cool, but why?  She said so we can join with Christ in His suffering.  OK, so not having sweets or soda helps me become more like Jesus?  That seems easy enough, I’ll join you.  I lasted about 2 weeks before I had a soda and just threw it out at that point.  I had already screwed up and thus, I didn’t need to try any further. Once I failed, it was over.  I was tarnished, done for, stained, and un-clean.  And that was just over soda and sweets.

How many of us have been that way about other things in our life? We start a diet, then have a cheat moment, and then we just give up.  We have inappropriate relationships through high school and college and think now I’m worth nothing and already ‘ruined,’ so there is no more need to stop what I’m doing!  Well, I didn’t go to the gym today, so I might as well not go tomorrow.  I already lied about this one time, I’ll just keep it going now.

This all reminds me of a story that I read about an Orthodox Monk on Mt. Athos.  Mt Athos is a place in Greece that houses several monasteries and is considered very holy by Orthodox and Catholic believers:

Story of Elder Paisios and the Alcoholic Monk
Our lessons today tell two stories—one of Christ’s Glory and one of man’s resignation to the cross.  I think it’s so appropriate for us to have Transfiguration Sunday before the start of Lent.  What better way to start a time of fasting and penance than to have hope that in the end—God wins, death, sin, and the grave are defeated, Love conquers evil.

 

To understand where Paul is coming from in this passage from his letter to the Philippians, we need to understand what was happening just a few verses before this to set the stage.  Paul began chapter 3 speaking about missionaries who were coming around to the church in Phillipi trying to make the Gentile converts take on the Law fully and submit to circumcision.  Paul reacts negatively to these ‘dogs’ (Dogs was a Jewish term of contempt for Pagans) who were doing ‘nothing but harm’ to the Church.  It’s important to grasp that Paul was still a Jew living under the Jewish moral law.  Paul then makes his case that if we are going by pedigree or credentials, he can make the strongest case against any of these ‘missionaries.’

Paul is the uber-Jew.  He kept the Law to a ‘T.’ He can out Pharisee the Pharisees.  He is by the law, without fault.  Then there is the ‘but’

Paul starts our Epistle lesson this week out with a But.  I am the perfect Jew and kept the law BUT…

I have given all up for Christ.  I’ve ‘written them off’ as its translated in the New English Bible.  Paul is stating that all his law-keeping is for naught if only because Christ is the fulfillment of the Law in both spirit and letter. NT Wright often states that Jesus is the New Israel, the perfect Israel, who fulfilled the covenant to the smallest jot and tittle (which are the smallest marks in Hebrew), and has brought the vocation of Israel into his body, the Church.

Paul then goes on and calls all his earned righteousness literal feces for the sake of knowing Jesus.  Paul is saying all his effort and trying are counted as the lowest of the low for the sake of being put into Christ, of the saving knowledge of Jesus.

As we enter Lent, it’s going to be tempting to put what you are doing and your ‘fasting’ or ‘abstience’ on a pedestal within your own mind.  I’ve been there… “Look God at what I’m doing…”  However, Paul is telling us to count it as nothing, worthless, if we aren’t doing it in humility and in union with the Suffering Servant we see in Jesus.

Continuing in verse 8-9, Anything we do, any righteousness we have, our sanctification, is only accomplished as a gift from God that we accept and not other effort on our part.  God makes the first move for us.  We just have to accept and strive for the goal.

Now continuing on, what is the goal that Paul puts forth?

In verse 10 and 11, Paul writes: that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Paul is stating here—I am here to conform my life to Christ and Him Crucified, to take up my cross daily, not through my own effort but through a continual surrending to Him so that I can go to Heaven when I die, but so that I may attain the resurrection of the dead in the life of the world to come.

Paul is making an eschatological point here—what we do and our surrender now affects our final judgement, but not through our own effort alone, but through our surrendering to Christ daily.

Like V. 12 states, none of us have achieved this righteousness or perfection yet this side of the Parousia.

And then in v. 13, Paul calls us not to despair.

He is still running the race.  He is still battling.  He is still faced daily with choices on whether to be for or against Christ.  He is leaving his old man behind.  He is not dragging the past with him to be attacked with again.

In Lent, we will come face to face with our past in many ways.  To be honest, when you start to make changes in your life and turn yourself more fully over to Christ, the Evil One will try to take what Christ has already forgiven and throw it back in your face.

Paul says, leave it behind and keep straining, struggling forward towards our end goal—resurrection.

Yes, Lent is about dying.  It’s about joining Jesus in his humiliation on the journey to the cross.  But it’s also about hope.  Our hope lies within the resurrection.  And that’s the beauty of Transfiguration Sunday.  We are given a glimpse that within that suffering servant, within that man who is bleeding on the cross, who is mocked and humiliated, that it is God in flesh.  Glory resides even in the midst of suffering, sometimes you have to climb the mountain, or a hill with a cross, to catch a glimpse.

So as we enter Lent and enter our own journey to the cross, may we remember that God is there in the midst of it, shining brightly to the world, that what looks like defeat is really victory.

That transfiguration, and resurrection, will outshine and defeat death once and for all.

