RSS

Category Archives: Maine

Simeon’s Song: Worth the Wait

(a sermon for December 30, 2018, the 1st Sunday after Christmas; last in a series, based on  Luke 2:22-40)

Sometimes the only thing you can do is sing.

An old friend of mine from my seminary days, a bright and bubbly older lady who went by the name of “Mickey,” used to tell the story of how one snowy winter morning in Maine she’d decided to go cross-country skiing along a beautiful wooded trail that she knew, one that stretched far from any nearby roads, houses or people. The idea, she said, was for some spiritual solitude, but as fate would have it somewhere deep in the woods Mickey fell off her skis and managed to fracture her ankle; so now not only was she injured and unable to make her way home, but also, ironically enough, she was totally alone!

Now, given that this was a time long before cel phones and with no other way of calling out for help out there deep in the Maine woods, most people might have panicked under those circumstances; but not Mickey!  Surely, she reasoned, on this beautiful snowy morning someone else would be out skiing or snowshoeing and happen by, so she’d simply wait there in the snow until someone came by who could help her!  And that’s what she did; however, as the hours began to pass and the snow accumulated all around her Mickey started to wonder, however fleetingly, when or if help would ever come!

So she started to sing.

Actually, she started by reciting psalms and other passages of scripture she’d known from childhood (“I lift up my eyes to the hills – from where will my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” [Psalm 121:1-2] Actually kind of fitting when you think about it, she said afterward) And then, it was Christmas songs, followed by verses from all the old hymns and snippets from choir anthems that she’d sung at one time or another and had always remembered. And as that long day went on Mickey just kept on singing, singing everything and anything she knew how to sing and even a few songs she didn’t!  She sang through her pain and she sang through her fear, and she even sang a bit through her doubt, but above all Mickey sang out of a faith-borne assuredness that the Lord was with her and that she would be alright!  And when eventually, just as darkness had begun to descend, another pair of skiers did happen by so to bring her to safety, they asked how she was doing and Mickey simply smiled and replied in very typical Mickey fashion, “Oh, I’m fine… I hadn’t run out of songs yet!”

Sometimes, you see, the only thing you can do is sing… but when singing is an act of faith, that may well be enough!

In our text for this morning, Luke’s gospel tells us that at the time of Jesus’ birth there was “a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon,” and Luke makes a point of letting us know that this Simeon was a good man, “righteous and devout,” and as The Message puts it, living “in the prayerful expectancy of help for Israel,” that is, waiting for the coming of the Lord’s Messiah.  We’re also supposed to surmise from this passage that Simeon was quite old and that he had been, in fact, waiting just about all his life for this singular event to take place; but, you see, that was alright. For as Luke tells the story, “the Holy Spirit rested” on Simeon and that same Spirit had “shown him that he would see this Messiah of God before he died.”  That’s it… no angel making an “annunciation,” as what was given unto Mary, nor even any heavenly rebuke as what happened to old Zechariah back at the temple; and as for that “heavenly host” that they’d heard about from a bunch of random shepherds?  There was certainly none of that for Simeon; no miracles or signs or wonder, just simply and profoundly this continued assurance from a truly Holy Spirit that this thing was going to happen, it would happen in Simeon’s lifetime… and it was definitely going to be worth the wait.  So keep the faith, Simeon… keep on singing and just wait for it.

So now it’s about 40 days after the child was born in the manger of Bethlehem; which means that Jesus was around a month and a half old and the time had come both for “their purification” (which actually had more to do with Mary than with Jesus, as it was required by every Jewish woman after childbirth) and for Mary and Joseph to come to the Temple and offer up a sacrifice (which because of their poverty, amounted to “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons”), so to consecrate their child to the Lord.  Understand this was a sacred ritual, a duty required and performed by all faithful Jews; and so you have to imagine, as David Lose puts it, that Mary and Joseph “must have been in a reverent, even solemn mood that day, the way many young parents in our congregations are when their first child is to baptized.”  So also imagine, then, how started, even frightened Mary and Joseph might have been when in the midst of this quiet procession into the holy courts of the Temple, here comes “Simeon, old beyond years and beaming with ecstatic revelation, coming up to them to touch the child,” and then, as if that weren’t enough, he starts singing!

