But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
Sermons from St. Paul's Anglican Church
Here you will find the transcripts of our most recent sermon and those that were delivered in the past.
Scroll down the page
St. Luke 18:31-43
March 2, 2014
“What We Are Prepared to See?”
Just as we stand ready to enter the long shadows of Lent, the Gospel Lesson before us this morning tells us that Christ also stood ready to enter the long shadows of Jerusalem – the corrupt and rebellious City of God – in order for Him to suffer and die.
“Listen carefully,” He told the Twelve in a solemn tone, “We are now on our way to Jerusalem, and everything that has been written by the prophets regarding the Son of Man will surely come to pass. He will be handed over to the heathen, and they will jeer Him and insult Him and humiliate Him. They will spit on Him and flog Him and finally they will kill Him. But He will rise again on the third day.”
There was profound silence. Their awkward gaze was frozen. Then they looked at each other with the same bewilderment. They did not understand any of this. Christ’s words to them were obscure… their meaning hidden. They had no idea what He meant, and they were afraid to ask because He had used the D-word, “death.”
Seventeen miles outside of Jerusalem, they approached the city of Jericho, with its pleasant evergreen sycamore trees swaying in the breeze and its enjoyable fragrance from nearby balsam groves. As they entered, it just so happened there was a blind man sitting on the side of the road begging. He heard the sound of the passing crowd. He asked what was happening.
Those nearby told him, “Jesus, the Nazarene, is passing by right in front of us.” There was brief pause as the blind man seemed to resolve a debate in his mind, then he suddenly cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” We are told those who were in the front of the crowd rebuked him! They told him to be quiet and remain silent. But this caused him to raise his voice all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me.”
And it just so happens he called out in the nick of time! For Jesus stopped. He stood still. The crowd grew silent. The dust drifted. And all eyes turned to the one Jesus had ordered to be brought to Him. An awkward procession brought the blind man forward, stumbling in the dirt, to the feet of Jesus. “What do you want Me to do for you?” He asked. “Lord, that I may receive my sight,” came the reverent and respectful reply.
Jesus said to him, Receive thy sight: thy faith hath saved thee. At once, his sight was restored. And when the crowd realized this, they gave praise to the Almighty. The multitude resumed its noisy procession toward the city – but with one additional person now among its ranks – who quickly fell to the back of the throng as he happily and joyfully examined his hands and his feet, looking at the sky, the trees, the birds, and at the side of the road where for so long he had begged in darkness!
This morning, let us focus on an important observation. Actually, a principle in life. We see what we are prepared to see. It applies to all of us! We see only what we are prepared to see. Our Lord that day saw what He was prepared to see! He was looking at His Via Dolorosa, His Way of Suffering that was upon Him. He was gathering His strength for this final assault that would test His resolve to prove faithful in His calling.
The disciples also saw what they were prepared to see! They saw Jesus as the Deliverer who would lead God’s people and Land out from under the hobnailed heel of Rome. Every time they saw Roman troops marching, Roman centurions, Roman tribunes, Roman administrators, Roman shields, the Roman insignia of the mighty eagle – they bristled with indignation at this abomination inside their own land. They did not understand a single syllable of Christ’s words to them. They saw only what they were prepared to see.
Dear blind Bartimaeus, for that was his name according to St. Mark’s Gospel account – could only see what he was prepared to see -- a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! We know that he believed that Jesus Christ was indeed the Messiah, for he called him Lord. He called Him Son of David! All he could see that day was the restoration of his vision!
And the same is true of the crowd that memorable day. They could see only what they were prepared to see. They were caught up in the euphoria of the moment! What would happen when the Rabbi entered Jerusalem? Public opinion was strongly in His favor. The outcome, to them, was more important than a blind man.
And dear ones, yes, this principle applies to us as well! We see only what we are prepared to see in life. If we enter the Nave of this Church each Sunday morning with a reverent, quiet, receptive, hopeful attitude of meeting God – we will be blessed and filled to overflowing when we leave. If, however, we enter the same premises looking for respectability or sociability or worse, fault with the Church or its members – I have news for you – that is all we will find!
