Sermon for the Presentation of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple
February 2, 2014 – Scout Sunday, Super Bowl Sunday
Tonight millions of Americans will gather around their television sets to celebrate our great high holy day – the Super Bowl. What surprises me about everybody watching the Super Bowl, is that they are bi-lingual. Football players, coaches, and fans have a language all of their own: there’s the play action pass, the line of scrimmage, slant, post, fade, the quarterback, halfback, fullback, and the tacklebox. Is the defense in a 4-4, a 4-5, a 5-4, a nickel, a dime? Fueled by hot wings and nachos, millions of Americans tonight will be screaming their heads off saying things like “chop block” “clipping” “ineligible receiver” and my favorite, “horsecollar.”
It’s not just football that has its own language. The Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts among us this morning have their own language as well. Have you been to Philmont? Let me see your Whittling Chip. There’s the Scout Oath, the Scout Law, Jamboree, Camporee, Webelos, Order of the Arrow, and when I was working as a canoe river guide, my favorite term – the one pot meal with flavor bursts. Again, if you are an outsider, you have no earthly idea what I am talking about.
And then we come to the church. And if anybody has a language of their own, it is us. Guilty as charged. It’s not a cup, it’s a chalice. It’s not a plate, it’s a paten. I don’t wear a robe, it’s an alb, not to be confused with a cassock and surplice, or a chausuble which is really just a fancy pancho. I wear a stole for the Divine Office but a hood and tippet is my choir dress. And do you know the difference between an aumbry and a tabernacle, a deacon and a subdeacon, an assisting bishop with an assistant bishop, a nave and a narthex? I didn’t think so. Or heavens, take the name for today. For everybody else in the world, today is Super Bowl Sunday. For us in the Episcopal Church, it’s the Presentation of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple, also known as Candlemas. This is the day when Jesus is presented in the Temple and Mary and Joseph offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving for his birth. This is the story Deacon Bob read for us. And in this story, we come across a little bit of lingo.
Let’s set the stage: Mary and Joseph are holding baby Jesus, who by now is forty days old (do the math, today is exaclty forty days after Christmas, but it seems longer than that, doesn’t it?) and they make a sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons. Which, I should note, is the sacrifice specifically reserved for poor people. But before they can make the sacrifice, some stranger named Simeon grabs their baby Jesus and holds him in his arms. Then he proclaims: “Now, Master, you are dismissing your servant in peace, just as you said. These eyes of mine have seen your salvation, which you made ready in the presence of all peoples: a light for revelation to the nations, and glory for your people Israel.”
First of all, it must have been weird that some stranger grabs this baby and starts shouting. But it must have caught Mary and Joseph and everybody else standing around when he said that key word, “salvation.”
That’s a word that is deeply embedded in Christian lingo. And we Christians go around using this word willy-nilly without explaining ourselves, it’s a terrible habit that we’ve picked up. We use that word, “salvation,” without really saying what it means.
We often take “salvation” to mean, “going to heaven when we die.” But that’s actually an impoverished meaning of the word. “Salvation” means saving, yes, but it also connotes healing. And redemption. And consolation. Salvation is something that we can experience right here and right now. When our hearts are healed of grudges that we hold. When we are redeemed and set free from an addiction or an illness. When, in our grief, the Holy Spirit comes to console us. “Salvation” is not about going to heaven when we die – “salvation” is about heaven coming to us in the midst of our earthly lives, our earthly pains.
And all too often Christians have used that word “salvation” like a linebacker tonight will use his shoulder to punish a running back. We go around making threats and beating people up, “have you been saved?” “Without salvation, you’re in big trouble.” Again, this only shows that we don’t know what the word actually means. We think that salvation is for those of us in the club, those of us who know the lingo, those of us in the club.
But turn back to what Simeon says when he’s holding baby Jesus. “These eyes of mine have seen your salvation, your healing, your consolation, which you made ready in the presence of all peoples.” All peoples. All the nations. At the time of Jesus, this phrase was explosive. God’s salvation was not just for the Jewish people, it was for all people. Jews, yes, but also Greeks, Romans, barbarians, Parthians, Schythians, barbarians. And the same with today, this salvation that God offers through Jesus is not reserved for a super special set of people who know the difference between an altar and a retable. This salvation, this healing, this consolation, that God makes ready in the life of Jesus is for everybody. Everybody. No exceptions.
And this salvation will change you to the core. Simeon goes on to say to Mary, “this child has been placed here to make many in Israel fall and rise again, and as a sign that will be spoken against. Yes, a sword will go through your own soul as well.”
See, once we experience redemption, salvation, consolation, healing, we will no longer be our old selves. We cannot expect to be transformed by Jesus, and remain the same old person. And this process is going to hurt. A surgeon has to use a scalpel to cut away a tumor. That’s the only way we can be healed, the only way to be saved. Or, take my wife for example. She is a physical therapist. And to help people walk again after major surgery, she walks with them through major agony. Healing, salvation, redemption is not going to feel good at that very moment, but it will mean wholeness and grace in the long run. Getting over an addiction does not feel good, but that’s the path to salvation. Laying down the burden of a long-held grudge is not easy, but that’s reconciliation. Forgiving a family member is agonizing, but there’s no other way to redemption. See, salvation is so much more than a Christian litmus test for who’s going to heaven when they die. Salvation is part of our spiritual journey to grow closer to Jesus. Salvation teaches us how to become new people.
Healing, wholeness, redemption, reconciliation, grace, and peace are made ready to you in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Salvation will change you, and it will hurt you, like gold being refined in the fire. But therein lies the blessing. You are gold.
Today, salvation is made ready before your very eyes. The healing, the wholeness, the redemption, the reconciliation, the grace, the peace – the salvation of God – is here for you today. Not tomorrow, or next week, or maybe if you get around to it for your new years’ resolution next year. Salvation is here for you today. It is not just for a special club of people that know all the fancy words. Salvation is for all people, all nations. Salvation is for you.