The moral of the story

Four missing, presumed dead, in power station collapse. Ebola devastates long term health of those who survive it. One in every two of those crossing the Mediterranean this year were Syrians escaping the conflict in their country. Just a handful of recent headlines. How could anyone remain unmoved? Many of us do what we can to help, or give to charity. But we might also wonder ‘why?’ Why do these things happen? Why is there this suffering?

People have always asked this question. Our gospel reading makes that clear – St Luke describes how Jesus responded to two contemporary events. All we know about the two tragedies in the reading is what’s written here. It seems that Pilate, the notoriously cruel Roman governor had ordered the killing of some Galileans despite the fact they were engaged in sacred duties. Siloam, in v. 4 is part of Jerusalem and it appears that a tower suddenly collapsed on a crowd.

Why did these things happen? The people who spoke to Jesus thought they had an answer. But Jesus refutes it: ‘Do you think these Galileans suffered this way because they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No I tell you.’

They thought that bad things happen because you’ve been bad. Plenty of people think that. Faced with suffering it can be tempting to find clarity in easy answers – such as ‘well, they must have done something to deserve it’. Our tabloid press likes that view because it imagines a world where bad things happen to bad or careless people, while those who enjoy good things can carry on doing so, confident in the belief that they must have earned them. The people who came to Jesus thought that the suffering were getting their just deserts. Maybe they wanted Jesus to moralise.

And you can understand why they thought so. After all, it is true to a degree, that if you do bad things you suffer the consequences. If you overeat you feel ill. If you steal from your employer you eventually get caught and dismissed. If you mess up your environment, you find it can no longer support you.

And the people in Jesus’ time saw that pattern in their history too. It had been drilled into them at school. That reading from the second book of Kings describes how Israel went into Exile because they turned away from God. Right at the beginning of the passage: ‘This occurred’ – in other words the King of Assyria invaded and took the people captive – because ‘they had sinned against the Lord their God.’

This passage is important because it’s a kind of conclusion to a lot of the story that has come before. The writer of Kings chooses this important event to teach a crucial moral lesson. The writer draws on the Biblical story thus far to make a point about God’s people. The Lord had brought them up out of the Land of Egypt. He had rescued them and given them a land to live in. God gave them his law to show them the best way to live. They were meant to be a blessing to all the other nations – a kind of example or experiment in living God’s way.

Sadly it went wrong. The books of Kings – and Judges and Samuel – describe a cycle of events. Israel disobeys God’s law, God warns them of the consequences, they ignore God, bad things happen, the people turn back to God, God rescues them. It’s ok for a bit, and then it starts all over again. But a little bit worse, a little bit more territory lost to the enemies, until eventually there’s nothing left and Israel goes into Exile.

If you’ve ever wondered why the Old Testament seems so full of threats and judgement this is why. If you’ve ever read the prophets and felt, this just seems to be warning after warning, that’s why. Every time it goes wrong, God sends a prophet. The cycle goes round several time, so a lot of prophets get sent. It’s God sending his messengers to call his people time and again. He’s giving them another chance to turn back and change. It’s a sign of mercy.

Perhaps you feel it makes for heavy reading? A bit gloomy or threatening? I can understand that. But think about it: the alternative would be that God didn’t care. If he didn’t speak to warn it would be as if a parent saw their toddler wandering onto a train track, yet didn’t rush to pick them up, didn’t even bother to yell ‘get off the line’. Who would do that? The repeated warnings of judgement in the Old Testament are a sign that God does not want to carry them out.

Tragically in this case the child kept going back until the inevitable happened. Israel and then Judah went into Exile. Even then God was merciful – seventy years later the people began to return. So people in Jesus’ time had learnt: actions have consequences. It was deeply ingrained: if you are bad, bad things will happen. Not always – we see that sometimes the worse characters seem to get off scot free.

