Jim Zazzera, Faith Presbyterian Church, 1 January 2012
I want to begin by showing you some pictures from a website I found. Its from an artist and urban planner named Candy Chang. Her project is called “Before I Die.”
Here is a quote from her site: It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and forget what really matters to you. With help from friends and neighbors, Candy turned the side of an abandoned house in her neighborhood inNew Orleansinto a giant chalkboard where residents can write on the wall and share what is important to them.
Before I Die is an interactive public art project that transforms neglected spaces into constructive places where we can discover the hopes and dreams of the people around us. It is also a reminder to ourselves of what is most important to us. It’s a question that changed Candy after she lost someone she loved very much, and she believes the design of our public spaces can better reflect what matters to us as a community and as individuals.
Here are some photos of her work: http://candychang.com/before-i-die-in-nola/
She actually has created a kit for people to set up their own “Before I die” wall. Lots of different people are drawn to express themselves, with lots of different ideas about what they hope to do, in various parts of the world.
So what is one thing you would you like to do before you die? Sky dive over the NapaValley? Go to the World Series? Purchase your own home? Learn Arabic? Graduate from college? Ride the biggest roller coaster in the world? Get married? Have a grandchild? See the pyramids of Egypt?
I am intrigued by the words of a man named Simeon in our story today. Simeon is in the temple, with the privilege of holding the infant Jesus in his hands, and essentially says, “Now I can die in peace.” “Now that I see this child, now that I have reached this moment, now I can die in peace.”
What would ever make me feel as if I could die in peace? What would ever make me feel complete in my life on earth? Before we think further about that, take a moment to understand the story. The time is a month or so after Jesus birth — and Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus come to the temple inJerusalem. The reason they come is two-fold; for Mary to share in a ritual of purification after childbirth, and for Jesus (as a firstborn son) to be dedicated to God. The usual temple offering in this circumstance is a lamb, but being poor, all they can afford is two pigeons. There in thetempleMaryand Joseph encounter two people—not priests, not crowds flocking to the babe, not governmental leaders—just two relative unknowns with their eyes fixed on one thing.
The first person they meet is a man named Simeon, faithful, devout, and guided by the Spirit. Simeon has been told by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he would see the Messiah. On that particular day he is guided by that same Spirit to the temple where he meets the child Jesus and his parents. The second person Mary and Joseph meet is a woman of faith named Anna. At 84 years old, she spent all of her time in the temple, fasting, worshiping, and praying. She too meets the Christ child that day. Both of Simeon and Anna make startling statements about the child, and share insights that surprise even Jesus’ parents. Simeon proclaims that in this child “my eyes have seen your salvation,” and that the salvation given is for all people – both Gentile and Jew. Simeon also reminds the parents and all who are listening that this child will be a cause of conflict and division—that not everyone will welcome Jesus and his message.
Anna continues the theme of Simeon by praising God and speaking about the child to all who were looking for the “redemption ofJerusalem.” The whole story is a strange often overlooked story about Jesus’ childhood. We are in danger of overlooking it as well. We are so immune to these wonderful words about Jesus we have heard them all before (especially at Christmastime). So it is hard for us to even imagine what this scene must have been like.
So think of it this way, imagine a family brings a child into our worship service for baptism. Just after the water is poured and the child is baptized, a long time member from the back row shouts, “Can I come up and hold the child and say a few words?” (What can the pastor say?) He comes up, take the child from the minister, and goes on: “This child changes my life! He changes everything about our world! This child is not just important for his family, or this church, but for every person on the planet! This child will bring to the earth the life we need, the peace we yearn for, And the wholeness we say we desire!”
Before the man can even finish, another voice, a woman’s voice speaks from the front pew. “Can I say something too?” she says. You recognize it as the voice of a quietly prayerful woman of the church. She continues, “This child is what we have been waiting for, his life will fix everything that is broken in our world.” You are stunned, the pastor is flabbergasted, and the parents rush out of the church before the coffee hour just so they can either take in all that has happened (or get as far away from this church as possible).
It’s just a baby. It’s just a child. His parents are poor and nondescript. Simeon is a little bit crazy – who goes around saying he is guided by the Holy Spirit? Anna is an odd one herself – who spends all that time in the temple? Yet the message of this story is rich. God’s presence given to the most unlikely.
Salvation is given not as a narrow gift for a few but an offering for the whole world.
Yet I am still most intrigued by Simeon’s words and how he received the child. “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace…” or as we might say it, “Now I can die in peace…” This is more than just a cute story, but an astounding affirmation of faith. “I have seen your salvation, and it is enough,” says Simeon. Simeon received what God gave him….
I am not much like Simeon. I want so much more from God. I want a job that is always fulfilling. I want relationships without struggle. I want a body that never gets fat, breaks down, looks unseemly. I want a home that both protects me and expresses my personality. I want money enough so that I will be comfortable.
But what happens when I don’t have any of these things? What if all I have is the promised salvation that the world receives in Jesus? Is that enough? Can I die in peace?
Simeon does not have the whole picture of God’s work, but he says he can die because “my eyes have seen your salvation.” Not because “I am saved,” or “I know your will,” or “I have discovered my life’s purpose.” But because God’s salvation is working itself out in this world. Simeon is OK with the fact that life is still unfolding. But he has gotten a glimpse of what is to be.
Perhaps as I learn to receive Jesus into my life, I can be more like Simeon. I hope so. Content that I do not yet see all that God is doing in my life or in this world. At peace with a partial answer. Willing to delight in a foretaste of God’s kingdom.
That is what this communion table is about. It is what we can hold right now. It is our invitation to the promise of God’s salvation. It is a table that exists for the life of the world. In this moment – it may be all we have. In this moment, it is what points to the fullness of God’s love. I pray that I can eat and celebrate the gift of Jesus with you my brothers and sisters—and that it will be enough.
Next Step Questions
What is one thing that has happened in your life that allows you to “die in peace?”
Are there things you really want that you know you might never have? Does your faith in Jesus make it easier to let go of these things? Why or why not?
Read Luke 2:22-40 again. What do you notice? What do you question? What new insights do you gain?
What did Simeon and Anna say about Jesus? Do you understand what they are saying? Do you agree?
In his sermon, Jim says that both Simeon and Anna make “startling statements” about Jesus. What “startling statements” have you heard people make about Jesus? (Or perhaps you have made them.) Which statements are most important to you? Which ones are most difficult to understand?
What do you think the words “salvation” and “redemption” mean? Is “salvation” for individuals, for a group of people, for a nation, or for the whole world? (Take a look at verses 30-33 and verse 38)
What is the most important affirmation that you make about Jesus in your life?
As you begin this new year, is there something new or more that you would like to see from Jesus?
During our communion Sundays, we often offer an opportunity for people to talk about the work of the risen Christ in their lives. What struck you in the congregational sharing time from this Sunday?