Sunday, February 2, 2020

Presentation of Jesus in the temple, 2020: Consecrated for this

Lectionary: Malachi 3:1-4; Psalm 24:7-10;Hebrews 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-40

(Note: if the above audio won't play on your device, click HERE for an mp3 file)

En el nombre del Dios: creador, redentor, y santificador. Amen.

When I was a new mother, I ritually consecrated my firstborn. (Her father, by the way, was Jewish.) Not being Jewish, I didn’t care that the Biblical requirement (Ex 13:2) specified the consecration of a firstborn son to God.

I ritually consecrated my daughter to God because it was the only way I felt I could give thanks enough for her birth and the life we would share. In fact, that’s why I ritually consecrated all three of my children - alone, not in church, not with family. I didn’t know what our life would be like, but I knew from my own life experience that it would be wonderful and difficult, joyful at times and dreadfully sorrow-filled at other times. My overwhelming gratitude was that we would share all of that together.

To consecrate something is to set it apart as holy. To consecrate a person to God is to offer them and all their gifts, their actions, and their purpose to God’s service.

We practice this ritually through Baptism and at the ordination of our clergy. In fact, we call the ordination of a bishop their “consecration” and if you’ve ever been to the ordination of a deacon or priest or to the consecration of a bishop, you know how powerful these rituals are.

Each time we renew our baptismal vows, we reaffirm the consecration of ourselves to God, but in my conversations with parishioners over the years, I’ve found that many people view Baptism solely as an initiation rite, which it is - it’s just not all it is. Very few have ever acknowledged that they saw this sacrament and our regular renewal of it as the consecration of their own lives to God - that they have been set apart as holy and that their gifts, actions, and purpose have been and are being offered to God’s service.

Why does this matter? I think of the many people I’ve counseled in Confession or pastoral meetings who don’t feel and wouldn’t describe themselves as holy or useful to God - the world, or their experience in the world, has so tarnished their self-conception. I think of the many churches I’ve worked with as a pastor or through my Partnership for ReNEWal, who feel like they are too small or too old, or too poor to be useful to God.

To all of those I say, pish posh! That’s right, pish posh! And I say that backed up by the Gospel reading.

Mary and Joseph were a poor, disgraced couple who, in keeping with their faith tradition, came to their church for the purification ritual and to consecrate their newborn son according to the law. Consider how strange it must have been to take a baby that everyone knew wasn’t Joseph’s and present him to God, and have him declared holy. You can almost hear the whispers of the “good people” in town condemning their brazen impertinence.

But Mary and Joseph remained obedient to God and Mosaic law. Maybe by now they were getting used to the whispers and glares. I don’t know. It’s only been 40 days since the birth.

Anyway, at the temple, Simeon, a just and devout man of Jerusalem, shows up unexpectedly. I love that the gospel tells us that Simeon was led by the Spirit to the temple. In other words, he had not been invited.

So after crashing their ceremony, Simeon erupts with praise and thanks to God, then proclaims that God’s salvation would come through this child and that it would include the Gentiles. It’s no wonder the parents were amazed.

Simeon then approaches the stunned parents and offers a somber prophecy directly to Mary: "This child is destined for the death and resurrection of many; he is the standard, the exemplar who will be opposed because he will be a reckoning to many revealing the inner truth about them, and you will suffer too as if a sword has pierced your own soul." I think watching the crucifixion of her adult son thirty years later when the soldier pierced Jesus’ side, Mary’s own soul truly was pierced and Simeon’s prophecy was fulfilled.

Then we’re told of a second prophetic witness: Anna, an 84 year-old widow who lived at the temple. Upon seeing Jesus, Anna praised God and immediately turned to tell all who “were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” that the time had come. The Messiah was here. It was this child, Jesus.

About all the parents could do after that dramatic a purification ceremony was go home and raise their child, which they did - and we know how that story ends.

There are so many sermons to preach on this gospel, but the one God has raised up for today is this: You have been set apart as holy. You and your gifts, actions, and purpose have been and are being offered to God’s service. And the “you” in that is singular AND plural.

Therefore, we must acknowledge that because of God we are enough as we are - as individuals and as a parish community. Each one here has been created by God, uniquely gifted, and brought together by God for God’s service. Each one of us is beloved of God and all of us together make up God’s beloved community.

On the Episcopal Church website, there is a page dedicated to becoming beloved community. It says, “As the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement, we dream and work to foster Beloved Communities where all people may experience dignity and abundant life and see themselves and others as beloved children of God. The … resources [on this page] help us to understand and take up the long-term commitments necessary to form loving, liberating and life-giving relationships with each other. Together, we are growing as reconcilers, justice-makers, and healers in the name of Christ.”

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. first spoke the notion of “beloved community” into our imaginations. Here’s how the King Center describes it: "Dr. King’s Beloved Community is a global vision in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth. In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood."

We don’t need a Simeon or an Anna to tell us the time has come. It couldn’t be any clearer that we aren’t yet a global beloved community. And we are not too poor, too small, too old or too anything else to be holy and useful to God. We are exactly what God needs and wants here and now to be “reconcilers, justice-makers, and healers in the name of Christ.”

The world needs it and we have been consecrated for just this. Amen.

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