Some of the Psalms deal with this problem: why do the wicked flourish asks Psalm 73? But then, says the Psalmist, ‘I understood their final destiny’. Evil people will not get away with it forever – they will be accountable to God the judge. Sin will not go unpunished.

But does that mean that if you suffer you must therefore have been bad? NO! It’s a big mistake to make. Just because bad deeds often cause suffering, doesn’t mean that those who suffer must have been bad.

Saying so would be tremendously insensitive and wrong. Look at the children in Syria. They suffer because of human wickedness. But it’s not their fault. The people who spoke to Jesus should have known this – they knew the book of Job, in which Job suffers even though he is a righteous man. Jesus himself taught this – when his disciples pointed out a blind man and asked whether it was the blind man who sinned or his parents so that he was born blind, Jesus said ‘Neither.’ If proof were lacking, surely the ultimate example is Jesus: he suffered greatly but never sinned.

Saying that sin causes suffering is not the same thing as saying suffering is always caused by a particular sin, or bad karma for that matter. It’s a logical error. It’s like saying all elephants are big and grey – therefore all big and grey things are elephants. They’re not – big and grey things can also be tower blocks and battleships!

Yet if we stop there, we would miss what Jesus actually says here. Jesus chooses to make a very different point. Perhaps because his questioners are self-righteous and inviting him to judge, Jesus says something very challenging. Look at verse 3: ‘Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No! But unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.’ And again: ‘Those eighteen, do you think they were worse offenders? No. But unless you repent you will all perish just as they did.’

All people are in the same boat, says Jesus. We all need God forgiveness, we all need to repent, because we have all done wrong. The questioners wanted to divide humanity into the good guys and the bad guys. But Jesus tells them that unless they repent, they too will perish. Certainly some may appear better people than others, but all have failed to do what God requires.

Imagine a machine which consists of a headset and a video screen. And when you put on the headset, it replays every event in your life for all to see. Would anyone volunteer to do such a thing? I wouldn’t. I have things of which I am ashamed. I expect we all do. During Lent we reflect on ourselves and acknowledge our need of God. We repent – which means turn back to him, receive his forgiveness, and try to do the things he wants.

We turn back while we can. That’s the point of the parable of the fig tree in verses 6-9. God is like the gardener. He looks for good fruit. What happens if he finds none? Perhaps he will give us another chance. But Jesus says don’t try his patience. Don’t take his mercy for granted. Jesus says make sure you do respond to God. Repent, be sorry for your sins, trust in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for you, change your ways and do good. Produce fruits in keeping with repentance. And don’t delay! The message of this parable is: If you don’t act now, it may be too late.

For one never knows when the end may come. I’ve been in a car crash. There’s no time to put your spiritual affairs in order. It’s too quick. In the split second before impact my thoughts were: ‘Car! Brake!’ And, bizarrely, ‘If I survive this, it’s goodbye to the no-claims bonus.’ And then the airbags went off. Not very spiritual thoughts if that had been my last moments. If disaster strikes there’s no time to prepare to meet God. We need to be at peace with him all the time.

Perhaps I’m preaching to the converted here. If so remember: Jesus talks about bearing fruit. It’s not just about making a commitment to follow Christ, but letting that response transform your life, affect your actions. For that is what it means to flourish. A fruitful fig tree is a fig tree that is fulfilled. It is doing what it was designed to do. Similarly, only when we are in relationship with God will we find a deep and lasting satisfaction.

There has been a challenge in today’s reading: we all need to repent. No matter who we are, we need to say sorry and return to God. Jesus speaks the truth, isn’t afraid of the hard word: don’t delay, it may be too late, don’t try God’s patience. But there is also a promise: Come back to God, live his way, bear fruit and you will find new life, forgiveness, purpose and meaning with him. Amen.

Advertisements

Thankfulness

‘Vicar, could you do a Lammas service for us please?’ ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that – a what service?’ ‘Well, you see Vicar, there’s quite a lot of us farmers in the area who belong to a club. Not the Young Farmers you understand, we’re mostly in our seventies. Every year we organise a Lammas service – could you take it?’

