Sermons

Second Sunday in Lent, Mark 8:31-38

The holy gospel according to Mark. Glory to you, O Lord.

31Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32Jesus said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

    34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Listen again: “[Jesus] began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” These words constitute one of the passion predictions in Mark’s Gospel, an occasion when Jesus tells the truth about what is before him, giving focus to the nature of his ministry and mission.

Quite importantly, Mark reports that Jesus “said all this quite openly.”

Recall other occasions in Mark when Jesus sternly ordered the followers and others not to say anything about things they had just experienced with Jesus. Just prior to this story in Mark, Peter makes his confession about Jesus, “You are the Messiah.” Jesus response was this: “he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.”

Following today’s story in Mark is the account of the Transfiguration, which liturgically we commemorated a couple of weeks ago on the Last Sunday after Epiphany. Of all the dramatic goings on high on the mountaintop, again Mark reported that “As they were coming down the mountain, [Jesus] ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” (Mark 9:9)

But about his suffering and death and promise of resurrection, Jesus was quite open.

Peter, who had just confessed Jesus as Messiah would have none of this. After Jesus spoke of his suffering and death, Peter “took [Jesus] aside and began to rebuke him.”

As if to say, Peter sought to censure, chide, reprove, admonish Jesus for predicting his suffering and death. Or more viscerally, Peter sought to repel or beat back on Jesus for his open prediction of the grave and mysterious things that would happen to him.

Clearly such perceived bad news was not part of Peter’s vision for what the Messiah should be about.

It’s as if Peter was ashamed of a Messiah that would have to suffer and die, as suggested by Jesus’ words that Mark reports at the conclusion of today’s passage: “Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38)

Which is to say, Jesus rebuked, or pushed back on Peter: “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine thing but on human things,” Jesus says to Peter in Mark.

Satan is the one who makes false accusations. By addressing Peter in connection with Satan, Jesus concludes that Peter’s vision of the Messiah is false and sourced in human logic and human expectations, not divine wisdom.

That’s when Jesus then elaborates on the wisdom of God in the presence of Peter and the other disciples and the crowd whom he gathered around himself: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35)

Here we have the grand paradox of Jesus’ mission and our discipleship in relation to it. Striving to save our lives, we end up losing our life. Losing our life by letting go is the way to save our life.

First Sunday in Lent, Mark 1:9-15

The holy gospel according to Mark. Glory to you, O Lord.

9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
    12And the Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
    14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the dominion of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

I’m struck by the destructive-creative energies explicit or implied in the readings for today.

The flood that destroyed all living things on the face of the earth save for Noah and his family and the animals on the ark is the context for today’s first reading in Genesis. That destruction was the matrix for the promise of a restored creation after the flood, and the covenant between God and Noah and descendants that never again would the world be destroyed by a flood.

The symbol of the covenant is the rainbow, a lovely meteorological effect and lightshow that can often follow destructive, severe weather.

In the passage from 1 Peter, today’s second reading, Jesus’ suffering and death in the flesh are featured prominently along with Christ’s resurrection and this in connection with baptism in connection with the flood – all of this destructive energy resulting in new creation. Even baptism is a drowning, but it’s an ending that births new life in Christ, a major move from a kind of destruction to new creation.

Then there’s the dramatic language in the brief passage from Mark’s Gospel. Listen again to the words and phrases that are full of energy that’s anything but peaceful and calm:

  • “And just as [Jesus] was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.”
  • “And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.”
  • “He was in the wilderness forty day, tempted by Satan”
  • “And he was with wild beasts.”
  • “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the dominion of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’” (cf. Mark 1:9-15)

Heavens torn apart; the Spirit driving Jesus out into the wilderness; temptation by Satan; wild beasts; John’s arrest.

Again, sense the weight of these negative, perhaps destructive energies.

They can describe our current circumstances and realities:

  • We, too, find ourselves amidst worlds torn apart, especially now in our beloved country.
  • People in cutthroat competition for limited resources are driven by many and various energies, some quite destructive.
  • The pandemic landscape can seem like a wilderness in our social isolation without the infrastructure of our usual routines.
  • Temptations can abound in our lives in times like these.
  • Some might suggest that Satanic or diabolical, destructive forces are at play in our temptations.
  • Wild beasts of perhaps more metaphorical varieties lurk about. But isn’t also true that the coronavirus is a kind of wild beast?
  • Powers and principalities continue to arrest not just bad actors, but others striving for the good causes of justice.

