aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

By request

Sermon for last Sunday
Luke 2:22-40

Images of Peace

Simeon and Anna are two old people who are seen about the Temple a lot. Both are looking for something -- something they have felt the lack of, and the desire for, their whole lives. And one day that something is carried through the door, and all their lives' waiting is fulfilled; for Jesus is carried in by his parents forty days after his birth -- as was the custom -- and they see him there.

Simeon has a dark and perceptive message for Mary, glimpsing from afar what a roller coaster it is going to be to be this child's mother. Meanwhile, Anna has a lot to say to all those who are coming into the Temple looking for the coming of God's redemption -- for Jerusalem, and for themselves. And Simeon wraps up his life's journey and labor with this prayer:
"Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace,
according to thy word;
for mine eyes have seen thy salvation
which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to thy people Israel."
And what I'd like you to see is that Simeon's and Anna's lives look very different to themselves -- seen from the inside -- and as seen from the outside by the other worshipers who knew them. For themselves, there is a restlessness, a wanting, a something unsatisfied, and they cannot finally know peace until they have seen it. But to others who knew them, I'll bet Simeon and Anna have long since seemed to be perfect examples of what a life at peace looks like.

Now, think of someone you have looked up to, and tried to pattern yourself after. It's hard to see where Grandpa could ever not know the right thing to do. It's hard to believe that there was anything that Grandma could not cook or make. Right? But to Grandma and Grandpa themselves, things might not seem to settled. Hard as it is for their juniors to believe, they haven't always been as they are now, and the long journey is not over yet; there are still things they may desire to know or to receive. To their eager admirers, they may appear the very images of peace, but they themselves know their restlessness and their longings.

And yet, Simeon and Anna -- like others we have known -- really are at peace. While their journey may not be quite done, it is quite clear where they are heading -- which is something that the younger folks can't always say. And it is quite certain that they have a sense of the whole journey and its meaning -- and that they are so much at peace with it that they are unlikely to suddenly shoot off in some other direction, which is, again, more than many others can say. So I guess you could say that they are at peace even though they are still waiting for their peace.

Now, this is a very important concept, and one which is often misunderstood! Those who are struggling with life, laden with worries, fearful of the outcome of next week's decisions, they find it hard to imagine ever possessing the serenity of the spiritual giants they know. And when those mentors -- Simeon, Anna, Grandma, Grandpa, Mom and Dad -- say, "don't be discouraged; why when you look back on this, you'll remember it as the best time in your life," their hearers misunderstand them. Too often, they think that it just means that Grandma and Grandpa must have conquered this situation effortlessly, and we who can't are never going to make it -- and that would be very, very wrong.

Yes, Simeon and Anna (or whoever) were just as perplexed, just as discouraged as you when they were in your situation, but because they were on the journey they're on, the joy is what has stayed with them, and not the weariness or the worry. You see, the goal of your journey works backwards into your life and changes the meaning of all its events. Those who are bound for heaven often report, as they near their journey's end, that all of their life's journey -- even the sad parts -- has been but a tour of the suburbs of the Holy City. Meanwhile, those who are bound and determined to make a hell of their own and occupy it as sole tyrant and lord often report, the closer they come to their goal, how even the best parts of their journey have been disappointing -- ruined by So and So -- not really what they'd hoped for -- nothing lives up to its billing. It is because the Simeons and Annas we have known have sought the peace of God that they have it, even in the midst of their striving, and they are therefore a conduit of that peace to all around them.

And let me head off another popular misunderstanding: I am not talking about that silly idea, "to travel hopefully is better than to arrive." Yes, those who travel toward a goal keep finding that goal anticipated in wonderful ways before reaching that goal, so that oftentimes we remember difficult times fondly and grievous times as times of grace. But if we had not had the right goal, even our best times would breathe wrongness and all our memories would be wormwood and gall -- regrets and might-have-beens. It is only Simeon's and Anna's hope of seeing the King that has made them full inheritors of his kingdom, even before that kingdom's coming. But if there had been no King coming, there would have been no kingdom, no peace, no righteousness, no joy -- only ashes.

Those whose only desire is to find the Prince of Peace shall have peace, even in the midst of unpeace -- and the world wonders at their spiritual strength. But those who want only peace will find no peace, no matter how hopefully they travel. Those who want only love will find no love, those who want only joy will find no joy; only those who want something else -- and want it enough to desire it more than peace, and love, and joy, and justice, and mercy shall find what they seek -- and only if the one they seek can give it to them. Only those looking for the consolation of Israel -- the Christ -- will find what the Christ has to give. And he will make the journey worthwhile, even though it leads through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

And this has a very important application for our future as a church, and I would not have you miss it. American Protestantism is at a crisis point these days. The UMC is at a crisis point these days. Our congregation shares in the troubling of the entire Christian movement (as well as having its own, unique problems). We struggle to know how we can find again the missionary zeal, the optimism, the growth in numbers, the spiritual vitality we once had. And we can see that our society is restless these days. Religious people are trying to return to their roots and offer more than just "churchiness" to those who are hungering and thirsting for righteousness. And a lot of quick fixes and programmatic nostrums are being sold these days. The pitch is, Do these things, and you will have revival. "If you build it, they will come." Or, in a crasser sense, if you give the customer what he wants, he'll buy it -- and our future as the vendor will be assured.

But if we just take the same old hopeless Christians and slap a new poster up, and put on some fresh paint, and change all our buzzwords, then our efforts will surely fail, for we will be the same old hopeless US that we were before. And why should anyone seeking hope come to the hopeless? Or why should anyone seeking peace or righteousness come to those who are not at peace, or who are out-of-synch with rightness?

Why do you go to Grandma with your problems? Why do you think Grandpa knows what you should do? Because something in them draws you to them, and you want what they have. There are others you love just as much, but you do not seek their help, because it is obvious that what you seek is not in them. But it is in these others; it just shines through them.

My friends, we cannot bring peace to others if we are not at peace -- at peace with God, and at peace with each other. We cannot bring love to others if we are not ourselves living in love. We cannot share joy or justice or mercy or honor if we do not have these things in us to share. But programs will not bring them to us. Committees will not make them available. Proclaiming them from the pulpit will not make them so. These things are not in us -- not in our possession, at least. They are in Christ, and if with our whole hearts we want him, then we will have all these things, even in the midst of perplexities and sorrows and heartaches. And others will see him through us, and will be drawn to him -- not to us, though that's part of it, but to him. We are but images of the Prince of Peace. It is him they want. And if we want him, too, then they and we alike shall find him together.

"Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace,
according to thy word;
for mine eyes have seen thy salvation
which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to thy people Israel."
Peace is not escaping trouble. Peace is not avoiding conflict. Peace is not guaranteed success. Peace is knowing God in Jesus Christ. And the word I speak is so, both for the restless individual and for the restless church: Until and unless we want him more than anything else, we will know no peace, nor have any to share with a restless world. But if our deepest and only desire is to see his salvation, then it does not matter what troubles, what conflicts, what failures we must face. He will face them with us, and in the midst of great upheavals we will not be overthrown, and all our way stations shall partake of the glory of our journey's end.


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