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Monday, January 31, 2011

Bringing our Best

A few have asked for this- this is my sermon from December 26, 2010
We had four baptisms on this day- and I chose not to preach on the Slaughter of the Innocents...


Bringing our Best
Jesus Presented in the Temple
Luke 2: 22- 40
22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”[a]), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”[b]
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss[c] your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”
33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel (Fan-oo-el), of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then had been a widow for eighty-four years.[d] She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.

Merry Christmas!
We have just celebrated the birth of our Savior!
For weeks we have anticipated Christmas morning!
We put up our lights, tree, prepared our hearts, and prepared presents for loved ones! We have sung carols, lit candles, raised them high, We have come to worship Christ the new born king!
Yesterday we woke up, we came and gathered around a tree, and opened gifts, we gathered around a table and stuffed ourselves on good food and fellowship, and today we come—still perhaps reverberating from the joy and festivities!
We haven’t even made it to boxing day, the thrill and excitement of Christmas morning may still be with us…but soon as the tree begins to dry, and pine needles fall, as the strewn pieces of wrapping paper are picked up and thrown out, and the newness our gifts wanes… as the decorations are put away, we’ll start to wonder…. Now what do we do?








Bringing Home Baby—Now What?
Mary and Joseph had some guidance as what to do with and for their newborn son Jesus.
They bring Jesus, to the temple following the Law laid out in Leviticus that on the eighth day sons will be circumcised. Circumcision is a sign of righteousness and a seal of the covenant Jews have with the Lord. Mary and Joseph are bringing the very best they have in this world- and placing him before God, before the temple, before the Law. Coming to the temple, Mary and Joseph have set Jesus on the journey of his faith. These are the ordinary milestones parents honor for their children—circumcision, naming, and presentation, but some extraordinary things happen too—there are prophetic responses from Simeon and Anna.
For those of you who are parents, there comes a moment when you are home from the hospital with your beautiful bundle of joy….
You have had weeks of preparation—busy nervous, joyful energy, you’ve nested and prepared-----You’ve had the baby showers, the nursery has been decorated, and now you’ve had the baby—
All those new clothes you had washed, dried, and folded neatly are now thrown in the laundry room—you go through four onesies a day, you are so tired you do not remember more than 20 minutes of consecutive sleep, if it wasn’t for good friends and church members bringing food you would forget to eat or be eating cereal or pizza all the time…. You have been going through the ordinary things parents go through each day with a newborn…

Eventually you’re in the middle of the night one night—you’re as tired as you have ever been- your baby is actually asleep and while your body may scream, “Sleep! —You do not even wonder, “Now What?” You know what to do—you just stare at this child in wonder.
How did this beautiful being come into this world? Wow! All you can think is wow! Of everything you have ever done… this is the very best!

You pray, you cry, you watch—its as if you can hear God whisper in that still small moment—you watch this little face, you listen at these breaths, until your eyes can no longer stay open…
A moment of extraordinary has happened in the midst of this new normal- ordinary life…
Names
In the moment that Mary and Joseph bring their child to the temple- a vast place, comprising of some thirty-five acres of buildings and open courts-the Law and the Holy Spirit work together to create an extraordinary moment. Luke tells us, “when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God.”
Simeon identified who Jesus was, “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” Simeon grounds this identification in words from Isaiah’s vision of Israel’s restoration- a restoration that would include the Gentiles. The prophetess Anna has complete devotion to God—she comes and sees him and begins to praise God and speak about how he is the one who will provide the redemption they were seeking.
Before Christ was born an angel of the Lord told Mary to call him Jesus, an angel told Joseph they would name him Emmanuel, meaning God with us. Simeon and Anna also named Jesus that day—they identified who he was and what he would become. The prophets had names for the Messiah who was to come, “Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace” The scribes and Pharisees would call him a Blaphemer, a liar, and a heretic. The Lepers, blind, and demon possessed would call him healer, miracle worker. His disciples would call him Rabbi, Teacher, and Friend. Upon his death he would be mockingly called “The King of the Jews.” A Roman centurion who watched his crucifixion would come to believe and call him God’s Son! On a road to Emmaus his disciples would see him and call him a stranger until their eyes opened!