May God transform our hurt, pains, sorrows, and struggles into a shining beacon of His glory and His resurrection power.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

For the Life of the World | A sermon on John 6:35,41-51

IN a book called Babbette’s Feast, there is a story of two sisters, who lived in Norway, who were both very beautiful and very religious.  Their father had formed a small sect of piestic members who eschewed all pleasure in favor of the holy.  Any physical and anything real was seen as too worldly.  They even turned down love, one by a courageous general, and the other by a world famous opera singer.  Neither marries and they continue to lead this small sect after the death of their father.  One day a woman, wild eyed, lands on their porch. Her name is Babette and she a Catholic has escaped the political turmoil in France at this time.  They offer Babette to serve as their family cook, but make it clear, that they only want the blandest food– cold cod, stale bread, and water.  One day, Babette finds out she won the lottery in France.  She wants to repay the sisters and offers to cook them a French feast.  Over the course of several weeks, a plethora of foreign items begin to be shipped in from fresh duck to, God-forbid, wine.  The women, being who they were, went to the other members of the sect and told them that they needed to just act like they enjoyed the feast. However, what happens, is that through this feast they are given new eyes to view the world, a whole new palette is opened, and the air of piety leaves and is replaced by love.  These sisters then assume that Babette will now leave, for she has money, and can travel back.  However, Babette reveals to them they she spent all of her money on them, and for them– that she had given all she had to show love to these sisters.

Babette gave of her all for the life of these sisters, in today’s Gospel passage, Jesus will go beyond that and give to us a hope for the life of the world world.

HUNGER

We start our Gospel passage with Jesus telling the gathered crowd– “I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”  What we don’t read is this whole conversation is occurring after Jesus had fed the 5000, and then walked across the sea to escape the crowds that were wanting to make him King, and then they still tracked him down.  If you have ever seen the old Benny Hill show where he is being chased through one door and comes out another and so on and so on.  This is what is happening here.  Jesus fed them physically, because they were hungry, but what he tells them is that you are hungering for something that you don’t know.

Let’s go backwards a few hundred centuries to Moses, and the Children of Israel, after the exodus from Egypt (baptismal imagery), and they rebel, and they are wandering the desert.  They are hungry and they are doing what Children do when they are hungry:  they are complaining, they are whining.  As a father of four little ones, I know this sound.  I’m sure like I feel a lot of times, Moses was about to threaten to pull this caravan over.  So they are wandering for 40 years, and God says, even in the midst of your wandering I will provide.  And he sends down bread, and they say ‘Manna’ which means ‘What is it?.’  This bread only lasted for a day (except on the day before the Sabbath) when the manna was to be collected enough for both it and the Sabbath, so it was not everlasting bread, it was bread from heaven, but it nourished physically only.  There was still a hunger there, and Jesus is speaking to that hunger in this passage.

He goes on to tell the gathered crowd that he has come to do the will of the Father and to begin to promise eternal life.  In vs. 41 & 42, we pick it back up and see part of the gathered crowd saying, ‘Surely this is Jesus, Joseph’s son!  How can he say, “I have come down from heaven?”  They are essentially saying, ‘This is just ordinary Jesus.  Nothing special here.”  How often do we see something that is truly supernatural, truly out of the ordinary, and pass it by or blow it off because we believe it’s just something ordinary, something plain.  But Jesus is telling us something here, he is saying that hidden in what may look like ordinary things is something spectacular.

RECOGNITION

Jesus is asking them, and us, something here– do you recognize me?  In vs. 43-44, Jesus lays out that no man can come to the Father except by Him, and only those that are called or drawn towards Him.  The word “draws” in this passage translate in Greek to a force that is resistless or, at the least, successful.  It could be used for the stretching of a sail, the dragging of a net, or the drawing of a sword.  It is also used by writers like Plato to illustrate the internal drawing of desire towards pleasure.  So God is drawing, inviting, pulling us towards Himself in Jesus, and in Jesus we are given something, everlasting life & resurrection.

GIVING

So Jesus gives us something and we are to receive.  But how?  How do we receive this everlasting life?  How do we receive resurrection? In v. 45, we see that our experience or knowledge can lead us to Jesus. Jesus is telling us that to be ‘taught by God’ is a life-long process, not an instantaneous moment.  Jerome’s Vulgate translates it as ‘docibiles Dei’ or ‘School of God.’  Like many, I appreciate those wonderful, Come to Jesus moments, when I hear people tell of the work of God in their life.  Our stories, and especially our stories of God’s work in our lives, can take others on journeys to see that even in their lives, God is working.  However, what you don’t hear a lot, are the stories of the long journey– where God teaches us in the little things and through the mundane everyday– to follow him.  It goes back to the part of recognition– we can’t recognize the work of God in our lives if we are not willing to accept what that may mean for us.  Are we willing to listen to the Father and learn from him in our daily lives?  Are we willing to wait like Elijah for the ‘still small voice’ in the cave?

Jesus then goes on in v. 46, “I do not mean that anyone has seen the Father; he who has come from God has seen the Father, and he alone.”  Jesus, according to both St. Cyril and Erasmus, is distinguishing himself from Moses.  He had already done this in an earlier passage where he talked about how it was God that sent the manna, and not Moses.  Jesus is trying to show that he is more than just a prophet, but that he is what S. John wrote in the first chapter:  The Word Made Flesh.  Jesus is saying– I am the bread of life, I am the Word made Flesh, I am not just a prophet, I have seen the Father and beheld His face– and this is why– so that I can give you, the one whom the Father is calling, eternal life.  Jesus is giving Himself to us.
SATISFACTION

We receive the grace of God in a myriad of ways– from our baptism into Christ, to confirmation and receiving of the Holy Spirit, to prayers by friends, and the beautiful words of absolution to just name a few– and we take these in by faith.  God gives us grace through things called sacraments.  A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of a inward and spiritual grace.  Our Book of Common Prayer says there are two Gospel sacraments that Christ instituted– Holy Baptism and Holy Communion (which is also called the Eucharist).  The Church has traditionally said that there are more that can include confirmation, confession or reconciliation, unction or healing prayer, Holy Matrimony, and ordination.  Our Eastern brethren even go further and say while there are these sacraments, that there are many many more sacramentals which God uses to bring us to Him and to give us His Grace.  I tend to side with the East on this as I have seen many times God work in mysterious ways to bring people back to Him.

