As I spent so long trying to put this together, i thought i would share this sermon. It's pretty contextualised, in that I wrote it for one particular parish and a lot of the stuff in it speaks to that Church, but there may be some stuff of value in here that you can draw from...
Epiphany 4 (2007) Year C RCL Principal
Great is Thy Faithfulness – and love
God is faithful. That’s why we gather here today, that – I hope – is why we meet together for worship any week. We bring testimony as to times in our lives when we remember God is with us through thick and thin. We praise God for his love and faithfulness towards us through, as one hymn says ‘all the changing scenes of life’.
So I want to take a theme which comes, I think strongly, from our Scripture readings for today – the theme of faithfulness.
Now it is easy for us to miss the importance of the story from our Gospel reading taken from Luke Chapter – we probably know of the story, some of us will know the song of Simeon very well from our Evensong upbringing – indeed we have already said it this evening ‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word…’ - commonly known as the Nunc Dimitus.
But if we take time to look into the story, we will see that it is a story about faithfulness, firstly as Mary and Joseph bring their infant son to be presented to the Lord – obeying the law, the standards set out in the Hebrew Scriptures regarding the firstborn. These are the standards that we catch a glimpse of in our first reading for this evening, where the glory of the Lord fills the temple in response to the people’s faithfulness. This law is there to encourage the people to be faithful – something which the prophets remind them of again and again. The law is not there to bind people in regulations, but to inspire them to serve God with the whole of their lives. Within these traditions we see that observance of the law becomes more important than the God who graciously gave the laws, and this is something which Jesus so often rails against.
Then the Gospel passage, we hear about these two older people who were at worship in the temple, both of whom have something to say about Jesus. But have we really considered what Simeon and Anna were doing there at the temple?
They were waiting. Faithfully, watchfully, waiting for the fulfilment of God’s promises to them. Simeon expected to see the redemption of Israel and the promised Messiah before he died, and believed that God had promised this, and went to the temple to wait on the fulfilment of that promise.
Both of them, we read, were faithful, spending their days in prayer and worship. They were obedient to the law in their religious observance, yet they were inspired beyond the law to be open to God’s voice through the Holy Spirit. They were patient, knowing that God had something for them. They were expectant, it wasn’t just a case of hanging around for something to happen, they knew that they were going to meet God in a new way, and to see the fulfilment of God’s promise.
We seen in Simeon someone who was filled with God’s Spirit – the Gospel writer makes the point that this is why Simeon was there in the temple. Likewise it is implicit in the way that the Gospel describes her as a ‘prophetess’ and in the way that Anna begins speaking about this newborn baby that she too has that gift of the Spirit which enables her to discern the truth and to speak out in faith.
But more important that all of this was their obvious love for God in their openness to God’s plan, and their patient waiting and lives of prayer. And just as they were faithful, so too we see that God is faithful – he allows both of them to see the promise fulfilled, the one who is the Messiah, the Saviour of the World, right in front of them. God allows them to see the love He has for the world in the form of God made flesh in Jesus.
It is this faith, hope and love which abide for Anna and Simeon. It is this faith in God, hope in his promises and love of God which must be the benchmarks for our life together in Christ, in this Church.
As we celebrate and share God’s love and faithfulness together, as we hope for our shared life in Christ to grow and to spread that life to those in our community we are gathered to praise God for his faithfulness and to offer ourselves again to him.
My hope is that our worship is week by week, month by month, year by year, is a celebration of God’s goodness towards us and also a time to commit ourselves to our living God again, and to ask what he would do with us. God has shown us in the past that he will be with us, God will be with us in the future.
And it is to that future that we now turn together. We are I believe called to seek a vision for this Church, for our journey together. I believe God wants this Church to grow and move forward together. I don’t know what shape that will take, but I do know that in order hear God’s voice we need to pray, to wait expectantly on him, to continue to trust in his faithfulness, to trust in his promises, and to love one another, our neighbours, our selves and our God without reservation.
Like Simeon and Anna we must remain faithful – holding fast to the promises of grace that God has given in Scripture. Holding on to those traditions which build us up, and being willing to boldly move together where God is calling us. We cannot just hope that our Church will continue as it always has done, but we together must work to serve our community in our expression and living of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I say again, we must pray, we must be open to God’s love and guidance and we must continue to serve our neighbours and friends in the name of Christ.
It has been a hard few months for our Churches in this team, and looks like things will be difficult, particularly as your clergy are stretched more and more by the demands of our parishes and by being down on Clergy numbers. There have been some particularly demanding pastoral situations in some of our parishes over the past few months, and I will confess to being somewhat tired myself after all that has happened. But I can say that I know that God has been with us, he has been with me, and that God is faithful and continues to be faithful.
The same God who has sustained us through good and bad in our lives, the same God who has sustained this Church through many generations of worshippers and many struggles in its life in this parish is the same God who will be with us whatever we encounter next – the same God who we must trust to guide, lead, strengthen, encourage, sustain and bless us as we face whatever the future holds together.
As Anna and Simeon were faithful, expectant, and open to God, let us ask for the grace, for the touch of God’s Holy Spirit, to inspire this faithfulness and love in our hearts and our lives. Let us be overwhelmed by such love. Let us again turn to the God who loves us with such complete self-giving love. In our daily lives of prayer and Christian living, in our relationships with those within and outside the Church, let us seek to be those who are faithful and open to the calling of God and the voice of the Spirit as we seek God’s guidance.