A sermon on the Feast of the Presentation

 Malachi 3:1-4, Hebrews 2:14-18, Luke 2:22-40, Psalm 84

Focus: Life with God in the ordinary

 This morning is as new for me as it is for you. The feast of the Presentation is always February 2nd. The last time that was on a Sunday was … well I couldn’t find it; however, in a conversation Wednesday I was told the next time it occurs is 2025. That’s a long way of saying I’ve never preached this Gospel story before. We are all in for an adventure.

 I didn’t get six words into it before I was off into Bible dictionaries and Strong’s Concordance (which tells you what the Hebrew and Greek words are). I am aware of purification rituals, even that after childbirth women were ceremonially unclean, for thirty some odd days, and after that they underwent a purification ritual that allowed them to go fully back into society, allowed them to go in to the Temple. I was curious why it is ‘their’ purification, not ‘her’ purification.  It surprised me to learned the Greek participle αὐτός (autos) [i] is his, hers and theirs. In any case, Joseph and Mary follow the Law, as given by Moses and recorded in Leviticus; [ii] the gleaning is that they are righteous; they live in sound relationship with God.

 Their sacrifice of two pigeons caught my attention, and sure enough the prescribed sacrifice is a lamb and a dove; unless the couple cannot afford it then two pigeons are offered.  [iii] So we know that Jesus’ parents are of very modest means.

 We all know Jesus is the first born male. We might even connect that to that night in Egypt when all the first born males in the land die; except in houses with blood on the door post. As a reminder of their rescue, the Hebrews are required to dedicate every first born male to God; from cattle, flocks, herds to children. They can be redeemed for 5 shekels or about $15.23; [iv] however, there is no mention of Mary and Joseph redeeming Jesus. That may be because Luke didn’t know about it, his education is Greek, or it might remind us of Samuel whose parents, Hannah and Elkanah, in thanksgiving for having a son, dedicate their only son to God, and leave him with Eli at Shiloh, to serve God. As you know, Samuel grows to be a dynamic divine actor in Israel becoming a Kingdom, from nomadic people. Again this presents Mary and Joseph as being righteous, for by not redeeming Jesus for themselves means he is dedicated to God all his life, which is implicit in Gabriel’s telling Mary about Jesus barely a chapter, and maybe a year ago.

 Did you ever think so much could be woven into a single sentence? But it is all here: Mary’s and Joseph’s righteousness, revealed in the ritual of purification, their modest means, revealed in the sacrifice of pigeons,  and Jesus’ dedication to God, revealed in their not redeeming their first born son.

 Simeon and Anna are parallel characters. Both are very old, Simeon old enough to be near death, Anna is either 84, very old for the day, or has been a widow for 84 years, making her ancient even in this day and time. Both are righteous and devout, both spend all their time in the Temple, looking for praying for the consolation of Israel the redemption of Jerusalem. Both recognize Jesus as the long awaited Messiah. Simeon praises God, for he has seen salvation, the light for all people, the glory for Israel. Anna praises God, and starts telling everyone who is looking for the redeemer about Jesus.

Fred Craddock writes:

… both are miniatures of Israel … at [her] best: devout, obedient, constant in prayer, led by the Holy Spirit, at home in the temple, longing and hoping for the fulfillment of God’s promises.

They help us to recognize

that while God is doing a new thing, it really isn’t [new] … [because] hope is always joined to memory, and the new is God’s keeping an old promise. [v]

It is that new juxtaposed against the old, even the ancient, it’s Mary, Joseph and Jesus juxtaposed against the old Simeon and Anna, juxtaposed against the ancient Hannah, Elkanah and Samuel, juxtaposed against the more ancient deliverance in Egypt that reveals a trans-formative value of ritual observances, which are all but gone today. [vi] And just as purity rituals are not about minutia of action and words, but rather are demonstrative of a life given over to living all aspects life from relationship with God, and is inclusive of self, family, community, Gentile nations, flocks and herds, the environment, indeed all creation; ritual observances are all about grounding the new of our life in the beyond ancient hope of God’s redeeming promise. We will never know how Mary and Joseph’s righteous life affected Jesus. We do know, Jesus was himself righteous, and knowledgeable of life lived as a dedication to God.

When we limit God’s/Jesus’ presence to specific walls at specific times, everything else is diminished. The Psalmist sings:

How dear to me is your dwelling, O LORD of hosts!  
My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the LORD ….

But that dwelling place is not the Temple; the Temple did not even exist if David wrote this psalm. The courts of the Lord are, as our Lord’s Prayer teaches us, on earth. I don’t think the story of The Presentation teaches us much about Jesus. I think it shows us what comes of living life in sound relationship with God, of living a modest life, of dedicating what we hold most precious of our belongings of our family, to God’s service, maybe in a specified calling but mostly in the ordinary routine of day to day life.

