Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Sunday's Sermon



Scripture Lesson
Luke 2:22-40 

Blessed in the Temple

I’d like to share today’s scripture lesson:

22 And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

25 And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus,to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, 28 then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said,
29 “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace,
According to Your word;
30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation,
31 Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 
A Light of revelation to the Gentiles,
And the glory of Your people Israel.”

33 And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed— 35 and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

36 And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years and had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple, serving night and day with fasting and prayers. 38 At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

39 When they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city of Nazareth. 40 The Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.

According to our scripture, today’s text is set at the temple at Jerusalem. In our scripture, Joseph and Mary brought Jesus there to fulfill the requirements of Jewish law. The previous verse (Luke 2:21) refers to Jesus’ circumcision, the ritual required for all Jewish newborn males. But in the temple we read of presenting Jesus, as the firstborn male, to the service of God, a ritual also required by Jewish law. Included is the necessary sacrifice. Wealthier couples would have brought a lamb, but Jesus’ parents brought the also-acceptable sacrifice of “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons” (v. 24), perhaps showing the family’s low economic standing.

After these requirements were fulfilled, the text described the words and actions of two people who were on the scene at the time. Nine verses are devoted to Simeon, who, according to the text, was guided to the temple that day by the Spirit—an important motif for Luke. But Simeon was not just a casual observer. The Spirit had assured him that he would live to see the One who God sent for the world’s salvation. He recognized, by the Spirit’s power, the baby Jesus was this savior. Simeon blessed Jesus and his mother and father.

The other person to give attention to Jesus on that occasion was an aged widow, Anna. She had lived at the temple for some time, engaging constantly in fasting and prayer. Like Simeon, Anna recognized who Jesus was and the role of redemption he would play. The importance of these two elderly sages was in their recognition and prophetic declaration of whom Jesus was and that he had been sent for the world’s salvation. This confirmed what Mary had been told previously by the angel Gabriel and by her relative Elizabeth.

The last verse records the family’s return to their home in Nazareth, where Jesus “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him” (v. 40). This description of Jesus’ obedience and devotion is significant as we do not have other information about Jesus’ upbringing until his visit to Jerusalem at age 12.

Today’s text highlights fulfilling tradition and law, which was of major importance then. But in today’s world, in many places, conforming to rules is not stressed. Religious rituals have become less commonplace. People are less aware of mystery. We can learn important lessons from today’s text. Simeon and Anna were not authority figures. Like Joseph and Mary—and therefore Jesus—they were ordinary people. Yet God, through the Spirit, gave them insight, devotion, and faith to be instruments of blessing at this formative time in the life of Jesus and his parents.

This text invites us to find expressive rituals for celebrating the presence of God in the ordinary people and experiences of life. Some of those rituals may be the “sacrament of communion” that we will be observing next Sunday. Another may be the “laying on of hands” we sometimes practice for asking for healing from God’s spirit. 
Even the “blessing of babies” may be a way to invite God’s Spirit. 

In days long past, our congregation met on Wednesday evenings…sometimes at church and sometimes in the homes. We had a “theme” those evenings and one of us brought some thoughts relating to that theme. That helped us to focus. Sometimes we studied and prayed and created our own quiet time. Sometimes we actually felt God’s Spirit moving us to share something spiritual with one another.  People nowadays often say they are not “religious” but are “spiritual”. To have a “God experience” without the fellowship and community of an actual church group is hard. Most of us are not that disciplined. We seem to need one another for focus.  

We may not do this in the same ways as did our forebears. But it is just as important for our spiritual well-being and our journey as disciples of Jesus. We all need times of aloneness and meditation. Some of us read a daily meditation and have our private prayer. Some find themselves nearer to God as they admire and enjoy nature. If we open ourselves to allow ourselves to be guided by God’s Spirit, we will keep our lives focused on the message Jesus brought… the ability in our everyday lives to help redeem the peace we so badly need in today’s troubled world. We do that one person at a time…one organization at a time, one community at a time. 

I watched 60 Minutes last Sunday evening and one of the stories there was about Scotland….a small European country near Ireland. There is very little crime there. When asked “why” by the commentator, the person he was interviewing said it was because of the stigma attached to crime and the way it influenced entire families for generations to come in their particular culture.  

In today’s more-secular world, we are challenged to find expressive rituals that keep us connected to God. We need to always open ourselves to God’s Spirit’s guidance. So, what relevance can we see in fulfilling rituals and laws as described in this text? Or is there any? Let us ask ourselves if we have ever felt guided by God’s Spirit. And how…and when and why.  Perhaps if we were better connected as families, communities and nations, we could realize that kind of connection in today’s violent world. 

There are many distractions in today’s world. Between cell phones, TV and general noise…it is difficult for today’s people to even hear the voices of loved ones let alone the still small voice of God.  

So how do we contend with all of this? Perhaps we can construct our own “quiet time”.
Many years ago, when our family lived in Bartlesville, our pastor was Bob Scheeler. We were visiting one time about this very subject. He told me he got up at 5:00 every morning for time to study and pray and be alone to listen for that still small voice. I had three small children and a pretty hectic life and I found it difficult too. But I decided to get up at 5:00 each morning so I could have that same quiet time to meditate and read the scriptures and attempt to connect with God’s holy Spirit. That lasted for many years and seemed to help. In the interim I have drifted away from that practice.

In the past few years, our congregation has traveled as a group to Independence Missouri to visit our denomination’s Temple there. We are asked to quietly enter the sanctuary there on the Worshiper’s Path. There are worship arrangements there that help us to prepare ourselves to focus on God’s Spirit. Then one of our World Church's leadership brings an inspiring message. That always brings God’s Spirit closer to each of us. I look forward to that trip each year. 

But each of us has to search for our own way. In order to be sensitive to God’s still small voice, we need peace and quiet and a quiet time in this busy and noisy world of ours is hard to find. But it can be done if we are determined to create such a place and time.

3 comments:

Deb @ Frugal Little Bungalow said...

Margie over the last year or so I've been reading this, that and the other from Eastern teachers

The one thing that is central is meditation / contemplative prayer

Sister--Three said...

Pray
Praise
Practice

Margie's Musings said...

The quiet time seems to open us up to God's Spirit.