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Get. There are things to do.

Epiphany 5 - February 7, 2021
Isaiah 40:21-31
Psalm 147:1-11, 20c
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Mark 1:29-39
Get.  There are things to do.

What Can Jesus Really Do?

Epiphany 4 - January 31, 2021
Deuteronomy 18:15-20 
Psalm 11
1 Corinthians 8:1-13 Year B
Mark 1:21-28

What Can Jesus Really Do?

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

To understand Mark’s gospel, one must first understand Mark’s way of thinking.  Mark likes to write in circles.  He says something and then proves how that something is true.  In this particular instance, Mark lays out Jesus’s mission statement: “‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’” 

First stop on this circular way of thinking is Jesus finding some “employees” who are willing to commit themselves to preaching the Tim is fulfilled, the kingdom of God has near, repentance and believe in the good news.  So, he calls Peter, Andrew, James and John to follow him.  Jesus has the start of his organization of evangelizers.  

But now that he has his mission and some people who are willing to commit to this mission, what is he going to do in order to fulfill that mission?  This first public act by Jesus in Mark’s gospel is significant and noteworthy.  In John’s gospel, his first public act is the Wedding at Cana and turning the water into wine.  In Matthew’s Gospel, his first public act is the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount.   In Luke, Jesus’ first act is reading from the Isaiah scroll in his hometown and where he gives the shortest sermon of his life, “today, this prophecy has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Mark fist public, missional act, is the healing of the demonic. 

Think about the implications this has on Mark’s view of Jesus. Jesus is willing to take this message into the depths of hell and look evil square in the eye.  An innocent man has had his body taken over by a demon.  The man needs help and Jesus helps him by telling the demon to get lost.  How far is God willing to go and save a life of a human being?  The answer: to the depths of hell itself. 

I want you to put yourself into this scene with Jesus.  Imagine someone coming up to you and acting like they are possessed by a demon.  We probably write them off as crazy.  We would push them out of the way.  When they would ask, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” Our response would probably involve us saying, “Not talking to you, crazy person.” Imagine how many people wrote this man off?  Imagine how much of this man’s life was destroyed because this demon decided to take over this innocent man’s body.  Jesus could have ignored the demon.  He could have pushed him away.  But the great savior of the world, the holy-word-incarnate, the one who was and who is to come does not walk away.  He says, “‘Be silent, and come out of him!’”

In this very simple act of exocerism, Mark proclaims God’s kingdom is pushing out the kingdom currently occupying the same place.  And in God’s kingdom, there is no room for demons that take over innocent beings.  In many ways, Jesus is also possessed but he is possessed by a different spirit; the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit has a different view of life.  The Holy Spirit sees the value of life.  The Holy Spirit views every life as a precious gift from God and that each life is worth saving.  This means Jesus will have to enter a very unclean and terrifying, demon-possessed world.  Today is just the start.

The time has been fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near.  In order for this to fully happen, Satan’s free reign of the world has to be put to a stop.  Evil knows this fact.  The demon even says that:  “Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” Jesus is not afraid to put evil into its rightful place.  This is not the last exorcism that Jesus will do in this gospel. And certainly, evil has not been rid from our world.  Demons still try to force their way into innocent people, but we have the good news our on side.  The kingdom of God is near and that means, with each passing day, God’s kingdom become more known in our world and the world of the demons is pushed more and more away.  Jesus has already revealed that there is no place for demons and evil in God’s kingdom.  Evil will not win.  The innocent will be set free and Satan will be powerless to stop it.  

Yet, it is hard to acknowledge that evil is not winning today.  Especially when you look at the latest covid numbers, politics, racism, church attendance and participation.  It certainly feels like Jesus is losing some ground, right?  As I sat down to do the parochial report for St. John’s, I realized that this is the first time in nearly 5 years that we have seen a decrease in our membership due to so many deaths in 2020.  And on the question of worship attendance, how does one even figure that one out this year?  Looking at the trend, worship attendance has been slowly going down for the last 8 years.  On paper, it certainly feels like evil is winning.  It certainly feels like God’s kingdom is drifting farther and farther away from us.  It certainly feels like we are all alone with a demon trapped inside of us, wreaking havoc on all facets of our life; those things we hold most dear.  

