Feast of the Presentation Yr C, 2019
‘The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his Temple’
God does nothing because he needs to. There is no deficiency in God. He is complete in and of himself. He needs nothing, there is nothing he has to do. There is nothing you can give to him, nothing he needs from you or I. He scolds Israel saying ‘I will not accept a bull from your house, or goats from your folds. For every wild animal of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. ’
As our Psalm this morning reminds us – The Earth is the Lord’s and all they that dwell therein.
Perhaps the single way in which we are most unlike God is simply that this is not true of us, or at least that is the story we are told. There are many things that we really must be doing. And if we can’t think of any, then the World will offer them. From the ‘friends’ who tell us, ‘you must really see this play, or read that book’, to the absurd, no I correct myself ‘obscene’ idea of bucket lists. ’50 things you must, places you must go before you die’. All of this of course quietly or noisily feeding the monster of consumer capitalism that is destroying the earth – but more perniciously feeding our sense of incompleteness.
Except that we are not born with that sense. It’s a story we tell ourselves, or are told. The children in the garden are in every sense complete. They live in perfect harmony with God, who walks with them in the cool of the day. The Snake disturbs the story by telling them, ‘your lives aren’t complete until you . . .’ and so we have learnt, from the Snake, that our lives are not complete. And so, ‘if we have the money’ – and of course this is a game for people who have money, which is why we have so much credit, for if you don’t have the money, you can’t play the game – we set out to make a life for ourselves – a complete life, because of course our lives aren’t complete. And then in a bizarre religious twist try to place it before God – the finished work of our own personal project, the life we make for ourselves, because of course we were incomplete to start with . . . it is very troubling to recount the myriad forms of so called Christian folk wisdom which start with this presumption, that our lives are incomplete.
When we live with this story we start to look around, at lives that by our standards are more complete that ours, which feed the deadly thoughts of envy, or lives that by our standards are less complete than ours, which feed the deadly thoughts of pride. We begin to look at children purely in terms of ‘their potential’ and our lives are completely stressed out lest we fail to do our duty as parents to make sure our children become complete . . . because at some level we believe that they are not . . . or put another way, they are less than fully human. The idea of ‘less than fully human’ is not the preserve of racists and the like; it is part of the story we all tell, and insofar as we thing there are things we all must do, is the truth we tell about all humanity, by and large subconsciously.
And in such a world, simple communion with God, is seen as a luxury, because after all we have the job of our life project to complete. ‘Can’t hang around here too long Lord – things I must be doing because of course you realise that you didn’t give me a complete life . . .’ Prayer become a means to ‘the greater end’ of ‘my life’, not an end – or better The End, the goal, the Purpose of our lives. And as there seem to be so many much more effective ways that prayer to fill up the gaps in our personal life scrap books, it disappears.
A couple of weeks ago, folk from churches all over Dunedin met with Bishop Steven, to talk together about ‘the future’ of the church here. Such conversations trouble me greatly, they are always far to abstract and end up with the people at the top telling those at the bottom that for the greater good of all, their church will have to close . . . it’s the World’s story – for the sake for he whole, your wood is being bought up, your land taken away, your children ‘educated’ etc. etc., because someone high up is anxious and fears we are all incomplete . . . as if two or three gathering together in the name of Jesus wasn’t enough . . .
But one thing struck me, a comment towards the end of Bishop Steven’s after listening to a catalogue of ‘all the great things we were doing’, ‘I noticed that no one mentioned prayer . . .’
All of which begs a couple of questions . . . firstly what on earth is The Feast of the Presentation all about? How will it help me, how will it add to my understanding, how will it help me complete my life? And Secondly what on earth were Anna and Simeon doing?? Two old people, who have spent their entire lives ‘just’ waiting on God
Well simply, they Saw, they Understood, that the point was actually waiting on God for the Completion of His Story.
First – I want to clear up a ridiculous story that some folk are keen to tell – that is that Jesus was a comfortably middle class child – just like us 🙂 A story put about it must be said by comfortably off middle class people – First, in the time of Jesus, and indeed all thorough history until the late middle ages, there was no such thing as the middle class. Yes, Joseph was a carpenter, but he would have ground out a living in that trade working for whoever would give him work was all other workers did. Second we know because the offering they Mary and Joseph make according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’, the offering for those who couldn’t afford a lamb . . . (Of course they were offering the lamb, but that’s another story . . . )
So, they come to the Temple and there encounter Simeon, and Anna. Anna had been married for seven years, she has been a widow for 84, given the custom of the time, she was like Mary probably betrothed in her early teens, so she was as the scripture says ‘advanced in days, a great many’ . . . over a hundred years old – and how did she spend this time? not leaving the Temple night or day with fasting a praying . . .
And behold! A man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, eagerly awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him.
The Holy Spirit rested on Him. It is a telling phrase – here is someone who lives without anxiety – he is not hither and thither, his life caught up in a thousand distractions – perhaps he sense there is nothing in particular he lacks? That he Must be busy doing? It is hard for the Holy Spirit to rest on one who is not at rest . . .
And he communes with God – for It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. This was to be a gift to him – there was nothing he had to do to attain it, just sit still, be at rest, Wait.
And so ‘in the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple’ I love that phrase – his life is the life of the Spirit, how complete can you get! The Spirit brings him to this place. Is it not Life in the Spirit to which we are directed by God’s word? Not the anxious life of the flesh which is never satisfied which is never complete
And his words are words of Completion – how appropriate that they are the last words spoken at the funeral of Saints – Lord now wettest thou thy servant depart in peace – according to thy word for Yes! As you said mine eyes have seen thy salvation!’ And he speaks prophetic words to Mary – speaking of the child as a ‘Sign’. The Child is a Sign – there is no sense that ‘this child has work to do’ There is a completeness in Christ as a Child. Simeon has seen Christ – he has seen it all – He is complete – for he has seen the completion which God brings. And he has seen it, for he is one who is at rest watching and waiting for God – for God’s Salvation. He’s not interested in the project of his life – he is only interested in God, watching and waiting for Him . . . As Jesus will say later in the gospel – ‘One thing is necessary’
This is the Completion of the Work of God – The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His Temple. The Completion of the Work of God – he placed the man in the garden. and it was very good. The Child in the Temple – A little child will lead them . . . a child – complete in and of himself, not anxious to make a life for himself, a child who knows he is the child of his father in heaven, and in this is completion and fullness. The final act of Creation is the placing of the True Human, complete in the Garden. And Simeon sees this – his waiting has led to his fulfilment. His life is Complete
Why does Simeon See? Because he is at rest – Why does Anna know this is the One, because she is constantly communing with God . . . and Bishops Steven noticed that no one mentioned prayer . . . Yet, a week last Thursday, the bishop came to his church and together we ten of us, sat and prayed in this place
May this place continue to be a house of prayer; may we ourselves be at rest; may the Holy Spirit thus find a resting place upon us as the Dove found solid ground in the flood; may we know our completion in Christ – and so be set free from the fear of death, from the fear of lives unfulfilled, from the fear of not attaining potential – may we become as Christ teaches ‘as little children’, not knowing any lack, because our Life is in the Father, the One Complete in and of Himself
In the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit