Scripture Luke 23:44-56
Luke 23:44-56 (New Revised Standard Version)
44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 while the sun’s light failed, and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. 47 When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.” 48 And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. 49 But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance watching these things.
50 Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph who, though a member of the council, 51 had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. 54 It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. 55 The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56 Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments.
On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.
Leader: A Word of God that is still speaking, People: Thanks be to God.
*Hymn - When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
1. When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the Prince of Glory died;
my richest gain I count but loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride.
2. Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
save in the death of Christ, my God;
all the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.
3. See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e'er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown.
4. Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were an offering far too small;
love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.
I almost titled this sermon “Joseph of Arimathea: The Man, The Myth, The Legend” because all you need to do is Google his name and up pops dozens of results about this one individual, who is mentioned in all 4 gospels as the one who took responsibility for Jesus’ body following his crucifixion. They all vary slightly in describing who precisely he was, but putting the pieces together we know that he was probably a secret disciple of Jesus, he was a member of the religious council - a respected one - though he disagreed with their actions concerning Jesus. He is the one who - along with Nicodemus as recorded in the gospel of John - prepared and placed Jesus’ body in the tomb - most likely his own personal tomb. That’s pretty much all we know about him from scripture.
He crops up, however, in non-canonical texts and apocryphal writings, beginning in about the 2nd century, and is mentioned in the writings of some of the early church fathers and historians. Perhaps, though, what he is most well-known for on the legend spectrum of things is his association with the Holy Grail, which appeared in the Arthurian Cycle thanks a french poet who first surfaced the idea in a poem written about Joseph of Arimathea. Many of us probably think of that association - Joseph of Arimathea and the Holy Grail - thanks to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade - but there is a whole host of legends around him and his connection to Great Britain, where he may have been the first missionary, may have journeyed there to purchase tin and brought child Jesus along with him for the ride, all sorts of legends.
But - we’re going to leave all that legend stuff to the side and focus on what we do see present in this story.
The image that comes to mind for me is one that is well-depicted in the artwork created by Hannah Garrity - that of a man who is lovingly, tenderly, caring for the body of a friend. A man who carries Jesus when no one else would. A man who risks everything to show up for God’s kingdom.
Jesus had been executed as an enemy of the state - an enemy of the Roman Empire. Those on the council - who handed Jesus over to the secular authorities to be tried and punished - brought him to Pilate, the local representative of the Roman government - and accused Jesus of stirring up the people to be disobedient. The council finds itself in a difficult position - on the one hand, their survival as an ethnic and religious minority is predicated upon not doing anything that would upset their clearly more powerful overlords; on the other hand, they, too, aren’t exactly happy about living as an occupied people. Their decision to hand him over to Roman authorities - one that Joseph of Arimathea disagreed with - was most likely done out of self-preservation.
Crucifixion was also a method of execution reserved for slaves and for the worst criminals. It was a means used to terrorize others into subservience. In addition, those killed by the state in this way were often buried in mass graves or were in other ways denied burial rites from grieving family members, another way to oppress and ensure a compliant populace. Those who wished to tend to a loved one who had been crucified would have to beg the body from a government official so that proper rites could be administered - and it was no guarantee that such a request would be granted.
Yet in this story we have Joseph, a rich, respected, righteous and just man, a member of the council who asked Pilate for Jesus’s body - a move that would have highlighted Joseph of Arimathea’s relationship to this condemned criminal. He took it upon himself to give Jesus a dignified burial after a dehumanizing execution, an act that was courageous and personally risky - would this move jeopardize his place on the council? What about being ritually unclean the night before one of the most important holy days in the Jewish calendar? Or the risk of angering Pilate who had just crucified Jesus for treason? So much was at stake in this moment when the Romans were especially on the lookout for revolution (remember, that’s what the Passover story was all about, God’s liberation from oppression and slavery - and that’s what so many people were in Jerusalem to celebrate) and would be incredibly suspicious of anyone associated with Jesus. The instinct of many of the disciples was to hide away - watch from a distance - to not get involved - to grieve in private.
But Joseph steps into the silence. Joseph, a man who the text specifically notes was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, was ready to use his resources, his position, his privilege, his courage, to minister in this moment to Jesus. To give him a decent burial. To give him honor when the world wanted to take it away. To stand by Jesus and all that he stood for - even as all that Jesus stood for threatened the powers of this world. To love his rabbi publicly when everyone else chose a different path.
Hannah Garrity’s artist reflection is one filled with questions. She writes,
How heavy is the body of a dead man? Only with superhuman strength would this pose be possible. Yet, Joseph of Arimathea alone carries Jesus’ lifeless body. How did he do it? Why did he do it? Luke says, “He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God” (Luke 23:51). Is this act good enough?
He was on the council. He disagreed with the majority. Why could he not stop the crucifixion from happening in the first place? Why did he fail to convince his fellow council members? Is this good deed enough to make up for such a monumental failure?
Or is Joseph of Arimathea at the right place at the right time? Is he able to dignify Jesus’ body after death? Does he play the vital role of the dissenter, picking up the pieces of the wrongs of the group? Does Joseph forward God’s plan for Jesus’ death and resurrection?
How weighty a task. What superhuman strength must we each have to forward God’s plan. Yet, God prepares us. We are ready.
I confess that I am moved by this outward display of care performed by Joseph of Arimathea. To minister to the dead is a profoundly sacred task. The act of preparing a body for burial – even under hasty circumstances – is one that requires care and attention so as not to damage the fragile skin tissue. It is an act of devotion that most of us in our society are far removed from – it is a task that others do on our behalf – so it may be challenging for us to fully appreciate the meaning ascribed to this act. Add to this the complex political environment, and we see Joseph as someone who was willing to risk everything – his social standing, his political standing, his wealth and resources, and potentially his very own life – to show love and devotion to Jesus as he waited expectantly for the fulfillment of God’s plan. In the midst of what looked like the death of a dream – when the kingdom that seemed to be within reach appeared to slip through the fingers of the disciples – Joseph continued to do what he could and was ready to use whatever he could to live in a way that honored the vision of God’s world made new.
Are we that ready and willing? That’s the question Joseph of Arimathea’s witness begs us to answer. When moments like this present themselves to us, are we able to leverage our resources, our relationships, our time and energy, our very selves, for something bigger that we can’t even fully see because we love Jesus and what Jesus offers us and the world that much? Far too often we let ourselves off the hook when it comes to questions like this – our faith oftentimes resides too much in our head and we can rationalize our way out of doing potentially risky things or things that would cost us social capital among our peers or things that would put us too much at odds with our society because deep down we really value those things – what people think of us, the power and influence we wield among our peers or in our community, and we don’t want to upset the status quo for the sake of this subversive upside-down vision of life in God’s kingdom where the last are first, where there is more than enough for all, where resurrection and life made new happen if we but have eyes to see it.
In the face of a brutal reality - after all, Joseph of Arimathea knew the full might of what Rome could do - he still chose to show up and to expect God to show up too. And that’s what we as a church, we as God’s people, need to be ready to do. To show up, use whatever we have, and expect God to be there too. In a world that feels like it is unraveling by the minute - God’s people show up and they are ready to be the hands and arms and feet that carry each other through. And that’s where we see the kingdom unfolding. When we show up and use our selves - even in ways that are personally risky and irrational - God shows up too. And that’s where church is. Church is not just about four walls and a worship service. Church is about showing up in our community for folks whose lives have been devastated by substance abuse. Showing up in our community for folks who are struggling to make ends meet, struggling with overpacked schedules, struggling with the weight of uncertain futures. Showing up in our community for those wrestling with their mental health and well-being. Showing up in our community as we think about the impacts of climate devastation in our world and dealing with climate refugees. Showing up for those who wonder if their right to marry or seek adequate health care will be the next thing to topple. Showing up and being a part of the healing work that God is about in our world. Showing up and carrying others - and yes, even being willing to be carried ourselves, if that is the place we find ourselves in - because being able to admit to others that we need to be carried is a way of showing up to ourselves.
We know the world is hurting. We know people in our community are hurting. We know friends and neighbors are hurting. How are we showing up? How are we using our time and energy, resources, privilege, and courage, to stand up for healing in a world full of pain? How are we expecting God to show up with us?
May we find ways this week to live our faith courageously like Joseph of Arimathea - to live in the hope of God’s kingdom in the face of difficult times, to carry each other in the shelter of healing, and to show up in this world, guided by the Spirit, as God’s people who love Jesus. Amen.
