Guided by the Spirit
Guided by the Spirit
January 14, 2018
This morning, I want to remind you what I believe. I don’t think Jesus came to teach us how to go to heaven. I don’t think he looked at this life as time to be passed staying pure so that you could get on with the next life, the one that really matters. I think God so loved this world, these people, this life, that God became one of us—Emmanuel—as we like to say. He came to show us how to live, how to be faithful in this lifetime, how to be a source of God’s love for others. If we try, every now and then, we have the best experience we can have in this life: a glimpse of God’s kingdom—of the way God intended for this world to work.
A big part of Christ’s message is about how we should treat one another. We don’t get to hate. We are called to love. We don’t get to hold a grudge. We are called to forgive, seven times seventy times. (No, that doesn’t mean you should start counting backwards from 490, one act of forgiveness at a time!) In a world where everyone loves the rich people, the smart people, the beautiful, kind, and generous people, Jesus calls us to look again and go out of our way to care for the overlooked and the ignored.
Our challenge is to love the uncool people, the people whom it is hard to love, the people whom we might wish we could hate. It’s hard to fudge things when the instruction is, “Love your enemies.” When the instruction is, “Love your neighbor,” and, by the way, your neighbor is anyone who crosses your path, there is really no room for debate. We can choose not to do these things but if we do, we are clearly rejecting Christ’s calling. We can’t do whatever we feel like doing and still claim that we are following Christ.
So, love and compassion are what we are called to live. And…we are called to offer that love and compassion to those who need it most—to the overlooked and the ignored. If we want to live a life of faith, we should seek out the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the sick, the lonely, the hopeless. And…here’s the “kicker”…we should feed them and give them something to drink and provide shelter and make sure that they have health care and leave them a little less lonely, and bring hope to life. The plight of these suffering people is what matters. These people are just as much God’s children as we are. The notion that they could suffer such things and be overlooked is just as much of an offense to God’s order as…I’m going to take a wild guess here…as if we, ourselves were suffering and overlooked. They matter. Their suffering matters. They matter because Christ teaches us that “they” are, in fact, “us.”
Some of those people are right next door in North Chicago and Waukegan. That’s why we take food to the Cool Food Pantry. That’s why we took space heaters there when the cold weather came. That’s why we do things to help kids in the school. That’s why I got the amazing privilege a few weeks ago of showing up at the Target Optical Center and listening to the cashier’s excitement about the little boy who had been there earlier who got to have an eye exam and new glasses because of the Charitable Trust. She said he asked her, “I get to pick whatever glasses I want?” When she nodded to him, he started crying.
Here’s the tricky part, some of those who are overlooked and ignored are right here in our sanctuary. They are a part of our church family. This morning, I want to pause to a group of those folks but I want to do it by getting you to listen to our text, first…
Luke is the Gospel that is intended for the widest possible
audience—the whole Gentile world. In the great debate about whether the Good News was just good news for Jews or Good News for everyone, Luke votes, “Everyone!” No one is excluded. So, when Jesus is born, shepherds show up, not the cute little guys from our pageant, but the ones with the rough hands and the tattered clothes, the ones who barely made a living, the one’s who smelled worse that their sheep. These common men are the first invited guests to see the child for Luke.
After the child is born, Mary and Joseph, who are ordinary people with an extraordinary calling, do what ordinary Jewish people would do. At 8 days, they take their son to the Temple to be circumcised and named. (Anyone ever been to a Bris?) This was an ancient ritual, an act of respect for the people’s roots and traditions.
As was also the tradition, a few weeks later, they took their baby and went to Jerusalem. Now, we need to remind ourselves that in Luke there is no discussion about Herod’s plot to kill the baby. In Matthew’s Gospel, it would have been unthinkable to take Jesus to Herod’s seat of power—Jerusalem. In Luke, Mary and Joseph and the baby are “flying under the radar.” There are no wise men. There is no crazy king. There are just ordinary people doing what ordinary people did. In this case, an ordinary person would take their first born to Jerusalem to be ritually offered to God and to offer a sacrifice as a substitute for their child. (Think Abraham and how close he came to sacrificing Isaac, here.)
What wealthy people would offer was exactly what Abraham sacrificed instead of his first born son: a lamb. The blood of a lamb was left on the door of the slaves’ homes as a sign for God to pass over their homes. Conveniently, (and I really don’t want to sound completely cynical here) the lamb was an expensive sacrifice at the temple. (We all have our fundraising tools, right?) Compassionately, an alternative was offered to people who couldn’t afford to pay for the lamb. That alternative was a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons. We might guess that Joseph and Mary would sacrifice a lamb, right—just for traditions sake? Nope! Joseph and Mary offer the lesser sacrifice—a statement of their economic class and a symbolic statement by Luke of solidarity with those lower class people.
Pause though and think not just about Joseph and Mary but about everyone who had to go that same route. Joseph and Mary loved their child to pieces. All those other parents loved their children, too. It was compassionate of the temple to offer a way to be included. At the same time, don’t you think there would have been a little humiliation and shame attached, too. Every parent want’s nothing but the best for their child. Isn’t it sad that the temple offered a very public system in which anyone who wanted to watch could see the doves or the pigeons and think, “Hmmm…second class.”
This is always something we have to stay awake and aware of in our church. Some people have plenty of resources. Some people are doing o.k. Some are struggling. What we want to be is a church which honors everyone’s gifts, no matter what they might have to share. We want to protect people’s privacy. We want everyone to be included in the experience of having a chance to serve others. But we always have to remember that God doesn’t love the people who have more any more than God loves the people who have less. God just loves. So, sometimes the folks we need to remember are the folks who are struggling within our own church family. We need to help them.
Here is another group of people that our text points to this morning who can be overlooked and ignored. At the temple in Jerusalem, Luke introduces us to two people: Simeon and Anna. They have several things in common. First, it seems like at any given moment, Anna and Simeon are always somewhere around the temple. In fact, the rumor is that since her husband had died, Anna barely left the temple at all. Second, both of them actually believed this faith stuff. You know what I’m talking about…There are folks who are sort of, kind of, a little bit committed. Then, there are the folks who are in a little too deep for most people’s tastes. Simeon had some “experience” years before that convinced him that he was going to see the Messiah some day. (“Good luck with that, Simeon!”) Anna was a self-proclaimed prophet, herself, speaking on God’s behalf—not that anyone was all that interested in listening. Finally, these two church-going, uncomfortably believing people shared one other feature: they were old.
Here’s the thing about Anna and Simeon: most churches have an Anna and a Simeon or two—who often are overlooked or ignored or undervalued. I will give you one example this morning. Let’s take Basil Borders for a moment. Last month, Basil was sick one Sunday. I knew this because I walked in to start worship and the candles were not lit and the light was not turned on for the communion table. After worship, no one cleaned up the pews or turned out the lights. There were just these holes in the morning that were not filled because Mr. Borders was not here. Did I stop every Sunday morning before that and think, “Gosh, I’m lucky to have Basil helping out!” Not really…but he’s always helping. He shouldn’t be overlooked, nor should should anyone else, simply because they are the faithful folks who are always here and always helping. Luke reminds us that Anna and Simeon can see things that the rest of us can’t see but we only get that if we pay attention to them.
There are the folks the world finds fascinating. There are the folks who will make sure, (trust me!) that we are aware of them and their needs. Then, there are the overlooked and the ignored. They come in all shapes and colors and genders and ages. They live near and far. Our job is to see them, appreciate them and love them, one at a time. Our job is to be a source of God’s light and God’s love in their lives!