‘Er, I’m sure I could. Did you have a particular date in mind?’ ‘Yes, Vicar, that would be Lammas Day, the 1st of August’. ‘Ah, yes, silly me, the 1st August, how could I forget? I’m sure that will be fine’.

So I went off and did my research. And when it came to it, the day went well. There was a good crowd of (not-so young) farmers and lots of old harvest hymns. At the high point of the service they brought up a loaf of bread, made from the first wheat harvested in the year, and offered it before the altar.

A quaint old custom? Or a moving reminder of our dependence on God? A symbol that all things come from God and of his own do we give him. In an age where many don’t know where their food comes from it was strangely moving to hold the Lammas loaf, the first fruits of the harvest grown in local fields and baked in a farmhouse oven.

That tradition is based on the passage we had today from Deuteronomy chapter 26 verses 1-11. It’s the second in our sermon series on big themes from the Old Testament – the themes we’re looking at aren’t exactly the same as the Lent studies, but they illuminate each other. And today’s passage tells us a lot about God’s plan for his people. It’s speaks about his love of justice and compassion. He rescued a slave people and expected them to treat others well too.

Even before they entered the land of Israel, while they were still wandering around in the desert, God prepared the Jews for the life they would eventually lead. Deuteronomy describes Moses giving the people their law and telling them how they should act towards God and one another when they enter the Promised Land. It gives us an idea of the principles of justice, gratitude and love that God seeks from us today.

I can see it in my mind’s eye: a family group approaching the altar with basket in hand. Inside are some little barley loaves from their couple of acres. The white-clad priest takes it and places it by the altar, and the family recite – from memory – the Jewish history in verses 5-10.

‘A wandering Aramean was my ancestor’ – Abraham and his family were travellers, not important people until God chose them and they became ‘a great nation, mighty and populous’. But then, in v.6 ‘the Egyptians’ felt threatened and ‘treated us harshly, enslaving us, and we called to the Lord the God of our ancestors and he heard our voice.’

Do you see how the speaker uses ‘we’? Although these events happened years ago, way before some of them were born, they understood that God has rescued them too. Just like us in communion – we celebrate what happened and apply it to ourselves today. In verse 8 God rescues them with mighty signs and wonders, becoming their Saviour. God saves for a purpose, and he keeps his promises, becoming their faithful provider in verse 9 ‘He brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.’

It’s a wonderful summary of the first five books of the Bible. And now it leads into human response: ‘So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.’ God’s generosity leads to human gratitude. If we’re not generous, maybe we haven’t understood what Christ has done for us? Lent is a good time to reflect on his love.

Isn’t it interesting that the alien, or foreigner, is invited to the party in verse 10? The Old Testament isn’t just blood and battles – there’s a huge amount of celebration. Jewish festivals are full of joy and Christian festivals should be too. Community is formed and sustained when we gather together and eat – I find this more and more in ministry that people respond to shared food. (We all know that Hullavington is fuelled by flapjack) When we have a housegroup or a meeting it goes so much better when there’s hospitality. I think this is growing as time goes by – perhaps as our wider society becomes more fragmented people really value the chance to eat together.

But why do they bring loaves to God? Is God hungry, does God need a sandwich? Surely it’s for the sake of the people. So that they can remember. Bringing the firstfruits and reciting the history encourages and teaches them. They will remember to be humble – because they were nothing until God rescued them and built them up. Similarly for us – if we think we are something, ask why? We are tremendously blessed in this country, we have so many advantages – but it’s hardly down to us that we were born here rather than say sub-Saharan Africa.