These are precisely the realities which Jesus entered in his earthly life and ministry to proclaim good news that the dominion of God has come near.

These are precisely the realities where Jesus still enters to find us and to rescue us.

This rescue by Jesus has its dramatic expression in our own baptisms.

Baptismal themes are an undercurrent throughout today’s readings, with the recounting of Jesus’ own baptism in the gospel of Mark, but again also quite notably when the author of 1 Peter connects baptism with the days of Noah and the flood: “God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you – not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.” (1 Peter 3:20b-22)

When we are baptized in the name of the Trinity, we are flooded with water. Even if it’s just a sprinkling, it’s still a flood that drowns the old Adam of our sinful state. Coming up out of the water is our rebirth in Christ and into Christ’s body. Baptism is a kind of destruction that leads to new creation.

In the water, with the word and the Spirit, the destructive forces are transformed into creative forces both in our lives and for the life of the world.

Which is to say, the Spirit whose energies drive the creative realities of baptismal regeneration is the same Spirit who drove Jesus into the wilderness and then into ministry in Galilee. That same Spirit drives us also into the wilderness of our days and circumstances for our own share in God’s mission of rescue.

This mission of ours in and for the sake of the world may have the effect of yet again of seeming to tear the heavens apart and may propel us into places that don’t feel safe, places of temptation and wild beasts, perhaps even the risk of arrest.

The mission field can be fraught, but that’s precisely where we are called to echo the words of Jesus’ proclamation in the presence of our neighbors, “The time is fulfilled, and the dominion of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news.”

All of this makes for an appropriate way indeed to begin our journey of Lent, our second Lent in this season of prolonged pandemic.

With faces set to Jerusalem, the place of cross and empty tomb, and our eyes fixed on the fonts which make for redemptive flooding, the dynamism of the Spirit’s energies mark our life together and drive us forward for the sake of the world. Amen.

And now for your reflection and holy conversation at home:

  • In what ways perhaps have you known the dynamics of destruction that can lead to new creation in your journey of faith, in your spiritual life?
  • What kinds of wilderness do you find yourselves in?
  • What good news might you proclaim to those whom you find there?

Transfiguration of Our Lord, February 14, 2021, Mark 9:2-9

The holy gospel according to Mark. Glory to you, O Lord.

2Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
    9As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Today is the Transfiguration of Our Lord, the last Sunday after Epiphany. Each Sunday in this season has offered up epiphanies, revelations that help us better understand Jesus and his sacred mission.

Today’s passage from Mark begins, “Six days later….” Well, six days after what? Six days after Jesus’ prediction of his passion, his suffering and death and his call for his followers to take up their cross to follow him – itself a major revelation in Mark about Jesus and his mission.

This passion prediction is the narrative context for Jesus’ ascending the high mountain apart with Peter, James, and John.

Once on the heights, Jesus was transfigured before them, “his clothes becoming dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.”

The Greek word that’s commonly translated “transfigured,” is the word from which we get metamorphosis, which arguably might be better translated here as “transformed.” That is, Jesus was transformed before them. He underwent a metamorphosis.

Transfiguration suggests simply a change in appearance, a surface level reality. Transformation, or metamorphosis, suggests a more essential change, as when a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly.

Transfigured or transformed, however you might understand it, it was still a pretty amazing thing – clothes dazzling white beyond any and all earthly efforts at bleaching, at whitening.

Moreover, Mark reports that Jesus was engaging in conversation with both Elijah and Moses, two of the most significant figures in Hebraic history. I wonder what they were talking about…. But one thing is clear from the story is that Jesus is revealed as having a prominence in keeping with and ultimately exceeding that of Elijah and Moses.

The event was so amazing, so terrifying to the disciples who accompanied Jesus up the high mountain that Peter was left to stammer out a suggestion: “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings (or booths), one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” An odd statement, out of the blue.

Mark reports that Peter said this because he did not know what to say since he was so terrified.

Then to add to the drama, a cloud overshadowed them all and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Perhaps this was the same voice that made the announcement at Jesus’ baptism – “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” At the baptism, the voice was directed to Jesus. Here the voice and announcement are directed at the disciples.