As Anglicans who hold to the teaching of the Patristic Church, we hold a certain view on what happens up here during communion.  We say that Jesus becomes really and truly present– that there is a “real presence” of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.  Also as good Anglicans, we make no definitive statement on how Christ is present in the Eucharist.  We leave it to mystery for mystery if removed, makes no faith. Charles Spurgeon once said, “Make inscrutable mysteries into footstools for faith to kneel upon.”  The Eucharist is a mystery and when in our liturgy the bread and wine become the Body and Blood is anyones guess.  And believe me, there have been a lot of guesses.  However, no matter when it may happen, we know it is true.  That’s where our faith comes in, that’s where God draws us, into truth and into life.

The Eucharist is given to us , according to the Catechism, for “the continued remembrance of the sacrifice of his atoning death, and to convey the benefits the faithful receive through that sacrifice.”  We receive grace, or a ‘strengthening or refreshing of our soul’  through our receiving of the Sacrament.  Christ meets us here, gives himself to us, to send us out.  We are fed and then sent.  That is key. In so many parts of Eucharistic theology, we focus on the ‘whens and hows’ and not the ‘whys.’

St. Ignatius of Antioch said, “I hunger for the bread of God, the flesh of Jesus Christ …; I long to drink of his blood, the gift of unending love.”  My first time stepping up to the altar at an Anglican Church was, looking back, a pivotal moment in my life.  As I stepped up to the priest, and he said the words to me, ‘The Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven,’ I remember tears welling up in my eyes.  Something had happened in those minutes from when he opened with ‘Blessed be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’ and when he placed the host in my hand.  As a new Anglican, I had no clue about eucharistic theology or what had happened or did not happen in that moment.  All I know, and all I still know, is that Jesus Christ had made Himself present to me in that moment, that he was truly the Lamb of God, and truly the Gift of God Himself, given to & for me, for my salvation.

And that’s what Jesus is telling us in the last part of our Gospel lesson– he is leading us to the point that He alone is our satisfaction.  That He alone is in the who can bring eternal life.  That He alone has seen the Father’s face.

You see, we believe one thing, that our church, our lives, our families, everything should be centered on the person of Jesus Christ.  If you have ever noticed when we say the Creed, that the majority of the time is spent on defining who Jesus is:

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,

the only Son of God,

eternally begotten of the Father,

God from God, Light from Light,

true God from true God,

begotten, not made,

of one Being with the Father;

through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven,

was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary,

and was made man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;

he suffered death and was buried.

On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures;

he ascended into heaven

and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

In our Jesus’ centeredness, we are sent out to live as Jesus with Jesus within us to the world.  You see, we are given Him to become Him to the world.  IN that becoming Him, we are invited to offer ourselves as a ‘holy and living sacrifice’ to the Lord.  We are invited to become the Eucharist, a thanks-offering (literally) to God who has given us himself through the Eucharist.

We are filled by the breaking and emptying of Jesus on the cross to become a people who are defined by that same cross, who are to be broken and emptied out for the life of the world.  Jesus gives himself, as you see in our last vs. ‘for the life of the world.’  That’s what this whole thing is about– it’s about Him, His Kingdom, and His love for the whole world.  John 3:16 says, ‘For God so loves the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.’  John knew what he was doing as he was writing this account of the life of Jesus.  John’s Gospel is very Eucharistic, even though it’s the only Gospel without a direct mention of the Last Supper.  John is showing us that Jesus’ whole life is being lived and he will die for the life of the world.

But how do we live this eucharistic life in the midst of a world that seems to even despise our love?

First, we remember.  Alexander Schmemann in his book ‘For the Life of the World,’ says that “Remembrance is an act of love.  God remembers us and His remembrance, His love is the foundation of the world.  In Christ, we remember.  We come again beings open to love, and we remember. The Church in its separation from ‘this world,’ on it journey to heaven, remembers the world, remembers all men, remembers the whole of creation, takes it in love to God.  The Eucharist is the sacrament of cosmic remembrance: it is indeed a restoration of love as the very life of the world.”

Our remembrance allows us to change our interactions with others in our daily lives.  Imagine how different our interactions with those around us would be if we just took a moment to remember that this person is remembered by God, and that in some way, we are to show them God’s love, to break ourselves open for them.  We also participate in the liturgy (or “work”) of the Church.  We receive and remember that Christ died for me, and Christ died for the world, and that because I love Jesus my life is given to His work and His Kingdom.

Secondly, we give.  We give of our time and talents as ‘thanks offerings’ to God.  I want to take a word to encourage two groups of people– teachers and artists.  Most of you, in this congregation, are one, or the other, or both.  You may not recognize it, but I look out and see bible study leaders, carpenters, landscapers, mothers, fathers– I see people who may think they are nothing or have nothing to give.  I want to stop you, and shake you, and tell you one thing– God made you for a purpose.  You have talent.  Give it to God.  He will do amazing things with it.  Create and create with an understanding that you are giving of yourself for the life of the world.

Finally,we pray.  Prayer may seem like the opposite of action, but let us look back on the life of Jesus.  If we see Jesus, if we look closely, we see a man who spent more time in prayer and contemplation than action.  However, when we think of the life of Jesus, we think of all that he did– his miracles, his sayings, his teachings.  Jesus life was a life that wholly connected to the Father through prayer and study.  Look at other great men in the Bible like Daniel and Elijah.  You see men whose lives were soaked in prayer.  As Anglicans, we are given an amazing gift– our Book of Common Prayer.  In this book, we are given an outline of prayer to bookend our days.  We also should take moments of silence and meditation to sit before God in stillness.  I’ve come to find in my own life that when I finally shut up, God has been patiently waiting to speak to me.