Yet, what does our gospel say?  “Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’”  Do you believe that to be true?  Take a moment right now and think about that statement.  Do you believe what Mark wrote here to be true?  Do you believe that Jesus proclaimed the good news?  If we say that this is true, that this message is really good news, why, my friends, why do we continue to allow evil to gain the upper hand.  Why do we continue to allow the devil and his little band of demons to control the narrative.  

Believing the good news of Jesus means believing that God’s kingdom is near.  Our work is the same as our Lord.  We follow our Lord into those places where evil has taken over and demand that the evil speaks no more.  We take away the devil’s power and we usher in God’s kingdom one person at a time.  That is what we are called to do, my brothers and sister.  And there will be days when it appear that evil might have the upper hand.  When it looks like evil has won the day.  The cross is a prime example to evil appearing as if it triumps, , but we all know the truth.  God is not messing around any more, my brothers and sisters.  There is nothing our God cannot do, will not do to rescue you, to save you, to bring you into God’s Kingdom.  In a world where Bad news fills the airways, bring the good news to people who need rescuing.  They are out there, my brothers and sisters.  Take them Jesus and show them the amazing, awe-inspiring kingdom that can await them.  Never doubt the good news.

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

Are you ready?

January 24, 2021 - Epiphany 3
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Psalm 62:5-12
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Mark 1:14-20

Are you ready?

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

The commentary that I was reading this week on the book of Jonah describes the book as “a tale of what happens when God’s mercy is too much for some, and maybe not enough for others.” No truer words have never been said about this book.  Jonah is unique in that it has very little to do with the prophetic witness Jonah is sent to proclaim.  Actually, we are never even told Ninevah even did.  Either the writer assumes we would already know or that the crime doesn’t really matter.  I tend to believe it is the later of the two. 

The book of Jonah is really about the prophet.  Most books named after other prophets (Isaiah, Samuel, Ezekiel, Joel, Amos, Micah, etc) all deal with a message sent by God.  Rarely do we even learn much about the prophet themselves outside of a short call story like last week and the calling of Samuel.  Jonah is all about the prophet and his aversion to being a prophet.

As a child, I always wondered why Jonah would not want to be a prophet.  It seemed like a cool job.  What I knew about prophets, from my Sunday school classes, is that prophets came and told people that God is upset and if you just say your sorry, everything will be okay.  To me, that doesn’t sound like a bad job.  In fact, that sounds like something we all should do, so why would Jonah not want to do this very normal thing?

But as I got old, I started to learn that being a prophet was not exactly one of the ways to get on one of those Forbes top 100 lists.  Being a prophet means risking your life for the sake of a message from God.  That prophets, often times, get themselves killed for doing the right thing and usually do not receive vindication for many, many years after their death.  It took 20 years after Martin Luther King’s death before his birthday was made a holiday and at the time of its conception, faced many questions as to why we needed a day to honor King’s legacy.  Prophets are rarely liked because their job is to speak the truth. 

Last week, we heard the story of Samuel and his calling to be a prophet.  He was sent by God to tell Eli that his family, for generations to come, would be punished for his sons’ misdeeds.  I can’t imagine, as a pastor, showing up to someone’s home and telling them that they really, really messed up and they would die knowing that redemption would not come for generations.  A prophet’s job is not easy and Jonah knew this.  So he ran.  

He ran until he reached the sea.  Knowing that it wasn’t far enough, he jumped on to a boat in the vain hope that God would not find.  Yet, God did.  Jonah realized that he was putting everyone’s life endanger when a large storm had erupted around them.  He tells the crew to throw him into the sea, probably in hopes that he would drown and die before God had a chance to use him as a prophet.  But God had other plans.  Instead, he spent 3 days in the belly of a fish.  It almost sounds like a comedy story.  Jonah would rather die than go be prophet.  God changes his mind by having a large fish swallow him up and he has to stay in this fish’s belly for three days.  I only hope he took a shower before he got to Nineveh. But as we know, a lot can happen in three days.  People who have been dead for three days can be brought back to life.  In this case, the heart of Jonah was changed and he goes to Ninevah.  

