Monday, February 3, 2020

Presenting Ourselves to the Lord

The child grew and became strong and was full of wisdom and God's blessings were upon him. (Luke 2:52 GNT)

We present Christ to the world, in the way we present ourselves -- not just books and rituals and beliefs about Christ, but the person. We invite everyone into a personal, saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

[Listen to the audio for this sermon]
Preached extemporaneously at Briensburg UMC on February 2, 2020.

The scene is the presentation of the Lord and the Holy family entered to the temple, but they weren't known as the Holy family back then. They were just a family, a poor family who came bringing the sacrifice, not of the wealthy family, but the one that was prescribed for poor families, 40 days after Christmas, today. For the ritual purification of the mother and the presentation of the child. And there were two particular characters in that story that were lifted up in the biblical account. There was Anna, the prophetess who spent all her time in the temple praying and worshiping God and praising God. And then there was Simeon who had been looking for this day to come when the Christ would be born, and somehow the spirit had impressed on him and revealed to him that he would live to see that day. And I like how the Bible says that the Spirit brought him to the temple just at that right time to meet Christ.

And he took him up in his arm and blessed him with a blessing that hundreds of millions really of Christian Jews to this day as part of their night prayers before they go to sleep. And along with remembering through the day and giving it an account of their soul for the day, examination of their conscience and a prayer that we would sleep peacefully. That we would sleep well and die peacefully. 
"Lord, now you let your servant depart in peace, according to your word.  My eyes have seen the salvation that you have prepared for the world"  (Luke 2:29-31; Nunc Dimmittis).
 In that ritual and all the people, they praised the Lord, they praised God for what was going on, they upheld the tradition that had been handed down to them. But there was an extra little significance there for some of the people that were present because the Holy family was offering Christ to the world and the world didn't know this yet. But it was still Christ and he was still being offered. And I love this part that he grew. From there on he grew, and wisdom and stature and the blessings of God were on him.

He didn't just step into his whole role. He was the Messiah already, but he hadn't lived into that role yet, he was just beginning. And it took him his whole life to live into the role of who he was and who had God made him and sent him to be for us. And likewise, it takes our whole life to live into the roles that we have. Where God has callings for us, God has opportunities for us, but it takes us our whole life to live that all out. And what's really a blessing is that we have all of eternity to keep living into it. However far away we've got so far, that's not the end, it's still at the beginning. Like we sing, 
When we've been there ten thousand years,Bright shining as the sun, We've no less days to sing God's praise,Than when we first begun.   (Hymn, "Amazing Grace")
 Christ was offered to the world and grew into the role and grew into the relationship.

And the world, they grew into a relationship with him, and we have grown into a relationship with him. In sending the ministers to come to the newly formed United States to preach the gospel, and form the Methodist church, John Wesley had this great command that echoes down and reverberates through the centuries, "Offer them Christ." There are a lot of things that the people of God have to offer. Churches small and large have a lot of things that we offer people, do all kinds of things, hopefully to help people whenever we can. And we have different ways of encouraging each other and we participate in big projects and all of these are very important. But there are some things that as it says in one of our rituals, "The means of grace, the church alone supplieth:"
[The Church is of God,and will be preserved to the end of time,for the conduct of worshipand the due administration of God's Word and Sacraments,the maintenance of Christian fellowship and discipline,the edification of believers,and the conversion of the world.All, of every age and station,stand in need of the means of grace which it alone supplies.
(UM Baptismal Covenant III)]
There are some that only the church can offer. Only the people of God can offer, only the Body of Christ can offer it to the world. And chief of all those is Christ himself.

The world can't offer Christ. We offer Christ to the world. Christ to the world we bring, the world to Christ we bring. That was the only thing the song says, 
Christ for the world we sing;
the world to Christ we bring.  (Samuel Wolcott, 1869;
That's our central focus. That's our central thing that we can do that no one else can do. If we didn't do it, which we are, but if we weren't, then who would? It comes from the salvation, that hope of salvation, the relationship with God in Christ comes through the body of Christ to the world. We serve the world in that way and everything else that we do is part of that. And that's why we offer him. We offer Christ and we offer Christ the way that Mary and Joseph offered Christ, the way that Simeon received him and held him up as somebody who's alive and living in and real. And not as just pages in a book. Our creeds that are recited or any of the rest of the things that we do.

When they came, they had all of that, the ritual, the tradition words and the scriptures, all of that. The hymns and all that they had in their service, but what they were offering, that wasn't what they were offering. That provided a context that pointed to what they were offering, that celebrated what they were offering. What they were offering was the person, this little baby, this human being, this person, they were offering Christ himself. And that's what we offer. And it can be cast in a lot of different songs and rituals and programs and times and places, but we're offering this personal saving relationship with Jesus Christ and then everything else about it celebrates that and points to it and informs us. And then as we say in our communion liturgy, 
"We offer ourselves in union with Christ's offering for us at Calvary." When we offer ourselves, we don't just offer a book about ourselves, our biography, just like when we offer Christ, we don't offer the book about Christ, the biography about Christ. We offer Christ himself.