In the Eucharist, Jesus is giving Himself to us, in the bread and wine, to both join us together, but also send us out.

In Jesus, we are all made whole again.

In Jesus, our hunger was filled.

In Jesus, we are called to follow Him.

In Jesus, we are remembered.

And all of this, all this giving, and feeding, and remembering, and sending, is done for the life of the world for which God loves so much that he sent His son to be born of a woman, live a perfect life, die a gruesome death, descend to the bowels of Hell, resurrect on the 3rd day, ascend into heaven, and to return again to establish His Kingdom someday.

May we always remember and may we be filled with Jesus more and more.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

He Loves to Tell the Story | A Sermon on Ephesians 1:3-14

Sorry for the delay in posting my last sermon, but in the two weeks since that time, I have celebrated my 30th birthday and also we celebrated 10 years as a parish.


 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

(Ephesians 1:3-14 ESV)


 

How many of us love a good book?  or a movie?  Who doesn’t love the surprise of a plot twist or clenched teeth of a climax in a suspenseful movie?  Why do we love books and movies so much?  I think because it creates a different world.  That’s the reason I love authors like CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, and Harper Lee, they create worlds with their words that even though we have an idea of the ending still leave us surprised and excited about the end.

 

For many of us, we have forgotten that Scriptures are telling a story from the beginning to the end– they are telling a story of redemption, of sacrifice, and of a calling.  From the first chapter of Genesis, we see God calling man, man failing at that calling, and God reaching out again to call him again.  Over and over and over.  Scripture is the story of Israel, how she failed at her calling/vocation, she was made to face her actions, and then God’s love called out again.  The story of Jesus is the story of Israel being fulfilled perfectly.  NT Wright says:

He [Jesus] was, in himself, the “true Israel,” formed by scripture, bringing the Kingdom to birth. When he spoke of the scripture needing to be fulfilled he was not simply envisaging himself doing a few scattered and random acts which corresponded to various distant and detached prophetic sayings; he was thinking of the entire storyline at last coming to fruition, and of an entire world of hints and shadows now coming to plain statement and full light.

 

In today’s Epistle, S. Paul is writing to the church at Ephesus and placing the church (and us by extension and membership) into the story of Israel. This is a story that goes back farther than they could imagine, that goes back to Abraham and God talking in the desert.  You see this whole section of Scripture starting with v. 3 is a re-telling of the Exodus story– of God’s promised redemption and the calling of the redeemed people to fulfill His covenant.

 

One of my favorite memories is participating in my first passover seder dinner.  During the Seder, there are several moments when we talked about God redeeming US from Egypt, and saving US from the Egyptians, etc and etc.  This is something called Anamnesis– a recalling into the present of a past act.  What happens in the passover is that the act of God in saving his people in brought into the present.  This is the same thing that happens when we say the Eucharistic prayer.  We recall, or bring to the present, HIs death, resurrection, and ascension.  We participate, in a very real way, in that story.  That is what is happening here in Paul’s writing to the church in Ephesus.

 

Paul, in very beautiful language, is re-telling the Exodus story in light of Jesus, calling us to rejoice in God’s redemption of us.  We are called, or pre-destined, to join in God’s covenant people.  In the Old Testament, that covenant was signified by circumcision, by a physical act.  In the New Testament, we are elected into the covenant through the sacrament of baptism.  This baptism is connected in a whole myriad of ways to the Passover story.  In the Thanksgiving over the Water in our Baptismal liturgy, it even says:

We thank you, Almighty God, for the gift of water.  Over it the Holy Spirit moved in the beginning of creation.  Through it you led the children of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt into the land of promise. In it your Son Jesus received the baptism of John and was anointed by the Holy Spirit as the Messiah, the Christ, to lead us, through his death and resurrection, from the bondage of sin into everlasting life.

 

Our story is placed  into the story of Jesus, which is the fufillment of the story of Israel.  Paul is telling us, that all that God had called Israel to be, was and is continuing to be fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Our story is not just 2000 years old, but a continuation of the story of Israel that we read from Genesis 1 and on.  Paul then continues this imagery with the language of adoption.

 

Turn with me to Exodus 12 v. 43 – 13 v.2

 

We see God telling Moses that the firstborn sons would be consecrated to him, named as his.  Paul is then telling us in our lesson today that we are called sons, adopted, and viewed as Jesus, the firstborn son of God.  God no longer views us as foreigners in the land, but through his Son, as the true people of God.

 

Now, many people today, might have a problem with Paul’s language here using “son” for all people.  I’ve even seen this translated as children in some versions.  However, what he is saying here is very important.   Paul is writing from a traditional eastern culture.  Tim Keller tells a great story of a friend of his who grew up in a traditional Eastern household.  She was one of several daughters and there was just one son.  He goes onto to say:

it was understood in her culture that he would receive most of the family’s provisions and honor. In essence, they said, “He’s the son; you’re just a girl.” That’s just the way it was.

One day she was studying a passage on adoption in Paul’s writings. She suddenly realized that the apostle was making a revolutionary claim. Paul lived in a traditional culture just like she did. He was living in a place where daughters were second-class citizens. When Paul said—out of his own traditional culture—that we are all sons in Christ, he was saying that there are no second-class citizens in God’s family. When you give your life to Christ and become a Christian, you receive all the benefits a son enjoys in a traditional culture. As a white male, I’ve never been excluded like that. As a result, I didn’t see the sweetness of this welcome. I didn’t recognize all the beauty of God’s subversive and revolutionary promise that raises us to the highest honor by adopting us as his sons.