This week, instead of preaching from Esther 1, we used used a process of Visio Divina (Latin for "divine seeing"). We invited people to imagine the scene unfold as we heard Esther 1:1-20 read for us. Each person received one piece of artwork to reflect on before joining together in discussion groups to share thoughts and questions.
Below are the images we looked at together:
Queen Vashti Deposed - Ernest Normand
Vashti - Sara Beth Baca
Vashti Refuses the King's Summons - Edwin Long
Queen Vashti - G. Cuffia
I Dance Alone by Hannah Garrity
Scripture Daniel 3
I first learned this story in my children’s Bible that I had as a kid. It was a pretty small book of selected stories, not very thick, and each one-page story had a corresponding image and I vividly remember on the left hand side, the illustrated picture is of these flames done in the style of Eric Carle, with three, skinny brown men with white cloths around their waists, with black hair looking up with pleading expressions on their faces and arms held up in a “help me” gesture. I don’t really remember any other image or story from that book but for that one - and as a child, my take away was about God’s protection in saving these three men from the fiery furnace.
Fast forward maybe 10 years or so and I heard another interpretation of this story - one shared by Larry the cucumber and Bob the tomato in Veggie Tales - and if you haven’t seen the story of Rack, Shack, and Benny working in Mr. Nezzer’s chocolate factory making chocolate bunnies - I highly recommend the watch, it’s on YouTube, it’s aged pretty well - and the take away from that story for me as a 13 year old was about not giving in to peer pressure; don’t do something you know is wrong just because it’s cool or because other people that you like and admire are doing it. Probably a pretty good take away for a teenager, honestly.
It’s amazing how as we grow, stories may stay the same, but we glean different meanings out of them.
The book of Daniel is a fascinating book. The story is set in the 6th century - around the time of Israel's exile. To catch you up on your biblical history, the Babylonians had conquered the southern kingdom of Judah, where Jerusalem was, and had taken many of the people (primarily important people actually - the nobles and religious authorities) into exile. Taken them away from their homeland. Eventually, these people got to return home and rebuild the Temple because Persia came in and conquered Babylon. Centuries later, Persia was conquered by Alexander the Great. So it's in this period of being ruled by Greeks, in the second century BCE, that the book of Daniel is written. It's written in the second century looking back at an earlier time in Jewish history. The book is part narrative (about Daniel and his friends) and part apocalyptical - which means it contains visions and rich imagery that paint a picture of the end of the current age and advent of God’s kingdom.
I share all this to help better understand what’s going on with the characters in this drama. This book was written to explore the question: “what does it mean to be Jewish - and live in ways that are faithful to God - in the midst of empire - in the middle of a society that doesn’t know or understand our God?” This is a tension they have lived for several centuries at this point - starting with the exile in the 6th century and continuing through the Persians and the Greeks - and even in Jesus’ time, under Roman occupation - that tension was still very real. Now, there probably wasn’t an actual person Daniel - or Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego - what happens to them is supposed to represent what Jewish people were thinking and feeling in light of being a minority culture and religion.
That’s where this particular story comes in - Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego -- and these were their Babylonian names. We learn in the first chapter of Daniel that Nebuchadnezzar had changed their Hebrew names - names that had references to the Hebrew God to Babylonian names, containing references to the Babylonian gods. Right from the get go, the tension about identity and faithfulness in the face of empire is there.
All of this tension comes to a head in verse 13 where Nebuchadnezzar summons our three friends and says, “is it true that you don't serve my gods and you don't worship my statue?” He is furious with Shadrach Meshach and Abednego, and he gives them an ultimatum. “If you do not worship this statue, you will be thrown into this blazing fiery furnace and then who will deliver you then? What God will save you?”
And I love their response. They say oh Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defense to you in this matter. If I were God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand o king, let him deliver us. But if not, be it known to you, oh King, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.
Of course, Nebuchadnezzar is even more enraged at this. He orders the furnace to be heated up more than it ever had before and orders Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to be bound and throws them in. His own guards were killed in this process because the fire was so hot. But then we know the rest of the story. There's a fourth figure in the flames as if an angel were there The appearance of a god it says. And Nebuchadnezzar has a change of heart. In front of all his officials he praises God and promotes the three friends to higher offices and all is made well.
