Sermon 1st Sunday of Christmas 2014

Luke 2:29-32

We’re in an odd place today aren’t we? The excitement of Christmas is still fresh in our memories. The songs, the favorite carols have been sung. A few of you may still have celebrations planned, but on the whole Christmas is past and we sit in this no man’s land between that month long celebration and the coming of the New Year. Some of you may have thought seriously about staying home today, feeling like there had been enough gathering, enough singing, enough scripture to take you to the end of the year.

We might feel a little like that about Luke today as well. He, of all the gospels spends the most time in Jesus birth and childhood. It takes the Gospel of Mark only 250 words to introduce Jesus and get to his time of teaching. Luke takes ten times as many words.

If we were making the film of Jesus early life the scene we read this morning would likely be cut out, left on the cutting room floor. It doesn’t build excitement like a sky full of angels, it doesn’t tug at heartstrings like the thought of a young mom giving birth in a dark, cold stable, it doesn’t make good fodder for a Christmas pageant, who wants to play the really old people holding a baby. It doesn’t work well on a Christmas card either. It just seems, well, out of place, redundant.

And maybe that is the reason we would cut this piece. Sure the young mom is here, with her husband carrying a couple of dead doves. The baby is here too, and we all love babies, they exude love, we want to hold them, cuddle them. But old people? Old people don’t get to having starring roles very often, putting them here in this passage, lovingly preserving their interaction with this little family group, makes us wonder what Luke is up to, why bother with this story.

Now, it’s true that we really don’t know much about these two, we can’t even say for sure that Simeon was old; it seems he might be because of his words about death and dying, about being dismissed, in fact the NRSV makes it sound like he is going to be dismissed shortly.

Anna we do know something about, she is very old, eighty four years old, in Ancient Israel this is very, very, very old and she has been a widow for most of those years. Luke calls her a prophet, in an age when prophets have become extinct.  In this label he shows her to have a special link to God, a special gift but also a link to a past age.

Both of these folks represent the old guard, they represent the people of the Old Testament, the old covenant, and as such we don’t expect them to be the ones to usher in, to welcome a new era. We expect them to be at the forefront of standing up for tradition, likely from the quiet comfort of a chair at home. We expect Simeon and Anna to have found their groove, to be comfortable with the way things are, rather than looking for change in the future. We expect them to be the ones hoping for things to stay the same, because they have figured out how to live with the same. We would not have been at all surprised to have had Luke tell us the story of a group of students welcoming Jesus, maybe having a bit of a demonstration, some stone throwing at the Romans and at their own leaders, some slogan shouting, maybe a camp-out in front of the temple.  We expect the old guard to be safe, quietly disapproving at home, lobbying for the status quo.

We expect this, because we see it in ourselves and in those around us. I know it’s a huge, unfair generalization, but as we get older, we seem to be more and more attached to the status quo, more interested in stability than change. We are more likely to judge what will happen tomorrow by what happened today, and are more likely to hope that is true. I see it in myself as I move into, and somewhat beyond middle age. I’m less likely to get excited about issues, less likely to feel like changing the world either on my own or as part of a group. I feel more disposed to coasting, to letting sleeping dogs lie, to recognizing that this is just the way the world is and forming my life around it.

But, this isn’t the way it should be is it? The Bible gives no examples of retirement, no examples of backing off from the work of kingdom bringing, no examples of complacently accepting the status quo in a world where the status quo is a long way from the way things should be. It gives no examples of tenaciously holding on to the past.

No, in fact Jesus calls us to be salt and light in the world, calls us to be agents of change. What does he say about salt that loses it’s saltiness, loses its ability to change the food it’s added to? It is thrown out.  There is no place in the kingdom for those who stop being agents of change in the world

Simeon and Anna model this for us today.

Simeon had opened himself to the working of the Holy Spirit

Anna had spent years waiting in the temple, waiting to welcome the messiah, waiting to welcome a new age, an age of God with us.

I wonder what they expected to see. Did they expect this Messiah to come in an expensive carriage with an entourage of nurses, footmen, and guards. Did they expect his coming to be so filled with pomp and ceremony that an old man and an old woman would be little more than excited spectators held back from the child by an over protective security detail.