As quickly as all of this came to pass, after the voice spoke from the clouds, everything vanished and became as normal again. Suddenly, the dazzle was gone, as were the cloud and voice, as were Moses and Elijah. It was just Jesus again with Peter, James and John.

So, what was this all about? What was the epiphany, the revelation, portrayed in Mark’s recounting of the Transfiguration?

Sermon + Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, Mark 1:29-39
February 7, 2021

The holy gospel according to Mark. Glory to you, O Lord.

29As soon as Jesus and the disciples left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31Jesus came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
    32That evening, at sundown, they brought to Jesus all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
    35In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38Jesus answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

There are some compellingly evocative words and realities offered in passing in today’s gospel, things seemingly incidental to the telling of the story. They make for today’s epiphany, or revelation, as we near the conclusion of this season of epiphanies.

Here’s the essence of the recounting that reveals the evocative words: Jesus and his disciples, after teaching in the synagogue, entered the house of Simon and Andrew where Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever.

House. Bed. Fever. Let’s take those in turn to set the stage for what comes next in the story, and what comes next for us.

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, Mark 1:21-28

The holy gospel according to Mark. Glory to you, O Lord.

21Jesus and his disciples went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25But Jesus rebuked the spirit, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of the man. 27They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’ 28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

On this Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, what is the epiphany, the revelation, in this season of epiphanies? What I see is this: the nature of divine teaching authority, especially the teaching authority of Jesus.

Jesus visited the synagogue in Capernaum to teach. Jesus’ listeners “were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority….”

In current popular culture, astonishment is not necessarily the first word that comes to mind when we might think of those who have the authority to teach.

Perhaps that was the case in Jesus’ day as well, since Jesus’ teaching with authority apparently contrasted with the kind of teaching other religious leaders engaged in.

In our own day, teachers are only recently being rediscovered as some of the unsung, underpaid heroes of the pandemic lock downs and schooling online as they have heroically risen to the occasion to attend to the educational and emotional needs of our children across the country.

More often, there seems to be a significant undercurrent of mistrust of those with authority to teach, and maybe more expansively, a mistrust of authority and authorities broadly speaking. For authorities have too often in our day abused the responsibilities and powers entrusted to them.

Third Sunday after Epiphany, Mark 1:14-20

The holy gospel according to Mark. Glory to you, O Lord.

14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the dominion of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 16As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for human beings.” 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19As Jesus went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20Immediately Jesus called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Listen again to the message from today’s second reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: “Brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.” (1 Corinthians 7:29-31)

In essence, Paul is saying don’t get too invested in things as they are, whatever your circumstances in life happen to be. For the present form of this world is passing away…. It sounds all too familiar, and strikes literally perhaps too close to home. Transition, rapid change, radical upheaval, foreboding circumstances all seem to characterized the zeitgeist, the spirit of our times.

It is into this kind of fraught world that God calls and sends God’s servants. God sent Jonah to the great city Nineveh to proclaim the word of God’s judgment, a calling that Jonah at first resisted and fled. Nineveh was not a righteous place. Like many big cities, it was full of corruption or generally evil ways, as the passage for today suggests.

The context for the call of Jesus’ disciples in today’s gospel reading from Mark is the arrest of John. John had boldly and forthrightly proclaimed divine judgment, particularly for the religious and political leaders of his day, again, an indication of the kind of fraught setting into which the disciples were called.

It’s this world of danger and instability where Jesus says to Simon and Andrew, James and John, “Follow me.”

It’s a world of danger and instability into which God calls us as well.

Second Sunday after Epiphany, John 1:43-51
January 17, 2021

The holy gospel according to John. Glory to you, O Lord.

43The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

During the process for electing a new synodical bishop in Metro New York Synod in 2019, I recall a quip from one of our conference deans during a conversation about we needed in a new bishop. She said, and her words stick with me to this day, “God does not call the equipped; God equips those whom God calls.”

Those are reassuring words to me in these days of ministry during the pandemic, especially beginning a new call here with you at Resurrection Church when we are not even meeting in person.

Frankly, there are days when I do not feel equipped to undertake this kind of ministry. Who knew that I would in essence become something of a “TV preacher”? Who knew that so much of ministry would take place via computer technologies? None of us were trained in seminary to do this kind of ministry.

And all of this is happening during a time of unprecedented crises in our nation when we would benefit greatly from being together in person, face to face, to craft our responses to these crises.