But in that pivotal moment, when the king threatens death and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refuse to worship and say, “if God saves us, great; but if not, we’d rather die than worship your gods or this statue” - I wonder what they were feeling. Fear? Anger? Grief? Calm? Did their voices shake? Was it a planned moment of defiance?
What strikes me is their clarity of purpose. For them, worshiping other Gods was not an area of compromise for them. I’m sure, living as Jewish citizens of Babylon, there were areas of tension they had to wrestle with in order to be faithful to God and to carry out their duties in the empire. They had to figure out which lines they would not cross. It’s clear in this passage that violating two of the 10 commandments - no other gods and no graven images - would not be an area of compromise for them. When their responsibility to the empire demanded that of them, they would rather face death. Their sense of integrity and conviction - more than their hope that God would save them - is what for me stands out as I read this passage again at this point in my life…and in this moment in our history.
Christians, too, live with this tension of how to be faithful to God - and how to be good citizens, especially in our country. Of course, our faith impacts what we believe to be just and unjust, our faith in God informs what we think about policies, but there are many times when faithfulness to God and to God’s realm puts us at odds with living in a secular society. It makes me think about Jesus’ words - we give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s - but what does that mean as people of faith who believe and trust that all of what we have belongs to God -- and who are called to follow the teachings of Jesus, even when those teachings could have political consequences?
To be sure, this doesn’t just happen in our country - this kind of tension can even happen in churches - as we’ve experienced rather directly in stepping away from the United Methodist Church and what our commitment to God’s embrace of all people means for us - that’s a line that we wouldn’t cross to stay a part of that denomination- and to be sure, it felt a bit like I was standing in the fiery furnace alongside Sara and Linda as we presented the case for disaffiliation on behalf of you all.
But that line for each of us - the line where faithfulness to God comes before anything else - anything our country asks of us, anything our church may ask of us, anything our job may ask of us - is one that each of us has to discover for ourselves.
The study guide to this series asks a question for reflection: What symbols, figures, or objects are we tempted to worship or idolize today? Certainly worship of certain ideologies or allegiances to symbols may be an area that brings up tension within us - much like it did for Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego. Other areas of tension may crop up as our country engages in or supports armed conflict around the globe - and I know many of you remember times when the draft was still happening. There’s any number of issues that may highlight that tension - where what God hopes for may not be in alignment with what is asked of us as part of being a good citizen.
What the story of our three friends highlights for me, though, is that we have to figure out those places for ourselves - and trust that faithful living looks like for us may not be as important for someone else.
The other piece, however, is to be willing to face that furnace when the chips are down. To resist injustice in such a way that understands that faith sometimes will not save us from the fiery furnace but that our faith will sometimes lead us right into the blaze - and we don’t know if God will be with us to deliver us in that moment or if we will be consumed. It doesn’t matter. Our conviction in the laws of a higher moral authority mean that there are things we cannot compromise on and if God cannot save us from the consequences we face, well, then better to suffer for justice than to compromise with injustice….and that even if God doesn’t deliver us, God’s presence meets us in the midst of it all.
So if there are things that are tugging at your heart right now - places of injustice in our world, places where you feel at odds with our culture, places where you are struggling with that tension between faithfulness to God and being a good citizen - you are not alone. If you are being called toward civil disobedience in the tradition of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, in the tradition of MLK Jr., in the tradition of so many others who broke civic laws for the sake of a higher pursuit of justice - you are not alone. If you find yourself in the fire because you have found the place for you where faithfulness to God is above anything else that may be asked of you - you are not alone. May you find the strength and courage to stand in those places - in the face of the power and might of everything standing against you - the officials and precepts and treasurers, and satraps and the drums and the musical ensembles - and the Nebechednezzurs. God is with you - no matter what. May you stand in the fire - may it purify and refine you - and may it be a witness for justice. Amen.
Scripture Luke 2:21-24; 36-40
Luke 2:21-24; 36-40 (Contemporary English Version)
21 When eight days had passed, Jesus’ parents circumcised him and gave him the name Jesus. This was the name given to him by the angel before he was conceived. 22 When the time came for their ritual cleansing, in accordance with the Law from Moses, they brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. (23 It’s written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male will be dedicated to the Lord.”) 24 They offered a sacrifice in keeping with what’s stated in the Law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.