Jonah cried out, ‘Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ A simple, rather poient message.  Pretty clear and easy to understand. Now Nineveh, according to the book, has 120,000 people living in it.  To put that into perspective, Martinsburg has 17,475 and Berkeley County has 119,171.  We are talking about a large city for the time—a booming metropolis.  In a sea of so many voices and people, Jonah somehow breaks through all the noise and gets heard.  The people “proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.” The author of Jonah tells us “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.” No wonder Jonah was chosen by God.  He is really good at this whole prophet thing.  I wish I had that kind of success rate.  120,000 people listened to Jonah and changed their ways.  I would be thrilled.  Most of us would be thrilled.  Jonah…not so much.

He leaves Ninevah, finds a place to pray, and lets loose on God.  “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.’”  Jonah leaves in a huff, goes outside the city and waits for its destruction, which sounds normal for a three year old and not a 40 year old.  None-the-less, God takes pity on him and gives him some shade.  A bush grows up and Jonah enjoys the little bit of respite from the sun, but he is still angry.  I imagine him dressed like Bernie Sanders with mittens, sitting in under this bush saying, “This could have been done by an email.”  Jonah has some strange expectations.  He expected his job to be filled with difficulty and opposition.  It is exactly why he got onto that boat—he didn’t want that path in his life.  He wanted to be different.  He wanted to be someone else.  When he finally does relent, he goes into the job expecting to see God blow Ninevah up with the kind of fire power of a modern day warship.  He wants to see the people who opposed him suffer their fate.  He never imagined that people might actually listen to him.  Jonah expects one thing and gets something completely different in return.  Depending on your view of things, Jonah’s expectations are either crushed or they are exceeded. 

Fast forward a thousand years and you find Simon, Andrew, James and John all doing their normal, every day life of fishing. James and John are sitting in a boat with their father.  Their expectation was to work and take care of their family.  And along comes this man named Jesus who says, “Follow me.” They all leave their nets and follow Jesus.  James and John even leave their father behind on the boat because they were promised something more.  They seem to go without any hesitation unlike Jonah who fought going every step of the way.  They must have had some kind of expectation that the life promised by Jesus was going to be better than the one they were currently living at this moment.  And I have to wonder, did their expectations get met?  Were they disappointed?  Did they expect Jesus to be a revolutionary leader who would take down Rome?  Did they expect that Jesus was actually the Messiah, the savior of the world?  Could they ever have expected that on that day, many years ago, along the sea of Galilee, that they would leave their life of fishing behind and become evangelists of the good news of Jesus Christ?  

What are your expectations as a follower of Jesus?  Do you expect to find a entertainment here for hour each week?  A feel good message?  The pastor to be a motivational speaker? Do you expect the church to take political stands? Do you expect the church to function as a social justice organization? Do you seek spiritual care and nourishment?  Do you seek comfort?  Family?  Hope?  I want you think about your exceptions and ask yourself, “Are you ready for them to be dashed?”  As you ready to see that Jesus is more than anything we could ever expect?  Are you ready to see that God choose you for a reason? “The purpose of Jesus’ call to discipleship is not to take people out of a hostile world, promising them a better life in God’s heavenly kingdom. Instead, his purpose is to change the world in such a way that it will cease to be the hostile place it is, so that God’s reign can be established on earth.”  And God brought about God’s reign into the world not with clubs and swords, but through reaching out to the poor, the oppressed, the last, and lost.  He reached out to women, Samaritans, and those possessed by demons.  For so many of us, we expect discipleship to filled with fun times, Bible studies and community service projects.  The reality to remember is that Jesus pushes away all our romanticized expectation and does the work of the of gospel, which is often messy, difficult, and at times deadly.  

As a church, as disciples of Christ, I think this is a great time to reflect on our exceptions of discipleship and make sure that they are actually steeped in Jesus and not our own selfish desires.  Because for some, discipleship and just a tool to get ahead in the world, but we know it is more than a resume builder.  Discipleship is a way of life and I pray that we, as the body of Christ, are as ready as Simon, Andrew, James, and John, and evening Jonah were ready to find out and experience the the life of following a man named Jesus from Nazareth.  

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

Not your average Lamb

Epiphany 2 - January 17, 2021
1 Samuel 3:1-20 
Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
John 1:43-51

Not your average Lamb

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

Some of you might know that I have a fig tree in my back yard.  It is one of the most wonderful things I have ever had in a backyard.  Nothing beats a fresh fig.  Fig newtons are disgusting after you have a fresh fig.  And you can't have one.  

