Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Sermon: January 26, 2014 - Servants in the World

Luke 2:22-38  
Rev. Andy Ferguson

            In the movie, *Bucket List*, Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman meet in the hospital after both have been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. They have movie names, but those are irrelevant; everyone knows Nicholson and Freeman. They become friends as they undergo their respective treatments. Somehow, they got off on what they would like to do before they die, and then they decide to check off as many wishes from their list as they can. They go around the world seeing wonders, having experiences, and becoming great friends. In the end, they return home mostly reconciled to their lives and their world. Morgan Freeman renews his love for his wife and his sprawling family just hours before his death. Nicholson reconciles with his daughter and meets the granddaughter he did not know he had. When he meets the child, he bends down to kiss her on the cheek, then he checks off his list, “Kiss the most beautiful girl in the world.”(2)

These two actors and the movie put the term, “Bucket List,” into the vernacular: the list of things you would like to do before you die.
            Well, the term may be new but the idea has been around as long as the Bible. Simeon was an old man, righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. Guided by the Spirit, he went to the Temple on the day Jesus was to be presented. When he saw Mary and Joseph come into the Temple to present him according to Jewish custom, he took the baby into his arms and praised God speaking the famous words from the Presentation:
**“Divine Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
    according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation.**

The *Presentation of Jesus* in the Temple was one of the last in the order of steps which began with the Angel’s annunciation to Mary. Each moment has been marked on the Christian calendar, although most of these days have disappeared from the popular calendar.
+       First, the Angel Gabriel gave the promise of a child to Mary -- the Annunciation.
+       Then, Jesus was born on Christmas. That gets most of our attention.
+       Jesus was circumcised on the 8th day.
+       Then, we observe the Visit of the Magi on January 6.
+       Now, at the end of Mary’s purification, they bring Jesus to present him to the Lord in the Jerusalem Temple. This is called “Candlemas” or the “Presentation of the Lord.”
This presentation and blessing is something we observe in a different setting at Church Street with the “Blessing of the Babies” on Christmas Eve.
+       The presentation Joseph and Mary performed came from the Jewish belief that the first fruits of any harvest were holy to the Lord. The first child for Mary was a “first fruit of her womb,” just as the first ears of corn would be the first fruits of the field.
+       We offer a blessing to the babies on Christmas Eve out of the conviction that, because God chose to enter the world in the form of baby, all babies are blessed and precious to the Lord.
The story of Simeon caught my attention because he was an older adult – just as some in this television audience are older adults. Simeon had been told by God that he would live long enough to see the Lord’s Messiah. That, of course, is very moving. But, what stirs me about Simeon is that when God made a promise to him, he kept a promise to God in return.
+       God promised that he would see the Messiah, so he never stopped looking.
+       God told him that he would meet the Messiah, so he listened for the call to come.
When the call did come to Simeon, he responded by coming to the Temple. There his dream was fulfilled as he held the Baby Jesus in his arms. Remember that Simeon was an older adult when all of this took place.
            In addition, remember that we are followers/disciples of Jesus as long as we have breath. Our abilities and ministries may change; our commitment to Christ never changes.
+       When you are young, you have the opportunities to serve Christ as a young person.
+       When you reach adulthood, you have the opportunities for service as a young adult.
+       When you become a parent, you have the opportunities for Christ’s service with and to your children.
+       When you are an older adult, you have the opportunities for Christ’s service that are unique to older adults.
Years ago in another church, we had a custodian who reminded me every day, “The work is never done!” In God’s Kingdom, the work is indeed *never done*. So, who are you working for? What promise of God are you watching for?    

[II. DISCIPLESHIP after waiting]

            Every age and every moment has its possibilities for service to our Lord. Often being a disciple just look like doing the right thing – and staying with it long after you expected to be finished.
            As you know, we had a snow event on Tuesday in Knoxville; in Atlanta, it was more of an icing event and a traffic event. It was the schools which played out the drama for that community – getting kids home or sheltering them in place was the story.

Ex: Fulton County had 3,145 kids stranded overnight. At south Fulton’s Westlake High School, cafeteria manager Henry Smith made it home but then decided to walk back to school in the snow. He prepared 800 dinners and then 450 breakfasts. It was the longest shift of his life.

Ex: Lin-Sheng Lee is an Atlanta school bus driver, who tried to take kids home from school on Tuesday afternoon. He still had seven teenagers on his bus when he got stranded. Little heat on the bus. Eighteen degrees outside. Stuck in the dark on an interstate on-ramp: no cops, no rescue, no options.
Three hours come and go. About 10:30 p.m., three teenagers emerge from the dark and tap on the bus door. “We have food,” they say. Lee replies, “Oh my God” and gratefully accepts the candy bars and water.
Midnight: still no rescue. The kids are tired, hungry and desperate for a bathroom. The cold is just getting worse. Around midnight, Lin-Sheng Lee got another knock on his bus door. It was the same three teenagers who had brought snacks hours earlier, back with more food.
Soon, Lee got the call he’d been waiting for: the DeKalb County police were nearby.
They couldn’t reach the bus, and he was instructed to walk with his charges back up the ramp. Up they trudged. He was worried until he saw the flashing blue lights. The best part of the rescue, said Lee, 65, was that “the car was warm.”
The police took them to the school district police headquarters on Memorial Drive, where they got meals and rest. Then, Lee accompanied the police to direct them to the teenagers’ homes. That bus trip did not end until after daybreak.
Lee said people thanked him for staying with the kids, but he said he was just doing his job. He was just thankful to the three youths who appeared bearing food (1).
Sometimes being faithful means sticking with it longer than anyone else thinks you should.

Certainly, we serve Christ out of gratitude. When we consider all that Jesus has done for us, there is nothing more that we could require of Him. Still, there are blessings of living the Christian life. There are blessings to giving your faith to Jesus Christ. You are not finished when the baptism water dries from your head. Serving Christ yields blessings throughout our lives.
            Holy Communion recalls how Christ knelt down to serve us – first the 12 and now each one of us. Think about it: the Son of the Living God knelt to serve the likes of us. Knowing this, we know that we must be servants of the world in Christ’s name.

            Simeon and Anna were just two old people; there was most likely nothing very remarkable about them. Except that, they trusted God to keep His promises. Trusting God, they lived their lives in listening – listening for the day that God would tell them that the promise was being kept. Can we live such lives? Can we listen for the voice and the leading of God? Can we?

1. Tahami, Ty and Teegardin, Carrie, “On their Own, drivers and Teachers turned Hero.” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Feb 1, 2014.
2. “The Bucket List,” directed by Rob Reiner, released in 2007.

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