36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, who belonged to the tribe of Asher. She was very old. After she married, she lived with her husband for seven years. 37 She was now an 84-year-old widow. She never left the temple area but worshipped God with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 She approached at that very moment and began to praise God and to speak about Jesus to everyone who was looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
39 When Mary and Joseph had completed everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to their hometown, Nazareth in Galilee. 40 The child grew up and became strong. He was filled with wisdom, and God’s favor was on him.
Leader: A Word of God that is still speaking, People: Thanks be to God.
Most every congregation has one. Think of churches that you have been connected to in the past - perhaps this one, perhaps a church that you were a part of growing up. Think of that one person who was - maybe still is - a beloved saint - you know - the one who embodied holiness, the one who exuded peace and love and humility and patience, the one who you could tell had Jesus as a dearest, intimate friend. They have been shaped by time, by life, but most importantly by God and you can sense the Holy Spirit in their bones. These are the folks who, in the theological tradition of John Wesley, would have just about achieved Christian perfection - that is to say, all thoughts and actions are motivated by pure love of God.
These are the elders who take children under their wings, wash the dishes at coffee hour Sunday after Sunday, write notes of encouragement, who listen to you with their whole being as a form of prayer, who are faithful week after week with the small things that most people don’t even notice, who make you feel at home in their presence, who are the first to bake a casserole if you are having a hard time (or if they can’t do that, will order delivery). They have the time to stop whatever they're doing for a moment of your company. They seem to see the world more clearly and can get to the heart of things after a moment of silent reflection. They will sit with you. Pray with you. Look you in the eyes…and see you…and love you.
And you know they do it because they love God. It shows in every little thing they do, like a halo shimmer, rippling through their life.
You have that person in your mind….
…take your marker…and write their name down on the circle you have…hold on to that name and when you leave today, place it in the basket on your way out.
…these are people who have shaped your faith - whether directly or indirectly. The fact that you remember them and how they carried themselves in the world shows that they, through their words or their actions, left an imprint on your soul - that God worked through them to touch you, even to this day.
That, I imagine, is much how Anna, the woman in our story, must have been like. She is often a footnote in the story; typically when we read this part of scripture, we include her counterpart Simeon (though really we don’t know anything about the connection between these two people, presumably they didn’t know each other at all). We focus a lot on Simeon because he speaks and those of us from more liturgical traditions might know the Canticle of Simeon (Lord, you now have set your servant free to go in peace as you have promised; For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior…) The text says that the Holy Spirit descended upon him and had revealed to him that he wouldn’t die until he had seen Jesus and the Spirit led him to the Temple. Mary and Joseph walk in, Simeon recognizes who Jesus is right away, even as a little baby, and speaks praise and blessing over Mary and Joseph and Jesus.
Meanwhile, we have Anna. Widowed for most of her life. 84 years old. She knows the challenges life brings - her husband died after a few short years of marriage, so she’s someone who knows grief as an intimate partner. She’s lived through the Roman empire capturing the city of Jerusalem from the Seleucid empire - she would have been a young girl of 15 or so. She’s found life and meaning through her time at the Temple, where she spends night and day in prayer, who knows how long that has been a part of her life. The text names her a prophetess, the only women expressly described as such in the New Testament. She doesn’t need the Holy Spirit to tell her who Jesus was. She sees him and knows him and praises God and starts to tell everyone she could about him. Where Simeon reserves his words for God and the holy family, Anna spreads the news far and wide. She is a witness - far more so than Simeon, actually - and shares this Good News of redemption…well before Jesus had done anything that we normally think of as miraculous, well before Jesus could speak, well before he died and rose again. Anna knows…Anna can see it…and she celebrates the dawning of a world made new.
Lisle Gwynn Garity writes, in her artist reflection, Perhaps being at the end of her life helped her to see the world with eyes sharpened for the holy. Perhaps living most of her years as a widow kept her hiding in the shadows, to keep from taking up too much space, when Simeon approached first to announce praise and prophesies on behalf of the newborn child. Perhaps being a prophet made her both patient and persistent, trusting that the right moment to share her wisdom would, indeed, come.
The moment came, for there was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel. Luke could have easily left Anna out of the story. But she leans in—from the margins, from the shadows, from the edges of the scene to approach her newborn king.
