Preacher

St Lukes
A few weeks ago the priest at Mom’s church asked me if I ever preach. Without thinking or hesitating, I said yes. In truth, I’ve only ever preached in cyberspace (AKA, my blog), but this was an amazing opportunity, and I wasn’t going to turn it down.
So yesterday was the day, and what a perfect Sunday for me to preach: Presentation Sunday. The Gospel passage for Presentation Sunday is Luke 2:22-40:

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, the parents of Jesus brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother 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—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

So here is my sermon for Presentation Sunday:

Living in Breathless Anticipation

I am a missionary, based in Milan, Italy and called for all of Europe. What I do is encourage missionaries because Europe is a very difficult and discouraging mission field. I work with missionaries and pastors of all Christian denominations. When I started ministry in 2010, the problem was how to find missionaries. The answer was simple: go where missionaries hang out—churches. So it became my habit to attend at least two church services each Sunday.
I love going to church. I know that some people come to church, and once a week is about all that they can stand, but I love church. I attend services from the whole range of Christianity: Catholic high masses to chandelier-swinging Pentecostal services, and everything in between. Of course, I have my own preference, which lies somewhere in the middle, but no matter what kind of expression of worship, I love going to church. I love going to church because no matter where I go or what the worship is like, God always shows up. Sometimes it’s my favorite song or my favorite passage from the Bible. Sometimes it’s a nugget in the sermon and every once in a while, it’s a whole sermon that feels like it was a personal message to me from God. So I love going to church because God always shows up for me.
So I can relate to Simeon and Anna. They were at the temple every day. They each had a promise from God that they would see His Messiah, the Christ. So they did what I do: they came to the Temple every day with the breathless anticipation of seeing God’s Messiah. And because of their expectation of meeting God, I believe that God showed up each day for them, like He does for me. So every day for years, for decades, they came to the temple in breathless anticipation, meeting God in the little things until that day finally came when they saw Him in the face to face.
But my story is not over. We are living in the time when Jesus could return. According to Bible prophecy, His return is likely to be in our lifetime. So we should not only come to church, expecting to meet God, but we should wake up each day with breathless anticipation: is today the day? It could be!

So yesterday, on a sunny Super Bowl Sunday, I gave the sermon at both morning services in the sweet little Episcopal Church around the corner from home. It was wonderful, getting the opportunity to preach. My sermon was well-received. God is good!

The Not-So-Funhouse Image

This morning during contemplative prayer, I had an epiphany—and what interesting timing, since this is the time of Epiphany on the Christian calendar. I’ve been harassed by spirits of rejection and fear for many years now. And I realized this morning that the image they have made me believe about myself is a distorted one. Recently that fear/rejection image caused me particular problems in my relationships—all because I didn’t understand that the people involved love me. How could they love me when I was having such trouble loving myself?

In a recent post, He Loves Me, I wrote about basking in God’s Niagara Falls of love, feeling the physical sensation of His love falling, falling, falling on me. Even though the physical sensation passed, His love never stopped falling. But I need to keep reminding myself of His love until it becomes integrated into my thinking. And although I’ve read it many, many times, 1 John 4:18 became a rhema word for me today:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

I always remember “perfect love casts out fear,” but I had somehow forgotten all the rest of that verse. Fear and rejection had for so long poisoned my thinking that I had come to have a self-image as distorted as a funhouse mirror.

Today I am taking a hammer to that not-so-funhouse mirror. Today I chose to embrace God’s love and a new (true!) image of myself: loved, accepted, forgiven, and precious. God is good!