When we offer ourselves, we present ourselves to be there, to be present in each other's lives and present in the life of the world. As individuals, as a congregation, as a denomination, as the faith community, we offer ourselves to be present in the world, caring and loving, and being who we are. Paul wrote it this way, 
So then, my friends, because of God's great mercy to us I appeal to you:
Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God,
dedicated to his service and pleasing to him.
This is the true worship that you should offer.
(Romans 12:1 GNT)
We're invited to offer Christ and with Christ we stand and offer ourselves. To be the hands and feet of Christ, to be the vessel through which Christ connects with the people around us. 

And we're invited to make that intentional by practicing presence. When Jesus was presented at the temple, it wasn't something far off in the future.

If we read it in the Bible, we think of it as that was a long time ago on a long, and long way away. But for the people who were there, it wasn't a long time ago or far away, it was right then and there and it was happening. They were seeing Jesus, they were seeing the event, they were sharing that, they were participating. It was all happening right there. And really that's what the scriptures and the songs and the prayers and the conversations that we have, all the things we do, they're not supposed to take us away from where we are, they're supposed to bring us into the experience of the moment. In our ritual for communion in a few minutes we'll be [celebrating the presence of Jesus]. Not to take us back and out away from where we are, but to bring all of that into the present, not just to take us back to Cavalry, but to bring Cavalry to Briensburg. To bring the Upper Room to Briensburg this morning, to us who are here.

And to each of the places where this Sacrament is celebrated, to bring the focus and the reality of God's presence to right there where we are. And we might express that in all kinds of different ways. We might have all kinds of different ways of communicating that, but that's what we're bringing. We're bringing ourselves around the Table of the Lord. We have a lot of different ways of thinking about the mystery of the sacrament and what's going on. When we have our prayers and our ritual and when we pray, "Make this be for us, the body and blood of Christ," and when we repeat Jesus' words, "This is my body, this is my blood." All different people have different ideas about how to understand that and how they perceive it, how they feel it. 

I always think of Dr. Gordon Thompson. He taught at Candler School of Theology where I took the Ministerial Course of Study back in the 80s,and he taught... The sacraments was one of the courses that he taught. And something that he said comes to my mind every time when we have communion. He said that for us, it's not so much about the mystery on the table, but the mystery that's happening around the table

That's something to think about I think is for us that we don't try to argue and try to answer all the questions about the part that what's going on with the bread and the wine. We try to focus on what's going on in the hearts and minds of the people who gather around the table of the Lord and who share this sacrament together with faith and confidence. God is present with us and within us and that's the focus of it all. Of everything that we do. Back in the medieval days there was a monk in France and he was a dishwasher at the monastery and a cobbler. He wrote a lot. And then they wrote down a lot of what he said about practicing the presence of God, brother Lawrence.  ("Practice the Presence of God: The Best Rule of Holy Life," by Brother Lawrence.

And the emphasis that he had was that in whatever we do, wherever we are, whatever work we're doing, whatever relationships that we have intentionally practice noticing that God is present there with us. That's our presentation, isn't it? That's when we praise the Lord presenting God's self to us wherever we are in any activity, any moment in our lives. Intentionally practice that presence. And it brings us to our own presence, to being intentionally present to the people around us, to living out the present moment and being aware of what's going on within us and around us in that moment. 

I'm notorious for not being very observant. Right? Cheryl can fill you in on a lot of things about that. Sometimes it's a struggle. You want to just be thinking about other things and your mind drifts. Well, I shouldn't say "yours" in this case, I should say like it is, "mine."  My mind wanders and drifts and thinks about all these things and I love to think about a lot of different things. But sometimes I find that then I'm not quite in touch with what's going on right there in front of me, what's going on right around me, sometimes what's going on inside me, in our thoughts and feelings. And that kind of calls us back to Simeon's prayer again, and the churches use of it over the centuries to remind us at least every day, to take a moment to think about who we are, and where we've been today. What's been our day today. To be present in the company of the Lord, like Wesley Grace, "Be present at our table, Lord." 

And we pray that this morning that in all that we do and say we'll be present with each other. Really know who's here and what they're thinking and feeling and what they're saying. Hearing what they're saying and seeing their face. And when we join around the Table of the Lord, that we feel each other's presence and the presence of Christ within us and among us. That divine presence that we share becomes central to our reality. And then when we take it outside the door and share that with the world, and be present to the world and bring Christ's presence to the world, we present Jesus to the world. 

In the name of Jesus, amen.