Just as Jesus entered the long shadows of Jerusalem to die the death of a criminal for you and me, so, too, we enter the long shadows of Lent and follow Him to the tomb!
Some are prepared only to see an “interesting” tradition of Christ’s Church. Others are prepared to see an avenue to personal growth in discipleship and commitment to Christ.
What are we prepared to see?
We enter Lent this Wednesday evening. And I encourage all of us to participate together as a Church Family. Let us watch the Man of Sorrows enter the wilderness to be surrounded by wild animals, to abstain from food for forty days and forty nights, to be tempted of the Devil. Let us keep our eyes upon the Lord. We will see what we are prepared to see.
Let us watch Him enter Jerusalem to stand trial, appear before Herod and Pilate, to wear His Crown of thorns, to be humbled, shamed, ridiculed, to receive our stripes, to be crucified. Let us observe His way, His manner, His patience, His courage, His consistency. And let us make them ours! Ours is to observe and emulate. Ours is to be as the Master!
What will you and I see during Lent? What will we learn? How will our lives be changed? That will be entirely determined by what we are prepared to see.
Lord, open our eyes like those of Bartimaeus, of old – that we might see what we should prepare ourselves to see!
: Back to the top :
Scroll down the page
St. Luke 8:4-15
February 23, 2014
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
“Four Kinds of Hearts”
A sower was sowing seed and some of it fell on the wayside. The land of Palestine was laid out in narrow, cultivated strips with pathways located in between. These pathways had been beaten down over the course of many centuries by simple walking. It was on this kind of soil – hard and dry – that some of the seed fell. It had no opportunity to germinate – and the birds of the air seeing this, soon swooped down and picked it up.
Some fell on rock. Here, Jesus was describing a particular type of soil common in Palestine and easily understood by all who have tried to dig through it! It is known by different terms, one of which is caliche and another “deadpan” – a thin layer of good soil supported by a dense, unforgiving, rocky stratum beneath. It was on this deceptive “soil” that some seed fell. The seed could germinate in the thin top layer, but without sufficient moisture from underneath, it soon withered – and died.
Some seed fell among thorns. This word “thorns” is the very same word used to describe the braided “crown of thorns” used to inflict excruciating pain upon our Lord at His “trial.” This soil was apparently deep and fertile, so the thorns grew rapidly. In so doing, however, all moisture and nutrients were taken from neighboring plants, causing them to perish.
But some seed, we are told, fell on good ground. The seed germinated. Roots developed. The blade appeared. The plant grew tall and healthy. Then the precious yield appeared and came to full development. What started out as individual seeds of grain, such as wheat or rye, produced an hundredfold – a hundred times as many seeds as originally planted.
Then Jesus completed the parable with the simple words: “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”
The disciples later came to Him and asked Him if He would explain the story. He patiently expounded its meaning – for them and for us.
“The seed” represents “the word of God.”
The first type of hearers are hard-ground hearers. This certainly describes the many people of all ages – and certainly the worldlings who walk the earth today. They have no serious reception of the Word of God. In fact, they carelessly trample it under their own feet. The devil effortlessly takes the life-giving Word away from them.
Just as the fowls of the air are always hovering about when seeds are sown, waiting for some to fall on the pathway, so Satan is always waiting when the Oracles of Life are taught, when they are preached, when they are read. He watches for ungrateful hearts. He watches for listless minds. He watches for dull memories. He watches for distracted attentions. Always hoping. Always expecting – to take advantage of the hard ground.
The second type of hearers are shallow-ground hearers. They are “touched.” They are emotionally stirred. But it is only superficial! It is only transient – for there is no depth to their lives. There are religious experiences in life for shallow-ground hearers, but they are only transient in nature and short-lived! It is entirely possible, for example, to be very moved by a dramatic, emotional moment – but still be utterly destitute of the grace of God. T.S. Eliot called them “stuffed men.”