Did they expect a baby at all? I actually doubt that they did. They were more likely expecting to meet the messiah, fully formed, full grown, showing power, and majesty, with a large group of followers giving him honour, listening to his every word.

I think they were likely surprised when the Holy Spirit tickled them awake and pointed them at a poor family group, father, mother and child, coming into the temple alone, almost anonymously. I’m sure they looked past the couple as they they studied the doorway of the temple, looking for something more impressive, more Messiah like.  I’m sure there was a bit of incredulity in both their faces.

“Are you sure Spirit?” Simeon may have said, “Are you sure this is the one who is going to save us from our sins, the one who is going to set up a kingdom, God’s Kingdom, on earth” “He’s just a poor little baby, There is no power here” “I think I’ll just sit down again in my comfortable chair and wait for my picture of the Messiah to appear and while I wait, I’ll just stick with the old laws, the old ways, for a while longer They have worked for centuries now and this baby doesn’t look like he’ll be changing them any time soon, if ever.

And Anna, roused by the spirit from a short nap may have looked around in confusion, wondering why the spirit had poked her and seeing the little family group may have had to have an argument with herself about whether to get up or not, because getting up, recognizing this little one was going to change the rest of her life, going to the temple to watch would no longer be required. Her life’s routine was about to be ruined.

Of course, Luke doesn’t tell us anything about what they thought, or whether or not they argued with themselves, or with God, about approaching this unlikely couple carrying a month and a half old baby and speaking over the child, celebrating the child, celebrating God’s grace in the world.

What he does tell us is that the spirit nudged these two and they responded with gladness. They opened themselves to the change that was coming, the change they had been actively waiting for a long time. They may have been surprised, maybe even a little disappointed, that the Messiah was appearing as a baby but they accepted that God’s ways are not always our ways and God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. They understood that God’s grace doesn’t often come in the package we imagine. They were willing to let go of the past, the old covenant and look forward with hope toward the new one.

For Simeon it is the culminating experience of his life

“Lord, now you are letting your servant[d] depart in peace,
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation
31     that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”

For him, peace didn’t mean finishing one more business deal, seeing one more grandchild, presiding over one more family celebration, no seeing God’s salvation in a little child was all he needed. It was all he needed to fully embrace the change which was coming to the world, to fully embrace the Christ Child and all that meant.

He predicts that the coming of this child will be difficult for many, he prophesies “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed.” This is not the easy path that we might expect the old guard to hang on to. No, Simeon predicts turmoil, and opposition in the wake of Gods grace coming into the world. He even, I’m sure with tenderness and a tear in his eye predicts the heartbreak Mary, this young mother, will suffer as she watches her wonderful son humiliated and finally crucified.

And Anna, she begins to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. She at her advanced age she becomes an evangelist sharing the good news of what God is doing in the world.

Both Simeon and Anna respond to the coming of the Messiah, the movement from the old covenant, to the new covenant, a new way of interacting with God, with gladness, with excitement, the testimony that this is the most exciting thing that has ever happened in their lives. In fact, for them nothing will be more exciting. They greet the messiah with open arms.

And we are called today to do the same. Today on this Sunday stranded between celebrations, this Sunday that seems mundane, we are called to look beyond our traditions, our comfort zones, and see the wonders God has done. Coming into the world as Emmanuel, God with us, continues to be the cause of the rising and falling of many, it continues to be a sign that is opposed, it continues to push us out of our comfort zones, continues to push us away from the old covenant where we thought we could do something to bring about our own salvation to a new covenant where our salvation is freely given.

This coming into the world is still not spectacular, it shows itself in unexpected, often surprising ways. We are called to watch, to wait, and to be ready to act.

All of us are called to this, not just those of us who are older who may be holding strongly to the past, for the sake of the past, wishing for things to revert to the way they were because we think they were better, making a god out of history, and tradition, but also those for whom change has become the god, who lobby for change for the sake of change. All of us are called to recognize that God has made, and continues to make a change in the world. That the kingdom of God is continuing to break into our world and into our lives.