 

Our calling into Christ is an honor that is bestowed on us.  We are loved as Christ is loved.  We are honored like he is honored.  We have dignity.  Being adopted as sons means that we have rights to the inheritance that God has promised us through Jesus.  That’s why this language is important!  We, who are placed into Christ through baptism, are no longer counted as outside the household of God.  We are called, we are adopted, and we are given a responsibility.  Being called a son of God means that we represent His name.  Being called a son of God means that we are to represent his will to all people.  This is where the concept of the priesthood of all believers comes into play.  We are called to show God to the world, just like Israel was called to show God to the world.  You see, when God tells Israel– I will bless you to be a blessing– He is saying the EXACT SAME thing to us.  We are adopted and we are called for a mission and purpose.  This isn’t about a ‘Fire Insurance policy’ or a ‘Get Out of Hell free card,’ it’s about allowing the life of Jesus to live through us on a daily basis.

 

But finally, we come to the end of the verses– starting in v. 10 and one of my favorite Greek words–

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

There is one word I want to concentrate on here in this section:  anakephalaioó (an-ak-ef-al-ah’-ee-om-ahee)

 

That’s a fun word to say!

 

This word that Paul uses and is translted in our Scripture as “to unite all things.”  This word is only used twice in the NT.  Paul uses the word here at the *almost* end of the this run-on sentence of a hymn to bring us to the mystery of what God is doing–

 

You can almost hear the reader who is reading Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus losing breath at this moment, he or she stops, and then this word comes out and there. are. gasps.

 

Paul is saying that all that was happening before– the calling of Abraham, the calling of Israel, the passover, the falls and the rises of the Kingdoms– they are all being summed up, recapitulated, re-worked in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

 

In Jesus, ALL THINGS are being summed up into Christ.  All things are finding their meaning.  All things.

All things.

 

What that means is that the good and bad find their meaning in Jesus.  And if you watch the news, you know that our world seems to have a whole lot more bad than good.

 

All those things, even the things that make no sense to us, are being summed up in Jesus, and being re-told through Him.

 

I love stories.  I love to hear people tell funny, hilarious, and life-giving stories.  Think of the best story of a trip that you’ve had.  When you tell it, do you focus on what went right or what went wrong?  The most mundane details become a huge part of the story because we all are expecting that belly laugh of an ending.  A lot of times, our stories are filled with tragic events and circumstances that can leave your heartbreaking.  I have a few of those in my history and I am sure you do also.  They may not end in a funny laugh, but something is learned and the story gives something to the listener.

 

That’s what Paul is writing to the church at Ephesus here– God is telling us, that through Jesus, our story is being re-told as sons of God, is being re-told as the Faithful Israel.  Dignity of that sonship is being restored. And all those rough and dirty places and parts of our lives are not being forgetten, but are being re-worked, re-written, and re-told in the light of the conclusion.  According to Paul, God is retelling…everything. Its disunited, fractured, broken, parts are laying scattered all over the place, and it brings God pleasure to bring it all back together in unity. In Christ.

 

Your broken heart?All things.

Poverty?All things.

Abuse?All things.

Racism?All things.

Fractured relationships?All things.

All things.

According to Paul, this is what brings God pleasure.

This is what God is up to in the world.

This is what God is now doing.

And not only is God doing this for us at this time, we see a promise that God is going to restore all things in heaven and earth under Christ.  That’s the Kingdom.  That’s what we pray every day in the Lord’s prayer:  On earth as it is in heaven.

 

And Paul is telling us that all this brings God…what…disgust?  contempt?  NO!  Pleasure!

God is joyful to enact this act of redemption for HIS people.  This recapitulation, this re-telling, this reconciliation of all things brings God joy and pleasure!

 

How amazing is that! How joyful we should be!

 

So as we go out this week, may we remember that we are called, not to be safe and secure in our church buildings and bible study groups, no, we are called to be a blessing, to live into the covenant promises that God has placed us into with his baptism.

 

May we remember that we are called sons of God, with all the dignity that comes with that, and that as members of the body of Christ that we are grafted into him.

 

May we rest also in the promise that God is re-telling our story, that even the places we want to forget, that God remembers and in that remembering, his mercy and justice will be shown to be stronger than the pain.

 

Finally, may we remember that as called and adopted sons of the Most High God, our story is written with the conclusion in mind, that in the summing up of all things, that we will be found in Christ and God’s love will truly win.

 

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

For the Life of the World (a sermon on Matthew 5:43-48)

 

I had the privilege to lead Morning Prayer, deliver the homily, and give the pre-consecrated Sacrament to the people of St. Andrew’s, Rome, whose rector is Fr. Austin Goggans, this past Sunday, July 5th.  He had given me the Propers for Independence Day, so I had the privilege of speaking about Jesus’ call to love our enemies.  This is the written manuscript of my sermon (some parts were changed while I was up there)


 

The Gospel lesson for today is Matthew 5:43-48

All you need is love, or so many say, including the Beatles.  In the most recent days, we have seen thousands of hashtags with the phrase ‘love wins’ on them.  And I agree, but with a caveat, in that the love that Jesus talks about in our Gospel lesson today is different from the love that culture speaks of (most of the time).

For us, our natural love is Eros– it’s based on reciprocity and attractiveness.  It’s the love that cries out, “I want no other” when you lay eyes on your wife or husband.    Eros is where we get the word erotic– this is a romantic love.  As soon as one falls in love, one feels a strong desire to shower the beloved one with every conceivable gift. It can be a flower. It can be a beautiful object. It can be anything that truly benefits the beloved. Love is inventive and is constantly concerned about the good of the beloved. Italian expresses this strikingly: Ti voglio bene. (I wish you well). Dietrich von Hildebrand called this intentio benevolentiae (the desire for the good of the other). Not only does the lover harbor this wish, but he also wants to be the giver himself, “I wish you every possible good thing and moreover, I want that these should be given through me.”  There is nothing wrong with Eros.  Eros is the reason most of us are here (wink).  But Jesus is telling us to move beyond Eros.