God’s people will be grateful because, although they have worked hard, nothing they have has not come ultimately from God. Even our talents, our perseverance are gifts from Him. So hopefully they will also learn compassion and generosity. For if God acted like this to them, surely they can act in the same way towards the poor and oppressed, the foreigner among them? When we realise how much God has given us, it’s a massive incentive to generosity. How could we not be welcoming when he has opened wide his arms for us?

In this passage we catch a glimpse of God’s plan for his Old Testament people. He wanted them to be blessing to the nations, a sign of his love. By looking at how Israel lived, others would be able to see life as God intended it. They were meant to be a model society, obedient to God’s laws, not as something restrictive but as the blueprint for life. The best way to live, according to the Creator’s wisdom.

So what went wrong? By the time we get to our gospel reading, the words Jesus says suggest that things have taken a very bad turn for the worse. In v. 34 ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing.’

God’s prophets were killed because people did not like being challenged. God’s prophets were sent because the people had wandered from the right path. It seems that they forgot.

They worshipped idols because they forgot, or ceased to believe, that it was God who brought them to their land. They oppressed the poor because they forgot, or didn’t care, that their ancestors had been slaves, and God had rescued them. Perhaps they were unjust because they forgot that all good came from God, and thought their achievements were down to their own efforts.

I wonder if we can see similar things today? A forgetfulness of God in our society leading to pride, injustice and oppression? If so, the remedy is in v.35 ‘And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’’. Turning back to God through Christ will set our society’s perspective right. Building our lives on God’s will enables us to build well.

Perhaps we can also learn from the Old Testament practice of remembrance. Are there things we can do that will act as a modern Lammas Day – a regular reminder like that annual festival of first fruits? Celebrating Harvest keeps us in touch with where our food comes from. The church’s year gives a rhythm of the seasons and an annual observance of God’s great story. Holy Communion is so important – may it be a meaningful reminder of what Jesus has done for us. The Pope recently urged us to say grace – a simple reminder that we are not an island unto ourselves.

This Lent we could take up a discipline like 40 Acts –a simple action each day which encourages us to think and be generous. Here’s an example from the Christian Aid alternative: ‘Natural disasters make the headlines but the consequences endure long after the news coverage fades. Nearly 2 million people in northern Mali are still affected by the droughts of 2010 and 2012. Give 20p for every drink you have today.’

Actions like this remind us of the bigger story. They take us out of our own little world and broaden our horizons. Through these acts of remembrance we put our lives in context and discover how blessed we are. May we be aware of what God is doing in our world, and may we join in his great story. May we know his salvation and justice. Amen

In his light we see light

In the foyer of a Manchester hotel Sir Thomas Beecham saw a distinguished-looking woman whom he believed he knew, though he could not remember her name. He paused to talk to her and as he did so vaguely recollected that she had a brother. Hoping for a clue, he asked how her brother was and whether he was still working at the same job. “Oh, he’s very well,” she answered, “and he’s still the king.”

In the case of Jesus, people could have been forgiven for not recognising the king. God’s king came to us humbly. He was a human being, from an ordinary background, with nothing to make him stand out. Yet as today’s reading shows, he was also divine, God himself on earth as a human being.

Of course, Jesus’ disciples already had some idea of who he was. His teaching was so profound, and his miracles so remarkable, his healings so compassionate, that the disciples had started to form their own view. Shortly before this reading, in Luke chapter 9 v 20, Jesus asked them ‘Who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered ‘The Messiah of God’.

That’s important, because right at the beginning of today’s passage, in v.28, there’s a little phrase, easy to overlook: ‘Now about eight days after these sayings’. Do you see what Luke is doing? He is deliberately linking what’s about to happen with what Jesus said eight days before. The sayings are going to help us understand the event. The things Jesus said are about to happen, are now taking place at the Transfiguration.

So if you could pick up a Bible and turn to page 66 of the New Testament, we’ll take a moment to look at them. That’s Luke chapter 9, v.21 onwards.