The coming of God into the world as an unlikely weak baby, in the skin of a child, to save us from our sins is the greatest thing this world has ever seen. God continues to break into the world, even today, in quiet and even mundane ways. Like Simeon and Anna we are to be watching for these God moments, open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, ready to rejoice in each sighting, and prepared to alter the course of our lives to join the one who is bringing change to the world.

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Pace and Direction in Life has Changed

When I started this blog back in the summer of 2009, it was my way of taking others along on a journey. I was stepping off the path I had been on and going down a road which was very new for me, with lots of new things to examine and describe along the way. The destination of the journey was never clear and I was surprised to find myself occupying the office in the corner of a rural church, my home church even.

Over this past y20131103_135207ear, getting my feet wet in a bi-vocational ministry, I have written a little about the experience. I’ve written about my call, explained how it is to be bi-vocational, shared the ordinations service,posted about baptism of my granddaughter, shared news about a fire in the church, but the interval between posts has grown, interspersed with book reviews and records of holidays.

It’s not that nothing is happening in life, that I have nothing to say, that my mind is empty. Certainly, I am busy writing, likely more than before, sermons, bulletin announcements, various reports keep my fingers near the keyboard. I don’t need the blog to fulfill the urge to write.

My days and weeks have been  taken over with things that are not really for public consumption and it’s likely this keeping me away from this forum. My thoughts and feelings about the funeral I conducted last week are best shared in private. The day belonged to the family as they remembered, not to me, the servant of the event. The visits made to my office, and to the homes in my parish are wonderful, but not the fodder for internet discussion. The struggles we go through daily, are best shared with people who are close, rather than the whole world.

I read a number of other blogs written by pastors some of which are repositories for sermon manuscripts (I could do that). Others write at length about denominational politics, theological dilemmas, and cultural issues (I could do this too, but likely won’t very often, it’s just not me). Most pastors, though, are silent. Shepherding is a local task.

So, we’ll just need to be satisfied with a lower rate of posting. I’ll still write about the events of life, the grandchildren born, the trips taken, the books read, my own thoughts from time to time about things happening around me, but a large part of my life will be kept from view, it’s not mine to share, only to hold.

 

The Stole, Images

The stole I received on Friday night did not come off the hanger in a liturgical vestments shop. It was custom made for me by my good friend S. It is unique and special.

Stoles carry symbols, often crosses, or flames, symbols that are meaningful to the wearer and which will invoke meaning in those that see it as well. The colour of the stole also has meaning

CameraAwesomePhoto (2)My stole has two symbols. The first, closest to the top is a stylized dove. The dove is the universal symbol for the Holy Spirit. The dove on my stole faces out symbolizing the Holy Spirit’s movement out from me through the preaching of the word. It reminds me that my words are empty on their own, just words, unless they are empowered by the Holy Spirit. It also assures me that it is not my job, solely, to connect with my listeners. I don’t work alone.

CameraAwesomePhoto (1)The second symbol is the denominational symbol, the cross superimposed on a triangle representing the trinity. This symbol has been turned into a fish, the same sort of fish you see on the backs of lots of cars, the same fish early Christians used to identify themselves to each other in times of persecution. The Greek word ἰχθύς means fish, but was seen as an acrostic, using the first letter of the words Ίησοῦς Χριστός,  Θεοῦ Υἱός, Σωτήρ which are translated Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior. Thus, the fish.

All of this is on a white background. Many pastors have multiple stoles for use during the different seasons of the church. Mine is white, and for now anyway will be the only one. Since I will likely only use the stole for “special” events white works even though it may not be totally liturgically correct.

The stole is the most cherished physical gift of Friday night.

The Ordination Service

In 2009 I started this blog, not knowing where I was headed, but realizing I had started something new. Those first posts are tentative, a feeling in the dark, knowing God had a plan, knew what I was supposed to do, and if I kept walking through open doors I might find my way. It has been amazing how doors opened, and opened, and opened, until, maybe just as one more open door, I was ordained as a Minister of the Word in the Christian Reformed Church this past Friday night.

It was wonderful, a mountaintop really, with folks coming from far away and from nearby to share and participate in the event. I felt truly blessed and supported, loved even. The event was very ecumenical, with my Lutheran friends very well represented among the CRC majority. I will cherish the stole that was presented even though I’m told it will “pull hard”.

