Saturday, November 15, 2008

A Full Life

Luke 2:25-35

What makes for a full life?

The film The Bucket List, starring two of my favorite actors, Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson, explores this question in a humorous and yet poignant way. Two men from the opposite ends of the social spectrum and yet both suffering from terminal cancer, share a hospital room. One is white and rich and self-absorbed. The other is Black, blue collar and extremely well read. Despite their social differences, they share a common fate. Death will come sooner than later. Their conversation is sparse at first, but after a while and a bit of annoyance – Morgan Freeman’s character has a lot more visitors – they begin to talk, and the conversation drifts to the meaning of life. Freeman’s character, Carter Chambers, mentions a bucket list. A bucket list is a list of the things you want to do before you “kick the bucket.” Carter is working on his, knowing that he has neither the time nor the money to do everything on the list. Edward Cole, Nicholson’s character, may not have much time, but he does have the funds. And so they begin to work on a joint bucket list, and then slip out of the hospital and begin a grand final journey. In the end, they discover that the most important thing in life is relationships – including the friendship that develops between them.

This morning we read about a baby and an older man. They have little in common – and yet their story raises the question: What makes for a full life?

1. Delayed Gratification

As we ponder the question of life’s meaning and purpose, we must acknowledge that we live in an age of instant gratification. Ours is a world of fast food, microwaves, and the cell phone. We know what we want and we want it now.

I’ve found many of the responses to the recent election very interesting. Already, even before Barack Obama has taken the oath of office, people are lining up and laying out their demands and expectations. They want solutions and they want them now – even though he’s not yet President. It would seem that his leash is short. But, in an age of instant gratification, should we expect anything else?

Last week’s text talks about a groom that was late to his wedding. That parable reminds us that the things of God come in their own time. This morning’s text is out of place – it belongs after Christmas. I know that the Christmas shopping season has begun, but are we ready for a post-Christmas message?

In this passage we find the holy family offering the purification sacrifice in the Temple. As they leave, an elderly man comes up to them and asks to hold the baby. This man’s name is Simeon, and many years before Simeon had received a vision that he wouldn’t die until he saw the “consolation of Israel.” He had lived his life in anticipation of this event, and as Luke tells the story, on this particular day, the Holy Spirit led him to the Temple and to the baby Jesus. In this baby, he comes face to face with his savior.

His long wait was over. The one major item on his bucket list could be checked off. His hope had been fulfilled – he could say that he’d truly lived a full life. Although it would be many years before this child could fulfill his own destiny, for Simeon, this was enough. He could go to his death in peace, knowing that he had seen the salvation of Israel and of the world.

2. A Broad Vision

As Simeon takes the baby Jesus in his arms, he offers a word of blessing. This child, he proclaims, will be “a light of revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” But there is a dark side to this word of promise – for as Simeon tells the parents of this child – He will be God’s means of salvation, but the world will oppose and resist him, and that will be like “a sword [that] will pierce your own soul too.” This is the way life is – it’s full of difficult turns and delays. Be forewarned: very often the journey of life will be difficult. There is no fullness without a struggle.

Despite the delays and the difficulties, Simeon offers us a broad vision of God’s work in the world. This baby is both Israel’s messiah and a “light for revelation to the Gentiles.” In him there is salvation – that is, in him we find reconciliation, healing, and hope. For Jesus, this is the beginning of a journey that will lead to his death, but death leads to resurrection – and in this there is hope. This is the missional journey that we have been invited to join.

3. The Implications for Stewardship

This is supposed to be the final week of our stewardship campaign. Like the passage that we read the first week of this campaign, the Magnificat of Mary, at first glance this text seems to have little to do with stewardship? There isn’t any talk here about money, no message about cheerful giving, or even giving up everything you own to follow Jesus. And yet, it has something very important to say about stewardship.

This passage speaks to stewardship because it raises the question of values. As we look at Simeon’s dedication, we’re asked the question – what do we value most? What are we willing to give our lives to and for?

This morning we come to offer up our purification sacrifice. In a few moments you will be invited to come forward, bringing your offering and your annual pledge. We come today, led by the Holy Spirit, to discern what God would have us do, what commitments we’ve been called to make – whether it is money or time or talent. Ours is a missional journey that leads to a full and vigorous life. The world may not see this as the full life, but as we take the journey together, even as Carter and Ed took their journey, we will discover what it means to live a full life.

Over the past four weeks we’ve heard from members of this church about the meaning of giving – both of money and time. We’ve been told how stewardship can be a blessing to our lives, and we’ve been reminded of how important it is to support the work of this church. We bring this effort to a close this morning, even as we ponder what it means to live life fully.

Simeon’s own journey reminds us that what lies ahead is rooted in what has come before. It’s rooted in a heritage, in the actions and the gifts of others who believed in God’s purpose. We are the beneficiaries of their gifts and calling. But the story doesn’t end with the gifts of yesterday. Simeon himself understood, that God’s blessings didn’t end with him. God called him to bear witness to a ministry that would bring light to the world. We continue to bear witness to that light that come to us in the person of Jesus.

To live fully in the presence of God is to bear witness to God’s work in the world. This witness comes in many forms – and it involves both our time and our money. It is a calling that will takes us beyond these walls to invest in God’s work here in Troy, in Greater Detroit, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). As we consider our own call to stewardship, the question is this: At the end of our days, may we be able to say with Simeon: “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace?”

Preached by:
The Rev. Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan
November 16, 2008

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