I know Jerry and others have asked that I bring some in but truth be told, they usually don't even make it into the house. But to call a fig tree a tree, is a little bit of a stretch.  A fig tree, or at least ours, is composed of really thin branches and large leaves at the top of the "tree."  It really looks like a bush or a large shrub.  You can't really climb a fig tree because the branches could not support your weight.  And does anyone know how fig trees get fertilized?  Wasps and little tiny ants.  Yeah, you got to be careful and I don't think I would be sitting under a fig tree very long.  

So, if you are like me, you probably have had a picture of this scene in your mind for some time of Nathanael sitting underneath this large, oak-like-tree pondering the meaning of life, and Jesus was up in the tree looking down at him.  Reality though, Nathanael was most likely in a garden doing work outside and happened to stop for a break to enjoy a treat from the tree when Philip approached.  Jesus’s physical presence in the tree was impossible, so how did Jesus see Nathanael standing under the fig tree before he was called?

There is just something about our Lord’s statement to Nathanael, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” That made Nathanael realize that Jesus is different and we are not told what that something is.  This story is more than just having Jesus be a really great stalker, Jesus could see Nathanael on a different level.  He knew Nathanael before Nathanael knew Jesus. 

Which is also a little bit scary.  Anyone remember what Nathanael said about Jesus and his hometown?   "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?"  Yet knowing what Nathanael said about him, Jesus still says, "Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!"  I don't know if I could say something nice to someone who has just insulted me and my hometown. Yet our Lord does because our Lord knows Nathanael on a completely different plane of existence.  Our Lord saw where Nathanael came from, knew him on a very intimate level and despite all of that, could see the potential of Nathanael as a disciple and still invited him to see greater things than what he witnessed on that day many years ago.  

I find this story helpful to remember in ministry.  It is not my job or any of our jobs to know people on this kind intimate level that our Lord knows Nathanael.  Rather, our mission as disciples, as the church, is to take what we see here and go find others.  To say, "Come and see" to people, both strangers and friends.  When they ask, "Can anything good happen come out of St. John’s/Martinsburg/the church?” Your reply needs only to be, “Come and see.”  You do not need to have the Augsburg Confession memorized, you don not have to know all the books of the Bible, you do not need to be a tele-evangelist—you simply need to do the invite, “Come and see.” Seriously, hit that share button right now and share our worship with all your friends and family on Facebook and simply right, “come and see.”

My brothers and sisters, the good news of today's text is that Jesus not only wants to be in relationship with you, but has been in a relationship with you before you even knew him.  Our Lord knows you on a deep and personal level.  Our Lord isn't stalking you but sees you, knows what bad and awful things you have said and says, "There is a person whom there is no deceit!"  There is someone whom I will use to proclaim the gospel.  That is the good message of today's gospel - our Lord likes you despite the fact that you say and do some pretty awful things.  There is nobody else in the world who wants that kind of relationship with you.  How blessed you are this day.  

But here's the thing.  You will see greater things.  Things that you cannot even begin to imagine.  Think of all Nathanael had to see:  Jesus tearing up the temple; curing the blind, the sick, and the lame; a Jewish male speaking to a samaritan woman; washing the disciples feet. Nathanael will see Judas betray him.  He will see Jesus tried and convicted, hung on a cross, and buried in a tomb.  He will see his rabbi be brought to life, he will see Thomas question his friends at the appearance of the resurrected Jesus; he will hear Thomas call Jesus "My Lord and my God," he will see Jesus make breakfast on the beach and be reminded that the work of being a disciple had only just begun.  He will see his Lord ascend into heaven and then he will witnessed the birth of the church. 

And it all started with that simple invitation from another disciple - come and see.  What have you seen and heard here?  I have seen some amazing things in my time as pastor.  I remember my first Easter Sunrise as a pastor.  On a cold day in March, walking out of the Parish hall carrying the Paschal candle chanting, "This is the night" and seeing the sunrise just start to break over the mountains - moments later reading from the gospel of John how the women went at early morning to anoint the body of Jesus only to discover that he had been risen.  Is that what it was like for the women?  Carrying candles and spices, looking at the sunrise, not knowing what awaited them?

