Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sermon for the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple: People of Hope

People of Hope

When I was in high school
I had quite a record collection.
Some of you remember LP record albums.
LP stood for Long Playing to distinguish them
from the smaller 45s of juke box fame.
They refer to LP records today as “Vinyl.”

Well, I had a stellar record collection.
I think I had...well, 15 albums!
I thought I was pretty cool.

This past week I asked Abby, our administrative assistant
(who is considerably younger than I am)--
I asked Abby,
“So, Abby, approximately how many tunes (songs)
do you have on your iPod?
just give me a rounded off figure.”
“Oh, maybe 2,000, 3,000--probably more,” she said.


But back in the day--
I thought I had a pretty awesome collection of music with my 15 albums.
I had the Beatles and the Beach Boys and Bob Dylan
and Joan Baez and Judy Collins.
The Temptations, Junior Walker and the All-Stars!
And Pete Seeger.

I remember that Pete Seeger album so well.
The album title was We Shall Overcome.

Pete Seeger died this week.
He was 94 years old.

I was surprised by how affected I was by his death.
As were many others.

We shall overcome.
Pete Seeger’s life was dedicated to overcoming prejudice,
and racism and hate.
His life and his music spoke volumes
about his love for the created world
and his love for God’s created people,
in all our wonderful diversity.

Pete Seeger played a lot of instruments,
but he mostly played the 5-string banjo.
He said that the first time he ever saw or heard a banjo played,
was when he was a little boy
and his father took him to a mountain music festival
in North Carolina.
(Yes! you can give a shout out here for Asheville!!)

I thought about Pete Seeger a lot this week
including when I studied our gospel text.
The Presentation of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple.
This is what we celebrate today.
I could imagine Simeon and Pete Seeger sharing a lot in common:
their old age and their wisdom
and their optimistic view
of the world.

Mary and Joseph have come
to do what all good Jewish parents would do--
to present their son Jesus to God at the Temple.
It’s what people did with their first born son,
to make a sacrifice of thanksgiving for the gift of a child,
And yes, in that time period,
the gift of a son, a boy.

It is clear that Mary and Joseph are not wealthy people.
If they were wealthy they would have bought
and sacrificed a young lamb
in honor of their son.

But they are not wealthy.
In fact they are poor.
The offering they make,
a pair of two turtledoves,
is the least expensive sacrifice
that can be purchased at the temple.

I don’t think they are making this offering simply because it is the law.
I think they make this offering because of love.
Love for God and love for their son.

What happens next is the unexpected part.
Two people--two OLD people--
Simeon and Anna, see this family
and immediately they know.
They know this child,
this Jesus,
is someone special.
They have prayed that they will live long enough
to see the Messiah that God has promised.

We shall overcome.
You know, the one thing none of us overcome is death.
Death WILL come to each of us and all of us
and overcome us.

But what has been overcome in this gospel story
is doubt.
Simeon now knows that all that was promised has come true.
Anna knows that her prayers have been answered.

Lord, you now have set your servants free...

We might say that Anna and Simeon had a bucket list
of what they wanted to happen before they died.
They did not dream of going to exotic lands
or playing a concert in Carnegie Hall
or racing in the Indianapolis 500.

There was only ONE thing on their bucket list--
and when Mary and Joseph walked into the Temple that day
with this child Jesus,
all their dreams came true.

Yet there are those disturbing words to Mary--
 ...and a sword will pierce your own soul too--
Those words foreshadow a time ahead
when dreams will seem shattered.

Yet even with that prophetic view of sadness ahead,
Simeon and Anna were people of great hope.
GREAT hope.

An article about Pete Seeger in The New York Times said,

“Through the years, Mr. Seeger remained determinedly optimistic.”
‘The key to the future of the world,’ he said in 1994,
‘is finding the optimistic stories and letting them be known.’ “

Finding the optimistic stories
and letting them be known.

That’s why I thought about Pete Seeger
when I read today’s gospel.

What happened in the Temple that day,
is one of these optimistic stories
that we are called to make known.

To share the good news
that this Jesus really is somebody special.
...mine eyes have seen....

And the last line in that gospel today--
...And the child grew and became strong,
filled with wisdom, and the favor of God was upon him.

Jesus received a blessing from Simeon and from Anna that day.
a blessing that reflected God’s immense hope for the world.

We need to nurture hope and optimism.
Because Life is not easy or perfect or neat.

Life can be marvelous
   but it can also have ragged edges so sharp
   that it does indeed feel like our souls have been pierced to the bone.

I can guarantee you that life is messy, complicated.
But I can also guarantee that there is blessing.

That’s where our focus must lie.
That’s where our hearts need to live.

On the head of Pete Seeger’s banjo,
he had painted these words:

This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.

The church should be just such a machine,
surrounding hate
and forcing it to surrender.

Pete Seeger, like Simeon and Anna,
lived a life of optimistic hope.
We, too, are called to be people of hope.
People who keep finding the optimistic stories
and sharing those stories with others.

Jesus is certainly one of God’s optimistic stories.
As the letter to the Hebrews says,
It is clear that he--Jesus--did not come to help the angels,
he came to help us.

Jesus came to help us remember: there is hope.
Jesus came to tell and to teach us:  the optimistic stories.
Jesus came to encourage us:
now YOU, go and tell.

We are called to be people who hope the world
can be transformed.
We are called to be people who hope
that we are ourselves can be transformed.

People who hope God’s dream for the world
becomes a little more real,
a little more true,
each and every day,
that darkness and evil and injustice
shall indeed be overcome.
With God’s help.

Deep in my heart
I do believe.

I do believe.
I do believe.

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