You see, on that day of days Simeon was guided by the Holy Spirit to go – go now (!) – to the Temple because there at long last he would see the Messiah, the fulfillment of the Holy Spirit’s promise and the consolation of Israel.  And so, make no mistake, there’s absolutely no reluctance, hesitation or even any kind of appropriateness here on Simeon’s part; I mean, you don’t just run up to new parents and just pick up their baby, but here’s old Simeon fairly well running into the Temple and scooping up the baby Jesus away from Mary and Joseph, all so he can hold this child in his arms; and once Simeon’s seen that angelic little face, once he’s touched his little fingers, maybe counted his toes and then marveled how something so tiny and so delicate can be so… divine, that’s when Simeon’s song begins, a song of praise and thanksgiving for this child who was and is “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

In Latin, it’s referred to as the Nunc Dimittis, which means “now send away,” and it’s actually used today both during services of holy communion and as a funeral liturgy, for not only is this song this incredible proclamation of God’s salvation prepared for all people, it’s also Simeon’s joyous affirmation that now that the Spirit’s lifelong assurances of a Messiah had come to fruition Simeon himself could die in peace.  In other words, my waiting is over, your work is done, so as in the elegant words of the old King James Version of scripture, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:  For mine eyes have seen thy salvation.”

There are some, you know, who tend to read the words of Simeon’s song as something rather morbid; I mean, why would he even want to talk about death and dying at a time like this, when the light and life of Christmas, to borrow a line from Jean Shepherd here, is at its zenith and all is right with the world?  But you see, Simeon knew that everything in his life had led up to this particular moment of this particular day, and that now that he’d literally seen and held God’s promise in his hands, “after touching and feeling the promise of life which God had granted to him through Christ…” (David Lose, again) then he could accept death “courageously and confidently in the light of God’s promised salvation.”  He could let go now, because the promise had been fulfilled and it had most definitely been worth the wait.

Of course, it needs to be said there that Simeon’s song wasn’t entirely one of joy and praise.  After he’d blessed this child and his parents, Simeon then looked to Mary, and as though to perhaps warn her of what was to come (?), he sings a second verse of his song, of how this child was to “be a sign that will be opposed,” – a “figure misunderstood and contradicted” – “so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed.”  And, oh yes, Mary, by the way?  “A sword will pierce your own soul, too.”

It turns out, you see, that there will be more to this story than merely a tale of angels and shepherds and Magi from the Far East bring gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  This child, this baby whose is named Jesus, Emmanuel, Messiah, Christ the Lord… his story will continue; beginning with a baptism of repentance in the River Jordan through great acts of healing, miraculous signs, teachings that change lives and the world, and at the last a triumphal entry into Jerusalem that leads inescapably to the cross.

Even after the shepherds have gone back to their flock; even once the star overhead has faded to blend in with the rest of the night sky and the Magi have opted to go home another way; even after Mary and Joseph settle in to the business of raising an infant even as they’ve had to flee to Egypt as refugees, the story goes on. The baby Jesus, you see, grows up… and his journey, as well as ours, is just beginning.

You know, it’s always struck me as a bit odd that we inevitably end up viewing Christmas as an ending rather than really what it should be, a new beginning.  I realize that this comes in large part because since before Halloween (!) this world has been wholly focused on the run-up to everything surrounding the Christmas holiday, and so once December 26 comes along even the most ardent of Christmas elves are apt to breathe a sigh of relief!   And even here in the church, for over four weeks we’ve devoted ourselves to Advent waiting and watching for the coming of Christ; and so yes, I have to confess that there’s a palpable sense of conclusion in our finally arriving at the manger.  In other words, we’ve come to worship, we’ve sung all our songs and now it’s time, like the shepherds and wise men before us, to return to life and the world and business as usual.