The word Jesus uses for love in this passage in the Greek is Agape.  Agape is a love that doesn’t flow naturally from us.  We can have Eros for our Beloved, we can have Phileo for our friends, Storge for our family, but Agape, that is something that is truly a gift from God we can choose to use.  Agape love is hard love.  Agape love is love that occurs when we allow God to work His Love through us.

So you are to agape your Enemies– but how, well the whole previous chapter in 5 tells us–  carry their pack two miles instead of one, turn the other cheek, etc, etc.  The love of enemies which Jesus demands is the attitude of the children of the new people of God to whom the future belongs.  According to Kittel, “They should show love without expecting it to be returned, lend where here is little hope of repayment, give without reserve or limit.  They should do good to those who hate them, giving blessing for cursing and praying for their persecutors.

Let’s set this straight– this is not Jesus calling for some utopian existence here on Earth that essentially sounds like John Lennon’s song “Imagine.”  We are guaranteed that even those we love will persecute, but Jesus says– do it anyway.  When we love our enemies and bless those who persecute us, we do it for the life of the world, we do it to save their own souls.  Loving our enemies makes them a human to love and not just a cause to fight.  And isn’t that why the church exists.  Fr. Lee Nelson posted this the other day:

The Church which exists for its own sake, consumed with its own business, concerned only for her own members, is a church which has fallen short of her vocation. She is a body which gets sick because as opposed to giving life, she sucks the life out of you. The Church, as Archbishop William Temple said, “is the only society on earth which exists for nonmembers.” We exist so that our communities may flourish, so that our neighbor can get a leg up, and have opportunities previously unavailable to them. We exist to give freedom to the debtor, truth to the one who walks in error, life to the one who walks in death. Our most sacred offering, what happens on the altar this [morning], yes we receive great grace from the Eucharist, but it is given for the “life of the world.”

Folks, as Christians, we have been looking at this all wrong.  We have been told by the prevailing culture that we are in a culture war.  We have fought and lost because we have lost our main calling– to love God and to love our neighbors, even the one who plays loud music, and has a barking dog, and has a party every weekend.  Even that neighbor.  And what we are doing is not fighting them for ‘God and country’ but planting seeds of goodness, charity, and hope in a culture that has either lost those completely or changed the definition.  Through the Church, Jesus is planting seeds in this garden, which is our culture.  Makato Fujimura states in his book Culture Care:

We want to change the metaphor of culture from a territory that is to be fought over to a garden that is to be nurtured. . . May our work be seeds into the soil of culture. Better yet, may these conversations strengthen our hands to cultivate that soil, so that the good seed can take root deeply and flourish. May our cultural garden, our cultural orchard, become a place of shelter for many creatures, including our own grandchildren.”

This is not us winning our salvation, or defining our lives by works-righteousness, no, this is participating in the life of God for the life of the world.  This is allowing God’s mission to work through us.  By his act of forgiveness on the cross, God through Jesus has instituted for humanity a new order which removes and supersedes the old world rank.  This new order, on which Jesus, who is the true and perfect Israel, is King, has gathered those not just in one nation-state, but all people who confess he is Lord and is baptized into Him.

Loving our enemies, as Jesus states in the Gospel, is a distinguishing mark of who we are as Christians.  If we don’t do that, then we are no better than the tax collectors or the heathens.  A distinguishing characteristic of those changed by the Gospel and put into Christ should be our ability to love without the other person reciprocating.  A couple of years ago there was a huge controversy about Chik-fil-a and their stance on same-sex marriage.  Dan Cathy’s refusal to support gay marriage was broadcast nationwide. As expected, many of us retreated to our pre-existing trenches. We declared whether or not we’d ever eat a Chick-fil-A sandwich again. We stood by the restaurant in appreciation or boycotted it in disgust. We did what we are too good at: opposing our enemies.

While we were busy fighting, Cathy slipped unnoticed into potentially hostile territory—but not for a counter-attack. Campus Pride director, gay activist, and openly gay man Shane Windmeyer, “came out” as Cathy’s friend describing how Cathy had reached out to hear more about LGBT concerns regarding his company.

In the midst of this unprecedented dialogue, Windmeyer writes, “Dan expressed a sincere interest in my life, wanting to get to know me on a personal level. He wanted to know about where I grew up, my faith, my family, even my husband, Tommy. In return, I learned about his wife and kids and gained an appreciation for his devout belief in Jesus Christ and his commitment to being ‘a follower of Christ’ more than a ‘Christian.’ Dan expressed regret and genuine sadness when he heard of people being treated unkindly in the name of Chick-fil-A, but he offered no apologies for his genuine beliefs about marriage.”

Loving our enemies is learning to truly care for them, for who they are, even in the midst of disagreement over things like what they stand for and, in a lot of times, what they do.  Jesus finally says,  “Be perfect even as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Now, perfect taken out of context here could mean sinless or without error.  It does not mean that here. The Revised English Bible says, “There must be no limit to your goodness, as your heavenly Father’s goodness knows no bound.”  Let us be perfect in love, always striving to let Christ’s likeness shine through our lives to those around us, so that they may see good works and praise our father in heaven.

