Windsor Community United Methodist Church
Sunday, December 08, 2013
Mike Turgeon “Faith and the common good” 1/2/2011
When the time came for his purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
‘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.’
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage. then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. Luke 2:22, 27-30, 36-38.
Faith and the common good
Ten full years have passed since Y2K. 3,653 days since that fateful day when the clocks struck--what? Midnight? When the world as we knew it would never be the same again?
For those who may have been out of town, or not born at that time, Y2K is the short-hand for the turning of the clock from the year 1999 to the year 2000; the dawn of not only a new century, but literally the dawn of a new millennium.
A lot of anxiety went into that last tick of the atomic clock. The last time that happened was when the sundial went from the year 999 to the year 1000; I’m going to venture to guess there was rampant anxiety back then, too, just maybe a lot less hype.
What might those who predicted the future have been predicting in the year 999? A quick survey of Wikipedia and Google doesn’t reveal much. In the year 999 was the world aware that in 1000 Leif Erickson was going to sail to Vinland? (more popularly known as America to you and I).
In the year 999, Iceland converted to Christianity. Was that something the world was aware of--remember no newspapers or even Twitter accounts.
I also found that the manuscript of Boewulf started circulating. Now, I’m sure they could not have imagined that high-schoolers would still be reading it today. And those who predicted the future back then certainly couldn’t have seen William the Conqueror coming, or Guttenburg, or Columbus.
Nonetheless, we still insist on predicting the future, don’t we?
Very early in the 20th century, before TV, it was at World’s Fairs where you might find glimpses of the future. One fair in particular touted the benefits of modern appliances. The prediction was that washing machines and vacuum cleaners--run by electricity if you can let your imagination run wild--would create a whole new leisure class by removing the burden of housework from women’s lives.
About a hundred years later, I’ve had housewives tell me the best moment of their day is doing the dishes. Not loading the dishwasher, but standing there washing dishes one by one, then drying them and putting them away. I’ve been told it is an oasis in the sea of chaos that is their lives. “Don’t bother Mom now, she’s doing the dishes.” Or “Honey, not now, I’m doing the dishes.”
What happened? Technology was supposed to provide a breather but it has only led to flat out breathlessness. Does the fact that we can do more automatically mean that we must? The spiritual issue at play here is that acquiring stuff and doing stuff does not reduce our dissatisfactions, only letting go does that.
Back in the days when white men hired “natives” to carry their supplies on safari, a story surfaced in which a group of native porters worked hard, traveling fast for several days and then one day simply refused to move. When someone was finally able to translate, their leader said, “we have been moving too fast; now we have to wait for our souls to catch up with our bodies.” (Thanks to retired Rev. Bob Olmstead for this illustration)
That is considered “primitive” wisdom, stopping and letting your soul catch up to your body. Primitive wisdom! Older than old-fashioned even, primitive, something we really don’t take seriously anymore.
So if that is primitive wisdom, what is modern wisdom? We all know that answer, when you body is moving too fast for your soul, take a pill, have a drink, that will fix you up.
The battle to slow down affects us all, from our over-scheduled kids to our ‘on-the-go’ retirees. We know that. But we also know that we are in much more need of hush that we are of hype.
So, how do we go forward? How do we distinguish between what is hype and what is real? People predicted that TV would put an end to the movies. Now we rent movies and watch them on our TVs.
Only about ten years ago it was predicted that something called the World Wide Web would put an end to books. Now we order books over the Web and Amazon ships them to our doorstep.
And now with Kindles and iPads we understand that the Internet did not put an end to books but it certainly changed the way we buy them. (Thanks again to Bob Olmstead for this insight).
It is fair to say that we have let our technological abilities gallop on ahead of our spiritual sensibilities. Is there anything we can do? Is there hope for the future? Well, you’ve come to the right place, the church is the place where there is always hope for the future.