But I ask you, is that actually the case? Is Christmas truly over?   Have we really run out of songs to sing?

Not yet.

Because despite whatever closure we have by our taking down decorations or switching to music other than the holiday variety (!), the fact our journey to Christmas has not so much ended as it is just beginning!

You might have noticed that our text this morning contains a bit of an epilogue to this story of Jesus’ presentation at the Temple and Simeon’s song of praise and glory.  It seems that there in the Temple was also “a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.” Anna was an 84-year-old widow, and in fact pretty much lived at the temple, “worshipping night and day with her fastings and prayers,” [The Message] and we’re told that at the very same moment Simeon was offering up his tribute, Anna also showed up and “broke into an anthem” of her own, one of “praise to God,” and one that was apparently reprised again and again as she began “to speak about the child to all who were look for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

That’s the key, you know… that’s how Christmas becomes for us the starting place of our journey rather than its conclusion.  It’s in our proclaiming the good news of his coming; it’s about telling the story of his holy birth, yes, but it’s also continuing to tell of his presence and ministry among us and of the price he paid for our redemption before God.  It’s in the work of Christmas that we are called to do: in those powerful words of poet Howard Thurman:

“To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among others,
To make music in the heart.”

Yes, to “make music in the heart!”  Christmas is always about singing out our praises unto the Lord each and every day that we live and breathe; it’s about singing through our pain, and singing through our fear, and even at times singing through our doubt; but it’s ever and always singing out of that faith-borne and faith-full assuredness that the Lord is with us and that we will be alright!

Christmas is not over, beloved; in fact, it’s just getting started!

So let that journey of prayer and praising and service begin with us here and now… and let’s keep singing, because there are plenty of songs yet to sing!

Thanks be to God!

Amen and AMEN!

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on December 30, 2018 in Christmas, Jesus, Maine, Music, Sermon, Sermon Series, Worship

 

Tags: , , ,

In Step With the Spirit

(a sermon for July 1, 2018, the 6th Sunday after Pentecost, based on Galatians 5:1, 13-25)

In a collection of sermons and other writings entitled Flesh and Bone, the Rev. Dr. A.K.M. Adam – Boston born Biblical scholar and theologian currently on the faculty at Oxford University – writes about his own journey of faith, confessing that there was a time in his life when he didn’t want to follow Jesus.  In fact, he writes, “I didn’t need Jesus [and] I didn’t have any use for anyone who did need Jesus… I was a skeptic, and I meant business about it.”

But something changed, though Adam freely admits that he isn’t sure what. There was “no blinding light, no voice from heaven,” he says. “I can’t tell you about God appearing to me from heaven and slapping me upside my head, or Elijah coming and tossing a cloak onto me, and me then dropping my plow and following.”  This was partly, Adam goes on to say, because he wasn’t aware of what was happening to him even as it was happening, but mostly it was “because God’s way is usually not to do things with spotlights and special effects, but instead to manage the tiny details in such a way that things just happen in the right way.”  Adam writes that “the God who bent my will from defiance and skepticism to submission and faith didn’t bludgeon me, didn’t beat me with a stick to change my mind, but just set me up to change my own mind.”

I actually found that to be a pretty good explanation as to how belief comes to be; and I also suspect that truth be told, most of us can relate to Adam’s story!  For whereas some of us in this room today might well be able to name the specific time and place where we came to faith, it’s more likely that the majority of us have taken that journey step by step, day by day, experience by experience.   The truth of the matter is that a great many of us are, as they say, “born skeptics,” wondering even as we sit in these pews if this religion thing is all it’s cracked up to be!  And even if we are aware that there’s someone bigger than you and me at work here, we find ourselves wondering aloud why things in this world aren’t working out better than they are! But then, there are also those among us who are content to be looking for the road signs along the way; delighting in the happenstances and messages that pop up from time to time that not only remind us who and whose we are, but also serve to assure us that we’re headed in just the right direction (albeit with a course correction or two!).