There are four points here. Firstly, Jesus is the Messiah. We get that from verses 20-21. Then in v.22 ‘The Son of Man must undergo great suffering and be killed and on the third day rise again.’ Jesus knew what was going to happen to him in Jerusalem – his death and resurrection. Thirdly, those who follow Jesus must take up their own cross, we get that from verse 23 ‘If any want to become their followers let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.’ Finally, in verse 27 ‘there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see God’s Kingdom come’.

These four sayings are all demonstrated in the Transfiguration. We see that Jesus is the Messiah, we hear that he will die, we understand that his followers cannot stay in glory but must take up their crosses, and we see the glory of the Kingdom of God. What Jesus prophesied has come to pass.

Nobody knows for sure where the Transfiguration took place. Traditionally it was on Mount Tabor, and if you’re on the tourist trail you can hop onto an ancient minibus which grinds its way at alarming speeds up increasingly sharp hairpin bends. Eventually you get dropped off, weak and wobbly, at the flat top of a pleasantly wooded hill. You can see that it would have been a good lonely place to pray.

I’ve always imagined that the Transfiguration happened in the daytime. I’ve got a mental picture of the disciples toiling up through scented pasture, with the view rolling out beneath them. But the fact in verse 32 that the three disciples were sleepy, and in v.37, the observation that they came down the mountain on the next day, makes we wonder: was it night time? Just goes to show, every time you read the Bible you can find something new.

And if was night time, I suppose that Jesus’ clothes and face would have shone all the brighter. They shine with the glory of heaven. In Jesus God’s reality bursts into our existence. We see who he truly is –God’s Messiah, and we get a glimpse of his Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Once we have seen, once our eyes have been opened to the vision, we know we’ll never see things the same old way again.

Money, success, relationships and children, career and priorities, everything is seen in the best way in God’s Kingdom. Once we’ve caught sight of the glory and allow ourselves to change, life is wonderfully transformed. In the light of Jesus we see things in different ways. This is why the voice from heaven affirms: ‘this is my Son, my chosen, listen to him.’

Listen to Jesus as he explains the Old Testament, which points to himself. In verse 30 Moses and Elijah appear, representing the Law and the Prophets which are fulfilled in Christ. They are talking with him about his departure, which he is about to accomplish in Jerusalem.

Interesting word departure. Perhaps not the obvious way to speak about Jesus’ death and resurrection. And how do you ‘accomplish’ a departure? It always used to puzzle me until I learnt that the word translated departure is in the original Greek ‘Exodus’. So it is ‘The Exodus he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem’.

Yes it can be translated ‘departure’. But Exodus is so much more. It brings to mind that wonderful Old Testament story of God rescuing his people, of the Passover lamb. In Jesus God is about to rescue his people once and for all. Jesus is the Lamb of God who will offer himself for our sins. In his resurrection he will defeat death and set us free from its power forever.

This is God’s loving plan, which he knew right from the beginning. The fact that Moses and Elijah talk with Jesus about it emphasises that there’s continuity with the Old Testament, that’s it’s all part of God’s great plan. God did not have a Plan A Old Testament and when that went wrong came up with Plan B New Testament. Nor should we look at Jesus’ death as if it were just a human tragedy, and try desperately to find some meaning in it. The Transfiguration tells us that Jesus knew exactly what he was up to when he set his face to Jerusalem. He deliberately, freely, chose to complete God’s plan.

Unfortunately Peter hasn’t understood this. He would like to cling onto the glory, and in verse 33 offers to put up three tents so Moses Elijah and Jesus can all stay there. Of course we’d like it to be permanent! Someone has built a church on top of the hill I talked about. A very grand, beautiful commemoration of the Transfiguration – but rather ironic when you think about it. Because Jesus didn’t stay there. He came down the mountain to the plain. He left the spiritual retreat and re-entered the hurly burly of daily life.

There are some interesting parallels with Moses here. Moses too went up a mountain – in Sinai. He too met God in the cloud and glory. The disciples were told to obey Jesus – Moses was given the Ten Commandments. When Moses came down the people had already lost faith and made the Golden Calf.

