Young and Old Followers of Jesus

Passage: Luke 2:22-40
Date: December 31,2017
Preacher: Rev. Chris Murphy
Guest Preacher:

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Last month I had the joy of making a pastoral visit to the home of the Newcomb family and meeting a new baby in our church family named Evelyn. Evelyn is the daughter of J.T. and Heather Newcomb and the sister of Emma. Evelyn is a new child within our community and represents new life for us. A few weeks ago baby Evelyn came to church for the first time, and I noticed that in the Great Hall the Newcomb family was visiting with the Bednar family. Justin and Amy Bednar are a new couple in our church who have a baby boy named Wyatt. It was so fun to see these two families interact with one another and then see older members of the congregation come over and greet them as well. New growth and new life is happening at Westminster!

As we enjoy the Christmas season and prepare for 2018, we are grateful for many things about Westminster Presbyterian Church. We love our worship services and our mission opportunities. We appreciate the resiliency of this church and its 125-year-old history. We are grateful for new creative forms of ministry that we are able to do together. We love that built into the DNA of our church is a deep value of God’s grace and love, which is inclusive of all people. Today, I want to highlight that we also love our experience of intergenerational community. Here at Westminster, young and old follow Jesus together. Younger families like the Newcombs and Bednars are connecting with older members of our community and growing as followers of Jesus.

Our Gospel story today is an intergenerational story. It is the narrative of Jesus being presented in the temple. Notice that it is a story about an old woman, an old man, two young adults, and a baby. Remember that in the early days of the church, the Gospel stories like this one from Luke would have been told in people’s homes. In the earliest days, Christians met in house churches. As people looked around their living rooms hearing these stories, they would have noticed the same diversity that is in our church. They would have seen old and young together in community. I imagine the people Luke originally wrote to in this story were encouraged to see someone like themselves in the story. Elderly women, especially widows, would have identified with Anna, and older men would have identified with Simeon. Young adults and teenagers would have identified with Mary and Joseph, and kids would have connected with baby Jesus. 

In the same way, we see ourselves in this story. Jesus being presented in the temple to me is a reminder of what we do here during worship when we baptize babies. Through a ritual and sacrament, we offer our children to God in a similar way that the Jewish people offered their children to Yahweh. What a humble act to offer our children to God.

Let’s take a closer look at the story of Jesus being presented in the temple. Remember Joseph and Mary were devout Jews, so they knew that to follow the law they were to bring Jesus to the temple and make an offering. Since they had a lower income they offered two pigeons instead of a lamb for an offering for Jesus. The gospel writer Luke has a special heart for those who are impoverished, so he highlights that Mary and Joseph have a lower income level. Simeon is the first to greet Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus. Simeon is what we might call a spiritual person. The Holy Spirit guides Simeon to the temple and when he sees Jesus he comes over to him and he knows by the Holy Spirit that this baby is the promised Messiah who will bring consolation to Israel. I love the fact that Simeon takes the baby Jesus into his arms, just like a loving grandpa might do. You can feel the warmth of the Jewish community in that Mary and Joseph allow their baby to be held by this stranger. Simeon looks at Jesus and prophesies that Jesus will be the one who brings salvation and who will be a light for revelation to the Gentiles. Simeon tells Mary that Jesus is destined for the falling and rising of many and that he will face opposition.After blessing Jesus and his parents, Simeon feels a deep peace and that his life is now complete.

Joseph and Mary are amazed about what Simeon tells them about baby Jesus. Then, as if the Holy Spirit wants to prepare them even more for the future of their child, a prophet named Anna enters the scene. Anna is also known to be a devout Jew, the daughter of Phanuel of the tribe of Asher. She is 84 years old, having lived most of her life as a widow after being married for only 7 years. She is described as someone who loves the temple and worships there daily with fasting and prayer. Anna, like Simeon, is aware through the power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus is the one who will bring redemption to Israel.She comes up to the young couple and begins praising God and telling everyone about the baby Jesus.

