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Face to Face with The Holy

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There are some experiences that are so powerful that we can’t help but respond, engage, and participate. Any ability to be objective disappears, ability to sit back and simply observe or analyze an event or situation is out the door- we are drawn into that moment, that experience. And these powerful events can be good, bad, or both, but they’re powerful enough to capture us. I could stand up here and share with you about the births of my children because those certainly fall into this category, or seeing the doors open and my wife come down the aisle in her wedding dress, another moment that certainly fits this description, but I’m not. I’m not going to share those powerful, encompassing moments because those are my moments and I know I can’t objectively speak of them. I will, however, share another one that I think I can do a better job of speaking objectively about not because I was objective in the moment, but because I have witnessed other moments like it.
Saturday, October 30, 2010, Lindsey and made our way to our seats in the third deck of the ballpark in Arlington for the first home world series game in Texas Rangers franchise history. We were there early and the place was already packed to the gills, 50,000 people there for the same reason we were- to collectively lose our minds over a silly game. And lose our minds we did. You could feel the electricity in the ballpark an hour before first pitch, and by the time the players took the field, a full house of probably normally sane people were waving towels, screaming at the top of our lungs unintelligible words and random noises, and booing every player on the opposing team for no real reason other than the uniform they wore. I called balls and strikes from the top of the third deck, loudly commenting to my dad regularly on the ineptitude of the umpire 120 feet closer than me- my dad who I will never allow to forget that he spent the first 6 innings of this game watching the UT football game on his iPad - perhaps the only person not completely drawn in by the experience. And in the third inning, when Mitch Moreland hit a three-run home run for the Rangers- wow- freight trains have nothing on the roar that went up in that ball park. Millions of tons of concrete and steel shook as we celebrated a small piece of cowhide, cork, and string be launched by a man with a stick into right-field seats. From the outside looking in, that’s all it is, but to fans, and especially to the people who are there surrounded by like-minded people, you can’t help but celebrate. I couldn’t watch that and provide a light golf clap for his efforts. The experience required more, demanded more. More than that, its something that mattered to me, and because it mattered, I couldn’t sit it out, I couldn’t simply watch, I couldn’t divest myself. I was all in.

Fabricated or Real?

Its interesting to me that we seek out experiences like that. We buy tickets for games, movies, shows, concerts. Marketers have figured out there is a human drive for moments like that and keyed in on it. Advertisers don’t try to sell products with the product, they sell us with experiences, moments that we want to be a part of. Cars are sold with commercials about dogs and families, Trucks are sold with boats the size of small houses and trailers loaded down with more stuff than would-be purchasers will ever own, and yet it works. We buy into those fictional ideals, we celebrate the unimportant without ever recognizing lack of real value. So often we invest ourselves in the fabrication without recognizing the true value of the real, meaningful world, people, and experiences that are around us. This is true enough that it isn’t inappropriate to wonder if we can even tell the difference between the two. Asked another way, do we recognize the work of God in our day to day lives, or do we chase idols.
In We find a few stories that should serve to remind us to pay attention to the simple, the ordinary, the everyday things that are around us and see God’s work there.

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.

While these verses may not seem especially meaningful to us a couple-thousand years down the road, we have to pay attention to some details here. First, they aren’t doing anything that every other set of Jewish parents in their region does. They are going to the temple after the birth of their first child to offer the stated sacrifice. While important for the couple, this isn’t an especially significant event. Everyone does it. Its not reserved for the elite, its not a parade for a select few. Its an every day event. And even more than that, we learn something probably not especially surprising about Mary and Joseph in these words- they aren’t well off. The offering of two doves is the stated offering for poor people. People who are better off are required to offer a lamb and a dove. Two doves are only acceptable for those who don’t have. So here we have a low-income couple taking their first child to the temple to offer a meager sacrifice. This is such a regular occurrence in the temple that there isn’t much reason to take notice of it. And yet some do.

25 A man named Simeon was in Jerusalem. He was righteous and devout. He eagerly anticipated the restoration of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 The Holy Spirit revealed to him that he wouldn’t die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 Led by the Spirit, he went into the temple area. Meanwhile, Jesus’ parents brought the child to the temple so that they could do what was customary under the Law. 28 Simeon took Jesus in his arms and praised God. He said,

29 “Now, master, let your servant go in

peace according to your word,

30 because my eyes have seen your salvation.

31 You prepared this salvation in the

presence of all peoples.

32 It’s a light for revelation to the Gentiles

and a glory for your people Israel.”

33 His father and mother were amazed by what was said about him. 34 Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “This boy is assigned to be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that generates opposition 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your innermost being too.”

Here we can recognize that Simon sees something that others don’t in this child. Why? There would be plenty of other people in and around the temple at this point. The temple area serves as a worship center, community center, market, meeting place, and more for those in Jerusalem and the faithful throughout the world. Its not empty. And yet for all the eyes who see or take no notice of this young couple bringing their child to the temple with their two doves, it is Simon who sees what others don’t. Others see another couple with a child, a poor couple carrying their two doves. They don’t celebrate. They aren’t taken in. They miss the moment. Simon, on the other hand, pours his heart out in worship.

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.

Anna, too, notices. She notices what others don’t, that this child, in spite of outward appearances, is special in a unique way. And she sees the work of God in what others consider ordinary, unimportant. So here we have 4 adults and a child in a relatively crowded temple area with dozens of priests moving here or there, others coming to make offerings, worship, study, teach, meet, do business, pay taxes, buy and sell- and in the midst of all that, these two people, to the sheer surprise of Jesus parents, celebrate and worship. Surrounded by all the things that other people pursue as important, they see the work of God that others miss.
As 2017 comes to an end and 2018 begins, I want that to be a challenge you take up every day. Look for and see the work of God in our world in the every day, the mundane, the things other people overlook. Seeing the work of God in our everyday lives makes it far more likely that we will do what Anna does, tell everyone about Jesus and the work of God.
On that note, I want to issue the challenge I did on Wednesday night a few weeks ago. Part of telling others of the work of God is inviting them to be a part. Churches don’t grow because of awesome preachers. Churches grow because of compassionate, involved members who tell that story and invite others to be a part of God’s work in that church. As I finish my first year in this role, I and more and more certain that if we as a church are waiting for me to be the source of growth, we’re in trouble. You will be the reason we grow. So here’s your challenge. Invite someone this week. We are at a time where people have celebrated a holiday signified by the birth of Jesus and are making resolutions for the year ahead, some of whom are making resolutions to go to church or go back to church, be more faithful. You have a chance and a responsibility as believers to be a part of their lives and their journey. So invite someone this week. You heard the national statistic a few weeks ago from Tom Hagen with Herald of Truth- the person you invite has a 70% chance of saying yes- 7 out of 10.
See the work of God, and invite others to do the same.
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