When Jesus explained that shallow-ground hearers “in time of temptation fall away,” He employed the root of the word “apostasy.” Time reveals all too many “apostates,” sad to say, as shallow-ground hearers.
Last century up to 30,000 people would flock to hear the Canadian evangelist Charles Templeton during his prime. Thousands professed to have found salvation in Jesus Christ through his preaching.
But then his soil was found to be shallow. So-called “contradictions of science” caused him to doubt the historicity of Genesis, then the historicity of the Resurrection, then the historicity of Christ’s Life, then the historicity of the entire Bible. His final testimony before closing his eyes for the last time, I am sad to report, was his autobiography entitled: Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith. How important is depth of character and faith! How important is perseverance which develops them.
The third type of hearers are thorny-ground hearers. They are diverted, to their own peril, by the attractiveness and the allure of this world. Demas in the New Testament comes to mind here. Demas hath forsaken me, wrote St. Paul, having loved this present world. Those described here have no objections to the truth. They have no objections to the requirements of the Gospel. They have no objections to the claim of Lordship by Jesus Christ. Indeed, they quickly label themselves “true followers of Christ” even as the germinated seed in its young form is being squeezed and stripped of its life by competing claims.
They believe in tithing, but the checkbook just never allows them to. They want to have a “quiet time” with God when they can silently read His Word, but exhaustion at the end of each day overtakes them. They have several items for prayer which press in on them, but they just never seem to find time to talk with their Heavenly Father.
They allow the things of this world – its perspective, its agenda, its values – to take root in them. In their advanced state, they are found fully conformed and compromised – buried under a thick maze of briars. They cannot even be seen, for they have disappeared altogether! They look, sound, and act like worldlings, for that is precisely what they have become!
The fourth type of hearer to whom the Word of God comes are good soil hearers. They stand for the sincere hearts of men, women, children, and young people who have been changed by God’s grace. They wisely arrange their priorities and order their affairs – making the difficult decision to simplify their lives, if need be -- so they may accomplish God’s requirements in their allotted days! They listen for and carefully obey God’s Voice.
All who have ever lived on this earth fall into one, and only one, of the four categories described by our Lord in this parable! All are either hard-ground hearers, shallow-ground hearers, thorny-ground hearers, or good soil hearers. There is no “in between” category… no “other” or “does not apply” boxes to check.
The same question faces you and me which squarely faced our Lord’s hearers two millennia ago: Which type of hearers are we? This parable definitely concerns us. Our hearts are to be found here. The answer we give is of eternal consequence.
Do we think we might be hard-ground hearers? If so, God calls us to change our ways… to become students of the Holy Scriptures! To read a chapter a day! To relish the Gospel accounts of Christ’s healings. To meditate upon His goodness in the Psalms. To recount the thrilling episodes of the prophets. He calls us to think His thoughts after Him and to become good soil hearers.
Do we think we might be shallow-ground hearers? If so, God calls us to change our ways. To add some depth to our lives! To break up the hardness of our hearts! To become true disciples. If we have not been baptized or confirmed, let us do so. Let us leave our self-centeredness behind and commit ourselves to His Kingdom and Church. We will discover new dimensions of life and soon be revealed as good soil hearers.
Do we think we might be thorny-ground hearers? Has this world’s philosophies and first principles attached themselves to our souls? Are the priorities in our lives backwards? Has a root of bitterness established itself choking out all Christian graces and joy? If so, God calls us to change our ways. To root out all competing claims one by one. If it means reprioritization in life, so be it! We must manage and order our lives as good soil hearers.
This Parable of Four Soils is a Parable of Caution! A Parable of Warning! A Parable of Vigilance! A Parable of Concern! Those who have ears to hear will hear and heed! There are four kinds of hearts in this world. Which are we?
Let us hear the Word of God daily…
St. Matthew 20:1-16
February 16, 2014
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
“Parable of the Laborers”
An entrepreneur went into town early one morning to hire laborers to harvest his grapes. This would have been at the “crack of dawn” (roughly 6:00 a.m.), the start of the first hour of their day. If the ripened grapes were not gathered promptly, they would be ruined by early rains.
