Series: Coming Home
Sermon: Going Home Again
Pastor Diane Gordon
Mt Pleasant FUMC
December 31, 2017
Scriptures: Psalm 148 CEB and Luke 2:22-40 CEB
††††††††† In the gospel of Luke we have a different trajectory for the end of Jesusí birth story. There is no fleeing to Egypt to escape Herodís wrath. There is simply a touching story of a faithful Jewish couple fulfilling their tradition. Here is a relatively poor couple fulfilling the tradition with a newborn son. How do we know they were poor? Because of the gift they brought to the Temple Ė birds and not a sheep. A wealthy mother would have brought a sheep, but they brought a couple of birds which is allowed in the Law of Moses when you canít afford the sheep.
††††††††† So not only does Mary give birth in a place where animals are kept, she and Joseph take him home to a simple, working class lifestyle. Jesus is not born to privilege. Jesus comes into this world able to relate to humans, the 99% who arenít rich, who arenít going to inherit great wealth from their family. They just work hard to keep their heads above water, so to speak. Jesus is blessed with a faithful family who love him, who teach him a trade, who are religiously faithful to God and they are met by other faithful people in the Temple at Jerusalem. And they are blessed.
††††††††† They are both blessed and warned. Simeon tells them his story; that Godís Holy Spirit had promised he would not die until he had seen the savior. Now he could go in peace. Simeon shares that in Jesus we see salvation ďin the presence of all peoplesĒ and a ďlight for revelation to the Gentiles.Ē †Jesus was a ďglory for your people IsraelĒ but not just for the Jewish people. He was a light for the whole world.
††††††††† And then there is the prophet, Anna, a widow who never left the Temple area. She was not related to Simeon, but she shared the good news about Jesus with everyone she knew who was looking forward to redemption. Who says women arenít supposed to preach?! Weíve been doing it since Jesus was born! God can call and use whomever God wants! But thatís another sermonÖ
††††††††† Back to the rest of what Simeon told Mary. He told her that Jesus would be the cause of much rising and falling, a generator of opposition so that the inner thoughts and true motives of many would be revealed. He told her that a sword will pierce her innermost being. Simeon was warning of the intense pain she would feel as she watched her son be crucified.
††††††††† Still today, we see discord and opposition amongst people because of Jesus. The power of the Holy Spirit is still at work revealing inner thoughts and motives and convicting us. For billions, it is easier to turn their back on God than it is to open up and confess what needs confessing, repent and turning toward God as they seek to live in the light of Christís love, who, by the way, never stops loving and offering us grace and peace, even when we are at our worst.
††††††††† Being in touch with our own true motives takes a good deal of emotional intelligence. Self-awareness of why we do and say the things we do can be difficult. I will be the first person to recommend seeing a good therapist to help deal with the buried pain and all that tempts and torments us. Good mental health is related to good physical health and good spiritual health. We are one being and all aspects are interconnected. Often physical problems have their roots in the emotional realm.
Spiritual discord, such as being angry with God, can cause as much pain as a physical injury and the cure for that pain can seem more mysterious and difficult to attain. Just know that God can take your anger and will not turn against you for being angry. God knows your hurt and loss and desires nothing more than to see you come home again. Bad things happen, even to good people, and God doesnít micromanage the world and inflict pain just to mess with humans. The sickness and evil in the world is a function of our human disobedience which is the very thing that Jesus came to redeem and set us free from as we follow in His footsteps.
So what does it take to be set free? It takes honest reckoning. It takes intentional steps on our part to live on the trajectory Jesus modeled for us. Hopefully, none of us will have to experience crucifixion, but there may well be pain and persecution. Jesus warned us there would be. Popularity is not the goal. Righteousness in the new year is our goal; to live for Godís purposes, not just our own. This begins with prayer; talking to Jesus, or God, or the Holy Spirit Ė take your pick for they are one in the same. Some people just find it easier to relate to one aspect of the Trinity easier than another. It doesnít matter, so long as you spend time praying and then listening, watching, or perceiving Godís nudges.
Simeon paid attention that day. Odds are, he had been waiting a long time to see the savior, and while he believed what the Holy Spirit had revealed Ė that he wouldnít die before he had seen the Lordís Christ Ė he didnít know when. But that didnít discourage Simeon. He kept listening. He kept open to the Spirit, and this day the Spirit led him to go into the temple area Ė go now, not after breakfast, not after watching the news, not after anything else his mind could procrastinate, go now. And he did. Had he waited, he might have missed them.
I sometimes think that procrastination is a tool of the devil. We find a thousand excuses not to do what we know we need to do. We seek after things that arenít what God would have us long for. In the Bible this is referred to as coveting. Thou shalt not.
What is it that God is calling you to, in the New Year which begins tomorrow? Actually, it begins in just hours. A clean slate? A new day. A new year. What do you resolve? What do you look forward to? What are you willing to give to attain it?
Beware of the prosperity gospel that tells us that if we are holy enough, good enough, or obedient enough, then we will be rewarded with wealth, health, or our heartís desire. We donít have that kind of control over God. This is not to say that good things donít come to faithful people, but the rewards the world tells us we should long for, are not what God hopes for us or from us. Sometimes, we pray earnestly and are met with silence. Not always. But sometimes. Sometimes God has something for us that requires great sacrifice, as Mary experienced. Not always, but sometimes.
When we are filled with faith, we hope to be able to see the bigger picture. Our lives are not only about us. We can live for a much larger purpose than to be rich and powerful. In Godís paradigm we can be faithful, poor and seemingly powerless, and still change the world. John Wesley knew this as he began the Methodist movement. So today, as we end 2017 and begin the new year, letís pray together the Covenant Prayer as we offer our lives up for Godís purposes. It is a prayer of trust.
I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
Exalted for thee or brought low by thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
Thou are mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.