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Sermon (01/16/22)

Sermon, January 16, 2022

Rev. Jessica Palys - KCUCC

If, in your whole life of church going, you have never before heard of Simeon and Anna, you would be in good company with most of the people here this morning except those who went to the Advent Bible Study. This text is only in the book of Luke and never in the church lectionary. The passage marks this ritual of bringing a child to the temple for dedication, and would traditionally take place 8 days after the brith - so we are a little late. Truth be told, this was my intended scripture for our Christmas brunch discussion, but it is just as much one of our Epiphany passages helping to reveal the true character of Jesus.

At every turn, the writer of Luke’s gospel reminds us of the continuity of the Jewish story in the arrival of Jesus. Here, we see Jesus’ parents adhering to centuries of Jewish tradition, the intentional ritual marking Jewish identity on his physical body. Earlier in the birth story, the presence of Elizabeth and Zechariah establish the traditions and lore of the Jewish culture and religious laws. Elizabeth, though her old age miracle pregnancy, harkens back to the many women in Hebrew scripture who called out to God for a baby, and Zechariah, through his priesthood, displays devotion to God and strict observance of Jewish law. Luke uses the presence of others in the story to emphasize the significance of the Christ Child, but he does so by pulling the past into the glorified future, making sure that none of his listeners can make the mistake to forget that this story is, at it’s center, a continuation of the covenant with Israel.

And so here, we see it again. Simeon and Anna are physical manifestations of the past, again dragging the history of Israel into the picture that is being painted about a glorious future. Simone and Anne are the long revered saints of their community. These are the people who are known to all who enter in and exit the temple, who are ‘righteous and devout” to the God of Israeal. Simeon is also an old man who has seen some things. Mostly, he has seen war, famine, greed, oppression, and the struggles of Israel to live under some cruel masters. In the words of Amy Jill Levine, “knowing of war, he wanted peace; knowing of Roman Rule and Herodian Rule, he wanted divine rule. Simeon wants comfort and consolation” and hope for the future of his people.

Anna, while she doesn’t speak in the passage, is known to the community as a prophet. We are told she is descendant of the tribe of Phanuel - to our ears this is just another strange Hebrew name, but to listeners at the time, it is a throwback to one of the ancient 12 tribes of Israel, most of whom had been lost and scattered in the first war with Assyria. It’s Luke’s way of saying, you who are lost, you who have been beaten and exiled, you who have been scattered to the wind and struggled to survive; even you will be found and redeemed with the coming of this Christ child. Israel will be reunited again as a whole community - our culture and these rituals that sustain it will endure, and the past will be echoed into this coming, hopeful future.

The rituals in this passage are like the rituals we perform in every part of life. Rituals help us illustrate our core identity and values through a shared dramatization of symbols and myth. Rituals help us tell our story; they are the glue that holds the family, the congregation, the community and the culture together.

For instance, in my family, we had a Christmas ritual of giving gifts one at a time, which you could pick out and deliver to the next person just after you opened yours. It was a ritual that required us all to witness each family members’ happiness upon opening each gift, allow us to express our love by discussing why we chose that gift, and it would take for-ever… but it forced the younger among us to learn patience and the joy not just of receiving gifts, but how much fun it is to give them.

This congregation has a ritual of self governance, embodied in the Annual congregational meeting. At each meeting, we celebrate our collaborative nature by installing new officers plucked from our congregational body, debate and or vote on our congregational budget, and pass the torch to our next Moderator for the coming year. Our communities mark our communal rituals with celebrations like the Plaza tree lighting or Good Samaritan workdays. And our culture elevates many rituals every year, but one of the most universal are the parades and fireworks on July 4th, allowing us to repeat the legends about our mighty beginnings and our forefathers’ dreams for a shared destiny of democracy.

Often there are hints to our shared future in our shared past. The rituals that help define us carry us forth into our next struggle, challenge, or triumph. The people who became the leaders in this congregation in the past have a lasting legacy that influences our future. And when we use ritual to pass the torch, we embrace bringing that past into our shared future. And when we feel secure about that future, we can move forward with confidence in the security of our future. Much like Simeon.

Simeon says to the Lord, “yes, this child is what I have been waiting for. This child, and his parents, give me comfort to know that when I die, my people will continue.” “As his eyes dim, he can picture this light, growing brighter.” Now, having seen with his own eyes the future, he feels confident closing out a faithful life, confident that the legacy is protected.

We come here every Sunday to be in prayer, to be in a sacred space, yes, to be inspired, but also to repeat the ritual that allows us to witness and protect our legacy. The ritual of worship, not to mention Christmas Eve, KKM, and multiple dinners throughout the year, are the glue that helps hold this congregation together. Now I have some questions for you, aimed towards identifying some of those leaders and rituals in your life and in this congregation, and how they have manifested here in our shared church history and can be present in our shared future.

As you discuss, please make sure at least one person in your small group is occasionally typing words or phrases into the chat so we have some notes about your conversation. If there are names mentioned, put them in there so others can be reminded as well. The breakout rooms will return each of you to our full screen in about 8 minutes, at which point you would be welcome to share a sentence or two with the larger group if you like, and we’ll end the sermon discussion in prayer.

  • Who are the people in this history of this church who have had a strong impact on your life or your faith? Who have been the witnesses and the legacy proclaimers, the Simeons? Who have been the steadfast prophets, the Annas? How did they impact you?

  • What would you need to witness in this life proclaim to God that you are ready to ‘sleep in God’s comfort and protection’? What kind of sign would give you comfort and consolation?

  • What are your personal traditions or rituals - holiday, family, otherwise? What are your hopes for the legacy of those traditions or family rituals? What about our traditions here at KCUCC? How do they help us connect and affirm our shared future?

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