Sunday, February 2, 2014

Candlemas: Bluegrass Mass "Offerings, Sacrifice and Rituals"

Here is the sermon for the Bluegrass Mass at St. Thomas on Candlemas (Feb. 2) 2014

Candlemas 2014, Bluegrass Mass St. Thomas
“Offerings, Sacrifice and Rituals”

Scriptures: Malachi 3:1-4 & Luke 2:22-40

We all have been recipients of offerings and sacrifice.  Our parents, I trust, gave their very best to our betterment.  My children bring the best as gifts and presents.  Heck, even my cat used to bring dead critters, a gift, a rather disgusting sacrifice and left it at the door.  Offerings, sacrifices and rituals often seem strange to those on the outside, but they are so important and transformative to those of us on the inside of the practice.

Tonight we celebrate Candlemas, an ancient celebration of the Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.  We could look at the why’s and how-come’s, but I would rather look at the broader picture.  Why do we even do all this?  Why do we do religion?  Take up offerings?  Spend our time?

Religion comes from the words to reconnect with God.  We re-ligament ourselves with God.  No matter your faith, we have ways of doing that, rituals that point us in a direction as a way of staying connected with the Mystery, the Eternal.

Joseph Campbell, eminent mythologist, reminds us that, “Ritual is an re-enactment of a myth.”  In a moment we will celebrate the Last Supper where Jesus remembered the ancient Exodus by having a Seder meal with his disciples, another ritual by the way.  We also remember the sacrifice that Jesus made the following day.  And three days later he rose again.  All these stories are woven together, and when we remember them in a physical form those stories mingle with ours.  We become those stories, and those stories become our stories.

We read of Mary purifying herself after childbirth, and coming to the Temple to sacrifice.  She was giving two turtle-doves in response to what had made her ritually unclean.  It hearkens back to ancient days when people thought that they had to feed their gods.  Did God need turtle-doves?  Of course not.  But God instructed Moses to instruct Israel to give a sacrifice so that there was no question.  One of the reasons we sacrifice is for us.

We do not bring animals to God any more, but we do bring money and time and give that over to God. Now, please, do not hear me saying we put money in the offering plate to get back from God.  God is not some Cosmic vending machine, put this in, get that out.  That is called Prosperity Theology, and we can point to many Scriptures that contradict that point of view.  However, we do sacrifice and give to God as a way of remembering that there A: There is a God, and B: God is not us.  

Think about the Sabbath day, the 7th day, the day of rest. God asks for our time. Jesus told us that, “Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27)  Now think about it.  Does God need for us to take a day off?  Really think about it.  Why do we need to have a Sabbath?   We need a way for us to say it is okay, that all is okay.  We do not need to worry, fret and work 7 days a week.  God needs us to clue in and have faith.  It will be okay.  It will all be okay.  Or as Julian of Norwich penned, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and manner of things shall be well.

It is not just our time.  It goes for our money today, too.  Why do we give a portion of our money to God?  What would God need our money for?  It is a statement of faith for us to share in what we have been given and worked hard for to say that we can get by on 90% or whatever it is because God is in control.  Now of course we want good things to happen.  We know that what we give pays bills, helps people, expands the work of the Church and helps spread goodness around the world.  But why?  I give because I need to give.  I need to make a conscious effort so that I have skin in the game.  God asks us to give because he knows that we need to do so.  For our sake.  Also, it is an invitation to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.  We are invited to help be a part of transforming the world along with God.  What an invitation!

Mary gave, and the gift she gave was the “if you cannot afford the real gift, give this minimum and it will be okay.”  Two turtle-doves was truly the least she could do according to the laws of Moses.

And while Mary was there in the Temple, God showed up.  Not in the ritual, but that is what got them there.  God the Spirit led Simeon there, and he prophesied that the promised day had arrived.

Anna, a widow who had sacrificed her life after her husband died, lived a life of worship and sacrifice by fasting, and she proclaimed that the Messiah had come.  

By being connected with God, not Religion, remember “reconnecting,” but by direct relationship Simeon had his greatest desire come true. By connecting through sacrifice and worship, the rituals of the Temple, Anna was able to prophecy that Jesus was the one for all who were looking for the redemption of Israel.

By Ligion and by Religion,  Simeon and Anna were able to present Jesus to his parents as being more miraculous than they already knew, and they were able to present him to all who would hear.  Joseph and Mary brought what they held most dear, their newborn son, and received gifts beyond their wildest expectations.

As we look to our times together, and all the stories we live into in our times together, help us stay focused on what brings us here, and what brought them there so long ago.  Jesus came into the world, and his light still illumines us today.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

1 comment:

  1. I find redemption from the challenges I have lived through, with God's help and God has given me redemption to help others and empathize, because of the gift of experience and life. Good sermon, Rock!


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