The trouble with this, however, is that these kind of road signs aren’t always that obvious; in fact, oftentimes they’re so small as to be almost indiscernible!  I remember once, years ago, having been asked to lead a graveside service at a cemetery way out in the hinterlands of western Maine.  This was in the days before cel phones and GPS units, but I’d been given very specific directions from the funeral home that at the bottom of a long hill on the highway, I was to take the first left, and then, after a couple of miles, I’d find the cemetery.  And that’s what I did – or that’s what I thought I did (!) – because as I took that left hand turn and drove several miles down that well-paved road that got thinner and rougher as I went, it became increasingly clear that there was no cemetery to be found on this road!   It got to the point where – no joke (!) – I stopped at a farm house at the very end of that road, banged on the door and asked the people there in a rather panic-stricken voice, “Do you know where the graveyard is?”  To which the farmer calmly replied, “Well, didn’t you take that first left at the bottom of the hill?”  Turned out there was a left hand turn at the bottom of the hill, but it was an old, rather non-descript road of dirt and grass that I quickly and easily passed by because I reasoned it could not possibly be the right road… but of course it was!

Well, likewise in the journey of faith sometimes we only recognize the signs of God’s presence and influence once we’ve already gone by them!  In the end, what we discover along the way is that we have to be paying attention, staying open to all the little times, places and situations in which God’s Spirit reaches out to us, letting ourselves be led by that Spirit; indeed, to go our way freely in this life, but to always seek to God as we do.  In other words, as Paul says it to the Galatians in our reading this morning, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit,” or, as it’s beautifully translated elsewhere, “let us keep in step with the Spirit.” (NIV)

Our text for this morning from the 5th chapter of Galatians is all about Christian freedom and life in the Spirit; the tension that exists in a life of faith between, on the one hand, freedom from the law (that is, the freedom we have to do anything we want, regardless of what the law says), but on the other hand, the call we all have as Christians to resist the temptations of the flesh and be led instead by God’s Spirit in all things.  Yes, says Paul, in Christ we are freed from that which the law addresses, and we are free to do anything we desire; but we are also free to not do anything we desire; we are free to set firm standards for our lives on the basis of what we believe in faith, and then to follow them.  Without that at the center of our freedom, you see, we risk becoming as shackled by the flesh as we were by the law.

I remember many years ago a young woman I worked with who, while we were all employed together, turned 21 and was free now to go out and buy and drink alcoholic beverages legally.  And of course, a lot of her friends were trying very hard to get her to go out with them and celebrate this milestone, to go and party at some of the local clubs.  But she wasn’t interested in this at all; she was actually quite a conservative young woman that way, as I recall.  I remember her saying that she didn’t want to go out drinking before, and she didn’t want to go now; and moreover, that this was not what she wanted for her life, not the road she wanted to go down.  And then she said this, which is something I still remember: why should something like a birthday change what she truly believed?

That’s basically what Paul was getting at in his epistle to the Galatians:  the point that ultimately laws don’t matter, and that by Christ, we are set free to live a truly free life, free from all those things in life that would shackle us!  So “stand firm, therefore” says Paul, “and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” 

Of course, these new Christians at Galatia were not understanding this at all!  In fact, as we pick up the reading today, it’s apparent that their new found freedom had not so much liberated them as had created more problems and divisions amongst them.  In fact, this attitude that now all things were legal and thus good had gotten so out of hand, that it had come close to literally destroying them as a people and as a church.  And to this, Paul says to them,  “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another… if, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.”   And, as The Message concludes, “where will your precious freedom be then?”  In their freedom from the law, you see, the Galatians ended up losing the essence of the law, which of course, was love!  And without love, well, the church isn’t the church at all!