Christ’s call to love our enemies and bless those who persecute us extends to all people.  This extends from ISIS to the activist to the KKK to the Black Panther to the teenage neighbor to the elderly couple.  May we continue to plant seeds of goodness through our love in the ground of this culture.  May we stand for the truth, but continue to love those who persecute us.  May we put no conditions on our love so that those around us may meet the unconditional love of Christ.  As St. Francis said, “We are called to heal wounds, to unite which has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way.”  That my friends is love.   It’s more than acceptance, and more than tolerance, it’s a seeing beyond the rhetoric to realize that we are all broken, wounded, and lost and are desperately in need of what Christ offers through His Church:  wholeness and healing.

So we end with a practical reason to love you enemies you make a friend out of that whole experience.  You may make a convert.  Or it may all blow up in your face.  But the one thing you will be doing is being faithful to Jesus and you will be doing it all for the life of the world.

Fighting Dragons in a Christ-Haunted World

Celebrating at the altar

This past Sunday, I had the great pleasure of joining Father Bill Humble, FSAC at Holy Trinity, Flowering Branch for a couple firsts in their parish and another first for me:

1.) First time using the Anglican Missal (and the 1928 Prayer Book)

2.) First solemn High Mass with Fr. Bill as Celebrant, Ethan Cross as Sub-Deacon, and myself as Deacon.

and finally, my first:  my first homily outside of my home parish.

I’ve embedded it below and would love to hear your thoughts.

 

//www.spreaker.com/embed/player/standard?episode_id=5685034&autoplay=false

Cultivating the Eyes of Simeon

Gospel Passage: LUKE 2:22-40

1st Sunday of Christmas (12/28/2014) at Resurrection Anglican Church, Woodstock, GA 30188

This last Advent has been truly a season of ‘waiting and anticipation’ as we awaited the arrival of our newest child, Norah-Jane Brigid Marie.  Most of our children have been born around 38-39 weeks, and NJ decided to wait until almost 42 weeks to greet us with her arrival.  That almost month in between 38 and 42 was gut-wrenching.  Fr Gene even said he felt like I entered Lent a little early during that time.  Katie and I literally tried every thing in the book to naturally induce labour— and nothing seemed to work.  I was at my wit’s end and was beginning to think that labour would never happen.  But Katie knew that something was just not right.  So we found out the baby’s position was just a little off, made some changes, visited the chiropractor, had some adjustments, and at her appointed time, when the conditions were right for her but not within our time frame, she graced us with her presence.  Our long-awaited child arrived, in a tiny, red head package.  And what an highly anticipated, yet completely unexpected package, she was and is.

Today’s Gospel reading goes along those same lines.  We join the Holy Family as they are entering the temple for the Virgin Mary’s purification offering that occurred  40 days after the birth.  This mention in the Gospel shows that Christ didn’t come as one against the Law, but was under the law, as our passage in Galatians stated today: But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,  to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

A little history of the purification: according to the Mosaic law a mother who had given birth to a man-child was considered unclean for seven days; moreover she was to remain three and thirty days “in the blood of her purification”…When the time (forty or eighty days) was over the mother was to “bring to the temple a lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or turtle dove for sin“; if she was not able to offer a lamb, she was to take two turtledoves or two pigeons; the priest prayed for her and so she was cleansed. (Leviticus 12:2-8)

Back to our text, we see the Holy Family entering the temple with their offering of “two turtledoves or two pigeons” or the sacrifice required for those who were poor, and are greeted by a man named Simeon.   From the Gospel, we see that Simeon was a righteous and devout man, and was looking for the Messiah like a a good devout Jew in 1st Century 2nd Temple Judaism. For Simeon, the consolation of Israel was a corporate event that encompassed all of Israel, not an individual salvation for him or for others.

John Piper puts it this way:

The consolation Jesus brings in fulfillment of Simeon’s hopes is the application of God’s tenderness to a war-weary people. It is the application of God’s pardon for a sin-sick and guilty people. When Jesus was born, the voice of God became flesh and dwelt among us. And what the voice said was, “Console, console my people.”

As the family enters the Temple, and Simeon spots them, he sees what he has been waiting for his entire life, what Scripture says was promised to him by the Holy Spirit:  the Messiah.


What amazes me in this text is that Jesus first revealing as the Messiah, the Long Awaited One, was not made to the rich or powerful, but to the old, poor, and weary.  Jesus was revealed to shepherds and old prophets, not to the Emperor or the Chief Priest.  This infant was already being the revolutionary, already reconstituting Israel around Himself, with a group of rag-tag followers.

So Simeon begins to sing a song, a prophetic song:

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,

according to your word;

for my eyes have seen your salvation

that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,

a light for revelation to the Gentiles,

and for glory to your people Israel.”

When Simeon saw Jesus and Mary, he pronounced a king among the peasants, a Messiah from the poor.  Simeon finds what he has hoped for– it wasn’t on his schedule and it wasn’t what he expected. 

Simeon makes an odd request in that song, at least, for us to be considering just a few days removed from Christmas Day and in the midst of this joyful season– “Lord now let your servant depart in peace.”  Simeon is asking permission to die.  For those of us in the Western world, we distance ourselves from death as much as possible.  Some of us, we know, have lost a loved one in the past year and that makes this Christmas especially difficult. And most of us are reminded of those we have loved and lost by a stanza from a hymn, a favorite ornament on the tree, or some fleeting but vivid memory of Christmas past. Well, Simeon is no different. He’s an old man, and has been around the block more than a few times, and so we can imagine that he has tasted love and loss, joy and despair, hope and fear, just like you and me. And so he sings of death simply because he can’t help it; because he, like us, lives with it everyday. 

So I was mistaken earlier — Simeon does not ask for death; rather, he accepts it courageously and confidently in the light of God’s promised salvation. And he does so, again, only upon seeing and holding God’s promise in his hands, only after touching and feeling the promise of life which God granted to him through Christ… and which God grants also to us.