Now Jesus returns to the crowd and finds the rest of the disciples struggling. He has to rescue them from their own inability. That’s a common spiritual principle. The high is often followed by a low. Mountain-top experiences, whether they’re on pilgrimage, retreat or conference, must then energise us for life on the plain.

If we’re not expecting the contrast, it can be overwhelming. Just a short time ago everything seemed so good, but suddenly there’s intense spiritual opposition and hard work. Even those close to you who seemed so reliable can surprise you with their wobbles.

When we set out to do something for God, we must expect the challenge too. We’ve recently got permission for our reordering and we’ve got some great plans for a new service – this is hugely exciting but it’s also now that the real work begins. We must be vigilant, prayerful and prepared. Let’s persevere in what God has called us to.

I think it’s perseverance which is key to the Transfiguration. After all, why was Jesus transfigured? So the disciples could understand and believe? So that whenever difficulties came they could look back on that day and remember: yes, that’s who Jesus is, and one day he’ll triumph. Perhaps also for us, so we can be strengthened and assured in our faith – that’s what St Peter says when he talks about the Transfiguration in the first chapter of his second Epistle. It happened so that we might be confident in our faith and persevere in building the Kingdom.

Most of all though, I think it happened for Jesus. To encourage him. To give him the strength he needed for the road ahead. To assure him that what he was doing was right and God would honour it. If Jesus needed encouragement, how much more do we! If he can accept it and receive – how much more should we! Let us then be encouraged! As we set out into Lent, may we be strengthened in our disciplines. As we try and build the Kingdom here, may we be encouraged to persevere when trouble comes. As we travel our path, let us remember that he cares for us. Amen.

Candlemas

So, tell me Mum and Dad, why would you like your baby baptised? It’s great you’ve made a positive choice that this is what you’d like for little Jack – because not everyone does have their children christened nowadays. Can you tell me a bit about what the baptism means to you?

It’s interesting what responses I get in the baptism visit. Of course there are occasionally parents who say, well actually, it’s for Nan really, she feels they ought to be done. I even heard of a Gran somewhere who was going to cut all the grandchildren out of the will if they weren’t christened. And there was once somebody who came to see me rather anxious because Grandma had told her that you had to be baptised if you wanted an operation on the NHS! In those situations there’s a lot of reassuring and myth-busting that has to be done.

But most parents have thought about it and what it means to them. We’d like to give Jack the best possible start in life. Being brought up in a Christian home meant a lot to me and I want that for Emily too. We want her to be part of God’s family and brought up the right way. When you have a baby it makes you think about what really matters and we’ve decided this is important to us. Well actually, Vicar, Jamie had a really difficult start in life and we just want to give thanks that he’s here. We want to bring him into God’s house.

All these things are going on in the New Testament reading from Luke chapter 2, and a lot more besides. When Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the temple they start him off in Israel’s faith, with celebration. It is also about giving thanks for a safe delivery and enabling Mary to return to normal life after being isolated during childbirth. The fact that Jesus is her first-born son is also important: according the Old Testament Law the first male in the family belonged to God and had to be bought back or redeemed by presenting an animal for sacrifice instead.

There’s a telling little detail there in v. 24. They ‘offered a sacrifice of two turtle doves or young pigeons.’ It was supposed to be a lamb and a young pigeon. But a whole lamb is expensive, so the Law compassionately allowed the poor to give a second pigeon instead.

So Mary and Joseph did not have much. They lived in a household where every coin mattered and you had to watch what you spent. If getting by is difficult for any of us, remember that Jesus knows what it is like trying to make ends meet. And if we are better off, let us remember that Jesus’ words about generosity and the way that he lived, are all the more remarkable coming from someone of limited means.

In everything that he did, Jesus practiced what he preached. As an adult he lived by the Old Testament law. He didn’t do so grudgingly. He affirmed it wholeheartedly. Because he knew it was God’s will.

 

That’s important for us today – Jesus had a high regard for the Old Testament and so should we. It was his Bible, it was the culture he lived in. If we want to understand him, we should also get to grips with the Old Testament Scriptures he lived, breathed and recited every day.

Jesus did not come to tell the Jews ‘You’ve got the wrong idea and I’ll teach you the right way’. Yes, there were things that the Pharisees did that were over the top, legalistic and strict – but Jesus argued with them over their interpretation of the Law, he didn’t say the Law itself was wrong. Yes, many people in his time had forgotten that the promise of the Messiah was for all nations – but Jesus called them back to it, as Simeon does in v.32. Jesus didn’t abolish, he fulfilled.

Jesus did not say that the Old Testament was a ritual dead end. God did not have a Plan A Old Testament, and when that went wrong he came up with Plan B New Testament. Instead he fulfilled it, he brought it to completion, he shared its true meaning. That’s what we see in this reading, not the Old Testament set aside, but brought to completion.

Those of you who are married, do you remember what it was like being engaged? A time of promise, hope and expectation? Lots of organisation too. Now that you’re married, would you go back to being engaged? Probably not. Being married is better than being engaged. So does that mean that you now look back on the time of engagement and think of it as a dreadful time you’d rather forget about? Of course not! I remember romantic meals and much excitement. It was lovely.

Just because the engagement has been fulfilled in marriage, doesn’t mean you look at it as a useless time. Just because you wouldn’t want to go back doesn’t mean it was all dreadful. So why do many Christians think of the Old Testament like that? Why is two-thirds of our Bible a closed book to many? The Old Testament is like the engagement, and the New Testament like the marriage. The new brings completion to the old, the old lays foundation for the new. Both have their valuable place.

I passionately believe that the Old Testament is not archaic history for those who like that kind of thing. It is not something Christians can throw off with a hearty sigh of relief ‘thank goodness we don’t have to follow that kind of religion anymore’. Instead, the Old Testament is the background, the scaffolding, the foundation on which my faith is built. Jesus doesn’t make sense without the Bible he used.

That’s why, during this Lent, I’m going to be preaching a sermon series on big themes from the Old Testament. It’s why our Lent course will take the biggest Biblical ideas and tie them together – showing how Jesus fulfils what came before him.

You can see it all through today’s passage. It’s incredibly symbolic. For instance, we’ve thought about why there was no lamb – because Mary and Joseph were poor. But there’s a symbolic level as well. There is no lamb because the Lamb of God himself is there. Jesus is the lamb.

He will give himself for our sins, just as the lambs were sacrificed to bring peace with God. The one who will replace the temple comes to the temple. The one through whom we meet God is presented to God.

It’s all of this that Simeon and Anna have been waiting for, all through their long years. They know that Messiah is coming, and now they have seen him. Our situation is not that different. One day we shall see Jesus. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13, now we see as through a glass darkly, then we shall see face to face. We shall see him in glory.

I’ve heard a story of an old Methodist lay preacher who lay seriously ill in bed. The doctor came to him and gently broke the news that he was dying. The man was elated – at last he was going to see his Lord. Apparently he got so excited that he lasted several days longer than anyone expected!

If we have faith in Christ, like Simeon, one day we shall see him. The waiting will be over, the engagement passed. Term time will be finished and the holidays begun. Let us live in the light of that promise, so that we won’t have wasted our time here. Let’s stir up ourselves to faithfulness, long term persistence and courage like Simeon and Anna. Let’s strive to walk in Christ’s way, with his light shining upon us. Let us count all else but dross except for knowing Christ, so that we can truly say

‘Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace,

according to thy word.

For mine eyes have seen thy salvation

Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people

To be a light to lighten the Gentiles

And to be the glory of thy people Israel.’

 

Amen.