Monday, January 5, 2015

Ah, to Have Seen...

    How do you know your family’s history?  I am not talking about your recent history–the history you have been a part of.  I am talking about the history which predates you.  I am talking about your great-grand parents; your great aunts and uncles; your ancestors who lived a hundred years or more ago.  How do you know what they did?  How do you know their stories?  How do you know their personalities and the things that were important to them?

    You were told.  Plain and simple, someone shared those stories with you at some point and time in your life.  This record was given to you either orally or in written form so that you now bear some of that history in the recesses of your mind, in your heart, or stored away on your bookshelf.  These witnesses have given you something very, very valuable.  But here is an interesting question for you to answer: could you prove the accuracy of the history that was given to you?  Could you, prove to a complete stranger that your great, great, great grandfather crossed the Atlantic Ocean as a stowaway to escape the Crimea War?  That he landed in Galveston and then migrated through Texas to settle near Seguin?  What evidence could you provide to prove this story to be true?  By the way, this is the story of one of my great, great, great grandfather’s.  I use it as an example because it would be difficult if not impossible to prove it–at least by rigorous, historical standards.

    In fact, much of what goes on in the world, we are unable to prove by rigorous historical standards.  Much of what goes on in the world is not covered by newspapers or historians or scholars.  Much of what goes on in the world escapes notice and is passed over in light of those events deemed much more important and newsworthy.  In light of this, we are forced to answer the question: why do we believe things that we are unable to see?  Why do we believe things happened even though we were not present for those things? 

    In a word: we trust those who shared those stories with us.  We trust our sources.  At some level, everyone must trust the truth of something that has not been seen: whether it is science, or history, or just chatting about the day with one’s spouse or significant other.  We trust, dare I say, we have faith in the one who tells us of such events.

    Such trust is an important topic for Christians to address, for we often get accused of believing without seeing.  We often get accused of having blind faith–a dogged belief that has absolutely no evidence to back it up.  I could not disagree more.  Our faith indeed has a foundation–just like Simeon’s faith had a foundation.

    Our Gospel lesson this morning has several different foci.  We could focus our attention on Mary and Joseph’s intention to follow God’s laws and commands.  We could focus our attention on Anna the prophetess and her faithfulness, and we could focus on Simeon and his faithful witness.  This would be too long of a sermon, however, so I will focus on one of these things: Simeon. 

    We only know a little bit about Simeon.  Some assume that he is an old man, but we don’t get that from the biblical record.  We don’t know if he is a priest, a peasant, a craftsman, a farmer, a merchant, or any other occupation.  We don’t know what social circles he mingles in or whether or not he has any status at all.  All we know is that he is righteous and devout; he is seeking the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit has told him he would see the Messiah.  This is all the text reveals to us.  It’s not much, but it is important.

    For Simeon is righteous and devout.  This means he works diligently to be in right relationships with others and with God.  Righteousness in the Greek can also be translated as justice which suggests he seeks to follow the command of loving one’s neighbor as one’s self.  Devout means he seeks to maintain his relationship with God and follow God’s commands of worship and sacrifice and holiness.  While maintaining these important things, Simeon also seeks the consolation of Israel–this means he is holding out hope for God’s promised restoration of the Kingdom.  Simeon trusts, believes, has faith in the witness of the prophets who spoke long, long ago.  Simeon does these things not because he has a blind faith.  He is not doing all of these things because he is just being obedient expecting a reward at the end of all things.  He is not a dog sitting up to get a treat for doing what was expected.  No.  There is no hint of reward–instead, there is hint that this is simply who Simeon is as a person.  He trusts the witness of the prophets.  He trusts the Torah which points to the things God intends.  He believes these things are true and just.  Therefore, he puts them into practice.  And somewhere along the line–in his devotion, the Spirit spoke to him giving him a word of promise, “You will see the Messiah before you die.”  Simeon knew the Spirit had spoken through the prophets of old.  Would this promise come true?  Would it be for him as it had been for the prophets? 

    On this particular day, the Spirit spoke to Simeon once again.  Heeding it’s call, Simeon headed to the Temple.  Was the journey blindly taken?  I doubt it.  He knew the promises included in the Law in the Prophets.  He knew the Spirit had spoken before.  He had a history.  He had evidence.  He had witnesses who had gone before, and all of them lined up.  All of them pointed in this direction.  He went to the temple and beheld Mary, Joseph, and their child Jesus.  “This is the one!” Simeon must have said to himself.  “Master, now you are dismissing your servant 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 for revelation to the Gentiles  and for glory to your people Israel.”

    Ah, what it would have been like to see such a thing.  Wouldn’t it have been great to hold Jesus in our hands and look upon His face?  Wouldn’t it have been great to be there to hear Him preach and teach?  Wouldn’t it have been great to have had Him appear to us after His death and resurrection and tell us “Now, go and make disciples of all nations.”?  Of course it would have.  It would have been great to see such a thing.  It would also be great if Jesus could do such a thing now.  It would be great if He could come stand among us this morning and offer a word to each of us.  It would be great for Him to suddenly appear and remind us why we worship; why we celebrate Christmas; why we seek to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. 

    Seeing would be believing, wouldn’t it?  Seeing would convince your heart and your mind?  Ah, but here is the crux of the issue: if Jesus did such a thing, and you went to tell others, would they believe you?  Would they trust you?  Would you be credible?  And how would you react if people did not believe you when you told them what you had seen?  Would their reaction cause doubts to arise within you, or would you proclaim all the more?

    The earliest witnesses to Jesus’ life, death and resurrection faced tons of opposition.  They faced tons of rejection.  They had more than a few people scoff at their witness, but they didn’t stop.  They didn’t quiet down.  Something radical had happened in their lives.  Something had changed them to their very core.  They had encountered the risen Jesus, and their hearts and minds were at peace.  They knew what God had done through Jesus, and they trusted in Jesus’ promise with their whole being.  They had faith in Him, and so despite the opposition; despite what others did to them, they kept telling about what God had done.  They persevered in living out this new faith.  They worked to be trustworthy and honest and upright.  They made no bones about their shortcomings and their brokenness.  They were not afraid to share their frailties and failings.  For Jesus did not accept them and love them because they were perfect.  Jesus did not die for them because they were holy or just or righteous.  Jesus did not call them because they were the religious elite; the smartest intellectuals; or the highest on the social totem pole.  No.  It was exactly the opposite.  It was a radical departure from everything the world had taught and has taught since then.  The first apostles knew the good news.

    For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world but so that the world may be saved through Him.

    And Jesus accomplished this by dying when we were unlovable and then rising to new life to show us that our unlovable nature will be transformed.  The disciples saw it.  And they passed it on.  To you and to me.  They passed this history to us and have asked us to trust their witness.  They want us to trust in Jesus like they trusted in Jesus so that our lives may be transformed.

    I stand before you today as one whose life has been transformed by faith in Jesus.  I stand before you today as one who has had his life turned upside down in a very good way because of understanding just what it means to have God enter into our world and die for us when we were unlovable.  I stand before you today as one who still is not perfect; who has failed to be a perfect example of morality and justice; who still says the wrong things and does the wrong things; who has upset people even when I did not intend to; who at times is overcome with self-interest and selfish desire; and yet, despite all of this know that God is working in my life to transform me–to transform the way I view the world; to transform the way I love you and others.  As the great hymn writer John Newton–who wrote Amazing Grace-- once said, “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.” 

    And I am what I am because God so loved the world that Jesus died for me while I was broken and there were those who were willing to pass this history down.  There were those who trusted this promise who helped me trust this promise, and now I invite you to trust it as well.  It will have the same effect on you.  Amen.

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