Monday, December 29, 2014

My Final Sermon at Karl Road Christian Church

Luke 2:22-40

22When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

25Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him.

 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.

27Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, 29“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; 30for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31which you have prepared in the presence of

 all peoples, 32a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” 33And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him.

34Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”


On this last Sunday of this last year – a year of living boldly.  I kept thinking what did I want to preach about and finally decided I would stick to the lectionary. And allow it to guide me

And so this week I have spent time with Simeon, an old man, an old priest  who blesses the baby brought by Mary and Joseph. As a 65 year old woman with 30 years in the  parish leadership who has dedicated quite a few babies – I can identify with him.

As I spent time with him – I saw him as an example for us of what you might call mature faith.  I find in him the gospel message that I want to leave you with.

First of all – the Bible makes clear that “the holy spirit rested” on him.  He is guided by the spirit.

As Oprah says - this much I know is true – that the holy spirit is real and it guides us. I know this and I hope you know this.

Some examples from my own life – many of you know that I came to this church as  Reiki practitioner and some of you have been trained in reiki – and we have performed hundreds of reiki treatments over the years.  And reiki – KI – is about spirit.   It is a prayer form of spirit – and when we pray for one another and lay hands on each other God is working.  Bringing peace, a sense of being loved and sometimes verifiable healing.       It is all about spirit.

I know about the guidance of spirit when I have walked into a hospital room immediately following some very bad news from the doctor. It was as if God sent me there at that moment of need.

Simeon is guided by the spirit and sometimes I am and you are.  That is mature faith – and it is all about connection – and disconnection.

Spirit comes as we ask for it, as we wait for it, as we take risks in faith, when we are open to it. Spirit comes the most when you are on your knees and don’t know what is the next thing you are supposed to do.

I have a secret that I am now going to share with you – and it is that I am pretty inadequate.  This is not false modesty  - this is just true –preaching every week is relentless,  hearing about members being sent to the emergency room, just a prayer in a meeting – there are moments when I don’t know what to do – and I can testify to divine help – without a doubt.  God’s spirit flows through this world, this church, my life and your life. Sometimes.

We can ignore it, block it, dismiss it.  We can get full of ourselves, our anger and addictions.  But I am telling you – God’s spirit is real.

Second thing I see in Simeon is he is a prophet – has spiritual vision and sees the baby and knows that he is  the one they have been waiting for and he say: – “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel” 

 - He understood, or saw – the power, the purpose, the paradox of Jesus. And really the heart of the transformation that God wants to do with us as we follow Jesus.  He is Destined for the falling and rising of many.  Which means he is going to be a stumbling block.

If you read the Bible you will see a lot of people that trip over Jesus  - the saducees and the Pharisees, and Herod and Pontius Pilate and the rich young ruler       And of course -   the disciples – Jesus can be a stumbling block.  

Think about those men:   do you remember the story of James and John who wanted to be on the right hand of Jesus – in a position of status and power – because after all don’t we all want power and position

James and John  also wanted to call down fire from heaven on the Samaritans who rejected their message – give them what they deserve

Do you remember Peter – who rebuked Jesus when he said he was going to suffer on the cross – isn’t following  you is about avoiding pain?

They stumbled over the teachings and the path of Jesus  And don’t we as well

How many of us stumble over his words of forgiveness – unequivocal words of forgiveness to our enemy – looking for loopholes

How many of us stumble over a kingdom where every person is of value not matter what –

How many of us stumble over his message of non violence –we are called not to attack or defend but to be peacemakers –

And of course at the center of it all is the call to love – A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Richard Rohr wrote – “but do know this: every time you choose to love, you have also just chosen to die…..every time you truly love you are letting go of yourself as an autonomous unit and have given a bit of yourself away to something or someone else.”

Here is what I have learned – you WILL stumble over these teaching –they stretch us – and  they force us on our knees

But this phrase – destined for the falling AND the rising of many. The rising comes as we recognize God in the midst of it all!

 I receive an email meditation from Richard Rohr every day – this morning he wrote:

We each move at our own pace, mostly very slowly, with many stumblings and regressions. Yet at every stage we see grace (unearned love and growth) at work.