I have seen amazing and wonderful things happen at the font.  I have held my Lord’s body and blood in my hands.  And not only have I held him in my hands, I am then take this amazing gift and give it out to others to see, taste, and enjoy.    I held babies who are just a few hours old.  I held the hand of dying Christians - friends whom I have loved.  I have confirmed young men and women in churches where it was said they have no kids or youth.  I have have walked with people from to the cradle to grave, and I know there are many great things to come.  I have come to know that God is not done with us, with you, with me, with this church, this congregation or this town or this world, just yet. There are many great things that await us in the future.  Today is only the beginning.  Your task, as followers of of Christ is to do some serious inviting.  You don’t need to have a systematics degree.  You don’t need all these fancy robes.  You don’t even need to have a good idea of who this Jesus character is.  You simply need to say, “Come and see.” For God has seen each and everyone of you, and knows you on a intimate level - knows your potential, knows what you have said and done, (End) and yet still loves you and wants to be with you.  

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





Splish. Splash

Baptism of our Lord - January 10, 2021
Genesis 1:1-5 
Psalm 29
Acts 19:1-7 
Mark 1:4-11 

Splish. Splash

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

In the beginning, God’s Spirit moved over the waters.  Earth was a formless void floating in space.  And God speaks.  Out of nothing came light.  God spoke into the midst of chaos and emptiness and made everything that is around us.  God existed before this all existed.  In this eternity of existence, God shows us exactly what God can do—create “order out of the chaos of unordered matter.”  It is hard to grasp and comprehend the immensity and power of our God and yet, it is important to remember that it is “in the context of God’s immensity, the Son, the Beloved, is baptized to know himself, to be transformed into the subservience John calls all people to engage so that he will carry out the mission he has been given.”

“When we look just at the Gospel reading for the Baptism of Our Lord, we do not see Jesus as fully as we see John the Baptist, his forerunner. Jesus remains a mystery while John stands before us in all the wildness of a life that shuns the interiors of buildings, eating what God provides in nature, speaking from the humility of a self that knows to whom it is indebted. We know what John wears; we are not told what Jesus wears. It is that clear of a difference. John, though peculiar according to our standards, is a fully human creature while Jesus—enigmatic, given to hearing a voice no one else hears—is identified in this scene in a way no one else has or will be known.”

Mark is different in that nobody else hears the voice of God.  It is possible that Mark might have made a grammar mistake, but the grammar is clear - “And just as [Jesus] was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  Matthew and Luke would later clarify that indeed the entire crowd had seen and heard all that had occurred.   Mark, though, sets this very personal scene between Jesus and the Creator of the heavens and the earth, a scene where God affirms God’s relationship with Jesus and affirms that Jesus is doing everything in the way it has been planned.  This very personal moment, though, marks the time when all of creation is upended.  Notice, Mark says that the the heavens were torn apart—The word is the same word you would use to tear a shirt or a bag of chips. “Out of that rupture comes the Holy Spirit in a form that is described as a dove. That dove does not simply alight on Jesus, because in the Greek, eis auton can be said to have come into him. Jesus is infused with the Spirit from God. A new reality has come into the world, transforming all things including the seen (the heavens and a dove) and the unseen (a voice).?”  

As I say this, I think it would be good to stop and answer that age-old question: “why our Lord was even baptized?"  If he is without sin, why do something that is suppose to remove sin?  Mark’s gospel really does an amazing job showing how different of a baptism that Jesus experienced.  John was calling for people to repent “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”  He was also proclaiming “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with[b] water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”  John’s mission involves two task:  baptize those who have come to repent and to also prepare the way for our Lord.  When Jesus does arrive, his baptism is not needed for repentance but to usher in the next part of God’s plan.  Just as it was at the beginning of time, when God spoke into the chaos and made something out nothing,  it is here that God speaks again to the chaos of the world, tears open the heavens, and begins to transform this floating marble in space. The baptism of our Lord  is essentially a contract, a covenant that God make with Jesus. Jesus agrees to be faithful and God agrees to be faithful as well.