Seems to me that’s pretty relevant for those of us in our own time who would seek to follow Christ Jesus and to gather as the church.  There’s no question that we live in a very pluralistic society in which the prevailing winds of the culture are constantly shifting; and as Christians and as the church we continually being asked to discern between that which represents changing times and new ideas, or on the other hand, that which pulls us away from God’s intent for our lives or for his church.  And when you combine this with the fact that just about everyone inside and outside the church has an opinion on such matters, it gets harder and harder to properly read the signs, because as we’ve noted, they’re not always so that obvious to find in such a free-styled world as ours.  That’s why Paul says to the Galatians, and to us, we need to “live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit” [The Message, again] and not by “the desires of the sinful nature.”

It’s at this point of his Epistle that Paul lists down the “obvious” sins of the flesh:  “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealously, fits of rage, selfish ambition,” [NIV] and on and on it goes, right up to and including “drunkenness and carousing!”   [NRSV] “I am warning you,” Paul says, “as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”  So don’t go down roads such as these; rather, led by the Spirit, be looking out for signs of the Spirit’s presence in your life, that which Paul refers to as the fruit of the Spirit:  “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”  This is the way of true faith, and it comes to us by the Spirit of God!  And if we are led by the Spirit, friends, we are in step with the Spirit… and very close to the Kingdom of God!

So what should we be looking for as we all head back out on the journey this week?  Remember, just as signs are not always that obvious to us, the fruit of the Spirit might not always appear to us as low-hanging!  The truth is that God’s Spirit does indeed move in mysterious, wonderful, and might I add, often very subtle ways; and even amongst unlikely and surprising people! To quote A.K.M Adams again, sometimes “these ideals seep into our lives when we see other folks whom we respect living by their ideals.  We think of self-control… [when we witness] admirable, grace-filled women and men… inclined to exercise self-control; we honor peace and gentleness when we see the [triumph] of patient dignity [over] violent hatred through the example of a truly great person.  When we open our hearts to this message of faith and hope,” we find ourselves seeking out and letting ourselves be led by the Spirit of Holiness, and that’s the beginning of a whole new life indeed.

Who knows where the Spirit will be found in our lives this week, and who knows where that Spirit will seek to lead us?  Perhaps in holiday gatherings and in the opportunities before us as families and friends to “beat the heat” amidst this sultry summer weather?  Perhaps in small but significant “random acts of kindness” both given and received?  Perhaps in and through a new insight for living in the middle of these troubled times?  Or perhaps even in sharing this morning’s sacred meal of bread and wine at the table of blessing?  All I know is that God’s Spirit does move in ways we can never wholly expect; but if we’re paying attention will always serve to remind us that we are bound together by the God who sends us forth in Christ’s name.  And rest assured, if we seek out and live unto that Spirit, we always be walking in step with it wherever life happens to take us.

May it always be so for you and me, beloved.

Thanks be to God!

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

Tags: ,

Awakened by a Roar

(a sermon for May 27, 2018, the 1st Sunday after Pentecost, based on Romans 8:12-17 and John 3:1-17)

It has long fascinated me that sound – or more accurately, our experience of sound – is something very relative in nature.

For instance, as I was at home writing this sermon yesterday, the windows were open and I was hearing all the noise that’s fairly commonplace on Mountain Road, especially on a weekend: the steady stream of cars whizzing by (usually too fast!) or the roar of motorcycles headed up to the mountains;  lawn mowers, weed whackers and the buzz of an occasional chainsaw doing yardwork off in the distance; the snatches of music and conversation emanating from throughout the neighborhood; and this is to say nothing of the constant roar of traffic that floats up from nearby I-93!  It’s this ever-present droning of sound – like I say, not at all unusual, especially this time of year – but the thing is that most of the time I don’t even notice it!  Quite honestly, most times it takes a siren or a clap of thunder to get me to wake up to all the rest of the noise that’s going on around me!

