Friday, 29 January 2010
Notes for Sunday
The 'handout' has an image of Rembrandt's 'Simeon in the temple', the quote from Luke 2 in the Message version, and an outline of the sermon...
(and if I've learnt how correctly, the image is here!)
Seeing what God is doing
As you came into church this morning you were, I hope, given a sheet of paper with a picture and a ‘plan’ of this sermon on it. The gospel reading is all about seeing Jesus Christ, and it would seem strange to talk about the importance of what was seen in that story, but rely only on your being able to listen to what I’m going to say.
So this is a sermon about seeing – and a sermon you can see: in the picture and in the plan of what the sermon is going to be about. If you get lost at any point in the sermon, what you have there is a bit like a map, to help you see where we’ve got to – it also means you can see when we’re near the end – which is often good news in a sermon!
If you like you could just spend this time looking at the picture – it is the last painting every done by the Dutch artist, Rembrandt – it was found on an easel in his house after his death. Some people believe that the woman in the picture is Mary, Jesus’ mother, others think it’s meant to be Anna, the old prophetess. Experts reckon that the brush-work is different on the woman, and that she was added later.
The main part of the painting shows Simeon, the old man who almost lived in the temple, praising God that this baby he is holding is the Son of God – the one through whom God has come to people to show them the way of life.
It’s a wonderful painting, which shows the old man, and the tiny child as a pool of light in the darkness. Here we can see what God is doing, being born into our world in this baby, Jesus. We can see, just as Simeon sees.
The Message version of the Bible puts it like this:
Simeon took [the child] into his arms and blessed God: “God, you can now release me in peace as you promised. With my own eyes I’ve seen your salvation, it's now out in the open for everyone to see: a God-revealing light to the non-Jewish nations, and of glory for your people Israel.”
Simeon – an old man who can hardly see – can see who Jesus is and he thanks God for him. He sees what God is doing in Jesus.
So thanks to Rembrandt we can imagine what Simeon saw that day – but where in our world do we see what God is doing?
The answer comes in the reading we had from the letter to the Corinthians. Paul has just talked about all the ways in which the members of Christ’s body, the church work together – teaching, healing, sharing the Good news of Jesus’ love. All sorts of work in the church is important, but then Paul says ‘but I will show you an even better way’ – LOVE.
If people around us are going to see what God is doing, the most important thing we can do is to show them love. This makes perfect sense, when you think about it – if we had not known love from our friends and our families, we might find it hard to know what it means to say God loves us; if we want to know what it means to say that God’s love is with us in Jesus, it helps to read stories which remind us of the way that Jesus loved those he met; when we want to know how much God loves us, we look for signs of that love in the world around us and especially in the life and the death of Jesus Christ.
Where love is, God is: Love is what allows people to see what God is doing.
So the tricky question – can we be sings of love in the world?
What would that mean, what do we have to do?
Paul is clear. In one of the most fantastic things ever written about love he says:
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
That has to be how we try to live, if we are going to be signs of love in the world. It might sound almost impossible – but the gift of love has already been given to us by God. God’s love has already come to us – we can see it there in Simeon’s lap – and we remember it in all our Bible readings and in the bread and wine of the eucharist. God’s love comes to us, changes us and makes us signs of love in the world: a God-revealing light to the world.
We have come together today as seven different churches. It’s just after the end of the week of prayer for Christian Unity, and it’s good to remember that by being together. But we might want to ask for the grace to see what God is doing in our churches. How can we be a God-revealing light in this area? Simeon and Anna are alive to what God is doing – they meet Jesus Christ and they see God’s love. When they see, they become part of the story – they talk to other people about what God is doing, they help others to see God with them.
We do not know exactly what the future might look like for our seven churches and five villages, but may God help us to be alive, to see what God is doing, and to be filled with God’s love and grace and able to join in. To be a God-revealing light in the darkness and to bring others to Jesus Christ. In his name. Amen.