Lloyd Menke | Our Saviour’s
The Bible reference for this sermon is Luke 2:22-40. It can be found by clicking here.
circle of Giovanni Bellini [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Do you remember having your first child?
Hopefully you never had one of those awkward moment when people say unhelpful things. Parents magazine made a list of things not to say to parents of a newborn.
- Wow, you look tired!
- Your baby sure cries a lot.
- It only gets worse as they get older.
- Did you really want a boy? A girl?
- Are going back to work soon?
- Are you ready for another?
- He/she doesn’t look anything like you.
I wonder how Joseph and Mary felt. They are devoted Jewish parents. They come to the Temple to fulfill the religious laws regarding purification and presentation.
There in the Temple is Simeon. He has been told that he will not die before he sees the Messiah. He takes the baby Jesus in his arms and as the baby Jesus pulls at his beard he proclaims:
“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
It is a wonderful and strange proclamation. He is saying he can now die in peace. God has kept his promise. He has seen God’s salvation. He blesses the parents, and then as he hands the baby Jesus back he tells Mary:
“This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Now that’s got to be right up there in the list of things not to say. Simeon wasn’t concerned about polite etiquette. Luke tells us he was guided by the Holy Spirit to this moment.
There was truth in what he said. There were those who rose and fell because of him. There certainly was opposition. And Mary’s heart clearly was pierced as she watched him be crucified.
There is SO much in this short scripture. So much we could talk about. So many questions. We could spend all our time talking about what it means that the Holy Spirit rested upon Simeon, revealed he would see the Messiah, and guided him to the Temple.
But, I will be focusing here on Simeon’s statement “…he will be a sign that will be opposed…” Simeon seems to be saying, part of being God’s blessing in the world also includes being opposed.
I like what Caroline Lewis has to say about this:
“Yet, as we observe how “Christians” end up living this out in the world, all too often, the order of God’s intention is reversed. It’s as if looking for opposition is that which will secure blessing. That finding ways of opposing others and carrying out actions that will certainly end in antagonism are badges of honor.
And when we get the order mixed up, the result is not blessing at all and certainly not for all.
Because whenever we set out to do anything for the sake of justification or to secure our own sanctification, the result is always self-centered and self-serving.”
Yet, Simeon is clear — Mary’s blessing, the blessing of Jesus in this world, will not be met with whole-hearted approval. When you face opposition how do you know if you are being opposed because God is with you or because you are opposing God?
Did you catch the news yesterday? Reuter’s reports:
“CAIRO (Reuters) – A gunman killed at least 11 people on Friday in attacks on a Coptic Orthodox church and a Christian-owned shop near Cairo before he was wounded and arrested, the Egyptian interior ministry and church officials said.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks, in a statement carried out by its Amaq news agency, though it provided no evidence for the claim.
Police have stepped up security measures around churches ahead of Coptic Christmas celebrations on Jan. 7, deploying officers outside Christian places of worship and setting up metal detectors at some of the bigger churches.
Islamist militants have claimed several attacks on Egypt’s large Christian minority in recent years, including two bombings on Palm Sunday in April and a blast at Cairo’s largest Coptic cathedral in December 2016 that killed 28 people.
Earlier reports by security sources and state media said at least two attackers were involved in Friday’s attack, and that one was shot dead and another fled the scene.
The interior ministry did not explain the reason for the different accounts.”
Religion has been and continues to be a source of conflict in our world. Who of us doesn’t wish that was not the case? It is not surprising then that many people resonate with John Lennon’s song, Imagine, when it comes to mind.
Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today
If you think religion is only about what I get out of it – and its purpose is to share my needs – give me peace – well then, Simeon’s song comes as a shock.
But, this whole business of opposition is not easy. One of the best explanations I have heard to the meaning of the 2nd commandment:
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
There is more to this commandment than not swearing, it is also about not claiming, “God is on our side.” Don’t you find yourself struggling with that temptation at times?
Religion has been in the news a lot these days. Religious questions are being politicized. Think about the religious issues politicized in this last year:
- homosexuality and transgender rights,
- more specifically, whether or not it should be lawful for someone to refuse to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple,
- the degree to which moral issues should be considered in elections – Roger Moore, or in business
- governmental responsibility for the poor
Given the deep divides and differing perspectives how do you know if you are being opposed because God is with you or because you are opposing God?
Rather than telling you what to believe, I think it is more helpful to give you tools to help you discern for yourself. I have as much difficult living this list as anyone. I have shied away from sharing lists in the past. I have discovered that my problem isn’t the knowledge of what to do, rather, it is not doing what I know I should.
This list is not intended to be exhaustive. Please add to it from your experience. This is also not intended to be a formula to provide “answers.” It is intended to describe some things that have been helpful for me in my ongoing relationship with God as I seek to not be opposing God.
Helpful Activities for Discernment
- Realize that while God may have a plan, our primary job is not to make sure we discover it. The God I know doesn’t punish us – if we sometimes wander or don’t do everything according to some predetermined, but hidden plan. The God I know, “works all things together for good for those who love God.” In some decisions, God simply, says, “Choose, and I will be with you regardless of the decision.”
- Cultivate open-mindedness and humility while continuing to act. Inaction is also an action. Avoid being paralyzed by self-doubt. The Jesuits talk about desolation and consolation. If you are having a difficult time deciding on an action, commit to one way or the other, but don’t do anything yet, wait to see as you pray about it for a time (you should need more than a couple of days) if you have a sense of restlessness about what you committed to (desolation) or a sense of peace (consolation). The Jesuits would say God is in the peace. I have found this a helpful tool over the years.
- Surround yourself with loving friends and family who are also willing to call you out. Martin Luther talked about the mutual consolation and conversation of the saints. We all need people who will both encourage us and challenge us.
- Ask yourself if your positions and actions are self-serving or self-justifying. Are they as much other-directed and motivated as self-directed and motivated? Self-serving and self-justification are often a tipoff that we aren’t thinking primarily about what God wants.
- Spend time with scripture, devotions, and in prayer.
- Be confident that God is at work! Be confident God works all things for good for those who love God, if not in this life, then in the next. For me the amazing thing about the resurrection is that God takes the worst thing possible humans could do – killing God in the person of Jesus – and turns that event into what saves us.
Religion, conflict, and politicizing of religious and moral issues are likely to continue to be in the news in the coming year. Hopefully, what I have outlined will be of help to you has you seek to be God’s blessing in the world. But, more than that believe that God is at work. In the end, it is not about what we do or don’t do when it comes to our relationship with God. It is about the fact that God works all things for good for those who love God, if not in this life, then in the next. Amen.