Because clearly, hope for the future does not lie in our politicians. Despite what we have just witnessed in the recent lame duck session of Congress, no one is fooled that partisanship is at an end. As long as money talks louder than you and I in our politics, we will get the best government money can buy. Who is to blame? Republicans? Democrats? No, it’s me and you who are to blame. There are two kinds of power, organized money and organized people. And when people refuse to take responsibility for politics, you get what you get. Apathy always leads to abdication. And not just in politics. Whether it be family, school, community or church, lack of interest leads to lack of excellence.
So let’s speak about the church. Does hope for the future lie in the church? A good question.
In the general fabric of our culture, particularly here in the west, where once the church was the headlight on the engine of society, it is without doubt now the tail light on the caboose. Why is that? Well, that’s a sermon series for another day.
But if the church is to supply hope for the future it seems to me that will depend on what condition your hope is in.
I wonder what it was in old Simeon and Anna that caused them to see in this lowly family the hope for the ages, and the restoration of balance? Was it the wisdom of age? Both of them were surely in their eighties, a seriously ripe old age back then. Now, some of us are just getting started at 70 and 80, getting our momentum going.
I believe there is something to the wisdom of age. Just as an infant is not ready to speak in it’s first year, true wisdom does not come to teen-agers; you gotta’ get out and live a little bit. Simeon and Anna had certainly ‘lived a little bit.’ And the wisdom we see here is that both these sages are looking for the redemption of Israel. Each has a dedicated purpose in life.
In Simeon’s case, he had a vision, revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would see the Messiah. So in following that vision, he shows up at the temple every day, vigilant to find this savior when he comes.
In the case of Anna, we hear she was a prophet, a widow and a devout person who “prayed both day and night.”
These blessings that Joseph and Mary receive for their child are part of ritual observance, something we have lost touch with in our fast-paced society. For Mary and Joseph, what would have been more important than recognition and support for their family as they seek to bring this child to maturity, to know their plan was met with approval by the wider world? That they were not alone.
I believe Simeon and Anna represent the best part of being human, the part within us that acts on behalf of the common good. When we invest our time, energy and monetary resources for the betterment of all, we act out of our ‘higher nature.’ Simeon and Anna are our higher nature. When we figure out our purpose and commit to it, we no longer have to be subject to the agenda of others or what the TV wants from us.
Today is the first Sunday of a new year. There will be thousands of preachers today who will exhort their congregations to take on big plans--building projects, mission projects, fund-raising projects, you name it, the bigger the better. I have no problem with that. The mission of the church is as wide as it is deep and broad.
But I see a different, way too neglected aspect of church just aching to be addressed. I speak of a return to our ancient practices.
Prayer, reflection, good works, in endless rotation and not in isolation, but together. Remember, we only do 5 things as the church. We are hospitable; that is, we invite. We worship; that is, we have our priorities straight. We develop faith; that is, we study and learn. We take risks by reaching out to help others. We are generous with our time and resources.
So here’s the formula--practice praying together, practice reflecting together, practice doing good works together. These practices have largely been abandoned by the world, so we are at risk of being radical. Radical means going back to our roots. How will the world perceive our plan? That’s not ours to determine. Our job is to focus together on our purpose and act it out, like Simeon and Anna did.
In the midst of chaos, any organism or person that acts purposefully and authentically for the common good will shine. Purpose is appealing. Acting from commitment is attractive. Hospitality is hopeful.
I use a little pamphlet for study every morning. It is called “The Art Of Pastoring,” by William Martin, a pastor in the Reformed Church of America. I quote: “How blessed are the countless thousands of little congregations who quietly go about the business of giving their modest gift to the world.”
He goes on to say: “For the souls of those pastors whose congregations are large and powerful, we pray to the Lord. Lord have mercy.”
Simeon and Anna were not predicting the future, they were essentially putting a period on a chapter in their lives that happened to coincide with the beginning of the life of God’s Chosen One. Thank you, Simeon and Anna, for your commitment and purpose, and for directing our eyes and helping guide our feet.