FIRST SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS
December 27, 2020
SERMON: “Along The Way”
Last week I mentioned my desire to witness the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in its closest proximity to Earth. When the time came, the evening sky was obscured by clouds and rain. Tuesday evening the sky was clear and we got to see the post event closeness of the two planets in the southwest sky. The movement of the planets in our solar system is a thing of beauty and precision.
Like many, I considered the biblical narrative of the Bethlehem Star and allowed my imagination to move my thoughts along a path of wonder at the birth of Jesus. Human beings have been looking at these same points of light in the night sky since the very first moment of consciousness.
In the 21st Century of the common era, we bring a better-informed understanding of what we’re looking at in the night sky, but it’s important for us to remember that Jesus was born at a time when cognitive reason took a back seat the power of the shared story.
Let’s remember that when the scriptures were written, everyone believed that the earth was flat and the sun and moon were moving in relation to a stationary platform. The Enlightenment, beginning in the 17th Century, began a turbulent time of movement, changing how the world was viewed.
The late Marcus Borg always stressed to his students that when we read the scriptures, we carry the burden of The Enlightenment. We demand empirical data before we assign value to a theory… or a thought…or a story. Our 21st Century relationship with empirical data fosters a trend towards binary thinking: good or bad, hot or cold, black or white, winners or losers, saved or damned. As a society, we find ourselves diminishing the status of the humanities while elevating the role of technology in our educational systems, making it even more difficult to find common ground when it comes to policy making and community development. We’ve bought into the notion that education is primarily for the purpose of getting a good job.
Empirical data is essential if you’re developing a vaccine or planning a trip to Mars. But it’s a struggle when you’re considering issues of faith. It’s almost as if God is protecting the spiritual relationship between Creator and creature. Science does an excellent job of addressing the questions of “what and how,” but it falls short when addressing the question of “why.”
In today’s gospel lesson we are introduced to two people of faith, Simeon and Anna. Please note that, once again, Luke’s gospel provides us with a model of gender equity. Anna is introduced as a prophet and Simeon as righteous and devout.
In every church I’ve served, there have been Simeons and Annas, supplying encouragement, a message of affirmation, and a vision of hope. They’re the ones with the ideas and the energy that forms the ministry and personality of a church.
Anna and Simeon identify Jesus as God’s source of restoration and redemption for Jerusalem. Towards the end of his earthly ministry Jesus expands the work of restoration and redemption to proceed from Jerusalem into the whole world. He states that the work of his followers will exceed the accomplishments of his lifetime.
This is the last Sunday of 2020. I think I can see some of you clapping!
2021 will require some restoration, for sure. The day will come when in-person worship will be restored to the relief of many. But already there’s a conversation that proceeds beyond the borders of this church that includes another. Simeons and Annas are yet alive with the Spirit that calls the church into the continuous work of redemption.
This past year has provided mandates that no session on earth could have ever predicted. Our immediate needs drove new approaches to worship and holy communion. We have adapted into a hybrid together. First Presbyterian of Pardeeville launched a hybrid model even before the pandemic. What’s a hybrid of a hybrid? Best I can come up with is hybrid 2.0!
With vaccines slowly entering in 2021, churches will be wrestling with new life, a new set of tools, and what it means to be entrusted with the work of redemption.
The world has had its nose rubbed in the smell of racism, injustice, hunger, economic disparity, environmental degradation, nationalism, and violence. The Spirit calls her churches with the Simeons and Annas to move beyond acts of worship and into the fields of redemptive ministries.
2021 might provide opportunities to reduce the costs of worship, but the Simeons and the Annas among us will insist that those resources be diverted into active redemptive ministries until the worship budget and the ministry budget reflect the equity revealed to us in the Gospel of Luke, supported by congregations devoted to the stewardship of a tithe. At that moment in time, churches, whole churches, will enter into the joy of Anna and Simeon and then continue the journey, adapting and learning along the way.
Belief in the triune God includes God’s presence in the disciplines of science AND the disciplines of the humanities, including theology, the study of God. When we open the Bible and read the sacred text, we have stepped into a space that includes countless souls who have devoted their life’s energies to the writing, preservation, translation, and distribution of a message that originates in Jerusalem and proceeds to all nations in the manner described in the conclusion of the Gospel of Luke.
When we open the Bible, we enter a sacred conversation that has been going on for millennia and continues to this very moment. Along the way, we encounter the voices of those who desire for us to move from darkness into light.
It would be an error to think that our journey into the presence of the Risen Lord was an individual choice. Our relationship with Jesus Christ, just like the relationship between science and religion, is interwoven within a community of faith. Your salvation is interwoven with mine. Your joy feeds mine. Your sorrow is shared. Your health is related to mine. Your spirit and my spirit receive and offer love through the One who calls us into the New Year. With grace, beauty, and precision, the planets continue their journey around the sun, providing images of awe and wonder to those look up.
The church continues to be the conduit, the point of entry into a life of purpose that gives glory to the Creator who speaks, and it is so, the Redeemer who provides the way, and the Sustainer, the source of our energy and inspiration.
May 2021 be a year to remember.
Peace be with you.