But that doesn’t mean this day in the church year has nothing to do with us.  There is a reason we remember this day every, single year on the Sunday after the Epiphany of our Lord. "On the Feast of the Baptism of Christ, the Holy Church proclaims our faith in the most sublime mystery, incomprehensible to human intellect, of one God in three Persons. It teaches us to confess and glorify the Holy Trinity, one in Essence and Undivided. It exposes and overthrows the errors of ancient teachings which attempted to explain the Creator of the world by reason, and in human terms. The Church shows the necessity of Baptism for believers in Christ, and it inspires us with a sense of deep gratitude for the illumination and purification of our sinful nature. The Church teaches that our salvation and cleansing from sin is possible only by the power of the grace of the Holy Spirit, therefore it is necessary to preserve worthily these gifts of the grace of holy Baptism, keeping clean this priceless garb, for “As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ” (Gal 3:27)."  We remember this day and we will continue to remember this day until his return because of the great joy this event has for humanity.  This is the day, the moment, When God tears open the heavens to usher in a new age.  This is the day, the moment, where Christ not just becomes commissioned, but known/authenticated as God's son. That Jesus is now where God's promises are being fully revealed. 

And in a day and age where cable tv news is on 24 hours a day, social media apps take up all our attention, where we bounce from one thing to the next—it is important to hear year after year that Jesus is where God's promises are fully revealed. We keep searching for the next best thing.  We keep searching for that special something to make us happy, rich, successful.  We keep searching for God in all the wrong places.  I think the events of this past week prove that Americans have more faith in our leaders to save them than in our savior, Jesus Christ.  We lift up our leaders, no matter if they are democrat or republican as our savior and they fail.  And when they do fail, it has serious consequences for those who look to these mere mortals as saviors.  This day, the day we remember the baptism of our Lord, stands in stark contrast to our new ideology.  Today, we are reminded of the real savior’s identity.  And not only today, but every time we gather, we are reminded that it is in this place, in this font, at this table, in these holy word from scripture, in this blessed community of saints that God is present, the heavens are torn open week after week, the holy spirit descends on us like a dove, and God reveals for us a little bit more of this blessed age to come. 

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

A little ditty about Simeon and Anna

Second Sunday in Christmas - January 3, 2021
Isaiah 61:10-62:3 
Psalm 148
Galatians 4:4-7
Luke 2:22-40

"A little ditty about Simeon and Anna"

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

I first want to note that if you are a church nerd, you will notice that today’s lessons are not the correct lessons appointed for the Second Sunday after Christmas.  John 1 should be the gospel and not Luke 2:22-40.  However, I already preached on John and I rarely ever get to preach on the lessons appointed for the first Sunday after Christmas.  Typically, I am so exhausted from Christmas that I usually take the Sunday off, like I did last week, and have some of our very talented Lay Leaders take over.  Since I already preached on John 1 on Christmas Day (you can go over to our YouTube page to watch that message), so let’s talk about this little ditty about Simeon and Anna.

Most of us know the story of Simeon.  If not, we at least know the song he sings:  “Now Lord, you let your servant go in peace…your word has been fulfilled.”  Also called the Nunc Dimittius which is latin for “Now you dismiss…” I remember learning this story in Sunday school…Simeon picking the baby Jesus in his arms, so excited that now he could finally die...Or something like that.  When I read this story today, it is hard for me to imagine any parent willingly allowing a complete stranger to hold their newly born son in their arms without a mask on. 

Anna rarely gets any mention.  She doesn’t sing a memorable song like Simeon.  Luke tells us that she is a prophet, of advanced aged, a widow after 70 years of marriage.  She sits and worships in the temple (slow) NIGHT and DAY.  That is a strange phrase…night and day… How do you normally say that phrase?  Day and night, right?  Did you also catch a similar thing that Simeon says?  “This child is destined for the FALLING and the RISING of many in Israel…” Again, how do you say that phrase?  Rising and falling, right?  Had this been any other gospel, I probably would have glanced over this very minor variant.  Had this been Mark, I probably would have just said he was writing to quick to care that he made a mistake.  But Luke is different.  Luke is careful about his word choice.  He tells us this in the very first few lines of the gospel:  I have set down to write an orderly account.  So, why did he reverse these two phrases?  

What is Luke trying to accomplish by telling us that Jesus, on the day he is presented in the temple, is met by these two strangers who speak of their baby as being more than just a baby, but declare him To be the salvation of the world?  We already know what Simeon says to be true.  Mary already sang about Jesus and his role in saving humanity during her magnificat.  And notice what Mary sings?  Again it is a reversal.  The rich sent away empty.  The powerful taken down from their thrones.  Luke is using Simeon as a way to reinforce this idea that God is reversing the way things have always done.  But Simeon takes it one step further.  “Simeon tells Mary that “a sword will pierce” her soul (her psyche). She will experience great pain, thorough agony, and the madness of those who witness injustice and are unable to stop it. When we who live on this side of the crucifixion and resurrection hear Simeon’s words, we have a way to know something of what Mary endures watching her son die. Or maybe we can never know; at least we honor the torment. She is the mother of all the disappeared and oppressed, the imprisoned and tortured protesters throughout history. She stands beside his cross. She watches. Before the rising is the falling. Before the glory of God is the cross.”  Simeon might very well be reinforcing this reversal concept that Luke is using, but we also get a glimpse into the heart of Mary—a mother will one day watch her son die on the cross to save billions of people she will never even know their names.  