While I may not feel equipped for this work in this season, I do have a call from the church to this mission field, a call extended by you as a congregation in keeping with the wider church which is an embodiment of God’s external call to me to lead and to serve.

“God does not call the equipped; God equips those whom God calls.” In fits and starts, I am in the process of being equipped for this work, for such a time as this.

Baptism of Our Lord, Mark 1:4-11
January 10, 2021

The holy gospel according to Mark. Glory to you, O Lord.

4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, “After me the one who is more powerful than I is coming; the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

    9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

As we begin a new year, it is fitting perhaps that we have as our first reading for today the first verses of the Bible which commence with the very familiar words, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth…” (Genesis 1:1).

But then listen again to the first half of verse 2, “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.” Sometimes I wonder if we’ve gotten to that point again in our sad, sorry world.

Formless void and darkness. It feels that way sometimes when I read, hear and see the news. What a list. A variant of the coronavirus that is more contagious seems to be sweeping the globe. The roll out of vaccinations is going much slower than anticipated and needed. Institutions and organizations reveal their incapacity to deal meaningfully with our crises. I sometimes refer to our current circumstances as a world as the age of the great unraveling when so many institutions and traditions and norms and alliances are breaking apart. Formless void and darkness indeed.

Moreover, since we have the first part of the creation story as a first reading, it’s natural to be drawn to contemplate the condition of our whole earth, our ecosystem itself, the loving object of God’s creation in the beginning.

Second Sunday of Christmas, January 3, 2021
John 1:1-18

The holy gospel according to John. Glory to you, O Lord.

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

    6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, ao that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

    10He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

    14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 15(John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ ”) 16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Lurking constantly in our conscious and unconscious minds, often deep in the human psyche, is the fear of scarcity, and the question, “Will there be enough?”

This question has haunted our species, surely, since our hunting, gathering days. Perhaps most often in human history the concern has been having enough food.

Scarcity is indeed a reality. In fact, our current abundance of material and other comforts is a relatively recent phenomenon. Most of human history has been marked more by minimal availability of food and other kinds of insecurity.

Even amidst abundance, people go hungry. In this time of pandemic-induced food insecurity, witness the long, long lines now at food banks throughout the country, people who are going hungry because of lost jobs and diminished wealth due to the effects of the pandemic.

But the pernicious thing is that the fear of scarcity nags and gnaws at the psyches even of those, like most of us engaging this sermon, who have plenty.

First Sunday of Christmas, December 27, 2020
Luke 2:22-40

The holy gospel according to Luke. Glory to you, O Lord.

22When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, Joseph and Mary brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

    25Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

    29“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
        according to your word;
    30for my eyes have seen your salvation,
        31which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
    32a light for revelation to the Gentiles
        and for glory to your people Israel.”
    33And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

    36There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

    39When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Todays’ gospel reading reveals, first of all, the devotion of Mary and Joseph to their Judaism and its practices, in this case, in bringing the child Jesus to Jerusalem for the rite of purification and to offer a customary sacrifice of “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons” in dedicating their first-born son to God.

But this story also features the devotion of Simeon and Anna in waiting and watching for the coming of the Messiah.

Church tradition has focused mostly on Simeon and his song, the nunc dimittis, which is a centerpiece of daily prayer at night – “Now, Lord, you let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled. My own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people…” (ELW, p. 324)

But it’s also crucial to focus on what else Simeon says, words more penetrating and perhaps foreboding than his song of rejoicing. Simeon in Luke adds this in speaking to Mary: “This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35)

That’s a heavy message for parents to hear, especially at Jesus’ very young age when people tend to focus on the innocence of babies and their being protected from the dangers of the world. Simeon’s words here are perhaps the first prediction, or at least suggestion, of Jesus’ Passion, his death and resurrection, in Luke’s gospel.

Moreover, Simeon suggests in Luke that this child, this Jesus who is light for revelation to the nations, and glory for Israel, will also stir some pots and trouble some waters in his living, and teaching and ministry. There will be opposition to him, the sword of pain will pierce mother Mary’s soul, and something about this Jesus will pierce through our self-deceptions to reveal our often-sinful inner thoughts.

Which is to say that Jesus will be a truth teller, and telling the truth will lead to trouble, as it often does, perhaps especially in the outing of people’s deeper, typically sinful and sinister motivations.

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