There is much processing still to be done, and I may write more on this event at a later date.

I don’t have any pictures to post yet, but I do have video of the whole event which you can view here:

 

 

The Almost Final Step

On Wednesday of this week, I was examined by Classis Huron of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA). It’s the last step in the process toward ordination. I’ve been working on, and finished a Master of Divinity. I’ve been examined by the faculty of Calvin Seminary, the Candidacy Committee of the CRCNA, and received a call (job offer) from a church. The examination is the last hurdle.

Of all of the exams, this one is the most onerous. Two examiners are assigned, one to delve into practical matters and one to cover theology. Both contacted me, in one way or another, before the event and gave a very broad idea of what they might ask. It was broad enough that virtually anything was on the table. There were about a hundred people in the audience and they were allowed to ask questions as well (there weren’t many of those).

After about two hours, the questions stopped and all but the delegates were asked to leave the room. It seemed to take a long time, but we were called back in and, while the chairman tried to add some drama, implying failure, I was passed.

I felt a lot better as it was announced this was behind me. I don’t suffer a lot from nervousness, but this experience, with its broad scope, and answers, which are, by their very nature, sometimes controversial, did push me as far as I have been pushed in recent years.

The title of this post is “The Almost Final Step”. There is one more, the Ordination Service. It will be a celebration, not a trial, but it is the final step in this journey. That service will be held February 28th at 7:30.

During the questions, I was asked to reflect on God’s work in this whole process. All along the way, God has been pushing, prodding, and opening doors. The presence is much clearer in retrospect than it is in the moment, but, I know that as this journey continues to unfold, God will continue to be there, out front, marking the way.

The Journey to Ordination: An Update

It’s been a little while since I shared anything here about the ongoing trip toward ordination. This is mostly because there has been little to tell.

DSCN1831Back in September, I was called as the bi-vocational interim pastor of the church where I have been a member for most of my life. This call was the trigger to start the final steps of the process. You see, to be ordained legitimately you need to have both an internal call (you recognizing yourself that God is telling you this is the direction your life is meant to go) and and an external call ( a group of people, a church, telling you that this is a suitable direction, God’s direction, for your life). The external call and the internal call affirm each other. Ordination requires both.

With the external call realized, the bureaucracy moves into gear. Examiners are assigned to make sure, even though both calls are recognized, the candidate has the necessary skills, and gifts, to actually function in the role of “minister of the word”. The examinations cover sermon writing, delivery, and worship leadership, as well as theology and practical ministry.

Back in December, I was assigned 1 Samuel 3 as my examination sermon. Two weeks ago, I led a service and preached the resulting sermon in my own church with two pastors present. (you can view the sermon here)  By the next evening, I had their report, three single spaced pages critiquing not only the sermon but the entire service, as well as two other sermons which I had submitted earlier. It was a valuable exercise which, while painful in places, did conclude with the words “we heartily recommend”. This sort of input is actually quite unusual in the every day world of preaching because ministers so rarely hear each other, and when they do are hesitant to comment on what they have heard.

The next stop in the process is almost the last one. On February 12th, fully five months after being called, I will be examined, orally, (no they are not going to look in my mouth) at the regular meeting of the classis (a body consisting of ministers and elders from 22 churches) There is 40 minutes allotted for this on the agenda, but, I suspect the questions may go on longer. Two ministers have been assigned to lead off the questioning, but, at some point, the floor will be opened and anyone is able to ask virtually anything. I can’t say I’m really looking forward to this experience.

With the examinations passed, if I am successful, there will be a time of celebration, an ordination service, likely a couple of weeks after the oral examination. The rules say you can’t set the date or start planning this event until after the successful completion of the exams, so I can’t tell you a date. Hopefully, I can in a couple of weeks.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since the first post on this blog. I wonder if the title of this blog will need to change once this piece of the journey is complete.

2013 Christmas Letter

Christmas time is a good time to reflect on the past year. It is at this time we remember the Gift God gave to the world. It is also a time of giving gifts to each other, appreciating and enjoying these gifts. We were given the gift of another year, with all of the good and exciting things that happened in it. While 2012 revolved around the growth of our family, this year was more about travel and milestones.