For many of us- he has whispered to us in and through the Holy Spirit, His light has shown on us, His mercy has been known to us, and His grace has washed us and made us clean and we fall on our knees and call him Savior!
And it all started on a Christmas day in a manger long ago.
The wrapping paper may be put away…the decorations will soon be boxed up, returns to the store may happen, Christmas Vacations will end—but the beginning of our life- of our eternal life and of our salvation began in a manger over 2000 years ago.
At some point in our life- we too were given a name. But even before that, God knew us. My favorite Psalm 139 praises God saying, “for it was you who formed by inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” We were named- my parents named me Elizabeth Ruth and brought me before Madisonville Presbyterian Church to be baptized. On that day I was initiated into Christ’s holy church, I was now part of God’s mighty acts of salvation, I was given new birth through water and the spirit, and I was recognized as part of the family of God. At baptism we celebrate God’s action- the Holy Spirit pours out the unmerited gift of amazing grace.
God knows us before our beginning and has known us throughout infancy, childhood, youth, and on into adulthood. Christ guides me now as an adult, as a parent, as a pastor, and will lead me through until I meet Him and feast at His heavenly banquet.
Mary and Joseph knew who their son was, but could they know all that he would be? All he would do? All he would accomplish for you and for me and for all the world? Could they grasp that for all people, for all time, Christ would be the One who lived, died and rose again for our sins?
When my mother gave birth and when my parents took me to church to be baptized- when my church made a covenant as the Body of Christ to nurture me in Christ’s holy church—they did not know who or what I would become- but they listened to God’s call to name me something even more than Elizabeth Ruth- they named me in through baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

I may have just been an baby- but God worked that day!
God works no matter how old you are.
And God has continued to work—when I was aware and when I was not—
when I tried to hide from God and
when I -with tears streaming and cheeks grinning - praised God!
That was a beginning for me.
Mary and Joseph brought Jesus- acknowledging- knowing- that Christ, while Mary carried and birthed him, while together they would raise him, and Joseph would train him as a carpenter --Christ was not theirs
- he was more… He belonged to God- he came for the world.
They brought him to the temple acknowledging this- marking him with the sign of the covenant, naming him before the temple, presenting him for all to see.










The Maronite Christian, and poet Kahhil Gibron(Ka-Lil Gee-Bran) wrote “On Children”
On Children
Kahlil Gibran
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Whether we have children of our own or whether we share in the nurturing of children in our church and community- we see in them the future. We have hope- we see a beginning of newness, excitement, and opportunity.
Children have an awe that sometimes escapes the rest of us.
Some of us think when we look in a mirror- that we are no longer children- no longer able to have a new beginning—that we can no longer witness awe. Like the wrapping paper and the decorations that are being put away, placed on shelf, stored- we see our contribution…as somewhat limited.
And yet- we are still children, for we are always God’s children.
We heard Chum/Sara/Kevin tell us this good news from Paul that
“when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.” (Galatians 4: 4-7 NRSV).
You see-- No matter what you have been named, no matter what names others have called you, you are first and foremost God’s child. Isaiah proclaimed to us, “Instead of your shame, you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace, you will rejoice in your inheritance.”
Your inheritance as God’s child is the gift of grace, salvation through faith, and life eternal.
Perhaps you have sat up late at night and stared at your own child and felt so full of love that your heart cried out, or perhaps you stood in a sanctuary holding a candle looking out at your newborn Savior who has been born for you and all the world- this is a sign to you.
You are God’s child.
God is constantly seeking as Our Father to bring us to the temple- God is full of hope about who we will become, what we will do, how we will act.

God names us and presents us to the world.

And we are still being knitted together.
God is the archer whose hand is always stable,
And God is the wind who guides,
And God is target who will catch us in His arms.
It is still Christmas!

We’ve been given the very best.
Christ has been born ---born in our hearts anew
so that we may cry out Abba Father!
God made you and you are His child.
As his children you are the very best God brings in this world—
God is filled with hope
knowing that His creation—His very best --is His Body now on earth.
Will you bring your very best for him?
God brought his very best to us and gave us a Savior,
Mary and Joseph came and brought their very best, gave Jesus all they could -to prepare him in his journey.



One year is ending, but life can be just beginning—now what?

Bring your very best-
Be God’s children in this world
Shine your light--- let your heart cry out!
For Christ has come!
Thanks be to God. Amen!


Footnotes:
Kahlil Gibran was born to a Maronite Christian family in Besharri, Lebanon (then part of Syria and the Ottoman Empire). Because of the family's poverty, Gibran did not receive a formal education as a young boy, but a local priest taught him Arabic and Syriac, as well as the stories of the Bible and infused in him an awareness of Maronite Christianity. The Maronite Church is an Eastern Catholic Church in full communion with the Holy See of Rome (in other words, Maronites are Catholics). It traces its heritage back to the community founded by Maron, an early 5th-century Syriac monk venerated as a saint. The first Maronite Patriarch, John Maron, was elected in the late 7th century. Although reduced in numbers today, Maronites remain one of the principal ethno-religious groups in Lebanon and they continue to represent the absolute majority of Lebanese people when the Lebanese diaspora is included. Unique amongst Eastern Christians, the Maronites are Catholics, who have remained in communion with the Bishop of Rome since the Great Schism.

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