Perhaps Luke knew that those on the outside seemed to have the nearest access to Jesus. Those on the margins saw what others could not yet see. They knew without really knowing, because it was the kind of knowledge that shifts the chemistry of your heart.
She concludes with this: When drawing this image, I referenced photographs of Mother Teresa because I imagine her, like Anna a few centuries before, having eyes for the divine and devoting her entire life to pointing it out for others.
The image of Anna, the images of our beloved, perfected-in-love elders, are, to me, beautiful ones, because they demonstrate so clearly what a life lived in the light of God’s love looks like in the flesh. It shows that the path, while narrow, is well-worn with the footsteps of the faithful, who had eyes big enough to drink in the divine and let the holiness spill out unabashedly around them. We not only need the people who are so in tune with Jesus that they can’t help but spot him in a crowd….but we can also become them. That’s what I think about as I consider what discipleship means, it’s not about memorizing Bible verses for the sake of knowledge, or practicing piety as a checklist to satisfy an obligation (though it may feel like it at times), but about steeping your whole being in the presence of God, yearning to meet God in the Bible, to meet God in prayer, to meet God in the woods or at the beach, to meet God in the face of a child, to meet God in the stillness, to meet God in the face of the immigrant or unhoused, to meet God in the distractions and in the ordinariness of the everyday. And as we notice the places of life and love, of God’s transforming power, of resurrection and redemption, of peace and healing and wholeness, of a new way of being human together - we begin pointing those places out to others. We, too, will become witnesses of this world made new that is right in front of us. We, too, will pass along that Good News to the next generation -- and the way that news gets carried may look nothing like what we’re doing here right now. After all, worship in the early church - not what it looks like today. The first gatherings of Christians here on this island, in class meetings, look nothing like what we’re doing here today. The container changes. The saints, look different. The Good News stretches beyond time and space - and as we are faithful to that message, we will see God move in ways we never thought possible.
Anna knew that the redemption of Jerusalem was at hand upon seeing the infant Jesus. She may not have known what that looked like - after all, people were gunning for a revolution and overthrow of the Roman empire and a restoration of the Kingdom of Israel to its full height and glory…not death on a cross and resurrection. But those who clung to the message of hope that Jesus shared, those who strove to see the kingdom in their midst as Jesus saw it, those who went through the valley of suffering and stuck together and believed - believed - even as they questioned and wondered - were blessed to experience what God was doing.
I believe that is true for every faith community - the ability to be faithful to the message will bring fruits beyond our imagining - not what we may want, but what God wants to do with us. I believe there’s incredible wisdom in those old saints who have seen some stuff in their lives - who know how God has been faithful to them - who have spent their lives in God’s presence - and who know how God will be faithful to us in the future -- even though we have no idea what that looks like.
To be sure, we’ve been in this incredibly uncertain time - as a congregation, as an island community, as a democracy. Many churches are facing dwindling numbers as priorities have changed for people during the pandemic. People aren’t coming back in the way so many churches have hoped. And our island is facing some existential questions related to housing and childcare that underpin so much of our ability to function together. (I’ll leave some of the bigger political questions off the table for now.) But what saints like Anna - Anna who had the eyes to see how God was moving and the lips to share that with others - have to teach us is that even in these times, God is present. God is moving. God may not be doing what we expect or are accustomed to - but if we pay attention, we’ll see what that new thing might be - and we can share that new thing with others. It might look like a church organizing around meals together and helping people access food - which continues to be hard for so many people, especially here. It might look like a church spending more time out on the trails and finding God in relationship with our non-human kin and figuring out what climate resilience looks like for us and our community.
As long as we are faithful to what we’re sensing from God - God will lead us into places of life and fruitfulness, even if they are places we never could have imagined.
We’re going to close this morning by singing “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” God has seen us through this year as we’ve lived *almost* a full year as a community church, a huge accomplishment in and of itself. But what I hope for you as you sing this hymn today, is to imagine this church as you sing it. “Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto us.” And be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit as you sing. Note what comes up -- and perhaps share it as we move into our time of Joys and Concerns afterward. I invite us to stand and sing Great is Thy Faithfulness, number 140 in your red hymnal, as a way of symbolizing a commitment to God’s leading in this time together.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and five year old son and 2 year old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.