Introducing D to Sesame Street

Introducing D to Sesame Street

We were in Edmonton twice this year to visit with our Grandson D and his parents. He is growing up so quickly. Our last visit in October was wonderful, because D, now walking, is so responsive. We visited the zoo together where he became totally enamored with the domestic pigs, mimicking their grunts at every opportunity. Google talk has been a wonderful tool for keeping, and growing our relationship. I find it amazing the way a eighteen month old can seem to understand that the folks on the screen talking to him are real, as he interacts with us, just as if we were in the same room. Our son-in-law, J, has finished his PhD, with his defense in September. R, continues to work on the last stages of hers and hopes to complete this spring. They are doing a great job of balancing their lives as students and parents.

J and Clementine out for a drive

J and Clementine out for a drive

In February we traveled to San Francisco to visit J and L and our newest grand puppy, Clementine.   J continues his work with Google and seems to be flying around the world on business even more than he did before. L has left Google for a job with a company that makes a robot which is run by an iPhone. This company is based in San Francisco, saving her the commute to Mountain View which J continues to make. Clementine goes to work with one of them, most days.

J and M in Toronto came home a couple of weeks ago with news. They are going to be parents to more than two dogs and a cat. The baby is expected to arrive sometime in June. This news has put a little more pressure on them to finish the work they have been doing on their house.

Doggie messengers

Doggie messengers

They have been renovating the attic for a master bedroom and still have work to do on the main floor. M completed the requirements for his engineer’s stamp this year and also got his real estate licence. J continues to be active in her church as a youth leader and in her knitting group.

Last month we said goodbye to Liia. It was tougher to let her go than either of us had imagined.

Liia May 2004-Nov 2013

Liia May 2004-Nov 2013

Over the years on the farm we had, in one way or another, had animals come and go in our lives. Liia had entrenched herself in a much more intimate spot  than any of those others. We still feel her absence every day. For the first time in over 30 years, our house is pet-free.

History and cow pastures in Ireland

History and cow pastures in Ireland

This year, we joined the group we walked the Camino with in 2011 to visit the high holy crosses of Ireland. We decided that an eleven day bus trip in Ireland was not really an active enough holiday for us, so we extended it with a sixteen day bicycle trip. Ireland was a wonderful experience. The people are amazingly friendly and the history of the place is deep. The history surrounds you in castles, tower houses, and cottages.

Across a two lane road in Ireland

Across a two lane road in Ireland

Much of it just left where it is, protected by law and maintained by sheep and cattle. We were gone nearly a month.

J continues to work at the local YMCA as a personal trainer. She has also rediscovered knitting putting together socks, shawls, sweaters, and most recently Christmas balls. She has also started playing with clay at a local pottery shop.

Some of the many Christmas balls

Some of the many Christmas balls

The first days were pretty frustrating, but now warns me a new shelf might be required for all of the pottery she is bringing home this week and is hoping to make in the future.

A couple of years ago, J and I started taking dance classes. Initially, it was to keep from embarrassing ourselves at J & M’s wedding, but, finding that we enjoy doing this together we have continued. We don’t get a lot of chances to show off our skills, and maybe that is not even the point of the classes for us. For us, it something we can do together when biking, canoeing, and travelling are not possible. It’s good to have a best friend to share life with.

In April, I finished the last class of the MDiv I have been working on since 2009. In June, I was declared a candidate for ministry in the Christian Reformed Church. In September the congregation in Lucknow, my home congregation, called me to be their interim pastor.

Graduation October 2013

Graduation October 2013

While it seems like the end of the journey, it’s really just another way point. I’m enjoying the work at the church and look forward to the next couple of years here. The call is a part time one and I continue to consult with sheep and goat farmers through Threefold Consulting.

As the year draws to a close, we look forward to 2014.  We’re already talking about the cycle trip we hope to make, the canoe trip in Algonquin, the new grand baby. How many times will we get on an airplane next year?  Even as we talk about these things, we recognize life is fragile and we’re in God’s hands; whatever comes, we trust it’s part of God’s plan.