Feast of the Presentation Christ of Christ in the Temple

Sermon Title:  Feast of the Presentation Christ of Christ in the Temple

Date: 27th December, 2015

Preacher: Rev’d Jonathan Chambers

Lectionary Readings:  Malachi 3.1-4, Psalm 24.7-10, Hebrews 2.14-18, Luke 2.22-40

Do you ever feel heartbroken for state of the world?

My son tells me that he and most of his friends don’t watch the news anymore because it’s so depressing.

Portrayed is a world of Scarcity, Loss and Suffering. Our economics and politics assume there will never be enough and our media’s main focus is on who is in pain and whose fault it is.

In contrast I woke yesterday morning at Boronia to the abundant sound of magpies warbling and as I sat up in bed drinking my tea , contemplating this sermon, the sun streamed in the window and magpies and rosellas came to drink and bathe in the bird bath outside the window. They drank and played in the water as if there was no scarcity; and having had their fill and fun, they went on their way.

It was Simeon the priest “who longed for the consolation of Israel and the Holy Spirit was upon him”.

I expect he despaired about Roman rule, as we despair about a peaceful solution to the Palestinian conflict.

He was probably concerned about the Priesthood who seemed to be more concerned about form than content, as some here have been concerned about our Anglican Primates that take action to exclude-as if God’s love will not be enough to go around. “Can’t be too generous.- and only to the deserving”.

And why all this undeserved suffering?…..for widows and children in Jerusalem or in our Detention Centres?

If these circumstances concern you, then I expect that you are like Simeon; on whom the Holy Spirit rested and who longed for his society to be consoled and relieved from its pain.

Luke portrays both Simeon and the prophet Anna as old and wise. I picture them both as having faces which have been well lived in. Like many here! Wise because of their experiences and hurts of the years, who can see God’s promise fulfilled in this poor family’s child, because they live in hope; born out of their experience of God’s provision despite their own pain.

And so they hoped for a Messiah who will console Israel, but Simeon gives a warning that “the child is destined for the rising and falling of many in Israel …..and a sword will piece your soul too” he says to Mary.

So this Hope won’t come without pain and as we know he foretells Jesus death.

So why does Jesus need to die?

This is a question that has always perplexed me. As I’ve said before, I have never liked the notion a God who sends his Son to die. None of us would do it. It’s inconsistent with Jesus teaching of a God who is portrayed as the Loving Father, who welcomes his son home when he fails.

Yet as the Hebrews passage today says he had to suffer for us who are held in slavery by the fear of death.

Well in the last week, my understanding of Why Jesus had to die has finally taken a leap forward. This has been a lifelong journey and I expect its not over yet.

Through integrating Richard Rohr’s thoughts expressed in Falling Upwards [1], his daily emails and today’s Hebrews reading, the penny has dropped; a little further.

Because I’ve always started with the assumption of scarcity, I’ve seen God sending his Son to suffer as barbaric: because I wouldn’t want to die… would you?

But as I’ve come to deal with my own pain and heal some of those deep wounds, I’ve come to understand that the pain wasn’t all bad. As Richard Rohr helpfully reflects, we learn most out of our failures and suffering: hence the title of his book “Falling Upwards”

My apparent “failure” in my ministry in Tasmania ,when I had to leave work for 3 months with Depression and eventually resign, taught me that what I feared the most….failure and therefore shame and exclusion, wasn’t the end of the world. Although there were those who said I wasn’t up to it, I survived and found that although bruised, I was fine. I found that my ‘well being’ didn’t depend on others’ acceptance.

In time when we returned to Melbourne, I commenced prison chaplaincy. Although difficult at first, I was amazed how easy I found it was to sit alongside the lost, the hopeless and the fearful. I never talked of my experience, but they seemed to know that I understood what it was like to have ‘gone over the edge’; to a place where those around consider you ‘not quite up to it anymore’.

Reflecting on that experience has made me realise that that experience although painful has been redeemed. First because I learnt to trust my own voice and rely on God, rather than insatiably seeking others’ approval and secondly, because the experience taught me compassion for those who suffer. Without that experience I wouldn’t understand loss.

So as the Hebrews passage explains today. Jesus shared our flesh and blood, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.

 Fear of Death is the ultimate scarcity. It’s the fear that there wont be enough life… and so we hang onto it dearly, not trusting anybody… not even God. Not until we suffer, do we learn that we cant do it all ourselves. In fact we don’t have to; because we will be held.…and out of that I trust I will be in death too. At the time I couldn’t see this, but  on reflection I could see God’s hand holding me and us. Like in that Footprints reflection that so many have found helpful.

 As Richard Rohr says

While resurrection is where incarnation leads, there is one caveat, and it’s a big one: transformation and “crucifixion” must intervene between life and Life. Some form of loss,

metamorphosis, or transformation always precedes any rejuvenation…..see the natural world.

The small ego-self hates all change. So someone needs to personally lead the way, model the path and say this is good and “necessary suffering.” Otherwise we will not trust this counterintuitive path. For Christians, this model, pioneer, and exemplar is Jesus (Hebrews12:2)[2]

That’s why Jesus had to give up power and die – to show us the way. That death doesn’t lead to oblivion and all we fear. It actually leads to new life. That’s the Pascal mystery which we journey through each Easter. It’s the narrative which gives us Christians meaning. It’s the pattern which we see in the natural world from animals to stars, demonstrating that this is the very nature of God who travels with and suffers with us; because he is Love.

We can only love the prisoners and others who are excluded when we lose the fear of what they may take away from us. Necessary tragedy teaches us empathy and gives us the desire to love those whom we previously feared, because we now see them as fellow travellers with us. We understand something of their own pain

That’s why Jesus says “Greater love has no one than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Because when somebody cares generously, they are behaving just like God.

The Gospel writers were trying to tell us through images, because concrete words fail, of their experience of their encounter with the Divine. To help explain the abundance they had found, they told of Jesus feeding 5000 people. The world’s scarcity view, played by the slow disciples says, ‘we only have 5 barley loaves and two fishes, but what are they amongst so many’. In response Jesus doesn’t say, “well they will have to work for this food”, or “they must learn a lesson for stupidly, coming out to this deserted placed without food”, he says ‘tell them to sit down: Do nothing, I’ll provide for you”: and there were heaps left over.

Having shown us the way by his example and through our experiences of God’s support, Jesus invites us to join with him in making this world a better place.

Like Richard Rohr, I’d say some of the happiest and most peaceful people I know walk with the crucified and help redeem their suffering. When we do this we become part with God in the co redemption of the world

 

So I encourage you, who have made some sense of your suffering, to live like Simeon and Anna. The Holy Spirit rests upon you and you can claim that you have seen the Messiah, who models the way to love and abundantly for all people.

Jesus knows what your suffering was like and he invites you to join with him showing love and generosity to those who are hurting, so that they too, will learn that there is always enough love.

In this way the purveyors of ‘scarcity’ won’t have the last word. They will gradually lose their power; and you will live generously, peacefully and life will be more fun.

 

And instead of the News I encourage you to watch the birds. ….They will feed your soul.

 

The Lord be with you.

[1] Falling Upwards: A spirituality for the two halves of life http://store.cac.org/Falling-Upward_p_18.html

[2] Ricard Rohr’s Daily Meditation, Friday, January 22, 2016 https://cac.org/gods-solidarity-with-suffering-2016-01-22/