I have challenged us to take on the specific tasks of
–         welcoming folks home,
–         inviting family, friends and strangers to Friday Families,
–         reviving our commitment to shut-ins, including regular visits with communion,
–         kick starting Brewing Faith, and
–         discerning a new vision that may be from these walls, and may be from elsewhere.

And while, at least for us, all of it is new stuff, it’s really old; really – really old, its life is revealed in keeping ancient ritual disciplines, of prayer, study and service, its hope is grounded in God’s keeping an old promise; which we know is breaking through for: with our own eyes we’ve seen … salvation; it’s in the open for everyone to see: a God-revealing light to those who don’t yet see, and glory for your righteous people. [vii] When our work is done, may those who walked amongst us continue to grow and become strong, be filled with wisdom; and may the favor of God be upon them and us.

 


[i] Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary.

[ii] Leviticus 12

[iii] Fred B. Craddock, Interpretation A BIBLE COMMENTARY FOR TEACHING AND PREACHING, James Luther Mays, Editor,  Patrick D. Miller, Jr., Old Testament Editor,  Paul J. Achtemeier, New Testament Editor,

[iv] The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, http://www.dollartimes.com/calculators/inflation.htm

[v] Craddock,

[vi] R. ALAN CULPEPPER New Interpreters’ Bible, THE GOSPEL OF LUKE INTRODUCTION, COMMENTARY, AND REFLECTIONS

[vii] modified from The Message, Luke 22:30

Change is coming

It is Advent; we are preparing the greatest change since creation, God becoming incarnate in humanity; we are preparing for the greatest change since Jesus’ ascension, Christ’s return. Change is coming. Isaiah prophesizes about change, John calls the people of Jerusalem and Judah to change, and Paul calls the Gentiles in Rome to change. I believe those who observe Advent, as best we can in a Christmas obsessed land, realize Advent is about change. However, I am concerned we’re focusing on the wrong sorts of change.

For those who are drawn to the feast of the incarnation, I suspect our efforts are to more or less be the misplaced Kings bearing gifts, and through some sort of gift giving, to family and friends, those in need in our community, or perhaps through a charity like Episcopal Relief and Development or Heifer Project, or one of the many good charitable organizations around the world.  For those draw to the return of Christ, it’s a bit more Lent like, and the focus is attaining a status of purity, of which similar generosity would be considered a sign. But it’s a phrase from Paul and a chance story that catches my attention.

Paul writes a prayerful petition to live in harmony with one another. [i] It is Paul’s belief God wants us, indeed empowers us to live in harmony with each other, and gives us the gifts to do so.

Thanksgiving is thought of as a family time; though some families do not gather because they are divided. There is a family that has been divided for some nine or ten years. Members have not even spoken to one another. Facebook cracked the shell of separation. But this thanksgiving, disparate family members, of differing faith traditions, took a common teaching of their faith, God wants to reconcile broken relationships, seriously, and their division was healed. Thanks be to God.

At the heart of the family’s healing is a change of behavior, on everyone’s part. That change is what repentance is all about. The healing such change brings about is what repentance is all about. Healing of broken human relationship is the greatest gift one can offer God. There can be no purity if there are any broken relationships.

 

[i] Romans 15:5

Relationship, Resurrection, Trust

A sermon for Proper 27

Haggai 1:15b-2:9, Psalm 145:1-5, 18- 21, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17,  Luke 20:27-38

Bradley’s summer job was in a casting mill. His shift ended at 10:00 pm, and when he got home, he was dirty, really dirty, greasy, sweaty, dusty dirty. It’s what happens when you pull fresh cast metal grates, from their molds. His family had a swimming pool and the back yard that was very private, so he got into the habit of coming home, stripping off his work clothes and swimming for a bit. When he had relaxed, he’d climb out of the pool, wrap a towel around himself, pick up his clothes, and go in the house, and head off the bed. It worked well, until his older brother was home did not know he was in the pool, and locked the back door as he came in the house after a night out with his friends. Knocking on his parents’ window at 11 at night dressed only in a towel, is a story the family loves to tell.

Bradley loves the story,  for the laughter, but also for an older memory. In quitter moments he will tell the story of being at his grandmother’s house. When it came time for lunch, no matter what he has been doing, running all over the huge back yard or sitting quietly in the den, she’d call him, and send him upstairs to take a bath and dress for lunch. He never argued, no one ever argued with grand-maw. But it took a long time for him to glean, this before lunch bath was not about hygiene, it was about cleanliness, about purity, about respect for the lunch table.

In time he saw the connection between this grand-mother’s insistence of a pre-lunch bath and his delight in his late night swims, aspects of both were about purity about respect, which is about relationship.