Don’t you love this story about Simeon and Anna? Here is a story where senior citizens get center stage. These wise sages of the Jewish community point to baby Jesus and prophesy about his future. How awesome that these older people were so intimate with God that they would hear from the Holy Spirit. Notice that Anna is mentioned as a prophet. The Gospel writer Luke is known for highlighting the role of women in leadership and pushing against the prejudice towards women that was common in his society, just like it is common in many churches today. To mention Anna as a prophet is to give her great esteem among the early church communities.

Anna and Simeon remind me of so many of the key older leaders here at Westminster. I could start naming the Annas and Simeons of our church, but it would take too long and I would be afraid to leave someone out. I also would not want to call someone old unless I had their permission. Let me just say if you identify as an older person in this church, thank you for investing so much in this place. We love you and appreciate all that you are doing here!

If you are a younger person in this church, I hope that you feel affirmed in this story of Jesus being presented in the temple as well. One of the nice things about Westminster is that we allow you to decide what old or young means for you. Our church’s Pub Conversations group that meets at the Oregon Public House is open for people in their 20s to 40s. This is one of our young adult ministries. Now that I am 46, I realize that it might be pushing it to call myself a young adult, but it is nice for me to hold onto my youth. I find myself relating to Mary and Joseph in this story, since my children are only 10 and 5 years old. It does not seem long ago that my wife, Karen, and I were holding our baby girls and bringing them to church for the first time. Let me say that if you are a child, youth, young adult, or someone who feels more middle aged than old, you also are deeply treasured in our church. We love you and appreciate all that you are doing here!

Now that we have been reminded of the story of Jesus in the temple and have hopefully identified in some way with one of the characters in the story, I want us to ask ourselves the simple question. What unites Mary, Joseph, Anna, and Simeon together in the story? The central focus for all of them is baby Jesus. I think the Gospel writer includes this story in his account of the life of Jesus to remind his readers that Jesus is truly the Messiah, the Savior of the world.

Here at Westminster we are invited to be an intergenerational community that follows Jesus together. This fits nicely with our church’s vision statement. Our vision statement is that “Westminster will change the world, one life at a time, by following Jesus as we offer hospitality, encourage spiritual growth, and serve others.” In order to live out our vision, we need people of all generations to be valued at Westminster and to partner together.

The good news is that Jesus is the one who unites us and the one who guides us in living out our vision together. The Jesus that we follow at Westminster is the one we read about in the Gospels. This Jesus is the Messiah, the light to the world, the Prince of Peace, the incarnate Son of God, fully God and fully human.Jesus is the one who fully reveals to us what God is actually like in human form and the one who was raised from the dead and lives for all eternity as part of the trinity. I know we sometimes have questions about who Jesus is and what we individually might believe about him. That is fine and I am glad that Westminster is a safe place to ask questions, but whatever individual questions or doubts we might have about Jesus, Jesus remains the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Whether we are young or old, we are invited to get to know Jesus and to follow him. This Jesus will lead us to be compassionate people who care for the most vulnerable. This Jesus will help us welcome the marginalized and will call us to love our enemies. This Jesus will work miracles that we struggle to believe are possible and will help us dream dreams that stretch our faith. This Jesus will comfort us when we mourn. This Jesus will invite us into a deeply intimate relationship with a loving God who will answer our questions and will meet us in our doubts. 

As we enter the new year, Westminster Presbyterian Church will continue to thrive as young and old commit to following Jesus together. Our church is an example of what I like to call inclusive Christianity, and we follow an inclusive Jesus. Inclusive Christianity is a faith that is nonjudgmental, ecumenical, interfaith sensitive, and welcoming. Our Jesus meets us where we are and leads us to greater things than we could ask or imagine. 

Over the Christmas holiday, a group of individuals and families in our church sang Christmas carols to our homebound members and many others at various retirement communities and different homes. It was beautiful to see young and old sing together and to see the joy on the faces of those who heard us sing. It was also a gift to intentionally follow Jesus together as we sang songs about the birth of Jesus. We are called to share the good news of Jesus in this new year. We can be proud to share about our faith in Jesus, since Jesus is inclusive of all people. We might not always be proud about how Christianity is portrayed in our world, but we can be followers of Jesus who show that Christianity is a faith that works for love and justice and that brings young and old together in community. Let us follow the example of Anna and Simeon in sharing the good news of Jesus in 2018! Amen.