Actually, the thought of this takes me back to my years growing up in Maine.  East Millinocket, the town where I grew up, was in those more prosperous days a huge paper mill town; and so the constant whirring and clanking of paper machines at the mill, along with the roar of all the other varied kinds of equipment used to move around pulp and paper, was a regular part of our lives 24/7… so much so that from day to day we hardly ever noticed the noise of it!  In fact, every morning around 7:45 there would be three blasts of the fire horn signaling the end of the night shift (and, as it turned out, to let us kids know that school was starting in a half-hour!); but let me tell you that when I was in high school, I could sleep through that fire horn blasting with no trouble whatsoever and be late for class as a result!

Contrast this, however, to what we experienced every summer when we went “uptacamp” at the lake; when without the noise of the mill filling our ears every night, the silence those first few nights could almost be deafening!  And when you woke up it wasn’t to the sound of paper machines, but rather to the sound of loons calling to one another from the far end of the pond; birds singing their songs high up in the trees behind the camp, and the first hints of a morning breeze rustling through the leaves.  Or maybe it’d be the putt-putt of a little outboard engine bringing one of the old men out to Barker Rocks in hopes that the fishing might be particularly good that morning.  Perhaps you’d even hear your parents out in the kitchen talking about putting on a pot of coffee, or hear a screen door slamming as one of them down to the spring for a jug of water.  These were no less than the quiet, gentle sounds of life “going on,” all of that which, unbeknownst to you, had pretty much been drowned out by the clamor of school, work and the routine of daily life!

And what I remember more than anything else is that whereas I could easily sleep through the blasts of the fire horn, all those sounds at the lake were almost like an alarm clock for me.  I’d hear all this from my bed and I’d want to get right up and see what was going on; to find out what the weather was going to be and get started on whatever adventure was waiting for me that day!  It was a new day, a brand new season full of possibility, and as such, I was new as well; part of a time and a place in which something wonderful was going to happen that I definitely didn’t want to miss!

Actually, if you think of that as a parable of sorts it’s not all that different than that which our epistle text for this morning sets forth: what it means for you and I to live in and be led by the Spirit of God!  You see, in his letter to the Roman church Paul speaks about this incredible power God has unleashed into the world in Christ’s resurrection; a Spirit of life that empowers all who call upon it in the same manner it empowered Jesus in the midst of his own suffering and death, to the extent that his glory becomes our glory as well!  Paul is very specific in saying that by that same Spirit “bearing witness with our spirit,” we are “children of God,” and as such “heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ,” and all the good things that come with that.

Think about that with me for a moment, because that’s big!  What that’s saying is that because of the Spirit and out of love, God has not simply made us his children, but views us as his children in the same way that he views Jesus himself!  Do you ever remember hearing someone refer to a child born to a family very late in life as an “afterthought;” meaning that this family thought they were long since past having any more children but then there was a baby on the way who was the “afterthought?”  Well, what we’re told here is that you and I are not to be thought of any sort of divine afterthought; but in fact, fully and wholly children of God and co-heirs with God’s Son Jesus.  And because of this, we’ve entered into this brand new style of life that comes to us by virtue of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This is why Paul is also very quick in our reading today to make a distinction between the old time and place when we were “debtors… to the flesh,” that is, living a life wholly caught up in the ways and means of the world, as opposed to now, as we’re living the new life of the Spirit in which we are regarded as Children of God!  Living in that Spirit, you see, brings us a whole new perception of life and living, in which we see and hear and experience things so much differently than we ever did before, thus changing how we live forever!  Once again, I found myself smiling at how The Message words this: “This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike ‘What’s next, Papa?’ God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are.”  In the more traditional translation, “…you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption.”  You’ve been given a spirit that is a living force dwelling within you, and it shapes who you are and what you do; and because of this, it’s a new day and a brand new life full of possibility, one that you don’t want to miss out on!  Yes, it might well lead to challenge and suffering, as it did for our brother Christ, but it’s also a life that inevitably gives way to wonder, and glory, and divine purpose.