It's not primarily up to us. God is here – and  living itself within us, even in spite of us. We are simply invited to join in the dance with our intention and desire, to allow grace to flourish all the more freely and abundantly. And as we practice being conscious in our loving, we find an always available love becoming our most foundational way of being

So -  it is in the falling – that we find Jesus and then there is the Rising to answer his call upon our lives.  To love – to live in love

Simeon  - full of spirit – saw Jesus in all of his  power – and he praised God for the blessing of this encounter

This passage is called the Nunc dimittis[1] is a  canticle often used as the final song in a religious service    And so how appropriate – it is a song of gratitude and appreciation.

This is a song of deep satisfaction – as he see that God is at work in the world and bringing Jesus who comes to  save us.  He is saying I can die happy, I can die in peace.

And that is my song this morning. – Appreciation for all that God has done for the past 11 years – in and through our ministries together.

And I come before you today and sing a song of praise – celebrating the good news of Karl Road Christian church – that works together and grows in faith.  I praise God from whom all blessings flow – because I have been blessed here and  Chuck has been blessed.

Finally, Simeon is the perfect figure for  today because ultimately  Simeon fulfilled his role – he is here for just a moment in the text to bless this baby and do his part in sharing the gospel – to Mary. And help Mary in her pondering.

In much the same way, I hope I have fulfilled my role here. I have preached, done baby dedications, officiated at weddings and funerals.

I have led Bible studies, attended meetings and had lots of conversations of spirit with so many of you.  I know that I have not been anything close to perfect – and I ask your forgiveness so that you can be open to spirit as God leads you to the next leader who is going to take this church into – I hope – new mission and new territory for service

But what I do now is praise God – for you – for your faith. For the honor and blessing of seeing God at work in your lives.

Several years ago I had an insight into who I am – I think you know that my name Margot is a nickname and that my real name – is Margaret. I am named after mother and grandmother – now with daughter and granddaughter who continue that name. 

Margaret means pearl – and I like that  - a pearl as you know is formed as an object intrudes in the oyster and the friction somehow produces a beautiful gem. That will preach!

But I am one of this line of Margarets – and I am one of a series of pastors at this church – and a series of pastors in your life. One on a string who did what we could to serve God and God’s people in this place.  And grateful to fulfill whatever role I had in your ongoing spiritual formation and in the life of the churches I have served.

If you have been here during these years you know – we have done quite a bit – core values, bedrock beliefs, a motivating vision – Ignited by God – changing the world – first years

We have had years of reading through the bible and years of appreciation and this year of being bold.  We have developed some new ministries and some old ones have ceased.  We have marched in parades and done Family Fun Day and Vacation Bible School and all kinds of activities.

And through it all my prayer is that we have been faithful to God’s leading.  Let me end by saying that honestly – it has been an honor and a challenge to be in full time pastoral ministry.  Because today for me – is the end of that – I think.

Pastoral ministry is a very peculiar calling –Ruth Haley Barton wrote – “the great paradox of calling is that God was saying in essence – it is all about you – because you are the one I have called – and it’s not about you at all – because it was all about me and my work in and through you.” (from Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership)

There is no doubt in my mind that I have at times been led by the spirit, and it is also true that there has been a fair amount of stumbling – falling and rising but I leave with a sense of awe and gratitude for the blessing of being here with you.

People keep asking me – what are you going to do now and where are you going to worship? I don’t know

I hope I can find a church that  takes seriously the call to welcome all people – black white brown gay straight young old rich poor, conservative and liberal.  It is not just what we say – it is the choices that we make in worship and mission that helps us to continue to be a church of inclusion

I hope I can find a church that takes   the risk of being guided by the spirit and the values of Jesus.  Which means – sometimes we make choices that may not seem practical or financially sensible – because we have been guided by spirit.

I hope I can find a church that risks radical hospitality – reaching out to people in the margins even though it will mean stains in the sanctuary and probably disorder in the brand new fellowship hall

I hope I can find a church that loves the  way Jesus loves – genuinely caring for each other and our shut ins – as well as confronting systemic injustice in our community and reaching out to all corners of the world

Finally I hope I can find a church where I can laugh and sing and dream and celebrate the freedom grace and abundance of this life with Jesus.

It has been so good to find that church here – at Karl Road.

It has been good , friends – a real adventure for my soul.  And I pray that as we part we continue to be guided by the spirit, not afraid to stumble over the hard teachings of our Lord and be ready to praise God in all times and places.

1 comment:

WayneG said...

The words on the page don't do justice to the content. It was a wonderful sermon and I'm very glad I was there to hear it live///
Oh… and welcome to the retirement club!