The men gathered that morning were common laborers, eager for the opportunity to work and to earn money to pay the basic necessities of life. Existence for them was very difficult! Without specialized skills to acquire better jobs, they lived “hand-to-mouth.” Others could build savings and bankroll a buffer against hard times, but common laborers could not. A day without work meant no food for hungry children and the sad glance of a disappointed wife at the end of the day.
Day-laborers were entirely at the mercy of day-to-day hiring in the marketplace. They were always living on the “ragged edge,” as it were, not far from the starvation line, and one day of unemployment for them was a disaster. The fact that some remained in the marketplace until 5:00 p.m. waiting for work is proof of just how desperately they sought it.
The owner of the vineyard and those available that morning entered into an agreement in which their full-day’s worth of labor would be compensated with a full-day’s wage in return. Our English translation of the Bible renders with the word “penny” what was actually the Roman denarius – a coin approximately the size of our penny, but struck from pure silver. Its worth was sufficient to cover a day’s expenses for an average family. The laborers were delighted with this agreement and immediately went into the vineyard to perform their end of the bargain.
With the first wave of workers now in place, the owner returned to the marketplace at 9:00 a.m. to deploy yet more laborers, with this single exception – the two parties never entered into a binding contract. The owner only invited them to work in his fields with these words: “Whatever is right I will give you.”
This same action on the part of the owner was repeated at noon and then again at 3:00 p.m. And as strange as it might seem, he went back to the marketplace one last time at 5:00 p.m. as the sun was now rapidly sinking, to see if any other laborers remained unemployed. When he discovered some, he rapidly approached them with the words: “Why are you standing around and not working?” They answered with deep disappointment in their voices, “We are still standing here because no one has hired us.” It was then that he invited them to rapidly join the others in his field for the completion of the day’s work with the words: “Whatever is right, that shall ye receive.” And off they went – as their shadows swiftly lengthened.
At 6:00 p.m., the sun having now set, and the golden tints of the sky giving way to the darker blues of dusk, the foreman called all of the laborers forward for the payment of their wages – from the last to the first. As the part-day laborers passed through the line, it became obvious to the full-day laborers that each was being given the same silver denarius! Their minds raced forward in expectation that perhaps they would receive more than their agreed amount because they had worked longer in the fields.
When their turn in the line brought them before the foreman, and each was given the same silver denarius, they began to vocally express their unguarded thoughts – murmuring against the owner of the field as though he somehow cheated them – embellishing their case by referring to “scorching heat” and burdensome working conditions.
The owner, standing nearby and overhearing their grumbling, stepped forward and carefully replied: “Friend, I have done you no wrong. I am not being unfair. Have I not completed my end of our agreement? Please, take your pay and go. I have chosen to give the last hired man the same amount as I gave the first hired man. That is my prerogative. Can I not do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I have been generous with others?”
And then, after completing the telling of the parable, our Lord adds these cryptic words of explanation: So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.
What does this parable mean? The landowner, of course, represents God. The vineyard represents His Kingdom and Church. The foreman is none other than Jesus Christ. The workers represent the men, women, children, and young people who receive God’s call to serve Him in their own day.
The parable teaches us that some receive their call, like St. Timothy, of old, in the vibrant, keenness of youth. Others, like St. Paul, receive their call in the strength of the noonday of life. And yet others, like Malcolm Muggeridge (talented British journalist) or T. S. Eliot (perhaps the most important English-language poet of the 20th-century) receive their call closer to the eleventh hour, when the evening shadows are lengthening. The parable teaches us that all who hear God’s call and respond in faith are equally accepted. They are equally precious to Him! He loves them all the same! They will all receive the same welcome home!
The parable teaches us further that we cannot earn what God gives us out of the generosity of His Heart! In no way do we deserve what He has lavished upon us by His abundant grace.
We also learn that we are called, even though among many great and precious promises, to work! W o r k ! Faith without works is dead! Thomas Alva Edison once said that people miss many opportunities in life because they knock on our door dressed in coveralls and looking like work!
