by Kendrah Fredericksen
Have you ever thought about what you'd hope to see accomplished before you die? For me, some days I just hope to make it to graduation! But then I quickly realize it would be a waste to have gone through four years of seminary and not have the opportunity to serve a congregation! . . . On other days, I have higher hopes and dreams. I would love to live to see peace in the middle east or an end to world hunger. I believe these things could be accomplished but am not so sure they can happen in my lifetime.
In today's Gospel, we hear about Simeon whose primary hope before he died was to see the child who was to be the Lord's Messiah. The prophet, Anna, also recognizes the baby Jesus as the one to redeem Jerusalem. It is likely that she also hoped to see this child before she died.
Simeon and Anna's hope was lofty yet obtainable. . . And their hope was not seen through "rose-colored" glasses. Simeon declares that this child will bring about the falling and rising of many . . . and that a sword will pierce Mary's soul too.
This is not hope in a utopia where everyone lives happily-ever-after. Rather, Simeon speaks a word of law, perhaps alluding to those in power (at least those in religious power) who have either neglected or taken advantage of others . . . or become complacent in their faith. Such as these will fall.
I believe that Simeon knows that in order for something new to be brought forth, something old must die. Now that Jesus is born, the world is about to change -- that is both exciting and scary.
But how is it that Simeon and Anna know so much about this 8 day old baby, named Jesus?
Three times, the text tells us about Simeon's relationship with the Holy Spirit. . . It says, "the Holy Spirit rested on him" . . . and "it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Messiah" . . . and finally, "guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple."
And while the text doesn't say it, I believe that the Holy Spirit rested on, revealed to and guided the prophet Anna as well. . . As a future pastor, I pray to have such a strong relationship with the Holy Spirit . . . and I would bet many of you desire the same!
But the challenging thing about the Holy Spirit is that it is always moving and changing. It is like a wind blowing or a fire burning or water pouring. . . Later in Luke's gospel, John the Baptist tells people that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. When we are touched by or filled with the Holy Spirit, we are changed. And as the Holy Spirit continues to work in our lives, we continue to change.
I believe that the Holy Spirit gave Simeon and Anna hope. . . hope in a savior who would be for all peoples. Simeon specifically says that this child will be "a light for revelation to the Gentiles." Jesus will bring salvation not just to the Jews but to all people.
Today, the Holy Spirit still brings us hope. Now we have a hope born out of Jesus' life, death and resurrection. . . Yet, how often have we given up on hope?
More often than I like to admit, I have heard people talk about how the church, including the ELCA, is dying. When I was on internship on the west coast, I met with interns from PLTS who seemed to carry the burden of the church on their shoulders. They had been told to expect that they would be spending much time helping congregations die. Also, an associate pastor that I worked with there was going back to school to get a degree in non-profit management because she feared that in a couple decades there would be no more full-time pastoral positions for her.
I found this lack of hope for the church to be disturbing. Aren't we the church of Jesus Christ and isn't the Holy Spirit still working in the world today?
So I was very glad to have three experiences in the last couple of weeks where I have witnessed the Holy Spirit at work and which have renewed my hope in God's work through the church. I'd like to briefly share the stories of these experiences with you.
First, I was blessed to be a part of the Seattle J-term on the adult Catechumenate process. Phinney Ridge Lutheran Church in Seattle is practicing being a church of true disciples. When new people show up on Sundays, many of whom are un-churched or de-churched, they are invited to be a part of "The Way" (which they later will understand is the Catechumenate process).
The ultimate goal of The Way is to prepare people for baptism or affirmation of baptism at the Easter Vigil, but the process does much more than that. The catechumens are assigned sponsors and meet weekly in small groups where they can safely ask questions about Christianity and faith. Relationships are built between current members of the congregation and the new people. The love of Christ is modeled and shared. The people at Phinney Ridge are stirred by the Holy Spirit and eagerly invite others to share in the joy that they have found. It was exciting to witness how the Holy Spirit is energetically working in this church on the west coast. . . By the way, I highly recommend this J-term class to all of you!
Second, I was blessed to attend the mission developer/re-developer conference in Phoenix for three days last week. I had taken the Mission Leadership class taught by churchwide staff this past fall (another class that I highly recommend). And I found it inspiring that the ELCA is reaching out in new areas for ministry, particularly to minorities.
Mission development and re-development requires allowing the Holy Spirit to blow through the church in new ways. It does not necessarily mean throwing out all of the traditional liturgy or starting praise bands. Rather, it is about helping congregations find their identity and mission in the cultural, social and economic contexts in which they are planted. It is about having vision and dreaming again of hope. . .
Sometimes allowing the Holy Spirit to work means that something old must die so that something new can rise up out of the ashes. . . We visited a church in downtown Phoenix that has redefined itself by offering ministries to the homeless. This new mission and vision helps them BE Christ in the place where they are planted . . . and it is growing their church.
Third, I was blessed last Saturday to attend the ordination service of Bridget Thien. For those of you who don't know me very well, I am not a person who cries easily. But it brought tears to my eyes to see the red stole of Pentecost placed around Bridget's neck. Bridget is a good friend and I know her well enough to say with confidence that she will be an amazing pastor. I have seen how the Holy Spirit has worked in her life and I know the Holy Spirit will continue to work in her as she goes forward in her new call. That brings me much hope for God's work in the world.
When I look out at all of you: students, faculty and staff, who believe in God's work through the church, I have hope. I know that the Holy Spirit is at work in each of you and in this place. . . Amongst God's people in this place, we are renewed by the Holy Spirit when we remember out baptisms and feast on Holy Communion. And we carry the Holy Spirit with us when we go out from here.
Like Simeon and Anna, we can rejoice and praise the Lord for giving us Jesus our savior. And we can rejoice that Jesus is still with us today through the Holy Spirit. We can be at peace knowing that Jesus is the fulfillment of all our hopes and dreams. Amen.