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Reflection February 9, 2020
“My Eyes Have Seen!”- by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
I’ve decided to place last Sunday’s sermon in this week’s Advance. My sermon grew from the account of Jesus being presented in the Temple (Luke 2: 22-40).
Today we have Jesus being brought to the Jerusalem Temple. We find this account only in Luke’s Gospel. The most important proclamation comes at the conclusion of Simeon’s famous Nunc Dimittis: “Now you may dismiss your servant … for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples … a light for revelation to the Gentiles (pagans) and for the glory to your people Israel.”
Luke is always, in his Gospel and in his Acts of the Apostles, proclaiming the universal message and the universal salvation found in Jesus Christ. No other New Testament writer proclaims the universal impact of Jesus Christ as does Luke.
This is another of the many reasons why Luke’s Gospel is my favorite. Sisters and brothers, which of the four gospels is your favorite? If you don’t have a favorite then I suggest reading them again. That might be a good project for our upcoming Season of Lent, which begins on February 26. No surprise - it‘s a Wednesday!
By the way, Jesus was circumcised when? Yes, on the eight day after his birth as required by the Law of Moses. So when would Jesus have been presented at the Temple as a first-born male? Only the first-born males needed to be brought to the Temple (by the way, this included all first-born male animals). See Exodus 13:1-2.
At 30 days, first-born male babies would be brought to the Temple, and given back to God. Then the parents could “buy back” their child. The “buy-back” amount was five shekels according to Numbers 3:40 and following.
Luke writes about the sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves or 2 young pigeons. This was not the Law. Luke apparently didn’t know the Mosaic Law all that well. Luke was probably not a native-born Jew but, more-likely, an adult convert.
So Jesus is presented in the Temple and “bought” back by Mary and Joseph. After this ceremony, they return to Nazareth from Bethlehem.
Brothers and sisters, in light of what Simeon and Anna have to say about Jesus, I’d like to challenge us today about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, which all Christians claim to be. To be a disciple is, first and foremost, to be a follower of Jesus.
Unfortunately in our world, many, if not most, who claim the title Christian know very little about what discipleship entails. I believe Christianity went off the rails with the whole dispute, accentuated by Martin Luther, over faith versus works.
Yes, faith in Jesus Christ is critically important but if one believes in Jesus Christ, one is supposed to act like Jesus Christ. Belief is not nearly enough! This is why we can have political leaders, business leaders, church leaders claiming to be Christian who are so demonstrably, even demonically, unChristian!
Sisters and brothers, read again Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:31-46. This passage on how we will be judged is, without doubt, the most frightening passage to be found in the Bible. This passage rightly causes anyone who reads it to tremble in his or her boots. I certainly tremble! Being a Christian, according to Jesus, requires us to ACT!
To call our country a Christian country is, I believe, blasphemous. We are light-years away from being a Christian country. To be a Christian country would require the people of our country to be Christ-like.
To claim we live in a Christ-like country is ludicrous. This is evident in light of the long history of slavery, the terrible contagion of racism, the rampant greed, the staggering unconcern for the poor and the powerless, the horrible hostility and violence of so many.
Brothers and sisters, we’re not a Christian country. We’re a country of unbridled anger and fear-fueled hostility. Our national pastime is not sports. Our national pastime is who can I hate? Even more so, as my confrere Richard Rohr stated it: Who can I hate in Jesus’ name? We are well on our way to being consumed by our greed, our hatreds, and our fears.
So what does it mean to be a follower of Jesus Christ? We might start with something from the Algerian writer and existentialist (who I read in college) Albert Camus. Camus wrote the following: “There are causes worth dying for but there are no causes worth killing for.” This could be a good starting-point for being a Christian. And, as always, we must not forget the cross!
As our brother Paul makes clear again and again, we’re to be transformed into the likeness of Christ. But for this to happen, for us to become real Christians instead of false Christians, to become true Christians instead of fake Christians, requires first the study of the Gospels and the study of the rest of the Christian Scriptures. We need to immerse ourselves in those sacred texts.
Most Christians know almost nothing about the Christian sacred writings. We have, collectively as Christians, an appalling lack of knowledge about the Christian Scriptures. As I’ve noted before, it’s not unusual for my students at Moraine Valley Community College to collectively be incapable of identifying the names of the 4 Gospels!
And this study, sisters and brothers, requires more than being able to quote Bible passages, which is a good thing. But more important than quoting Bible passages is the study of what those passages mean. And, most importantly, what do these passages mean to me in the here and now. What is the Spirit of the Living God saying to me in the here and now of the passages I read?
Let me sum this up for us using words from the famous physician and humanitarian Albert Schweitzer. He put the Christian life simply: “As followers of Christ, we’re called to step in to help others in Jesus’ name.” Easy to understand, brothers and sisters, hard to do!
Does the truth of Jesus still matter in our post-modern, post-truth, society? Does the truth of Jesus still matter to our young? The only way Jesus matters today is when those of us who follow Jesus imitate Jesus.
But if we fully follow Jesus, we can be sure the world will hate us for it. Hear these words of Jesus from John 15:18: “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you.” Brothers and sisters, just as the world at the time of Jesus hated him, so we can expect the same treatment.
The imitation of Jesus means we treat everyone as Jesus would treat them: with kindness and compassion. But kindness and compassion are often seen as weaknesses among the rich and the powerful. God help us all!
Let me end my words with a famous quotation: “It’s not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting; it’s that Christianity has been tried and found to be too hard.” Amen to this, sisters and brothers, amen to this!
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth, Pastor
Rev. Millie Myren, Support Minister