We also discover here the brazenness of man! He is so quick and so willing to judge God as “unfair”! In the aftermath of 9-1-1 a caustic reporter interviewing a church leader asked where God was when the terrorists struck. Where was God when all of this happened? The leader quickly, but politely, replied: He was right where you reporters placed Him… outside the thoroughfare of life! Man is incredibly brazen!
There are those in life, like the first workers, who through self-delusion convince themselves that God somehow owes them something. They have an “entitlement” mentality! They are in Christ’s Church for themselves! They have persuaded themselves that the Almighty must conform to their ideas about Him. They, in short, make God their debtor – and themselves His would-be lords. They, thus, think themselves to be “first” – first in declaring their own merit, first in declaring their own profession, first in declaring their own reputation! And I am sad to say that a great number of people reputedly in Christ’s Church this day are there not for the glory of the Lord Most High, but for the acclaim and adoration and approval of this world. They have the highest opinion of themselves, but in God’s estimation, they are at the bottom of the list… the first shall be last!
There are also those in life, who like the later workers called into the vineyard, understand their poverty and inabilities and vulnerability in this world. They understand their failures and realize just how much they have squandered in life – by ignorance and by willful contempt of things holy. They are given to understand their invitation into Christ’s Church and Kingdom is not based upon any merit of their own, but upon God’s unfailing mercy. Their lives are marked by humility and contrition and lowliness and gratitude – with a calm resolve to do the Owner’s bidding. They trust Him at His Word that if they commit themselves to Him, He will make all things right. They are sincere and diligent in their walk and ignore the fact that the world does not appreciate them. In God’s estimation, it is they who are at the top of the list…the last shall be first!
My dear friends in Christ, this is exactly what is meant by the words: So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.
On their return journey from a lifetime of hard service as missionaries in Africa, an elderly couple found themselves on the same ocean liner as President Teddy Roosevelt, returning from a big game hunting expedition.
The couple watched in awe the fanfare given the president and his entourage. When the ship docked in New York, a band was there to greet him with music. The mayor of the city was there to welcome him and recognize his importance. People cheered him. The press lined up to take his picture and dictate his words to the public.
The dear old couple slipped quietly off the ship, unnoticed – unappreciated. No one even acknowledged their existence! They sought out a cheap apartment with no pension - in poor health, discouraged and fearful. The husband, especially, could not seem to get over how the president had received such acclaim – while they had returned home without so much as a simple “Hello!” “God is not treating us fairly,” he told his wife. She replied, “Why don’t you pray about it, dear?”
The next day, his wife noticed a distinct change in his demeanor. “What happened?” she asked. “Well, I told God my concerns and He pointed out something I had overlooked. Five words – You are not home yet.” Indeed! Nor are we home yet! We have work to do. Our job is not yet complete!
We are approaching Lent! And we are reminded this morning that we do what we do – not for the praise of men! We do what we do – not for the praise of relatives! And most certainly we do what we do – not to inflate our sensitive egos and puff up our fragile pride!
This day we begin a long season marked by darkening shadows – a most rewarding season, if we understand it – in which we follow the Man of Sorrows to His Cross. He was willing to be last in the eyes of this world that He might be first in the Eyes of His Heavenly Father. Think about it!
How interesting that those who serve God with rewards as their sole endeavor – tend to lose them. And those who labor for the Almighty without thought of a reward – find them!
Where are you this Septuagesima Sunday as we prepare to follow Christ into the wilderness? …the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.
February 9, 2014
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
In the Gospel Lesson read together this morning, Jesus employed an image which was fully understood by all of His listeners. Men, women and children of first century Palestine knew all about wheat and all about the problems posed by “tares.” They knew the farmer’s response to tares. Jesus depended upon that knowledge to teach them an infinitely more profound truth about His Kingdom which they could carry with them through life.
Wheat was one of the principal staple foods of the Middle East, just as it is for much of the western world – including you and me -- today. Bread was the basis of the diet of Christ’s hearers who were found listening to His teaching that day. Anything which seriously interfered with the production or harvesting of wheat was a matter of grave concern, to say the least.