Then there is Anna.  She again is reinforcing this reversal, but she takes it to the next level as well.  “We first learn that she is up all night and only then do we learn that she is also in prayer all day. She is keeping vigil at all hours, waiting for the arrival of the one who will redeem Israel. Mirroring the order—down before up, cross before triumph—is the fasting and praying Anna practiced “night and day.” These two prophets know what God is about: salvation comes through confrontation. The sign of the Messiah is opposition. There is no resurrection without the crucifixion. There is no unbinding without the binding. That the hard reality of repentance precedes forgiveness tells us plainly that there is no forgiveness where there is no fault.”

“The fact of injustice, pain, hurt, denigration, want, and death mean that God is eternally at work to bring healing to all facets of our lives. The Lord is at work in the world just as Mary sings about it when the angel announces God’s favor on her. She gives thanks that God brings down the powerful, lifts up the lowly, feeds the hungry, and sends “the rich away empty” (Luke 1:52-53). All these powerful actions mean to reverse normal worldly expectations. Not in spite of, but because of struggle and destruction, the Lord, the Holy Spirit, brings consolation and deliverance. The Holy Spirit guides the faithful to meet the Messiah in order to take on the same mission: to lose ourselves in order to find ourselves. Just as the Spirit “rested” on Simeon, the Spirit rests on the baptized in every age, compelling prayer and fasting, urging us to righteous deeds, calling us to see through or within our failures a pathway to the good. The Lord uses the wicked ways of all creation in order to bring about what nurtures and creates peace, and thus is Simeon able to sing of a peace which has come to him because he has seen the savior.”

God is all about doing the unthinkable.  You know, when I was younger, I had a speech problem.  I saw a speech therapist until I was in the 8th grade.  I had some learning disabilities growing up.  A few years ago, I went back and read  some of those reports from school counselors.  I doubt that, at the time, any of my counselors or speech therapist could have ever imagined that I would have went on to receive a Master’s degree and have a job where I get paid to give speeches.  Yet, here I am.  God called 12 of the strangest characters to be his disciples.  One betrayed.  One denied him.  They all abandoned him at the cross.  Yet, look at what God did?  From 12, to over a billion and still going strong.  Not ever a pandemic has stopped us from proclaiming the good news about this babe of Bethlehem.  

Simeon’s song and Anna’s joy lives on today.  Though they are long gone, we still sing of the mysteries we have beheld at the altar.  We leave worship  with joy in our hearts just as Anna had joy in her heart after seeing the salvation of the world wrapped up flesh and blood.  And even though we might not be able to gather around this table and sing Simeon’s song as we have before, “we still receive through God’s Word the promise of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness”—which is exactly what Simeon is proclaiming.  Even in these times when church and worship just don’t feel right, because God’s word is proclaimed, we still witness the salvation.  Despite not being able to receive the sacrament where we are promised to hold Jesus in the palms of our hands just like Simeon held Jesus in his, we still can behold the salvation for all people.  The gospel is salvation for all people and it is why we have never shutdown as a church.  Our work is needed now more than ever.  People need to hear the good news that God knows a thing or two about reversing things—that our God knows how to turn things around.  

Simeon and Anna died a long time ago, yet the world needs people like them.  The world needs people willing to proclaim the good news like Simeon did. The Good news which also includes the harsh truth that we sometimes do not hear—things will get worse before they better.  The world needs more Annas who are willing to keep vigil night and day in the temple as we await the return of our Lord. The spirit of God is at work this day, my brothers and sisters.  Can you feel the Spirit?  Can you hear the Spirit?  This little ditty about Simeon and Anna is actually about you as well.  Preach the gospel with truth and honesty, never stop holding vigil for our Lord’s return, and may God’s favor rest upon you as well. 

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


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