Relationship with God is at the heart of the Haggai’s prophetic work. We don’t know much about him, all there is, is 38 verses about is role in rebuilding the Temple. The verse that grabbed my attention was:

The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former,

A little vocabulary work reveals, that kābôd , translated ‘splendor’ also means honor. And when we realize the actual appearance of the rebuilt Temple is far less spectacular than the previous, in fact it is rather pathetic, [i] the notion of honor emerges. Moreover, the Temple never was about silver and gold splendor, the Temple, from its prior form as a tent, to the day, was always about being in the presence of God.

It’s important to know the Jews have returned from captivity in Babylon. They have rebuilt their homes. They have restored their fields to prosperity. But all is not well. Haggai knows their neglect of the Temple reflects their relationship with God and he knows it needs to change. [ii] In verse 14, which we did not read, Haggai speaks to the unclean hands of the people. [iii]  The implication is that rebuilding Temple is a process through which the people honor God, and is a purification ritual of sorts. As with all rituals, by itself, it is paltry; however, because of God’s presence, the ritual has the effect of cleaning the people, of rebuilding respect for God, of restoring the relationship between God and God’s people.

The tiff between the Jesus and the Sadducees is about the relationship between God and God’s people. Note, today’s reading is from the end of chapter 20, and there are only 4 chapters left. Tensions are high. So that Luke tells us the Sadducees do not believe in the resurrection, and then tells the story of their push it to the edge of logic question about resurrection lets us know, that they are not interested in Jesus’ answer, save that it gives them an excuse to act against him. Good plan, except that Jesus blithely side steps the trap, and shares a teaching about God’s relationship to God’s people.

To glean the fullness of the story, we should know the Sadducees see the world through the lens of God’s Covenant Promise. Following the tradition of the Pharisees Jesus extends the boundaries within which God works. Luke writing, which is not only after Jesus’ death and Resurrection, but also after the Romans crush a Jewish rebellion, and burn both Jerusalem and the Temple to the ground, holds out Jesus as proof that neither the Romans nor death will have the last word. [iv]  There will be life after the Romans, there is life after death.

Every week, as we recite the creed, we proclaim our belief in: the resurrection of the body. And we need to be careful that we do not make similar mistakes to the Sadducees, who presume life after the Resurrection will be a grander form of our current life. Nothing in the Old Testament says that. Nothing in the New Testament says that. [v] Scott Hoezee writes:

that the mysteries yet to be revealed remind us that precisely what our bodies and existences will be like in the life to come is  not clear.

The truth is the Sadducees are right. The Resurrection is hard to make sense of. We who build our lives around the hope of our heritage in Jesus’ resurrection, simply cannot explain it. David Loose notes:

The resurrection is not the same as immortality of the soul, scripture is clear we die, period.

Secondly, Jesus does not say we will not know our beloved ones, neither does he say what our relationship with them will be like.

And finally, scripture at best, vaguely describes resurrection life.  [vi]

The truth is scriptures calls us to depend on our relationship with God through Jesus, to respect the promises made enough to trust, without evidence, that God will do, what God has promised.

And it is that trust, that has the Thessalonians all stirred up. They are afraid they have, or are about to miss out on the apocalypse, the end of time, Jesus return! We really don’t think about it very often, when we do it tends to be brought up by a news story of a cultic group taking extreme actions, and more folks than not snicker. But the apocalypse is all the Thessalonians can think about.  [vii]Paul is telling them:

Clam down, don’t be fooled by any of these dooms day profiteers.
You, by Jesus, are, will be, clean in the presence of God, your divine relationship is strong;
you respect what God through Jesus is doing;
trust God!

We live right next to Missouri, the Show Me state. We live in a Show Me world, we are coached to seek empirical evidence before we make any decision, in short we are coached to Show Me. God does not work with in any boundaries, God is not bound to the limits of the Covenant, God chose to go beyond them to secure our salvation. If God chooses  to act beyond the promise of the Resurrection  to accomplish God’s purposes, God will.  What God  always does, is to keep God’s gracious promises. God promised to cleans away human sinfulness, done. God promised a path to life in the divine relationship for eternity, done, and in process. God doesn’t expect “Show Me” God expects respect, God expects trust.

The answer to that is your story in The Story, It is yours to share with all who seek God or a deeper knowledge of him.  [viii]


[i] Scott Hozee, Center for Excellence in Preaching, Next Sunday is November 10, 2013, Haggai 1:5b-2:9, http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php

[ii] Steed Davidson, Working Preacher, November 10, 2013 Haggai, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1844

[iii] New Interpreter’s Study Bible, Haggai, 2:10-19

[iv] Richard Swanson, Working Preacher, , November 10, 2013 Luke, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1844

[v] Scott Hoezee, Center for Excellence in Preaching, Next sunday is November 10, 2013, Luke, http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php

[vi] David Loose, Questions about the Resurrection, Working Preacher, November 10, 2013 Haggai, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1844

[vii] Stan Mast, Center for Excellence in Preaching, Next sunday is November 10, 2013, 2 Thessalonians, http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php

[viii] Book of Common Prayer, Prayers of the People II, 386