The plant which was translated by the Elizabethan English word “tares” (t-a-r-e-s) was in all likelihood a weed, called darnel (in the Greek ζιζάνιον). It is a ryegrass which has the same characteristic “beard” as wheat. Darnel looks exactly like wheat in its young stages, and, in fact, only the expert can distinguish some species of this darnel from true wheat. Later on, as the plant grows, the differences become very clear for all to see.
Darnel was especially dangerous since it was often the host for a particular fungus which developed in its tiny seeds. If, and when, the contaminated seeds were ground with the kernels of wheat, poison was thereby introduced, mixed, and hidden in the flour – a dangerous situation, indeed. The French word for tares is ivraie (pr. eve’-a –ray) which means “intoxicated.” And for a good reason! Those who ate (ingested) the compromised “flour” soon felt incoherent (inebriated) – a situation that can lead to death!
As the two plants grew side by side, not only was it virtually impossible to tell them apart, but in addition, the roots became thoroughly intertwined. Any attempt to pull out the darnel, even if undertaken with great care, would have the unintended consequence of uprooting and destroying the wheat in the process.
The farmer therefore had to be patient! He endured the situation until the time of harvest. When the wheat was ripe, the reapers went forth and cut down the “mixed” crop. The darnel was by then easily distinguishable and could be handily separated from the true wheat. The offending darnel, now separated, was ready to burn.
This parable lesson is most unusual and rare in that Jesus subsequently explained it to His followers. The Lord is therefore our commentator. Let us listen to His careful explanation:
He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels.
As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.
This parable teaches, first, that there is always an hostile power in the world waiting and seeking to destroy that which is good in God’s children. This is true wherever God is honored, wherever the risen and resurrected Christ is esteemed and followed – Church, home, business, or school. The experience of life is that both kinds of influence do indeed act upon our lives – influences which would help good fruit to flourish and grow in our lives and produce an abundant crop. But there are also influences which would seek to destroy such good fruit before it can be produced in our lives.
This parable teaches, second, how hard it is sometimes to distinguish between those who are inside the Kingdom and those who are outside the Kingdom. A person may appear to be good, but in fact be bad. And likewise, a person may appear to be bad, but in fact be good. Just as the differences between wheat and darnel become more obvious with time, so do men and women reveal who they truly are in the course of time.
It teaches, third, that judgment does come in the end – and from the Just Judge. It may always seem a long way off, but it is there. It may be pushed out of view, but it is inescapable. It is unavoidable. There will be a final, clear and unquestionable reckoning! The separation of the good and the evil comes for every living soul at the last day! It may seem, humanly speaking, that in this life the hardened sinner seems to escape (“get away with”) the consequences of his actions, but a fiery ordeal awaits all such as offend.
Fourth, hell is a very real place. We follow a foolish path if we attempt to explain it away. Or worse, to say the Biblical writers were in error and we know better. How much better to humble ourselves and repent and follow Christ wholeheartedly!
It should be observed, fifth, that many employed this parable as the foundation for their pleas in history for religious toleration. Martin Luther was one of the most noteworthy figures. I quote: From this observe what raging and furious people we have been these many years, in that we desired to force others to believe; the Turks with the sword, heretics with fire, the Jews with death, and thus outroot the tares by our own power, as if we were the ones who could reign over hearts and spirits, and make them pious and right, which God's Word alone must do.
Others followed in his steps. For example, Roger Williams in the founding of Rhode Island – which became a refuge for religious minorities. John Milton, on the other side of the Atlantic, did the same – calling upon Parliament for freedom of speech, condemning their attempt to license speech!
This parable teaches us, sixth, a truth most obvious to the Triune God but which we in our human blindness are all too apt to miss. And it is this: The world is a wheat field.
This world is not a “tare field” in which wheat was secretly planted. It is a wheat field belonging to the Almighty in which tares – poisonous weeds – were secretly sown!
The earth is the LORD's, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein (Psalm 24:1).