He then goes on and announces what wasn’t expected– this servant would suffer.  He wasn’t going to be greeted in the streets by the thousands as the Messiah, but was “appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed.”  Simeon here is announcing the Suffering Servant prophesied in Isaiah centuries before this moment.

And then comes Anna, another prophetess and servant in the temple, who acknowledges what Simeon is saying and begins to announce it herself.  I’ve pondered why Luke neglects to record what Anna says, but from all that we can tell, it was a praise over the coming of the Messiah.  Anna’s praise, along with Simeon’s song, continues the spontaneous prayer and praise that has accompanied Jesus from Zachariah to Elizabeth to Mary herself.

Here we see the vocation of Jesus being fore-tolled and practiced even as an infant– this is God’s peace entering the world and already shaking things up.  This is Immanuel — God with us– being announced and taking center stage.  This is the Paschal Lamb entering the temple to be consecrated to God.  This is the Messiah, who fulfills the law to the nth degree, being put under the law.  Simeon sees this in our Gospel passage, Simeon & Anna sense this through the power of the Holy Spirit.

But this Messiah isn’t just for Israel, but for all people including Gentiles.  This is a Messiah who isn’t coming as a military general or kingly ruler, but is a suffering servant found in this little child who is bringing together a new Israel around himself which is now the Church. This is the announcement of God’s rule to the world in the body of a small poor infant child.   If Simeon hadn’t the eyes to look in unlikely places for God, then he wouldn’t have seen what he was promised.  Simeon had to be open to his expectations to being shattered for God to reveal Himself to him.

I want to bring up another Feast that is happening today– the Feast of the Holy Innocents.  You see, if we go back to what is happening in the world around Jesus, we see him proclaimed as the Messiah in the Temple and that meant he was ‘the King of the Jews.’  Herod, the ruler of land at that time as an emissary of Ceasar, was not happy to be challenged. So he ordered all infant boys, two years or younger, in Bethlehem to be slaughtered.  They are commonly referred  to as the ‘holy innocents’ and the first Martyrs for Christ.  You may ask, how does that go with our Gospel lesson today?  We have been talking about unexpected surprises and having eyes to see Jesus.  For many of us, we are saddened by the loss of life caused by war, genocide, and abortion.  Many of us have felt the loss of young lives in our lives or had loved ones taken in what seemed like too soon.  There are women in our congregation and in our community who have lost children to miscarriage.  For them, we can only sit, weep, and then pray that God reveals He is there, in the midst of that suffering.  God is there, in an unexpected way, for you.  May we pray for all the holy innocents, the victims & the loved, as we await the coming of Christ to make all things right.

In our modern lives, it’s so easy to be distracted by our phones, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.  We are all connected with information, yet we are not really connected anymore.  We retreat to our computers, or our gated communities, or our political allegiances, or our country clubs, and I wonder, are we missing finding Jesus, are we missing finding God’s peace? 

Perhaps we are distracting ourselves so much that we are not seeing Jesus in our neighbor. 

Perhaps we are on our phones too much that we don’t see Jesus in our family.

Perhaps we are distracted just enough that we are failing to recognize Jesus in the Eucharist.

Perhaps we are so consumed with our daily lives that we aren’t looking for Jesus when we need him the most.

The song of Simeon is a both/ and.  It’s about finding our salvation in the most unexpected places and about sitting in the shadow of death singing songs of joy and gladness.  It’s about accepting our present reality in hope of the ‘consolation’ that is promised by God.   It’s about looking for Jesus.

Jesus is presenting himself to us today not just in this building but out in the streets and parks, workplaces and homes.  Jesus is arriving, in his own time, to us and presenting himself to us in packages that are long awaited, but not what we expect, unless we open our eyes to see. 

One of my favorite Anglican bishops, Frank Weston, put it this way back in 1923 in the closing address to the Anglo-Catholic Congress:

You have begun with the Christ of Bethlehem, you have gone on to know something of the Christ of Calvary—but the Christ of the Sacrament, not yet. Oh brethren! if only you listen to-night your movement is going to sweep England. If you listen. I am not talking economics, I do not understand them. I am not talking politics, I do not understand them. I am talking the Gospel, and I say to you this: If you are Christians then your Jesus is one and the same: Jesus on the Throne of his glory, Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus received into your hearts in Communion, Jesus with you mystically as you pray, and Jesus enthroned in the hearts and bodies of his brothers and sisters up and down this country. And it is folly—it is madness—to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacraments and Jesus on the Throne of glory, when you are sweating him in the souls and bodies of his children. It cannot be done.

There then, as I conceive it, is your present duty; and I beg you, brethren, as you love the Lord Jesus, consider that it is at least possible that this is the new light that the Congress was to bring to us. You have got your Mass, you have got your Altar, you have begun to get your Tabernacle. Now go out into the highways and hedges where not even the Bishops will try to hinder you. Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus. And when you see him, gird yourselves with his towel and try to wash their feet.

Will we allow Jesus into our hopes and dreams in the midst of all the unfulfilled promises?  Are we looking for Jesus amongst the glitter and glam of modern life or should we be looking for him in the dirty, grimy, and unsafe places?  Do we have the eyes and faith that Simeon had, the eyes and faith to recognize God’s redemption in unlikely bodies?  Are we willing to open our hearts to God’s Peace found in Jesus even if it means it’s not how we expect?

God’s Peace arrived in an odd package so many years ago– a small child, born to a Virgin, in a small city, in a small country.  That my friends is incarnation– God with us, God for us, God one of us.  God’s arrival is unexpected, long awaited, but always on time. 

May he grant us patience as we await His arrival in our lives and may we have eyes that see where He is already active in our lives.  Jesus is here for you.  May you open your eyes to see Him.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  AMEN.