Sunday, February 02, 2014

Presenting Jesus

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
February 2, 2014

The Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord
Malachi 3:1-4
Psalm 84
Hebrews 2:14-18
Luke 2:22-40

Presenting Jesus
            Today we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation.
            The Feast of the Presentation is sometimes called Candlemas – because it’s the day when priests would bless the candles that would be used for the year ahead.
            On the Feast of the Presentation we remember a story told only in Luke’s gospel – the story of Jesus’ parents bringing the child Jesus to the Temple.
            Actually, In the story of the Presentation, Luke combines two different Jewish rituals.
            First, according to Exodus, every firstborn son belonged to God and could be brought home after the father made an offering to God.
            Second, Jewish Law required women to undergo a ritual purification forty days after giving birth to a male child. The purification included the sacrifice of a lamb in the Temple. Or, if the family was poor, they had the less expensive option of offering a pair of doves or pigeons.
            Notice that Luke tells us that Jesus’ parents could only afford to sacrifice two birds.
            Mary and Joseph are poor.
            Yet, they are pious and faithful people who do the right thing. They obey the religious Law.
            So, imagine the scene for a moment.
            The Temple was the religious, cultural and political center of Israel. It would have been teeming with people from Jerusalem and far beyond. Jews came great distances to offer ritual sacrifices.
            Others came just to marvel at the magnificent architecture and observe the spectacle.
            There were big crowds – lots of people, lots of noise, lots of smells.
            And in the midst of all of this activity, here come Mary and Joseph, two poor peasants from Nazareth carrying their son, just forty days old.
            They have come all this way to present Jesus.
            They would have been unremarkable in every way. Mary and Joseph were a couple of nobodies in a city – in a world - filled with people just like them.
            Maybe some people would have mocked their little offering, ridiculed them for only being able to afford the two birds.
            But, Mary and Joseph do the best they can, offer the most, the best, they could to God.
            Mary and Joseph have come to Jerusalem to present Jesus.
            Now, of course, we know that this isn’t any ordinary couple. And we know that the child they present is no ordinary child.
            And we know that Mary and Joseph know that their child is no ordinary child.
            And, it turns out, thanks to the Holy Spirit, there were others in the Jerusalem Temple that day who saw beyond and behind the ordinariness and the poverty of Mary and Joseph – there are others able to recognize Jesus when he is presented.
            Luke tells us that one of those people is a “righteous and devout” man named Simeon. Luke tells us that the Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.
            And, sure enough, when Mary and Joseph present Jesus, Simeon recognizes him. Simeon recognizes the forty-day old infant Jesus as the Messiah – the Savior not only of the Jews but of the whole world. In his great song, Simeon sings that he can die because he has seen God’s salvation, “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory of your people Israel.”
            Mary and Joseph present Jesus. And Simeon recognizes Jesus.
            But, it’s not just Simeon.
            Luke tells us there’s somebody else – there’s also a prophet – an elderly woman named Anna.
            Mary and Joseph present Jesus. And Anna recognizes Jesus.
            We’re told that Anna “began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”
            Poor and ordinary as they were, Mary and Joseph present Jesus.
            And, guided by the Holy Spirit, at least some people, at least Simeon and Anna, recognize Jesus.
            Presenting Jesus. Recognizing Jesus.
            As you know, today is the day of our Annual Parish Meeting. It’s the day when we report and review statistics. It’s the day to celebrate that, for example, our average Sunday attendance jumped from 51 in 2012 to 69 in 2013, and, I’m happy to say, continues to climb as we become more regular in our church attendance and as more people discover and join our warm and loving community.
            It’s a day to review of financial situation, which I’m relieved to tell you is, thanks to all of you, much brighter than it was this time last year.
            It’s a day to talk about individual ministries – to celebrate what’s been done and to plan ahead for the exciting future that God has in store for us all.
            But, the annual meeting is also a time to reflect on the big picture – it’s a time to ask: Why does St. Paul’s exist?
            Why are we here?
            We aren’t here to keep me employed or to give us all a great place to be together and enjoy each other’s company. (Although, ahem, those are both good things that I wouldn’t want to be without!)
            No, at our very heart, the Church – this church – is here to present Jesus to the world.
            Poor and ordinary as we are, God has given us the awesome responsibility – the magnificent privilege – of presenting Jesus to the world – presenting Jesus to a world broken by sin, wounded by violence and haunted by despair.
            Poor and ordinary as we are, God has given St. Paul’s the awesome responsibility – the magnificent privilege  - of presenting Jesus to Jersey City – of presenting Jesus to a city broken by sin, wounded by violence and haunted by despair.
            Just like Mary and Joseph long ago, our job is to present Jesus.
            And when we present Jesus to the world – when we present Jesus to Jersey City – some, like Simeon and Anna, will recognize Jesus.
            Presenting Jesus. Recognizing Jesus.
            Here in church, here in our much-loved old building, we present and recognize Jesus in our music and prayers, and in our fellowship.
            Here in church we present and recognize Jesus when we take the Body and Blood of Christ into our bodies and into our hearts.
            And then we go out those doors into the world to present Jesus.
            Out there, we present Jesus when we actually work up the courage to talk to someone else about our faith. When we get the nerve to invite a friend or a neighbor to come to church, to come and see.
            We present Jesus when we partner with Garden State Episcopal to feed the hungry and to provide the basic human dignity that comes from, for example, having of clean teeth.
            We present Jesus when we offer a shoulder to cry on, when we work together with people in other churches to promise homeless families shelter and a better future.
            We present Jesus when we teach our children to reject violence, to respect the dignity of every human being, to live lives of love and generosity.
            We present Jesus when we give and give to those who can never pay us back and when we offer hospitality - when we help - even those who turn out to be dishonest and insincere.
            We present Jesus when we forgive those who hurt us – and forgive and forgive some more.
            First as a parishioner and now as your priest, I have seen Jesus presented here at St. Paul’s in so many life-changing ways.
            And, like many if not all of you, I have recognized Jesus – I have recognized Jesus who is presented right here – who is presented right here in and through us - in life-changing ways.
            Presenting Jesus. That’s the awesome responsibility – the magnificent privilege – the great truth – the great mission – behind all the facts and figures we will discuss today.
            God called Mary and Joseph, poor and ordinary as they were, to present Jesus to the world.
            And, today and in the year and years ahead, God calls us – calls St. Paul’s - poor and ordinary as we are – to present Jesus to the world.
            May it be so.