A great portion of Christendom today has handed the world over, philosophically and unwittingly, to the Lord’s enemy mentioned in this parable. They have missed the premise of the parable that the world is a wheat field. They believe that God is somehow going to secretly “rapture” them from this world, leaving this sphere to the evil one and his tares. Not so!
Regarding the concept of “removal,” note our Lord explains to us that tares are removed from the wheat field in the final judgment– not wheat from the tares! Such errant thinking last century created a destructive cultural vacuum of unprecedented magnitude which ushered in extraordinary damage and rooted decimation.
It is time to remember the earth is a wheat field. Let us therefore stand tall and speak the truth clearly. Let us stand tall and not bow down before the tares! Let us stand tall and keep our roots free from entangling tares. Let us stand tall and look ahead to the day of victory!
Whoso has ears to hear, let him hear!
World without end. Amen.
St. Luke 2:22-40
The Presentation of Christ in the Temple
February 2, 2014
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
“We Had Everything But Money”
This morning’s Gospel Lesson informs us that when Mary’s days of purification were complete, she and Joseph brought the Infant, Jesus, to Jerusalem to present Him to the LORD.
The clear reference here is to the Book of Leviticus, and God’s instructions for new mothers. Some think these ceremonial requirements were burdensome and onerous weights to be borne, but they could not be further from the truth! God’s instructions, to the contrary, reveal His compassion and His mercy. Indeed, they regard and protect women who have just endured the travail and hardship of childbirth.
In the case of a male child, the new mother was to remain “secluded” for forty days. Then she was to bring two offerings to the priest: a one-year old lamb and a young pigeon (or a turtledove).
If the family could not afford to bring the prescribed one-year old lamb, then the mother was given the option of bringing the “Offering of the Poor” -- a second young pigeon (or turtledove). It was this “Offering of the Poor” which Mary brought with her to the Temple.
We are told that Joseph and Mary were met at the Temple by a very just, devout, and aged man named, Simeon, who spotted them with the help of the Holy Spirit. Simeon’s life was one of constant prayer and anticipation, waiting for the coming Messiah. He was “tuned in,” if you will, to God’s plans and purposes and was patiently waiting for the “consolation” (or comfort) of Israel.
He approached the Holy Family and explained his knowledge of the Baby they were holding in their arms. We can only imagine the surprised looks on their faces! He proceeded to ever-so-carefully take the Holy Child into his arms and then joyfully spoke the Spirit-inspired words of praise, known to us today as the Nunc Dimittis:
Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation…
We are told that Joseph and Mary marveled at these words spoken by the aged Simeon, who proceeded to bless them. He furnished for them a summary-of-sorts defining the ministry of this Holy Child: By Him many would fall… and by Him many would rise.
He then turned to Mary and told her that a sword would pierce through her own soul as well – an apparent reference to the manner of Jesus’ sacrificial death. She would indeed also feel the terror of sin and the evil one as the transgressions of the world were heaped upon the broken Body of this Holy Infant and rusty spikes driven through His innocent limbs.
We are told that in the providence of Almighty God, a very old and dear woman, named Anna – daughter of Phanuel -- equally devout and just, approached the Holy Family that day, and at the very same time. We are told she was a widow of 84 years. Now this could mean she was a widow who was 84 years old. But it could also mean she was a widow who had remained a widow for 84 years. In that case, she would be close to 110-years of age!
She, as a prophetess who walked near to God, spoke joyfully of the Infant, and gave deep thanks to her Heavenly Father for His Redemption through this Child.
Dear Anna is a character we would do well to study and remember -- daily. We think we have troubles! It was this dear woman who knew sorrow! But she had not turned bitter! She had known the depths of despair, but these depths were unsuccessful in pulling her down into the miry clay.
Sorrow can do one of two things to us. It can make us hard, bitter, resentful, and rebellious against God. Or, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, it can make us kinder, softer, more empathetic, more sympathetic. It can undermine faith… or it can drive the roots of faith deeper still. She was very old, but her hope and trust were in her Creator.
St. Luke closes the Lesson with the simple words:
And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.