As Paul proclaims it here, it’s an amazing gift; not to mention one of the central truths of our Christian faith.  But the question is… it always is… whether we’re ready and willing to embrace that gift as our own.

Our second reading for this morning is that passage that John that leads into what is arguably the most oft-quoted verses of the gospels: that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”  But what we don’t always acknowledge is that this verse is actually the culmination of a longer (and, might I add, covert) conversation between Jesus and a Pharisee named Nicodemus; a conversation which begins with Jesus speaking to this Pharisee about the need for being born again, not of the flesh but of the Spirit, or as our translation of scripture puts it, being “born from above.”  What’s interesting is that Nicodemus, despite being a Pharisee and, as such, a knowledgeable man on matters of faith and theology, responds with questions that sound almost like riddles: “How can anyone be born after having grown old?  Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”

There’s a spirited back and forth between Jesus and this Pharisee; to the point where in the end, it’s really not a lack of understanding that holds Nicodemus back (because as Jesus says it, he is a teacher of Israel; surely he understands that “what is born of the Spirit is spirit”), but rather, I suspect, the sheer reality of what it means this same Spirit – God’s Spirit – start one’s life all over again!  Nicodemus, being a Pharisee and being a tireless purveyor of the Law, would have to know that such an understanding would mean following God along a new pathway; and that the things of heaven – the things relating to God’s plan, God’s kingdom, God’s love – would have to take precedence over earthly things, even some things relating to the law!  It would have to mean that you might well find yourself living a new kind of life, a life in which would have to trust God’s Spirit to give you courage, and strength, and love in order to witness to that truth in the world.  And make no mistake, friends, that was a daunting prospect for Nicodemus; and it continues to be for us as well.

But the good news is that we are given the kind of Spirit that empowers us to be God’s children in the here and now, even as we lay the groundwork for the kingdom to come in its fullness. As Paul also said, this time to in his 2nd letter to Timothy, “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”  (1:7)  And here’s the challenge that goes with that good news:  by the power of this Spirit given us, we are to wake up to this brand new day and truly live!

Not long ago I read something very interesting about the psychology of lions; which is in truth, part folklore and part the result of years of studying prides of lions and their habits of life and survival. But what seems to be true amidst the folklore is that lion cubs, despite what we all know to be true from watching “The Lion King,” (!) basically come into the world pretty much stillborn; and that they are “awakened to life” by the roar of another lion.  The legend inherent in this is the reason why lions have a roar in the first place: it is to awaken young lions who are asleep, because otherwise they can never be born, and thus live and grow and take their proper place in the pride.  Lions are never able to truly fulfill their destiny unless they are awakened to the possibility of it by a roar!

It’s really not too much of a stretch think of ourselves in the same way.  After all, there are so many people who come into this world, who live their lives and do their jobs and go through their days as though stillborn, without really having life as it is meant to be.  Maybe there’s somebody here today who does everything they’re supposed to do in this life, and yet deep down feels as if they’re merely going through the motions; like there’s supposed to be something more to who they are and what they’re supposed to be:  a deep passion, a holy rage, a joyous aggression that fulfills everything that life and living is meant to hold.  But something holds that back.

Well, beloved, the good news is that once in the town of Galilee there was a lion who roared: a lion who roared to life those who were yet stillborn; children who by the sound of this mighty roar of life became sons and daughters of God, heirs of God and brothers and sisters of Christ.

That lion’s name is Jesus, and if we will only attune our ears to sound of his voice, which truly roars above the din of human anxieties and fears, he will awaken us to things we never heard, or seen, or done, or have been before.  He will give to us a Spirit that dwells within us and allows us to truly live with wonder, and purpose, and incredible joy manifest in divine love.

May this be the day we’re awakened to that Spirit… and as that happens, may our thanks be to God!

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
2 Comments

Posted by on May 27, 2018 in Epistles, Holy Spirit, Jesus, Life, Maine, Paul, Sermon

 

Tags: , , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: