"Systems Update," Pastor Kinsey
“For everything there is a season,” says Ecclesiastes, writer of a cynical kind of wisdom in the bible. “A time to be born, and a time to die; …a time to mourn, and a time to dance; …a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; …a time for war, and a time for peace.” God has put a sense of the past and the future in our minds, he continues, but we can’t even understand what God has been doing – or what God’s up to!
This is great stuff – if, you’re a young college student, smarter than you’ve ever been before, and filled with book learning and lofting ideals, as you look out at the world around you, full of contradictions and in disarray.
I remember when I returned home from my liberal arts college education, not yet committed to what I wanted to do with it. I had done my senior year in Heidelberg Germany, had traveled all over Europe and to the Holy Land, was in love with Herman Hess, German beer and rolling my own cigarettes, and, had a kind-of cynical Ecclesiastes attitude that, what gain is there from our toil and work?! Like, what’s the point of it all?
But my parents were not all that impressed with this brand of wisdom, and had no intention of letting me free-load off them for very long, no matter what level of philosophical sophistication I may have achieved. So sitting me down, they asked me very calmly, what my plan was? How was I planning to support myself? What was the path I was taking for my life, right now?
Well, I am thinking about going to seminary, I told them, but not quite yet. First I’d like to get a job downtown Milwaukee, to save-up some money (I thought that would sound good, at least!). But, you know, to get back and forth to work I need some transportation. Can you buy me a motorcycle for that? Well, it’s cheaper than a car, and doesn’t use as much gas, either – that’s a good thing, right?! I mean, I was penniless, after all!
Well, that pushed all the wrong buttons for my parents, and they let me know in no uncertain terms that, there would be no motorcycle coming from them! And if I wanted a job like that, there were enough of those kind nearby, that I could walk to.
They had a different understanding of, what season it was, than I did(!) and a different understanding of God’s plan for my life – if I wanted to be their son! And it didn’t include free-loading off of them, or exploiting a life of privilege. And it certainly didn’t include a cynical know-it-all attitude either.
Perhaps this is a familiar story for you as you think back to your youth, though for others, you may never have taken that kind of rebellious and reckless road. In the end though, we all have our own family traditions and expectations that we must learn to follow, or not. What are the traditions you were brought up with? Did they work for you? Have you accepted them, or maybe changed a few? On what do you base the traditions and mores you hold-to, in your family now?
Jesus was brought up in traditions of the sacrificial system of his heritage. In this post-Christmas gospel story from Luke, we learn that one of those traditions is taking your new born son to the Temple to make a Thank Offering, usually on the 40th day of birth, because, as it says in Exodus 13, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord.”
And the verse just before this reading recalls that, just like his cousin John the Baptist, Jesus was circumcised 8 days after being born. It seems that Mary and Joseph were nothing if not loyal and faithful Jews, who participated in all the ceremonies.
For Jesus’ Presentation, they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord: which was, preferably, a lamb, along with a pigeon or a turtledove. But, if you couldn’t afford a lamb, you could offer two pigeons, or, two turtledoves, which is what Mary and Joseph, part of the working poor, did.
And it was there in the temple that Mary and Joseph were amazed, says Luke, with what the local prophets, Simeon and Anna told them. Simeon was ecstatic that his life-long-dream was fulfilled by laying eyes on Jesus, whom he said was “God’s Messiah… a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
But Simeon also had a kind-of warning to Mary: “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed, so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed…”
I think my parents understood this revelation of Jesus, when they confronted and pressed me for my post-college plans, because, by doing so, they helped reveal my own inner thoughts, and how self-serving they were, and also how glib and entitled it sounded to my own ears, after I had actually said it out loud!
Jesus helps to reveal our inner thoughts, so that we can measure our true worth, and so we can act on our conscience, and learn to make better decisions, for our own lives, and for our neighbors. Unfortunately, this is something the highest elected leader of our land seems incapable of doing! Experts have repeated confirmed his self-serving narcissism. And there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference for him between inner and outer thoughts – which is a problem for developing a healthy self-conscience. But that doesn’t mean we should give up the practice ourselves.
Our inner thoughts and our conscience, the more they are revealed, will help to bring redemption to us, both individually and collectively as a people, just as the prophet Anna hoped and prayed for, in the Temple.
Jesus was born into the sacrificial system of Israel – a system that all religions and all nations practice in their own different and varying ways. The idea is that we make a sacrifice – give from the first-fruits of all that God has given us – to show our thanks and give praise. But, it is often corrupted – by the giver, for personal gain – and by leaders and shepherds of their flocks, into a system of keeping the rulers in power, beyond accountability, whether it’s elected leader’s seats in Congress, bishops and pastors, the CEO of a company, or whomever. And if we fail to question this, no inner thoughts are revealed, and it becomes institutionalized. And in the seasons of its demise, we all participate, by agreeing that something or someone who may be blocking or protesting it, should be sacrificed -demonized- knowing instinctively that the system will be allowed to right itself, and a kind-of temporary peace will arise, for a time. But at what cost?
Jesus was able to bring a freeing redemption of these personal and institutional corruptions, because he originates from, outside our human systems, yet dared to become human. That is, God gave us God’s Son, to enter our world, and reveal our inner thoughts, desires, and jealousy’s, in order to reveal the root of our sin. He did it of course, by letting himself be crucified as the sinless one, the innocent victim. He was a teacher of God’s ways, a Savior and healer, who was publically humiliated and sacrificed, to restore the Roman peace, but a false peace. If this doesn’t reveal our sin, that we all participate in, what will?!
So, if we call ourselves Christian, this is the message we must convey. For this is the release and freedom, from our world of sin, we all long for, as we ring in a New Year, later today. Jesus brings us a new way, a new tradition of being God’s chosen and holy people, one that is not built on the sacrificial systems we have depended on, and benefitted by, in the past. But Jesus has revealed what true sacrifice looks like, that is not, corrupting or self-destructive – and we have been entrusted with its heritage.
What is the new direction in which you would like to walk in the New Year, in response to this good news? What are the possibilities for new life, for the world, toward which we yearn?
I pray that we would leave behind the traditions of unholy sacrifice and destructive demonizing, and may learn the ways of peace and justice, love and forgiveness, from our Savior, our crucified and risen Lord, as we crossover into this New Year together!